Lungworm Case Studies:

Spotlight on real-life lungworm case studies

When lungworm strikes, it can have a devastating impact not only on the dogs but also on their owners too. We have spoken to owners whose dogs have experienced the grim effects of the potentially deadly parasite, to give you an insight into what it can be like, and the many ways in which the parasite can present itself.

Read the lungworm case studies below to hear Daisy’s, Gizmo’s, Sammie’s, Minnie’s and Teegan’s moving lungworm stories.

Daisy’s story
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Daisy’s story: the deadly dog infection that strikes fast

Six-year-old Dalmatian Daisy was a happy-go-lucky dog, always sticking her nose into bushes and undergrowth. But one day she developed a cough and breathing problems, and her health deteriorated fast.

“I felt so helpless as Daisy became very sick quite quickly,” says Daisy’s owner Lea Chojecki. “She is such a big part of our family and I just wanted to help her as much as I could.”

Taking Daisy to her local vets, Vets4Pets in Llanrumney near Cardiff, they diagnosed kennel cough but had the forethought to test for a deadly parasite, lungworm. Two days later, Lea got a call to bring Daisy back to the surgery urgently.

Dogs can contract lungworm by eating slugs or snails that are infected with the parasite. Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and blood vessels of infected animals including dogs and foxes. As its name suggests, lungworm affects the dog’s lungs, causing coughing and other signs and can make a dog very ill. In some cases, lungworm can be fatal, and younger dogs are especially at risk.

Daisy was started on lungworm treatment straight away and after nearly two weeks her health improved dramatically. Daisy was lucky to survive the deadly infection, mostly due to the infection being caught early.

“The spread of lungworm throughout the UK is increasing and we are seeing more and more cases in our practice,” says veterinary surgeon Delyth Butler from Vets4Pets in Llanrumney. Owners are becoming more aware of lungworm, she says, but many are unaware that it is not usually covered in treatments for fleas or worms. 

“I urge pet owners to speak to their vet and make sure their treatment covers this potentially deadly parasite. I always say prevention is better than cure,” adds Delyth.
Lea shared her heartrending experience with Daisy to show other dog owners how dangerous lungworm can be. “Lungworm is in the Cardiff area and owners need to know the symptoms, as well as how to fully protect their dog from lungworm. Daisy is very lucky to have survived lungworm.”

The symptoms of lungworm can easily be confused with other illnesses and some dogs have no symptoms at all. This is why prevention is so important in protecting a dog’s health.

You can check if lungworm has been reported in your area using the lungworm map. Speak to your vet about regular prevention of lungworm.

Lungworm symptoms in dogs

The signs and symptoms of lungworm infection can vary greatly between dogs, but some common symptoms include:

  • Breathing problems or a cough like Daisy’s. Your dog may also tire more easily.
  • Problems with blood clotting, such as excessive bleeding from minor wounds, nose bleeds and bleeding into the eye.
  • Behavioural changes, seizures (fits), spinal pain, weight loss, loss of appetite and vomiting or diarrhoea – all of these symptoms could be caused by lungworm.

If your dog displays any of these signs, consult your vet immediately. 

Gizmo’s story
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Brave Gizmo fights for life on operating table

Taking a young dog to the vets to be neutered is a routine part of pet care for many owners. But for Gizmo, a two-year-old Labrador from Harlow, the operation was far from routine. 
Due to an undiagnosed infection, Gizmo was left fighting for her life on the operating table.

“As soon as we started the operation, we noticed Gizmo was bleeding more than normal,” says veterinary surgeon, Garrick Ponte. As the operation went on, the blood loss grew more extreme. “Our vets gave Gizmo lifesaving treatment under very stressful circumstances.”

Trying to discover the cause, the quick-thinking veterinary team conducted a blood test and were shocked to discover it was due to a lungworm infection, says Garrick, who is Practice Partner at Vets4Pets Harlow.

Dogs can contract lungworm when they eat slugs or snails or even their slime trails that are infected with the parasite. Once in a dog’s system, the parasite travels through the body to the heart and, if left untreated, the dog’s health can rapidly deteriorate. In some cases, lungworm can be fatal, and younger dogs are especially at risk.

Unlike other parasites, such as ticks and fleas, dogs may not initially show any signs of a lungworm infection. Not all worming products are effective against lungworm and regular preventive treatment is required for protection.

You can check if lungworm has been reported in your area using the lungworm map.

Speak to your vet about regular prevention of lungworm.

