Lungworm (or Husk) is caused by the parasitic worm Dictyocaulus viviparous which can infect cattle of all ages and breeds which have not been able to build immunity through natural exposure or vaccination.

Lungworm is now well established on grazing land across the UK which means that planning lungworm control strategies against this widespread disease is important for all farmers.

Outbreaks of lungworm can be unpredictable and so vaccination before turnout protects a herd from walking into a potential minefield.

Lungworm seasonality

Average monthly distribution of lungworm outbreaks:

Lungworm outbreaks are seasonal with the highest percentage of diagnoses being reported in late summer and autumn
Lungworm outbreaks are seasonal with the highest percentage of diagnoses being reported in late summer and autumn

Lungworm lifecycle

D. viviparous has a direct lifecycle which is described below:

cattle lungworm lifecycle

How is disease spread?

The spread of disease is aided by the fungi Pilobolus. This fungus thrives in warm and wet conditions, growing on the surface of dung and the lungworm larvae attach to these spores. The spores explode and spread the larvae up to 3 metres on the pasture from the faeces.

funghi pilobolus on cattle dung

Photograph kindly supplied by Catherine McLeonard

Clinical signs of lungworm

The clinical signs of lungworm are most frequently seen in first year grazing cattle (but cattle of any age can be affected) and can include:1,2

clinical signs of lungworm in cattle

Impact of Lungworm

Lungworm infection causes reduced growth rates and decreased lifetime productivity in beef and dairy cattle.

Image showing the impact of lungworm on dairy and beef cattle

Lungworm Prevention

Cattle can produce an immune response to lungworm larvae and adult worms. This immunity can wane after a few months unless cattle are exposed to low-level contamination on the pasture.

Vaccination is the most predictable method of building herd immunity to protect against lungworm.

Cattle can be vaccinated for lungworm by giving an oral vaccine containing irradiated lungworm larvae (L3) which stimulate immunity. Cattle need to be turned out onto low level infected pasture no sooner than 2 weeks after completing the vaccination course which allows them to boost their immunity naturally.

Vaccination provides a solid base of immunity at the start of the season, which is maintained in a controlled way through grazing low-level contaminated pasture.4

Worming and Vaccination Integration

If you are continuously worming for gut worms this will also remove lungworm and not allow for natural immunity to build up, therefore cattle are at risk of lungworm infection when the activity of the wormer ends.

image of cattle worming vs vaccination table

Wormer Resistance

There is a risk of promoting resistance with the ongoing use of long-acting anthelmintics and relying on wormers alone does not allow the animal to develop its own natural immunity.5,6,7

Therefore, it is important to discuss with your vet or animal health advisor the appropriate use of anthelmintics; taking into account gut worm control, incorporating vaccination and also grazing management to create a robust approach to parasite control. For further information please refer to Control Of Worms Sustainably (COWS) via


1. (2014) Control of lungworm in cattle. [Accessed Jun 2018].

2. Elsheikha H. (2017) Endoparasites in cattle: studies and diagnostics. Vet Times Online.

3 Holzhauer M. et al. (2011) Lungworm outbreaks in adult dairy cows: estimating economic losses and lessons to be learned. Veterinary Record. 169:494.

4. McLeonard C. & van Dijk J. (2017) Controlling lungworm disease (husk) in dairy cattle. In Practice, 39(9). 408-419.

5. Forbes A. (2018) Lungworm in cattle: epidemiology, pathology and immunobiology & Lungworm in cattle: treatment and control. Livestock, 23(2) & 23 (3).

6. McNulty S. et al. (2016) Dictyocaulus viviparus genome, variome and transcriptome elucidate lungworm biology and support future intervention. Sci. Rep. 6.

7. Molento M. et al. (2006) Suppressive treatment of abamectin against Dictyocaulus viviparus and the occurrence of resistance in fi rst-grazing-season calves. Veterinary Parasitology 141. 373–376.