Lungworm was first detected in South Wales and Cornwall in the late 1970s, but has now reached most of the UK, including Northern Ireland and the majority of Scotland.
A rise in warmer, wetter weather is believed to be partly to blame for the growth, as it has led to an increase in slugs and snails, which are the most common hosts of the lungworm parasite.
Vets are now offering advice to dog owners on how to best keep their dogs safe and protected from the parasite.
Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical service at Vets4Pets, said: “Dogs love to roam around and explore the outdoors, so can easily come into contact with the infected slugs and snails,” said Dr Stacey.
“If this happens, the larvae are absorbed in the dog’s gut and develop into adults which live between the heart and lungs, until they are coughed up and swallowed, then the whole cycle begins again.”
Signs that a dog is infected by the lungworm parasite can include coughing, breathlessness, weight loss, reduced appetite, diarrhoea and in more severe cases, fits, impaired blood clotting and haemorrhage.
Dr Stacey added: “These signs are not a sure guarantee of lungworm, so if your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, it is essential to take them into your local vet so further tests can be done to reach a diagnosis.”
“Luckily there are a number of simple treatments, including a spot-on-product or tablets, which are easy to administer and very effective at protecting dogs against lungworm. Owners should be vigilant of their dogs.”