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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworm infections in adult dogs may cause very uncomfortable gastrointestinal issues, but for puppies, an infection can be life-threatening. Here, our vets in White Hall offer some vital information about preventing and treating hookworms in dogs, and what you should know about transmission.

What are Hookworms and how do they affect dogs?

Hookworms are intestinal parasites with hook-like mouthparts and are often found in dogs and cats. Despite their small size of only about 1/4" - 3/4", they can consume substantial amounts of blood once they attach to your pet's intestine. If your pet suffers from a severe hookworm infestation, it can cause anemia or inflammation of the intestine.

Hookworms are often found in moist, warm environments and in pets that live in poor conditions involving overcrowding or poor sanitation. 

How do dogs contract hookworms?

There are four ways in which dogs can get infected with hookworms:

  • 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 an infected mother's milk. 

What is the lifecycle of a hookworm?

The lifecycle of hookworms consists of three stages: 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 puppy'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 hookworm infections in dogs?

Dogs infected with hookworms typically experience intestinal upset as their primary symptom. Additional symptoms may also be present.

  • Dry, dull coat
  • Coughing
  • Generalized weakness
  • Pale gums 
  • Significant (unexplained) weight loss
  • Failure of the 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 will my vet diagnose hookworms in my dog?

A fecal floatation test is one of the most common methods of diagnosing hookworm infections in dogs.

This involves providing a fresh stool sample from your dog, which will be mixed with a solution that causes any hookworm eggs present to float to the top of the solution for easy detection.

However, this test is only accurate once the worms have matured enough to begin laying eggs. Unlike other worms, hookworms generally remain latched onto the intestinal lining of the pet until treated, so you won't typically see them in your dog's poop.

It can take 2-3 weeks for hookworms to mature and start laying eggs, which means that fecal floats may not be accurate in diagnosing hookworms in very young puppies.

How are hookworms treated?

There is a type of medication called anthelmintics which can eradicate hookworms. These drugs are usually taken by mouth and have minimal side effects. However, it's important to note that anthelmintics only target adult hookworms, so it's recommended to undergo treatment again 2-3 weeks after the first one.

In rare cases, the hookworm infection may be so serious that your dog has developed anemia. In these cases, your vet may recommend a blood transfusion as a life-saving tactic.

Can my dog infect me with hookworms?

Yes and no. While you can develop a hookworm infection, you cannot be infected with adult hookworms that come straight from your dog. Instead, the eggs of the hookworms will be in your dog's poop, which will then hatch, becoming hookworm larvae that now live in the ground. If you lay on the infected ground, hookworm larvae may start burrowing into your skin, causing a condition known as "ground itch." In rare instances, hookworm larvae can penetrate and harm internal organs, such as the eyes, causing blindness and other complications. Maintaining good bathing and hygiene practices can aid in preventing hookworm infections in individuals.

How do I prevent my dog from getting hookworms?

There are a variety of steps that you can take to prevent hook worms from infecting your dog including:

  • 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 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.

If you are concerned that your dog is showing signs of hookworm infection, reach out to our vets at White Hall for an appointment to get your pup examined and tested for parasites. 

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