Lungworm in cats

Lungworm in cats: symptoms, treatment and prevention

As a cat owner, the chances are you’ve heard of lungworm – but you may be less clued up on this pesky parasite than the more common roundworm and tapeworm.

So, what is lungworm, how do cats contract it, and how do you spot the signs of lungworm in your cat? We have the answers.

What is lungworm?

Thin, hair-like worms around 1cm long, lungworm is a particularly nasty parasitic worm that can be serious – even fatal – if left untreated.

Unlike many other types of worms your cat is at risk of, lungworm isn’t passed from cat to cat. Instead, it grows in snails and slugs, and infects cats when they eat them – or the predators that have ingested the slugs and snails – while outdoors.

Lungworm can be particularly serious in kittens, older cats, or cats with a weakened immune system.

How common is lungworm in cats?

While relatively rare in the UK just a few years ago, lungworm is becoming increasingly common, with cases now reported all around the country – though the condition is still far more prevalent in the south of England.

Lungworm is most commonly contracted by cats that hunt, and far less prevalent in indoor cats.

What causes lungworm in cats?

Unlike many other diseases, lungworm isn’t contagious. Instead, cats catch lungworm by eating slugs and snails that are infected by the disease – or birds and rodents that have eaten the infected slugs and snails.

Of course, not every snail or slug is infected, so you don’t need to panic if you spot your cat eating one of these slimy critters – but if they regularly eat snails and slugs the risk of contracting lungworm is higher.

What are the symptoms of lungworm in cats?

Many cats never display the symptoms of a lungworm infestation, and some build up a natural resistance to the parasite. Always consult your vet if your cat shows any of the following signs or symptoms of lungworm:

Identifying the signs and symptoms of lungworm in cats

  • reluctance to exercise
  • weight loss
  • shortness of breath, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
  • a persistent cough
  • blood in the urine or faeces
  • fever
  • bloodshot eyes
  • nose bleeds

If you have any reason to believe your cat or kitten has lungworm, call your local vet without delay.

The technical bit…

Lungworm – to give the most common variety its technical name, Aelurostrongylus abstrusus – is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and blood vessels of affected animals.

“Regularly eating snails and slugs increases the risk of your cat contracting lungworm. Lungworm is far less common in indoor cats, which are much less likely to come into contact with infected slugs or snails.”

How to treat lungworm in cats

As with all parasites, prevention is better than cure – and a good, regular worming routine is vital to protect your cat or kitten from the dangers of contracting lungworm.

While not all over-the-counter wormers treat lungworm, your vet will advise on the best and most effective products that prevent and kill lungworm as well as the more common varieties of cat worms, such as roundworm and tapeworm.

Need advice and information on lungworm in cats?

For expert advice on recognising, preventing and treating lungworm in your cat, contact your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our 'find a vet' page.