Browsing tag: bleeding disorder

Lungworm Photo Shoot

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen

Be Lungworm aware campaign

The Be Lungworm Aware Campaign

In my career both as a vet and in the media I’ve been asked to do some fairly strange things – pulling a guinea pig’s head out of a coconut, dressing up as a 50’s garage mechanic in the Blue Peter pantomime and dancing to The One Show theme tune on the BBC to name but a few – so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a request which involved having my photo taken with a dog bowl, umbrella and a selection of snails and slugs!

The photo shoot – and rather unusual props – was all in aid of a campaign called Be Lungworm Aware which is trying to raise awareness of a very nasty condition that is increasingly affecting dogs called lungworm, or French heartworm.

The disease is caused by a microscopic worm called angiostrongylus vasorum which is transmitted to dogs from its main hosts which are molluscs such as snails and slugs. When inquisitive dogs lick or swallow slugs or snails, the parasite enters their system and then larvae migrate to the lungs where they can cause life-threatening symptoms including bleeding, breathing difficulties, weakness and collapse. There is a very effective treatment, which is a simple spot-on flea product called Advocate, but  the problem is mainly one of awareness as most dog owners – and even many vets – don’t know about this parasite and the devastating effects it can have on dogs. Part of the reason for this lack of awareness is the fact that until recently the parasite that causes the disease has been limited to a few geographical hotspots, mainly in the south-east. However in recent years the parasite has become much more widespread and there have now been cases as far afield as Scotland and Kent, so it really is a UK-wide problem.

With this in mind, the aim of the photo shoot was to generate publicity for the campaign and try to educate dog owners about the dangers lungworm can pose. The campaign is also trying to advise people about how to spot the potential signs of infection, which include bleeding and poor blood clotting, breathing difficulties, generalised lethargy and illness and even behavioural changes, as early diagnosis and treatment is vital in preventing the most serious consequences of infection with this parasite, which include fatalities.

To really get the message across about the main source of infection for dogs, which is slugs and snails, the PR company involved decided to create a picture with me and a dog huddling under an umbrella as a rain of molluscs comes down all around us!  The rain of snails and slugs was something that would be added in using a computer, but the director wanted a few real snails to be in the shot, so consequently I found myself holding a dog bowl covered in snails in one hand, an umbrella in the other and a dog between my legs as I crouched in a damp and cold Oxfordshire field.

I do hope the pictures do get some good exposure as it’s a very worthwhile campaign and if I can help prevent some of these devastating cases then I will be really pleased – and it will certainly make the experience of squatting in a field holding snails well worthwhile!

Beware of Slugs and Snails and Angiostrongylus (lungworm)

snailTo a gardener, slugs and snails can be a nuisance because they eat your plants, but to dogs they can pose a serious health risk because they act as an intermediate host for one of the most serious types of internal worms.

The worm called Angiostrongylus Vasorum is sometimes referred to as lungworm or heartworm (although other types of lungworm and heartworm also exist). It affects dogs and foxes, and in the last few years it seems to have spread across most of Northern Europe including the U.K. I have seen two cases in the south-west of England in the last year. I am pleased to say that both dogs survived but they were both very ill for a time.

The life cycle of this parasite takes place partly inside the dog (the host) and partly inside the snail or slug (the intermediate host). An infected dog or fox will have adult worms in the lungs and blood vessels, which produce eggs. These worm 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.

dog_drinking_puddleIt can be easy to see, or hear, if your dog eats a snail because of the crunching sounds, but it is much harder to know if they eat slugs. Unfortunately some of the slugs are quite small and any dog which grazes on grass or drinks from puddles could be swallowing tiny slugs.

The symptoms of infection with this parasite can be quite varied. The effects on the lungs may cause coughing or breathlessness on exercise. Various bleeding disorders can be caused by the blood failing to clot, which may show as nosebleeds or bleeding in the mouth or eyes, or unexpected bleeding after surgery. Less commonly the brain, kidneys or central nervous system can be affected. All of these are serious and can be fatal.

Diagnosing the cause of the problem is by a combination of a physical examination, blood tests and faecal tests (to identify worm larvae). Other tests such as x-rays or ultrasound imaging may be necessary in cases where the symptoms are less clear cut, to distinguish this from other conditions.

The good news is that treatment is available with a number of drugs available from your vet. Some commonly prescribed worm tablets and some commonly prescribed flea treatments will kill this parasite (when used as directed by your vet, which may be more frequently than for other parasites), and this is just one reason why all dogs should follow a suitable parasite treatment regime. Dogs with more serious symptoms will require intensive care and possibly blood transfusions and other drugs.

The best advice to dog owners to avoid this problem is:

  1. Ask your vet which is the most suitable product to use for routine worm and flea treatment, and use it regularly, even if you don’t suspect that your dog has any parasites.
  2. Try to stop your dog eating slugs and snails if you can.
  3. Pick up your dog’s faeces and dispose of properly.
  4. Don’t be tempted to use slug bait, as this can be very poisonous.

Please ask at your veterinary surgery if you would like more information or advice on this very unpleasant parasite.

Jenny Sheriff BVM&S MRCVS

3/12/09

If you are concerned that your dog is coughing or having nosebleeds use the interactive dog symptom guide to find out what you should do.

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