Lungworm symptoms in dogs

Though the signs can differ greatly from dog to dog, here are some of the most common symptoms of lungworm:

  • Breathing problems, which can include a cough.
  • Your dog may appear tired, lethargic and have little interest in walkies.
  • Problems with blood clotting like Gizmo experienced. This can include nose bleeds, bloody urine/stools and minor wounds which bleed for longer than usual.
  • Changes in behaviour, fits, back pain, less interest in food, weight loss, diarrhoea and vomiting. 

Contact your vet urgently if your dog displays any of these symptoms. 

Sammie’s story
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"Sammie only had a 50:50 chance of survival” after parasite infection

Sammie is a one-year-old Border Collie rescue dog with boundless energy and a lust for life. Yet, in a matter of hours, her life hung in the balance due to a lungworm infection.

“It all happened very quickly,” says owner Gill Kyne, from Galway. “Sammie was perfectly fine when we went to bed but the next morning she couldn’t get out of her bed. She managed to stagger across the kitchen but then she collapsed. Seeing her go from a healthy energetic dog to not being able to walk was shocking.”

Sammie was admitted as an emergency to Ark Vets in Galway. “She was conscious but very dull and quiet, and not very responsive in her behaviour,” says vet Martin O’Malley. “It was clear she had internal bleeding but there was no evidence of external trauma. Lungworm was not our first thought but it was on the list of possible diagnoses.”

Lungworm is a parasite that can affect dogs if they eat infected slugs or snails, or ingest their slime. Dogs can accidentally – or deliberately – eat slugs or snails and become infected when rummaging in long grass or drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls.

Once in a dog’s system, the parasite travels through the body to the heart and, if left untreated, the dog’s health can rapidly deteriorate. In some cases, lungworm can be fatal, and younger dogs are especially at risk.
“We’d never heard of lungworm and its effects on dogs,” says owner Seamus Kyle. “Yet, when Martin diagnosed her with lungworm, he said Sammie only had a 50:50 chance of survival. She was so sick, we thought we’d never see her again.”

Following lifesaving treatment by the vet team, after a couple of days, Sammie made a full recovery. “It was touch and go for the first 24-48 hours,” says Martin. “Sammie’s case has really highlighted the serious problems lungworm can cause for dogs. With the very high level of lungworm infection in foxes in the area, and confirmed cases occurring in dogs, it is important that owners are aware of the option of using a monthly lungworm preventative.”

What’s more, unlike parasites such as ticks and fleas, dogs may not show any signs or symptoms of a lungworm infection. However, common symptoms include breathing problems or a cough, or bleeding (see side box).

Owner Gill says she hadn’t been aware that regular worming preventatives did not always cover lungworm. “Based on our horrific experience with Sammie, I would advise all dog owners to speak to their vet about protecting their dog from lungworm.”

You can check if lungworm has been reported in your area using the lungworm map

Speak to your vet about regular prevention of lungworm.

Lungworm symptoms in dogs

As a responsible dog owner, it’s important you know the signs of a lungworm infection. Though each dog is different, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Being ‘off colour’ just as Sammie was. This can include low energy, tiring easily and poor appetite.
  • Trouble breathing and a persistent cough. Your dog may even cough up blood.
  • Other problems with bleeding, including bloody stools, passing blood while urinating or vomiting blood.
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss and potential seizures.

Is your dog showing any of these symptoms? If the answer is ‘yes’, contact your vet straight away.

Minnie’s story
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“Silent killer” parasite claims life of puppy Minnie

A new puppy is an exciting time for any household, and the arrival of Minnie the French Bulldog was no exception for owner Sian Reekie from Rugby. But tragedy struck when Sian took Minnie to the vets to be neutered.

“Before her operation Minnie was her usual cheeky self, but little did we know that lungworm was secretly killing her inside. I had never heard of lungworm before; it is often called a silent killer and it couldn’t be truer.”

Dogs can contract lungworm by eating slugs or snails that are infected with the parasite. Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and blood vessels of infected animals including dogs and foxes. 

As its name suggests, lungworm affects the dog’s lungs, causing coughing and other signs and can make a dog very ill. As in Minnie’s case, lungworm can be fatal.

For Minnie, the lungworm infection caused her to bleed heavily after the operation, despite the best efforts of her veterinary team.

As a result of the tragic death, local vets are urging pet owners to adopt a monthly preventative treatment regime to safeguard against lungworm.

“Minnie’s story is heart-breaking but, unfortunately, Minnie’s circumstances are not as rare as we would like,” says Brighton veterinary surgeon, Alice Duvernois. “Lungworm is prevalent across the UK and it is essential we encourage all pet owners to use the right lungworm prevention product every month a part of their pet’s healthcare routine.”

Prevention is vital because the symptoms of lungworm can easily be confused with other illnesses and some dogs have no symptoms at all. 

