Parasitic Infection of the Respiratory Tract in Dogs

Respiratory Parasites in Dogs

Respiratory parasites can be classified as worms, or as insects such as maggots or mites that live in the respiratory system. They can be found in the passages of the respiratory tract or in the blood vessels, including the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, and windpipe), or the lower respiratory passage (bronchi, lungs).

Such parasites can affect all of the host’s systems: the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system (the heart), the circulatory system and the endocrine system (the liver and kidneys).

Households with multiple pets, and dwellings in which animals are living in unsanitary conditions have a higher risk of transmission. Exposure to the infected feces of other animals that are carriers of the parasite can also make an animal more susceptible. This can include being in an environment such as a shelter or boarding facility, but your dog is also more at risk if it goes outdoors frequently, as it has more opportunities to come into contact with other animals and their feces and urine. Sporting dogs are also at increased risk, due to exposure to wild animals and their droppings in wooded areas, and to water borne parasites in rivers and lakes.

These parasites often begin their life cycles in shellfish, crabs, lizards, and worms, spreading to other animals opportunistically.

Symptoms and Types

  • May show few or no signs
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Bloody nose
  • Wheezing
  • Harsh lung sounds
  • Behavior changes (brain migration of parasites)
  • Coma (brain migration of parasites)


  • Eating earthworms
  • Digging or sniffing around rodent burrows
  • Touching noses and/or other mucous membranes with infected cats or dogs
  • Being sneezed upon by an infected animal
  • Eating infected rodents
  • Eating infected martens and mink or being exposed to their feces
  • Eating infected birds
  • Eating sheep offal
  • Eating infected crayfish
  • Eating snails (uncooked)
  • Eating infected ants
  • Eating infected cockroaches
  • Exposure to infected feces of other cats and dogs
  • Puppies can be infected from mother’s milk while nursing if the mother is infected


You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health and recent activities, including recent history of boardings, outings, and experiences with other animals or with pests. Your veterinarian will then perform a complete physical exam on your dog. Standard laboratory work will include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis in order to determine the exact origin of the symptoms. A differential diagnosis may find parasites, but it may also find a bacterial respiratory infection.

Your veterinarian will specifically examine your dog’s urine and feces for parasite eggs or pieces of parasites. In feces, these are found by microscopically examining a solution of your dog’s feces. A sample of sputum (cough discharge) can also be microscopically examined for parasite eggs.

X-ray imaging of the lungs is crucial for visualizing abnormal lung changes that may be indicative of a parasitic infestation. A rhinoscopy or bronchoscopy (direct visualization of the nose and bronchioles with a small camera) is an even better way to look for respiratory parasites.

upper respiratory tract

The section of the respiratory system that contains the mouth, nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and epiglottis.


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


The term used for phlegm that is ejected from the mouth; it is secreted in the lower respiratory tract


Any type of arachnid excluding ticks


The feces of an animal


A tool used to look into the trachea and bronchi.


The part of the carcass that is inedible; includes certain organs and tissue in an animal that has been slaughtered

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