Tuesday 2 September 2008

Lungworm in cats

Lungworm in cats and dogs is in the news, surprisingly. The Daily Mail (UK newspaper) announced that when cats (and dogs) eat garden snails they might ingest the lungworm and suffer the consequences. As the summer has been so wet there have been more cases of lungworm infections of cats, so say PDSA veterinarians and that is why lungworm in cats is in the news. We always find a way to talk about the weather.

I have never heard of a cat eating a snail unless it is cooked and the cat is French. This then is an oversimplification.

Out of several different species, there are two types of lungworm that affect cats. They are thin and about one centimeter in length, in old numbers that means a little less than half an inch. One of them has the Latin name Aelurostrongylus abstrusus (a bit of a mouthful!). This is the lungworm most commonly found in cats but still uncommonly encountered.

Lungworm in cats - Lungworm lifecycle - a modern day saga

The life cycle of this more common lungworm in cats is uncommon. The worm is passed in cat feces. From there it is ingested by snails. From there the snail is eaten by a bird or rodent. From there the cat catches and eats the bird or rodent. From there the eggs hatch in the cats intestine and then adults migrate to the lungs in the bloodstream. In the lungs the lungworms lay eggs. These eggs migrate up (coughed up) to the windpipe. From the windpipe they are ingested into the stomach and then passed in feces and so the cycle restarts. Phew.........!


The majority of cats show no symptoms of the presence of lungworms. Of those that do they have a chronic dry cough that is in fact not due to the lungworm but a secondary bacterial infection.

Other symptoms are:

---weight loss
---nasal discharge

That is where we hand over to a veterinarian.

Lungworm in cats to cat health problems

Lungworm in cats - Sources:
  1. Daily Mail
  2. Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin
Sorry no pictures of lungworms available.


  1. Hi!

    Nice article!
    I'm puzzled by the following sentence though: "These eggs migrate up to the windpipe. From the windpipe they are ingested into the stomach and then passed in feces and so the cycle restarts."

    I believe it is actually the larvae that are coughed up and swallowed, not the eggs. The eggs remain in the lungs until the larvae hatch.
    (See Merck vet. manual: http://tinyurl.com/Aelurostrongylus)


  2. Hi Marianne, thanks for the comment. I think I am correct though. Please see this page:

    Feline Lungworm

    This is not the source I used but another one so two sources agree with what I have said!

  3. What they dont highlight enough is that cats actually die from this, if the lung and heart are badly damaged. And it happens over just a couple of months. This is happening to a friends cat, and she has to make a difficult decision to put Blacky to sleep when it gets too painful for him to breathe..


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