Parasite health warning for dog owners

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A Howden vet is warning dog owners of the dangers of lung worm disease after encountering two cases of the parasite locally – the first in her long career here in Yorkshire.

Both cases were identified after Heidi Svensgaard of the End Cottage Veterinary Clinic arranged for tests to be carried out on faeces samples from 20 dogs owned by members of her Working Dog Discussion Group, which meets regularly.

Heidi is concerned that many dog owners are unaware of lung worm and the risk it poses, and believes that the guidance given by pharmaceutical companies can be misleading.

She is keen to separate fact from fiction to ensure that all dog owners understand the best way to protect their pets from the disease.

Heidi explained: “Lung worm is much more common down South and in parts of Wales, although there are pockets of it further North.

“I recently came across my two first cases here in East Yorkshire. It’s surprising, but I suppose it’s inevitable that 
it will eventually spread to 
this area.

“Thankfully, the affected dogs were not ill as they can sometimes carry a very low dose. However, the worry is that, if lots of dogs end up carrying a low dose, then it will become more of a risk around here too.

“I think that there’s some scaremongering by the drug companies, which tend to focus on the need to treat dogs continuously. People need to know that it is present in the local area, and understand how their dogs catch it and what they can do to prevent it.”

Lung worms are parasitic nematodes carried by slugs, snails and frogs, and dogs can catch the disease by accidentally eating them, particularly when they crawl onto toys, food bowls or get on their fur.

The lung worm larvae grow inside the dog and adult lung worms move through their body to live in their heart and blood vessels. This can cause heart problems, breathing problems and pneumonia. However, in mild cases there may be no obvious sign of the condition and their owners will be unaware.

After about 28 days, the worms start to produce their own larvae and this can lead to serious problems, such as haemorrhages in the lungs, liver, intestine, eyes and spinal cord. If left untreated, the condition can be fatal.

Heidi’s advice on how best to protect your dogs from lung worm couldn’t be more simple; worm them three to four times a year with right product – ensuring that it’s the correct dose for your dog – and clean up any dog dirt straight away.

One of the dogs that tested positive for the disease lives close to a public footpath where people consistently 
fail to pick up waste from 
their dogs and Heidi is convinced that this caused the problem.

Although the parasite can’t be passed directly from dog to dog, they pass the larvae on in their faeces. This then infects more slugs and snails, which are eaten by more dogs, causing the disease to spread more quickly.

Heidi revealed that young dogs that have never been wormed before are most at risk of serious illness, adding: “The parasite affects the way their blood clots and can trigger nasty haemorrhages, but more minor bleeds can be treated.

“Foxes add to the problem as they sometimes carry the parasite too.”

Heidi has been educating members of the Howden Working Dog Discussion Group on the dangers of lung worm and how to protect their pets.

Up to 50 people gather together on a regular basis to discuss a wide range of issues affecting working dogs, covering everything from feeding to worming.

Members provided samples of faeces from their dogs so that Heidi could send them away to a laboratory in Norfolk for testing and two of the 20 samples came back positive.

Heidi said: “Although we have tested for it before, this was the first time that we identified lung worm.

“We’ve now started looking for more cases in other dogs that we treat, although we hope that these were isolated incidents in this area.

“However, the test isn’t 100 per cent reliable because lungworms are not always present in every sample, even in an infected dog, so it’s worth bearing in mind that prevention is better than cure.”