Lungworm 'step-dance' to your door

A Cape Breton ceilidh is a fabulous way to spend a summer evening- and we were lucky enough to take in a few on our recent trip around the trail. The step dancing at the ceilidh (and my 2 girls trying to replicate it) made me think of wiggly worms…and the group of those I frequently consider when on clinics seeing K9 and feline patients are lungworms. 


Lungworms are a broad category of parasite which can settle in the lungs (hence the name) of various hosts (e.g. dogs, cats), or for the very unlucky- migrate to other body systems. There are a lot of different kinds of lungworms to be aware of, and while some are found globally, varieties of lungworm can vary regionally. That’s important information dependent on where you happen to live or are travelling to- with or without your pet.


Since I spend much of my time in eastern or Atlantic Canada, my ‘Top 5 K9 and feline lungworms’ to consider as: 1) a cause of a disease, 2) to raise awareness for vets and owners, and 3) where possible- take steps toward prevention, includes:


1.   Fox lungworm (Crenosoma vulpis)- This worm used to be just in Atlantic Canada; however, in recent years cases have been found in Ontario. The main host (you guessed it) is the fox, which are plentiful here on PEI. Since fox are not that different from dogs, they can be infested, and disease can manifest as coughing. Dependent on where you live, prevalence can be high. In one study of coughing dogs up to 27% were infected:

2.   French heartworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum)- This worm really likes to settle in specific spots within countries or geographic locations, e.g. Newfoundland, southern England, France. Clinical disease in dogs can be severe- fatal (e.g. effort to breathe, blood loss) or milder (e.g. cough, exercise intolerance). It’s a nasty one that’s been predicted to spread to other parts of N. America.

3.   Cat lungworm (aleurostrongylosis)- Unsurprisingly, we think about this wiggler in cats or wild cats, especially those that hunt and eat snails, slugs, frogs, birds or rodents carrying the parasitic larvae. 

Here’s a nice review from parasites and vectors that gives some info on what to consider if your cat is acting off or shows any respiratory signs, e.g. cough, wheeze, or working to breathe.


4.    Eucoleus aerophilus/Capillaria aerophilla- This nematode (worm) is a globe-trotter i.e. found worldwide. Both dogs and cats can be infested, and the eggs are very difficult to kill once shed into the environment. Once again- cough is the concern in your pet, and the disease (and worm) looks to be emerging in various countries it’s not been seen before:


 5.   Finally, rat lungworm…which is (or should be) a bit of an oddball worm to cause disease outside of rats. However, I couldn’t resist including 2 recent reports of disease due to this worm from a traveler-beware standpoint.

In China or the Pacific islands, be alert that centipedes may be infested with rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) which if consumed accidentally (or intentionally) can lead to meningitis in humans.

Another report from Hawaii has identified this worm as a cause of neurologic disease in humans (big and little versions) related to consuming raw or unwashed veggies contaminated with tiny slugs or snails infested with the worm:


Rat lungworm might be something to think about for those humans already planning travel far far away from the frigidity of the canuck winter and wanting a novel eating experience- or for those tempted to buy local and not washing the veggies (or anything potentially contaminated with slug or snail trails) thoroughly.


Parasites are fiddlin’ about everywhere, and while some (like many of the worms listed above) prefer to stick close to their geographic ‘home’… travel, pet importation and lack of awareness (and prevention where possible) can translate into these wigglers establishing residence within your own pet- or you. As ever, upping awareness of what worms (and other germs) live where you do (or where you and your pet travel) and practicing simple hygiene dictums (wash your hands, wash your food, don’t eat poop) can reduce risk.