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Parasitic Infection of the Respiratory Tract in Dogs

Respiratory Parasites in Dogs

Respiratory parasites in dogs encompass various organisms, including worms, maggots, or mites that inhabit the respiratory system. They reside within the passages of the respiratory tract or even within the blood vessels, affecting both the upper respiratory tract (such as the nose, throat, and windpipe) and the lower respiratory passages (such as the bronchi and lungs).

These parasites can impact multiple systems within the host’s body, including the respiratory, cardiovascular, circulatory, and endocrine systems, which includes organs like the liver and kidneys.

Households with multiple pets or those where animals live in unhygienic conditions face a higher risk of transmission. Additionally, exposure to the infected feces of carrier animals can heighten susceptibility. Such exposure might occur in environments like shelters, boarding facilities, or outdoor areas where dogs frequently roam and encounter other animals and their waste.

Sporting dogs, especially those exploring wooded regions or swimming in rivers and lakes, face increased exposure to wild animals and potential waterborne parasites. The life cycles of these parasites often originate in creatures like shellfish, crabs, lizards, and worms before opportunistically spreading to other animals.

Symptoms and Types

Affected dogs may exhibit minimal or no observable signs of infection. However, common symptoms include sneezing, a runny or bloody nose, wheezing, and harsh lung sounds. In cases where parasites migrate to the brain, behavioral changes may occur, potentially leading to coma. These symptoms indicate varying degrees of respiratory parasite infestation.


Dogs can contract respiratory parasites through various means, including:

  • Ingesting earthworms
  • Digging or sniffing around rodent burrows
  • Contacting infected cats’ or dogs’ noses or other mucous membranes
  • Being exposed to the sneezes of infected animals
  • Consuming infected rodents, martens, minks, or being in contact with their feces
  • Consuming infected birds, sheep offal, crayfish, snails (especially if uncooked), ants, or cockroaches
  • Coming into contact with the infected feces of other cats and dogs
  • Puppies may acquire infection through their mother’s milk if she is infected during nursing.


Providing your veterinarian with a detailed history of your dog’s health and recent activities, including outings, boardings, and interactions with other animals or pests, is crucial. A comprehensive physical examination will be conducted by your veterinarian. Standard laboratory tests, including a blood chemical profile, complete blood count, electrolyte panel, and urinalysis, will be performed to pinpoint the underlying cause of the symptoms. A thorough examination may reveal the presence of parasites, as well as potential bacterial respiratory infections.

Your veterinarian will specifically analyze your dog’s urine and feces for parasite eggs or fragments. Parasite eggs can be detected by microscopic examination of a solution containing your dog’s feces. Additionally, a sample of cough discharge (sputum) may be examined under a microscope for the presence of parasite eggs.

X-ray imaging of the lungs is essential for detecting any abnormal lung changes that may indicate a parasitic infestation. For a more detailed examination of the respiratory system, rhinoscopy or bronchoscopy using a small camera can provide direct visualization of the nose and bronchioles, offering a clearer view of respiratory parasites.


Dogs diagnosed with respiratory parasites typically undergo outpatient treatment with dewormers. Anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed to reduce the body’s adverse immune response to the deceased parasites. In certain instances, surgical removal of the parasites may be necessary, often done individually.

If your dog experiences difficulty breathing, hospitalization and oxygen therapy are recommended until the parasite infestation is effectively resolved.

Recovery and Management

Your veterinarian will arrange follow-up appointments to examine your dog’s respiratory passages using a bronchoscope and to reevaluate fecal and urine samples for the presence of parasite eggs. Preventing your dog from consuming insects, rodents, and wildlife is the most effective means of safeguarding against parasite infections. Additionally, avoiding contact with unfamiliar cats and dogs, and considering separation of your own pets if they exhibit signs of illness, can help prevent or mitigate parasitic infections.

There are further preventive measures to consider for parasite avoidance. If your dog is a sporting breed or if you reside in wooded areas or near bodies of water, consult your veterinarian regarding local parasites and strategies to protect your dog from infestations.

Most animals recover successfully from respiratory parasites, unless the infection becomes chronic. If parasites migrate to the brain, leading to neurological symptoms in your dog, a complete cure may not be feasible.

If you suspect your dog is infected with parasites, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian promptly. In cases where your dog displays symptoms of neurological change or degeneration, contact your veterinarian for an emergency appointment.

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