What Happens If Your Dog Eats A Slug?

Nobody will ever be able to fully understand why dogs are so gross and like to eat anything that will fit in their mouth.  Unfortunately, dogs don’t discriminate in their tastes when it comes to slimy critters, and they will happily eat slugs and snails if they get the opportunity.  Should you be concerned if your dog has eaten a slug or snail?

Should I be worried that my dog ate a slug or snail?

Aside from turning your stomach, it may be alarming to learn your dog likes to eat slugs and/or snails.  Unfortunately, these gross little bugs are hosts to the parasitic lungworm. While this used to be extremely rare in the United States, it’s started to become a more widespread problem.

What is the lungworm and how does my dog get it?

The lungworm is a parasite that uses slugs and snails as a host and then is able to grow into their other life stages in mammals like dogs and cats.  When a dog ingests the larvae of the lungworm, the parasite is given the opportunity to mature and then lay eggs that will hatch in the bronchi, the small air sacs in the lungs.

What are signs of lungworm infections?

True to their name, lungworms infect the airways of dogs, so most symptoms tend to revolve around the respiratory system.  Unfortunately, this means that your dog can have some very non-specific respiratory symptoms that are often attributed to other things, like an upper respiratory infection or kennel cough.

  • Coughing that isn’t resolved with antibiotics
  • Sneezing (also not resolved with antibiotics)
  • Wheezing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Weakness
  • Increased respiratory rate, even at rest
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

How is lungworm diagnosed?

Lungworms are typically diagnosed by accident if the upper airway symptoms are being investigated with diagnostics.  Radiographs, which are often performed with patients who have a chronic cough or sudden onset of coughing, can point towards lungworm with suspicious nodules.  However, these can be mistaken for cancer or other serious respiratory diseases, and the lungworm may not be considered an option until a bronchoscopy is performed to collect samples of these nodules.

Blood tests to diagnose this type of parasitic infection don’t exist, although a complete cell count could show an increase in a white cell called eosinophils, indicating a potential parasitic infection.

How is lungworm treated?

Dogs who are confirmed to have lungworm are treated with a very specific anti-parasitic medicine that could be needed for weeks or even months.  Your vet may also prescribe medication to help with respiratory distress and inflammation, such as steroids or nebulizers. Dogs with severe respiratory symptoms (in cases of advanced parasitic infestation) may need to be hospitalized for oxygen support.

How can I prevent my dog from eating slugs and snails?

If you live in an area where a lot of pets have been diagnosed with lungworm, then it’s important to use a pet-safe slug and snail bait that uses iron phosphate as the main ingredient.  Most commercial slug and snail baits use a very toxic chemical called metaldehyde that can cause severe neurological (seizures, ataxia, muscle tremors) symptoms in dogs if ingested. If you’re planning on using slug or snail bait, ensure you are using a pet-safe slug killer.

If your pet has had lungworm and beaten it, that doesn’t mean they are immune to it in the future.  If you live in an area with foxes or your dog has a penchant for eating slimy things, then you should take steps to prevent slug and snails from dwelling in your yard and garden.

Is lungworm contagious between dogs?

It depends on the type of lungworm your dog has.  One type cannot be passed from animal to animal, but the other two species of lungworms can be transmitted to other dogs through feces, saliva, or respiratory secretions.

While not every snail or slug is host to this parasite, it’s important to take precautions if you live in an area that has a high prevalance of lungworms.  If your region has little to no incidence of these parasites, then it’s much less likely your dog will come down with lungworms and slug and snail control isn’t quite as important.

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