A healthy adult dog infected with hookworms will usually experience gastrointestinal upset. However, it can be fatal to puppies. Our vets in Novato share facts about hookworms in dogs and how they can be treated and prevented.
What are Hookworms?
Hookworms are parasites with hook-like mouths that embed themselves in the intestines of animals, commonly cats and dogs. They are often found in moist, warm environments where pets can contract them if the area is poorly sanitated. They ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they latch on to your pet's intestine. Some hookworm infections could lead to anemia or inflammation of the intestine.
How do Dogs Get Hookworms?
Dogs can get hookworms in four different ways:
- Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin leading to infection.
- A dog can easily ingest hookworm larvae when grooming their feet, or by sniffing at contaminated feces or soil.
- Unborn puppies can contract hookworms via the mother's placenta in utero.
- Once born, puppies can contract hookworms through the milk of an infected mother.
What is the Lifecycle of the Hookworm?
The hookworm lifecycle has three stages.
- Eggs: Adult hookworms lay eggs while inside the intestinal tract of the dog. These eggs are then passed through the feces, where they hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment.
- Larvae: Larvae can survive for weeks or even months in an external environment before infecting their next host.
- Adult: Once the larvae make their way into the dog's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and begin the cycle once again.
What are the Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs?
The main symptoms of hookworms in dogs is intestinal or stomach upset. Other, more visible symptoms 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 you notice any of these signs in your puppy or adult dog, contact your vet right away. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections, so immediate treatment is crucial.
How are Hookworms Diagnosed?
Vets diagnose hookworms in dogs through fecal tests. Your vet will request that you bring in a fresh stool sample from your dog. The sample is mixed with a solution and, if there are hookworms or hookworm eggs inside it, they will float to the top of the solution. However, this test is only accurate once the worms have matured enough to begin producing eggs. Unlike some other worms and parasites, hookworms are able to stay latched to your dog's intestinal tract after defecation.
As it takes 2 to 3 weeks for hookworms to reach maturity and begin producing eggs, fecal float tests may not be accurate in 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, they are only effective at killing adult hookworms so repeated treatment will be necessary (typically every 2 to 3 weeks).
If your dog comes down with anemia caused by a hookworm infection, a blood transfusion may be necessary to save your dog's life.
Can Hookworms Infect Humans?
If a human lies on a part of the ground contaminated with hookworms, they might grow itchy or irritated, a condition called "ground itch." In some rare instances, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs including the eyes. Consistent bathing and hygiene habits may help prevent hookworm infection of 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 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.