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Treating Lungworm in Horses

6th July 2017

If you keep horses, ponies or donkeys, then you need to be aware of the risks that the lungworm parasite Dictyocaulus arnfieldi can pose to your animals.

Lungworm in horses

Equine lungworm is a type of parasitic worm which affects horses, donkeys and ponies, and can cause serious health issues. They are white in colour and measure about 6-10 cm in length.

Some animals may become infected but not show obvious symptoms, so it is important to regularly check your animals for any tell-tale signs of lungworm.

Young animals and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible than older, healthier ones, so if you notice a cough in your young horse, donkey or pony, it is worth getting the vet in for a check up sooner rather than later.

Common Lungworm Symptoms:
  • Lethargy
  • Weight Loss
  • Anemia
  • Poor Appetite
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Depression

Additionally, changes in normal behaviour, such as tiring easily, can often remain unnoticed by owners, making lungworm difficult to diagnose quickly.

Eventually, lungworm causes cardiac and respiratory disease, as well as hemorrhages in the lungs, liver, intestine, eyes, and spinal cord.

If left untreated, it can be fatal.

How is lungworm in horses transmitted?

Slugs and snails can carry the dangerous lungworm parasite, so when your horse is out and about, the chances of encountering a harmful carrier is increased.

Lungworm is transmitted when the animal eats the lungworm larvae. It then travels through the gastrointestinal tracts and into the respiratory system. Once infected, horses can suffer with heart and blood problems due to the parasite in their system. Once confirmed, you need to begin lungworm treatment immediately.

This threat is higher during wetter months when slugs and snails are quite common, and while feeding, horses can ingest these carriers by accident.

Also, contact with the slime trail in food and water bowls can be enough to cause infection too.

Although lungworm cannot be passed from animal to animal through contact alone, the horse or donkey can pass larvae in its waste, which can then give the infection to other animals through ingestion.


Diagnosing lungworm in horses

Once you suspect lungworm, the first port of call is contacting your vet. You will also need to have your animal's medical history to hand, including current vaccinations and worming schedule.

As soon as you notice any symptoms, keep a record of what you observe and when. Include dates and times if possible, as well as photographic evidence.

You should also inform your vet of your horses' feeding and grazing habits - do they go to a pasture with other animals, where is their feed stored, and do any of your other animals display any symptoms?

Diagnosing lungworm is difficult and can involve multiple tests, including;

  • A full physical exam
  • Checking the colour of the gums
  • Palpating the muscles and abdomen
  • Taking a complete blood count (CBC)
  • Analysis of stool samples for eggs and larvae
  • Listening to the chest and, possibly, chest X-rays
  • Temperature and blood pressure measurements
  • Bronchoscopy



Treatment of lungworm in horses

Once diagnosed with lungworm, your vet will prescribe an effective de-wormer, such as ivermectin or moxidectin to treat the infection. This will likely be followed up with a second dose about two weeks later.

If your horse or pony is also suffering with a cough, the vet may prescribe some anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the symptoms while the lungworm infection is treated.

It is important that you follow your vet's instructions regarding your animal's treatment in order to ensure the infection is fully removed.

For young animals, they may have experienced rapid weight loss as a result of the infection, so you can also include vitamins in the treatment if recommended by your vet.

Once your horse is treated for lungworm, most animals make a full recovery so spotting the signs and starting treatment early is one of the most important stages.

Preventing lungworm infections

Of course, prevention is easy that treatment so there are a few steps you can take to minimise the risk.

  1. Ensure your horses working schedule is up to date and that treatment is giving regularly
  2. Stalls and paddocks should be cleaned of waste as often as possible to remove matter that may contain lungworm larvae
  3. Feed should be placed in feeding trays, not on the ground
  4. Outdoor pastures should also be cleaned regularly

Fellowes Farm shop carries a wide range of Lungworm treatments that can fight lungworm infections, as well as tackle other worm infestations in horses.

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