Hookworms cause gastrointestinal problems in otherwise healthy adult dogs. However, this parasite can be fatal to puppies. Our veterinarians in Babcock Ranch explain the facts about hookworms in dogs and how these problematic parasites can be treated and prevented.
What are Hookworms?
These intestinal parasites have hook-shaped mouthparts and are commonly seen in dogs and cats. Although they measure only a 1/4 to 3/4 inch, they can ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they've latched onto your pet's intestine. If your dog develops a serious hookworm infection, this can lead to anemia or inflammation of the intestine.
Hookworms are often found in humid, warm environments and in pets living in poor conditions, such as overcrowding or poor hygiene.
How do Dogs Get Hookworms?
Dogs can become infected with hookworms in one of four ways:
- Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin, leading to infection.
- A dog can easily ingest hookworm larvae when grooming their feet or sniffing contaminated feces or soil.
- Unborn puppies can contract hookworms via the mother's placenta in utero.
- Once born, puppies can contract hookworms through an infected mother's milk.
What is the Lifecycle of the Hookworm?
The hookworm lifecycle has three stages, including egg, larvae and adult.
- Adult hookworms lay microscopic eggs within a pet that's been infected. These eggs are then passed through the feces, where they hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment.
- Larvae can survive for weeks or even months before infecting an unsuspecting dog.
- Once the larvae enter your pup's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. The cycle then begins again.
What are the Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs?
The primary symptom of hookworms in dogs is intestinal upset. Other symptoms may include:
- Dry, dull coat
- Generalized weakness
- Pale gums
- Significant (unexplained) weight loss
- Failure of puppy to grow or develop properly
- Bloody diarrhea
- Skin irritations (especially around paws)
If your dog displays any of these hookworm signs, contact your vet immediately. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections.
How are Hookworms Diagnosed?
A fecal flotation test easily diagnoses hookworms.
Your vet will ask you to bring in a sample of your dog's fresh stool. The stool will be mixed with a solution that will cause the eggs (if present) to float to the solution's surface, where they can be easily detected.
However, this test is only accurate when the worms have reached sufficient maturity to start producing eggs. Unlike other worms seen in dogs, you won't usually see hookworms in your dog's feces, as the worms remain firmly attached to your pet's intestinal wall until the disease is treated.
It takes 2 to 3 weeks for the worms to mature and start producing eggs. For this reason, hookworms are not always diagnosed by stool analysis in very young puppies.
How are Dog Hookworms Treated?
A class of drugs called anthelmintics can be used to eliminate hookworms. These medications are generally administered orally and rarely produce side effects. However, they are only effective in killing adult hookworms. It will, therefore, be necessary to repeat the treatment 2 to 3 weeks after the first treatment.
If your dog suffers from severe hookworm-induced anemia, a blood transfusion may be necessary to save his life.
Can Hookworms Infect Humans?
By lying on infected soil, hookworm larvae can begin to burrow into the skin, causing a condition known as "ground itch."
In rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs, including the eyes, leading to blindness and complications. Good bathing and hygiene habits can prevent hookworm infections in humans.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Attracting Hookworms?
There are a number of key approaches when it comes to preventing the spread of hookworms in dogs:
- Puppies should be dewormed at approximately 2-3 weeks of age, and if symptoms occur.
- Nursing female dogs should be dewormed when their puppies are also dewormed.
- Always clean up after your dog at the park or on walks, and keep your yard free of dog waste.
- Be sure to wash your hands frequently when around your dog, or after cleaning up dog waste. Also, ensure that your children wash their hands frequently.
- Keep your dog up-to-date on your dog's and cat's vaccination and parasite prevention. Many products formulated to prevent hookworm will also help to prevent hookworm. Speak to your vet to learn more about parasite prevention for your canine companion.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.