Hookworms lead to gastrointestinal distress in adult dogs that are otherwise in good health. However, this parasitic infection can prove fatal to puppies. In this article, our Boulder County vets share facts about hookworms in dogs and how these problematic parasites can be treated and prevented.
What are Hookworms?
These intestinal parasites possess hook-like mouthparts and are frequently observed in both dogs and cats. Despite their small size of approximately 1/4" - 3/4", they have the capacity to consume notably substantial volumes of blood after attaching themselves to your pet's intestine. In cases where your pet experiences a substantial hookworm infestation, it could potentially result in anemia or inflammation of the intestine.
Hookworms tend to thrive in damp and warm surroundings, particularly in pets residing in suboptimal conditions marked by overcrowding or inadequate sanitation.
How Dogs Get Hookworms
Dogs often get infected with hookworms in one of four ways:
- 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.
- Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin leading to infection.
- Once born, puppies can contract hookworms through the milk of an infected mother.
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 make their way into your pooch'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:
- Generalized weakness
- Pale gums
- Dry, dull coat
- Significant (unexplained) weight loss
- Failure of puppy to grow or develop properly
- Bloody diarrhea
- Skin irritations (especially around paws)
If your dog is displaying any of these signs of hookworms, contact your vet right away. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections.
How are Hookworms Diagnosed?
Diagnosing hookworms is a straightforward process that is accomplished through a fecal flotation test.
When you visit your veterinarian, they will ask you to provide a fresh stool sample from your dog. This stool sample is mixed with a solution that prompts any eggs present to rise to the surface of the solution, making them easily detectable.
However, it's important to note that this test yields accurate results only once the hookworms have matured sufficiently to start laying eggs. Unlike some other types of worms found in dogs, hookworms generally remain firmly attached to your pet's intestinal lining, which is why you usually won't observe them in your dog's stool until the condition is treated.
Since it takes about 2-3 weeks for the worms to mature and begin laying eggs, fecal flotation tests might not effectively diagnose hookworms in very young puppies.
How are Dogs With Hookworms Treated?
Vets will use anthelmintics 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 the 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 the 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 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.