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It used to be that some worming tablets every 3 months, and Frontline or Advantage drops on the back of the neck every month was considered enough to keep the beasties that would live on or in our dogs, away.

But now there is Angiostrongylus vasorum (also known as French Heartworm) . The adult worm lives in the heart and lung’s blood vessels of infected dogs where it can cause a worryingly diverse range of symptoms.

This parasite has only became a serious problem in the South West over the last decade but now, if you live anywhere in the UK, and own a dog, you should be aware of it. Infected dogs have been found as far north as Scotland and cases in the Midlands are not unknown. A warmer climate has been cited as a reason for this spread.

Whatever the reason, it’s time dog owners took a good look at whether their parasite control is up to the job.

Angiostrongylus vasorum is passed onto dogs when they eat slugs or snails infected with the larval stages of this parasite. The lungworm larvae travel through your dog’s body and eventually end up in the heart and arteries of the lung. If the infection is left untreated, adult lungworms develop, causing a range of signs that can include breathing difficulties, lethargy and coughing. Infected dogs will infect local slugs and snails by contaminating the environment with their faeces, and the life cycle begins again.

At this point you may be thinking ‘My dog doesn’t eat slugs or snails, so he’ll be ok.’ Perhaps he will. It is true a large percentage of dogs that are infected were known slug-or-snail eaters. But others weren’t.

Maybe your dog eats grass, or drinks from ponds or chews on toys that are left outside in the garden overnight? It’s quite possible a dog could ingest an infected mollusc this way. And some dogs  have become infected through eating frogs, which can carry the lungworm.

Most infected dogs make a good recovery with the right treatment if given early enough, so any coughing dog should be checked out by a vet sooner, rather than later. Other signs to watch out for are weight loss, lethargy or breathing difficulties.

If left untreated, A.vasorum can cause more serious signs of ill-health including bleeding internally, or even into the brain. French Lungworm can kill.

As always, prevention is best. Your usual flea or worm treatment probably does not protect against lungworm.

Advocate is a spot-on treatment that is applied monthly and is effective against fleas, heartworm, gastrointestinal worms (hookworm, roundworm and whipworm), sarcoptic mange, demodicosis and ear mites. It is a Prescription-only medicine is available from your vet.