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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworms trigger gastrointestinal upset in otherwise healthy adult dogs. However, this parasite can prove fatal for puppies. Here, our  Fort Oglethorpe vets discuss hookworms in dogs and how these problematic parasites can be treated and prevented. 

What are Hookworms?

Often seen in both dogs and cats, these intestinal parasites have hook-like mouthparts. While they are only about one-quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch in size, they're able to ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they attach themselves to your pet's intestine. 

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

How Do Dogs Get Hookworms?

Dogs can become infected with hookworms in one of four ways:

  • A dog can easily ingest hookworm larvae when grooming their feet, or by sniffing contaminated soil or feces. 
  • Hookworm larvae can penetrate your dog's skin, leading to infection. 
  • Unborn puppies can contract hookworms through the mother's placenta in utero. 
  • Once born, puppies can contract hookworms via an infected mother's milk. 

What is the Lifecycle of the Hookworm?

There are three stages to the hookworm's lifecycle, including egg, larvae and adult. 

  • Adult hookworms lay microscopic eggs in a pet that's been infected. The cat or dog then passes these eggs through their 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 enter your pooch's body, they migrate into the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. The cycle then starts again. 

What are the Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs?

Intestinal upset is the primary symptom of hookworm in dogs. Other symptoms may include:

  • Coughing
  • Dull, dry coat 
  • Pale gums
  • General weakness
  • Failure of puppy to grow or develop properly 
  • Significant (unexplained) weight loss
  • Skin irritations (especially around paws)
  • Bloody diarrhea 

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 due to severe hookworm infections. 

How are Hookworms Diagnosed?

Hookworms can be easily diagnosed with a fecal floatation test. 

Your vet will ask you to bring in a fresh stool sample from your dog. The stool will then be missed with a solution that causes hookworm eggs (if present) to float to the top of the solution, where they can be identified. 

However, this test is only accurate once the worms have matured enough to start producing eggs. Unlike some worms that can be diagnosed in dogs, you will not typically see hookworms in your dog's poop, as the worms remain securely attached to your pet's intestinal lining until the condition is treated. 

It takes two to three 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 two to three 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 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 two to three 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.

Do you suspect your dog may have hookworms? Contact our Fort Oglethorpe vets today to book an examination and fecal test for your pooch. Our vets can diagnose and treat your pet's parasites, and help you protect your pet against future infections. 

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The The Animal Medical Center of Fort Oglethorpe is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Fort Oglethorpe companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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