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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Infected with hookworms, a healthy adult dog typically undergoes gastrointestinal upset, which can prove fatal for puppies. Our vets at Somerset provide information on hookworms in dogs, including treatment and prevention.

What are Hookworms?

Hook-like-mouthed parasites known as hookworms embed themselves in the intestines of animals, particularly cats and dogs. These parasites thrive in poorly sanitized, moist, and warm environments where pets may contract them. Once attached to your pet's intestine, they voraciously consume substantial amounts of blood. Hookworm infections have the potential to cause 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. 
  • Dogs can easily ingest hookworm larvae when grooming their feet or sniffing 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 the Hookworm?

The hookworm lifecycle has three stages.

  1. Eggs: Adult hookworms lay eggs while inside the dog's intestinal tract. These eggs are then passed through the feces, where they hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment.
  2. Larvae: Larvae can survive for weeks or even months in an external environment before infecting their next host.
  3. 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 are intestinal or stomach upset. Other, more visible symptoms include:

  • 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 you observe any of these signs in your puppy or adult dog, promptly contact your vet. Severe hookworm infections can lead to the death of young puppies, making immediate treatment 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 mature enough to produce eggs. Unlike other worms and parasites, hookworms can 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?

Anthelmintics, a class of drugs, can eliminate hookworms. Typically administered orally, these medications seldom cause side effects. However, they effectively kill adult hookworms, requiring repeated treatment every 2 to 3 weeks.

If your dog develops anemia due to a hookworm infection, saving its life may necessitate a blood transfusion.

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 in 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 at the park or 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 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 Somerset vets today to book your pup's examination and fecal test.

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