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Home Roundworms of Sheep and Goats Lungworm in Sheep and Goats

Lungworm in Sheep and Goats

(Dictyocaulus filaria, Muellerius capillaris, Protostrongylus rufescens)

There are three species of lungworm that occur in sheep or goats in Australia. They are the large lungworm, Dictyocaulus filaria, and the small lungworms, Muellerius capillaris and Protostrongylus rufescens. These parasites prefer cool conditions. The requirement for a developmental stage in slugs or snails restricts Muellerius and Protostrongylus mainly to cooler regions.

Image: Lungworms – Muellerius in the bronchial tract (airways) (Source: Dr R Woodgate, Department of Agriculture Western Australia)

  • D. filaria worms are white, long (several centimetres) and thin with few identifying features. They are commonly found in frothy material within the airways (bronchi).
  • M. capillaris are fine, thin worms that are tightly coiled within the lung itself. Eggs and larvae are also present. Usually, these small lungworms are identified on the appearance of grey spots 2–4 mm in diameter on the surface of the lung.
  • P. rufescens are reddish coloured and 16–35 mm long.

The life cycles of lungworms are slightly different from most round worms.

Dictyocaulus filaria: Adult females (located in the bronchi of the lungs) lay eggs containing larvae. Eggs are coughed up, swallowed, and hatch as they move through the digestive system. First stage larvae are then passed out in the faeces. They develop on pasture and are eaten by sheep or goats. Larvae move through the intestinal walls and travel to the lungs.

Muellerius capillaris and Protostrongylus rufescens: Eggs that are laid in the nodules of the lung tissue (M.capillaris) or in the airways (P. rufescens) by the adult worms hatch and the larvae wriggle up the bronchi to the throat. These first stage larvae are then swallowed and passed out in the faeces where they can infect snails or slugs, in which they develop (this is an indirect life cycle). Infection occurs when the sheep or goat eats a slug or snail. Larvae travel through the tissues from the intestinal tract to the lungs.

See an animation of the life cycle of this worm.


D. filaria is found in the bronchi of the lungs, whereas P. rufescens is in the smaller bronchioles and M. capillaris is deeply embedded in the tissues of the lungs.


Lethargy, weight loss, nodular lesions (lungs), coughing and pneumonia.

Lungworms irritate the lining of the airways. The main sign of lungworm infection in sheep or goats is coughing. Infected sheep or goats may also have reduced weight gains. At post mortem examination white, thread-like worms are clearly visible either in the airways or in shot-like nodules under the lung surface. Some nodules may contain pus rather than worms.

Image: Muellerius nodules in the lung of a sheep (Source: Dr R Woodgate, Department of Agriculture Western Australia)


Diagnosis is not easy in live animals. Generally, clinical signs such as coughing are used, and, where possible, fresh faeces are collected for recovery of larvae using a sedimentation test or Baermann apparatus.

Lungworms can also be identified at post-mortem examinations.


All broad spectrum drenches will remove lungworms. No drench resistance has been reported.

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