For healthy adult dogs, hookworms cause gastrointestinal upset. That said, this parasite can be fatal for puppies. Here, our Groton vets explain the importance of treatment and prevention when it comes to hookworms in dogs.
What are Hookworms?
These intestinal parasites have hook-like mouthparts and are commonly diagnosed in both dogs and cats. While they are only about 1/4" to 2/4" in size, they can ingest significant amounts of blood once they become attached to your pet's intestine. If your pet ends up with a significant hookworm infection, inflammation of the intestine or anemia may result.
Pets that live in poor conditions, such as those in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions, are most at risk for hookworms. The parasite is also often seen in moist, warm environments.
How do Dogs Contract Hookworms?
Hookworms can become a problem for a dog in one of four ways:
- Unborn puppies can contract hookworms in utero, via the mother's placenta.
- Once born, puppies may drink infected milk from their mother and contract the condition.
- A dog can sniff at contaminated soil and feces, or groom their feet, and easily ingest hookworm larvae.
- Hookworm larvae can penetrate your dog's skin and lead to infection.
What is the Hookworm's Lifecycle?
The three stages of the hookworm lifecycle include egg, larvae and adult.
- Adults lay microscopic eggs within a pet, which then becomes infected. The eggs are then passed through the feces, where they hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment.
- The larvae can then survive for weeks or even months before infecting an unsuspecting dog.
- Once the larvae end up in your pooch's body, they make their way 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 hallmark symptom of hookworms in dogs is intestinal upset. Other symptoms may include:
- Dull, dry coat
- Pale gums
- Significant, unexplained weight loss
- Puppy failing to grow properly
- Skin irritations (especially around paws)
- Bloody diarrhea
- Generalized weakness
If you see any signs of hookworms listed above in your dog, contact your vet as soon as possible. It's not uncommon for severe hookworm infections to turn fatal for young puppies.
How are hookworms diagnosed?
Hookworms are easy to diagnose through a fecal flotation test.
Your vet will request that you bring in a fresh stool sample from your dog. The stool will be mixed with a solution that will cause the eggs (if present) to float to the top of the solution where they can easily be spotted.
However, this test is only accurate once the worms have matured enough to begin producing eggs. Unlike some other worms seen in dogs, you will not typically see hookworms in your dog's poop because the worms stay securely latched onto your pet's intestinal lining until the condition is treated.
It takes 2-3 weeks for worms to reach maturity and begin producing eggs, for this reason, fecal floats may not be accurate in diagnosing hookworms in very young puppies.
How are dog hookworms treated?
A class of drugs called anthelmintics can be used to eliminate hookworms. These medications are typically given orally and rarely produce side effects. That said, these medications are only effective at killing adult hookworms so it will be necessary to repeat treatment 2-3 weeks following the first treatment.
If your dog is suffering from severe anemia due to hookworms, a blood transfusion may be necessary to save your dog's life.
Can hookworms infect humans?
Lying on infected ground can allow the hookworm larvae to begin burrowing into the skin leading to a condition called 'ground itch'.
In some rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs including the eyes, which can cause blindness and complications. Good bathing and hygiene habits can help to prevent hookworm infections in people.
How can I prevent my dog from contracting 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 when at the park or out 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 their parasite prevention. Many products formulated to prevent hookworm will also help to prevent hookworm. Speak to your vet to learn more about the right parasite prevent 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.