Hookworms can make adult dogs sick and can be deadly for puppies. Our veterinarians at Oak Grove are sharing information on hookworms in dogs, including treatment and prevention.
What are hookworms in dogs?
Hookworms are small parasites with hook-like mouthparts that can infect both cats and dogs. They can cause anemia and inflammation of the intestine by ingesting large amounts of blood, despite their small size of 1/4" - 3/4".
They are commonly found in warm and moist environments and in pets living in poor conditions such as overcrowding or poor sanitation.
How do dogs get hookworms?
Dogs become infected with hookworms one of four ways:
- Unborn puppies can contract hookworms through the mother's placenta in utero.
- Once born, puppies can contract hookworms through their infected mother's milk.
- Your dog could easily ingest hookworm larvae by sniffing at contaminated feces or soil, or when grooming their feet.
- Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin leading to infection.
What is the lifecycle of the hookworm?
There are three stages in the hookworm lifecycle: egg, larvae, and adult.
- The microscopic eggs are laid by the adults within an infected pet. The eggs are then passed through the feces, where they hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment.
- The larvae are able to survive for weeks or even months before infecting an unsuspecting dog.
- Once the larvae make their way into your pup's body they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs - starting the cycle all over again.
What are the symptoms of hookworms in dogs?
Intestinal upset is the primary symptom of hookworms in dogs. Other symptoms can include:
- Pale gums
- Generalized weakness
- Significant (unexplained) weight loss
- Bloody diarrhea
- Dull and dry coat
- Failure of puppy to grow properly
- Skin irritations (especially around paws)
If your dog is showing any of the signs of hookworms listed above, contact your vet right away. It is not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections.
How are hookworms diagnosed?
A fecal flotation test is used to diagnose hookworms and is easy to perform. Your veterinarian will ask for a fresh stool sample from your dog, which will be mixed with a solution causing any present hookworm eggs to float to the top for easy identification.
However, this test is only accurate once the worms have matured and begun producing eggs, and hookworms are typically not seen in dog poop as they stay attached to the intestinal lining until treated.
It may take 2-3 weeks for the worms to mature and produce eggs, making the fecal flotation test less reliable for very young puppies.
How are dog hookworms treated?
Anthelmintics, a type of drug, can eliminate hookworms and are usually administered orally with few side effects. However, they only work on adult hookworms, so treatment needs to be repeated 2-3 weeks after the initial treatment.
If your dog has severe anemia due to hookworms, a blood transfusion may be required to save its 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 or behavioral advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.