Garden critters like slugs, snails and frogs are rarely welcome guests on any home property. For dog-owners, they are even more worrisome because they are often carriers of a class of dreaded parasites known as French heartworms or lungworms. When a dog kills or ingests an infected garden critter, the parasites pass into the animal’s heart, where they produce eggs that in turn get transmitted to the lungs via bloodstream. Once the lungworms have colonized the lungs, severe respiratory symptoms can occur and in worst cases, result in the animal’s death.
Spring and summer are peak seasons for critters to be invading your yard or garden space, but `sleepless slugs’ can eat and breed throughout the year, which means you should stay advised about lungworm if your dog is particularly fond of going after these creatures, digging in the undergrowth, chewing grass or drinking from puddles.
Signs of a lungworm infestation can vary, depending on the specific parasite (crenosoma vulpis, filaroides hirth, angiostrongylus vasorum and oslerus osleri are the most common ones in United States and Canada).
Severe coughing, shortness of breath, traces of blood in urine, scleral hemorrhage (reddening around the eyes), weight loss and general lethargy are some of the most common indications.
Lungworms are difficult to identify and some dogs may not how any symptoms at all unless a significant number of larvae are clogging up the airways. Also, dogs who have previously suffered from a mild attack of lungworms may develop immunity and be able to fight off a re-infection on their own.
Tests to identify presence of lungworms include chest X-ray, stool test for larvae infestation, examination of respiratory secretion (tracheal wash) and Complete Blood Count (CBC).
Once identified, the treatment is pretty straightforward. Your vet may prescribe anti-parasitic drugs and/or anti-inflammatory dose of corticosteroids.
Some lungworm parasites can be passed to other dogs and cats via saliva, nasal secretions and feces, so be extra vigilant if you have multiple pets. Puppies are more susceptible than adult dogs to a full-blown attack of lungworms. (The oslerus osleri parasite, for example, is transmitted mainly through saliva and puppies can get infected if the mother has been compromised.)
As a dog-owner, you know the day-to-day habits of your dog best. Act with awareness if your pet spends a considerable amount of time outdoors and is fond of rummaging and chasing. Keep an eye on the critter population in your yard or garden, and note when they’re in residence. Do not leave your dog’s water bowl exposed in the yard. Don’t allow toys to be left outside either. Dispose of dog feces at once.