“To say we are devastated to lose Minnie is an understatement,” adds Sian. “We hope her story will help raise awareness of the parasite and the need for dog owners to speak to their vets about how to prevent it.”

You can check if lungworm has been reported in your area using the lungworm map

Speak to your vet about regular prevention of lungworm.

Lungworm symptoms in dogs

Though Minnie wasn’t yet showing any symptoms of lungworm, there are some common warning signs that you can look out for. They include: 

  • An ongoing cough. This is sometimes confused with kennel cough.
  • Your dog’s behaviour may seem different. For example, they might lose their appetite. They could also appear tired and disinterested in playing or going for their usual stroll. 
  • Cuts and scrapes may bleed more than normal. Your dog may also suffer from nosebleeds or pass blood in their wee or poo.
  • Your pet may also have sickness and diarrhoea. And they may seem in pain when you touch their spine. 
  • Perhaps the most worrying symptom of all: seizures. If your dog has lungworm, it could cause fitting.

If your dog shows any of these symptoms, speak to your vet right away. 

Teegan’s story
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Deadly parasite threatens dogs like Teegan across Scotland

12-year-old Labrador, Teegan, was a happy, healthy dog until one day she did something that many dogs do out on a walk – she ate a snail.

“Although we took Teegan to the vets straight away, over the next few weeks and months she got really sick,” says owner Moira Lang, from Paisley. “She lost a significant amount of weight and got so ill that she couldn’t breathe and was coughing constantly. She was so sick we thought we were going to lose her.”

The cause of Teegan’s health problems was lungworm, a parasite that lives in slugs, snails and even their slime trails, and can infect dogs when eaten.

After her blood tests came back normal and Teegan initially improved with treatment, both vet and owner thought the problem was behind them.

But over the weeks, Teegan’s cough persisted and then her condition started to worsen. “We investigated further with an X-ray and more blood tests,” says Beverley. “We even had a cardiologist look at the X-rays, who thought it may be parasitic, so we tested Teegan’s stool and it came back positive for lungworm. This difficult case proves that monthly preventative treatment can be lifesaving.”

“As lungworm is not well-established in this area, it wasn’t the first thing we thought of, especially in an elderly patient,” says vet Beverley Naismith from Abbey Veterinary Group. “But because Teegan’s owner told us she had seen her swallow a snail, we gave her treatment for lungworm.”

After many visits to the vets over several months, Teegan is now back to her old self. “Since her treatment, Teegan has come on in leaps and bounds,” says Moira. “She wants to go for walks now, but she still has a cough and has lost a lot of weight. We should have had her covered for lungworm but we didn’t. I’m just so glad she’s alive.”

Dogs can become infected when they accidentally or deliberately ingest these common garden pests whilst rummaging through undergrowth, eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls or they can simply pick them up from licking their toys. 

Once in a dog’s system, the parasite travels through the body to the heart and major blood vessels and, if untreated, the dog’s health can deteriorate rapidly. In some cases, lungworm can be fatal. While younger dogs are especially at risk of lungworm, Teegan’s case shows that dogs of any age can be affected.

Unlike parasites such as ticks and fleas, dogs may not show any signs or symptoms of a lungworm infection. However, common symptoms include breathing problems or a cough, or even bleeding (see side box).

You can check if lungworm has been reported in your area using the lungworm map

Speak to your vet about regular prevention of lungworm.

Lungworm symptoms in dogs

  • Teegan showed many of the classic symptoms of lungworm – signs that you should watch out for – including: 
  • Losing weight and a lack of interest in food.
  • A constant cough and difficulty breathing. 
  • Though Teegan’s owner didn’t notice any problems with bleeding, this is also a common warning sign. For example, dogs with lungworm can pass blood in their urine or stools. They can also have nosebleeds and minor wounds can bleed far more than they should.
  • Other symptoms include: behavioural changes, fitting, pain along the spine, sickness and diarrhoea. 

If your pet shows any of these symptoms, reach for the phone and contact your vet without delay.1

  • 1. Angiostrongylus vasorum in dogs, which develops in the heart and pulmonary arteries. Symptoms vary including coughing, breathing difficulties, bleeding, general sickness and even sudden death. Treatment can result in full recovery, but preventative products are available from your vet. For further information call Elanco Animal Health on +44 (0)1256 353131 or write to: Elanco UK AH Limited, incorporated in England and Wales, company no. 11378434, registered office at Form 2, Bartley Way, Bartley Wood Business Park, Hook, RG27 9XA, United Kingdom. Always seek advice on the use of medicines from the prescriber. Use medicines responsibly. www.noah.co.uk/responsible www.apha.ie.
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