At The Vets: Slugs, snails and puppy dog ails

Apex vets Doug Paterson and Glen Hodgson.
Apex vets Doug Paterson and Glen Hodgson.

Lungworm is an emerging potentially lethal disease with more and more cases being seen each year.

Snug and sails are the cause of the problem. To the gardeners out there, they are a nuisance; to the Hosta, they are a plague; but to the dog, they act as a carrier of one of the most serious types of worms he or she can catch.

The worm is called Angiostrongylus Vasorum – or the lungworm. It affects dogs and foxes, and has slowly moved up from France and around Europe into southern England via the fox population. Thankfully our cold climate has slowed the spread of the parasite north of the border, and there have been only a handful of suspected cases in Scotland so far. It is an emerging disease, but if vets and dog owners are aware of the signs, we stand a good chance of effectively preventing infection.

The dog can be infected by the larvae of the worm by eating slugs or snails. They can also become infected by snail trails including, for example trails over their favourite outside toy. Now for the gory bit – the life cycle of this parasite takes place partly inside the dog and partly inside the snail or slug. An infected dog or fox will have adult worms living in the lungs and blood vessels. These lay eggs, the eggs are coughed up and swallowed by the dog, and then passed out in the faeces. They are then eaten by the slug or snail, which completes the cycle of infestation when eaten by another dog or fox.

Symptoms vary but worms may affect the lungs and cause coughing or breathlessness on exercise. Sufferers can also develop clotting disorders can be serious and show themselves as pinprick blood blisters on the tummy.

Diagnosis is difficult but a combination of tests can sometimes help.

The good news is that treatment is available and if caught early we can get rid of the worm before too much damage has been done. The best way to prevent the problem is to consult your vet for the best parasite prevention programme. Regular worming is a must. In general, products you can buy over the counter won’t have any effect against lungworm. Try to stop your dog eating slugs and snails and pick up your dogs faeces and dispose of them properly so as not to spread disease.