I have been giving my dog worming tablets from the supermarket for years and he has never had any health problems. Yesterday, I took him for his annual vaccination and the vet said that I should be protecting him against lungworm, which apparently is not included in the tablets I have been using. Is this right?
Alison Logan advises…
Your vet is absolutely right. At present, there are not any over-the-counter products licensed against lungworm, only drugs on prescription (POM-V). Lungworm, otherwise known as French heartworm, is becoming more prevalent in the UK and is a potentially lethal illness.
Coughing can be a sign of lungworm infection in a dog and so may be confused with kennel cough. I tend to treat all coughing dogs for lungworm, unless already on a monthly treatment. Lungworm infection may, however, manifest as a problem with blood clotting, which may be mistaken for rodenticide poisoning. Indeed, for this reason, some veterinary practices will screen a blood sample for lungworm before routine surgery, such as neutering. There may be non-specific signs, such as weight loss, poor appetite or stomach upset with vomiting or diarrhoea. Changes in behaviour such as tiring, a dull attitude and even seizures have been reported. When faced with a sick dog, a vet will draw up a mental list of causes and lungworm tends to figure somewhere on most lists because it can produce these different signs of illness and it is increasingly common.
Angiostrongylus vasorum is passed to dogs by slugs and snails, which themselves pick it up from the faeces of infected dogs. The faeces from foxes are, however, increasingly a source of the parasite, with half the foxes in the south-east of the UK thought to be infected.
The infectious larvae can also be found in the slime trails of slugs and snails. This means that your dog is at risk not only if he accidentally eats an infected slug or snail, such as when eating grass, but also if there is a slime trail over a dog toy left in the garden, for example.
I therefore always advise dog owners to use a treatment that protects against this parasite. This will mean sourcing it from your veterinary practice, or online from a reputable website with a prescription from your veterinary surgeon.