A graphic video taken by vets at one of the UK’s top animal hospitals has dramatically revealed the shocking cause of a dog’s constant cough.

The six-year-old boxer dog was suffering from a severe case of lungworm and was infested and infected by potentially deadly parasites.

Nicki Reed, from Linnaeus-owned Veterinary Specialists Scotland (VSS) in Livingston, dealt with the stomach-churning case and said the alarming images provided dog owners with a powerful warning of the perils of lungworm.

Internal medicine specialist Nicki, who is a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, explained: “The dog came to VSS because he had been coughing for several weeks and there had been no improvement despite a course of antibiotics.

“We performed a bronchoscopy (a thin tube with a tiny video camera being sent down the throat into the lungs) to evaluate his airways and what was found is not for the faint-hearted. It revealed hundreds of worms within the dog’s airways.

“The worm was identified as Crenosoma Vulpis, which is also known as the fox lungworm, so it’s likely that our patient got infected either by eating a snail or a slug, which host the parasites, or by swallowing the larvae themselves when eating grass.”

After a dog is infected, lungworm usually causes progressively worsening signs of respiratory disease, such as coughing, which, if left untreated, can be fatal.

Treatment is usually quick and easy but Nicki admitted that the extent of the infection in this case meant the VSS team needed to take a more measured approach to killing so many worms.

She said: “Although parasiticide treatments can be used to treat these infestations, there was some concern that rapidly killing large numbers of worms could lead to anaphylaxis (severe and potentially life-threatening reaction) as the worms die.

“So, we opted for a 10-day course of treatment alongside a low dose of steroid therapy to try to prevent this.

“Happily, no further coughing has been reported, but ongoing treatment will be required for the next few weeks as the worming treatment will only kill larvae and adult worms, and more may hatch from eggs which have not yet been destroyed.

“Going forward, routine worming treatments should help prevent re-infestation once the infection is clear.”

There are two different species of lungworm commonly identified in the UK, Crenosoma vulpis, as in this case, and Filaroides osleri.

Another parasite that can commonly infect the lungs, and which has received the most publicity in recent years, is the ‘French heartworm’ Angiostrongylus vasorum which, as well as causing respiratory signs, can also cause bleeding disorders.

The danger signals for the three species include:

  • Weight loss
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Poor blood clotting/persistent bleeding
  • General sickness
  • Circling
  • Stomach and back pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Seizures

VSS is a specialist-led multidisciplinary referral centre offering industry-leading services in internal medicine (feline and canine), neurology, orthopaedics, and soft tissue surgery, supported by Specialists in diagnostic imaging and anaesthesia and analgesia.

For more information about Veterinary Specialists Scotland, visit www.vetscotland.co.uk.

Back to news