The dangers of slugs to dogs

Lungworm is a nasty and potentially fatal disease caused by the parasite, angiostrongylus vasorum, which is carried by slugs and snails.

Now that the spring is here, slugs and snails will be seen much more frequently, and as your dog is likely to be out and about more - the risk from them grows significantly. Puppies, in particular, can be tempted to eat anything they come across, so always be vigilant

Cases are on the rise across the UK, and it is thought this is down to warmer, wetter summers, which are ideal conditions for slugs and snails to breed. This is combined with greater movement of people and their dogs, helping to spread the disease around.

Younger dogs under the age of two tend to be more at risk, as are dogs who spend a lot of time outside – that have more chance to swallow lungworm larvae.

Because it is such a serious disease, knowing the signs and symptoms, treatments and how to avoid Lungworm is crucial for dog owners. If you suspect your dog has lungworm, you must seek veterinary treatment straight away.

How can my dog get lungworm?

Fortunately, most dogs do not actively look to eat slugs and snails as they omit a foul-tasting slime. However, lungworm can be picked up if your dog licks or eats grass that a slug or snail has crawled across, or drinks water from outside. They can also contract lungworm if a slug or snail crawls over any toys or chews left out in the garden.

By ingesting slug and snail slime, your dog is swallowing the tiny larvae excreted, which can burrow through your dog’s gut wall and travel back to the heart and around the body as they turn into adults.

What are the symptoms of lungworm?

Lungworm symptoms differ from dog to dog and can vary, depending on how heavy the infestation is and which organs the worms are inhabiting. The most common symptoms are:

  • Heavy, laboured breathing, particularly during exercise
  • Coughing and bringing up blood
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Blindness
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea 
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures and unexplained collapsing

What lungworm treatment is available?

Lungworm treatment varies, depending on the severity of the illness and the symptoms. If the symptoms are mild, your vet may prescribe lungworm treatment and medication to take home. If your dog is very ill, they will need intensive treatment at a veterinary hospital.

How do I stop my dog from catching lungworm?

It is far better to prevent your dog from catching lungworm in the first place. Here are some good habits you can put in place:

  • Use a good worming regime - regularly, as prescribed - which includes lungworm protection. Ask your vet which prescription wormer is best for your dog. Off-the-shelf brands of wormer from pet shops and supermarkets are not veterinary licenced, so the ingredients are often less effective
  • Do not use slug pellets as these are poisonous to dogs and cats (and other animals and birds)
  • Remove dog faeces from your garden regularly to help break the cycle of larvae transferring from the environment to your dog
  • Bring dog toys and water bowls inside at night, lessening the chance of them being contaminated by gastropod slime

If you need any further advice on lungworm treatment or prevention, contact your local vet.

With a Kennel Club Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.