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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworm infection typically causes gastrointestinal upset in healthy adult dogs, but it poses a potentially fatal threat to puppies. In this article, our vets in Gilbert provide essential information on treating and preventing hookworms in dogs.

What are Hookworms?

Hookworms, parasites equipped with hook-like mouths, burrow into the intestines of animals, particularly cats and dogs. These parasites thrive in inadequately sanitized, moist, and warm environments, posing a risk to pets. Once attached to your pet's intestine, they voraciously consume significant quantities of blood. Hookworm infections may result in 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 enter 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?

Hookworms in dogs cause intestinal or stomach upset as their main symptoms. Additionally, you may observe other more visible symptoms, such as:

  • 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 notice any of these signs in your puppy or adult dog, contact your vet right away. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections, so immediate treatment is crucial.

How are Hookworms Diagnosed?

Veterinarians diagnose hookworms in dogs by conducting fecal tests. To facilitate this process, your vet will instruct you to provide a fresh stool sample from your dog. They will then mix the sample with a solution. If hookworms or hookworm eggs are present, they will float to the top of the solution. It's important to note that this test yields accurate results only once the worms have matured sufficiently to start producing eggs. Unlike some other worms and parasites, hookworms can remain attached to your dog's intestinal tract after defecation.

Keep in mind that the accuracy of fecal float tests may be compromised in young puppies, as it takes 2 to 3 weeks for hookworms to reach maturity and begin egg production.

How are Dog Hookworms Treated?

Anthelmintic drugs eliminate hookworms effectively. Administer these medications orally, as they rarely cause side effects. However, note that they specifically target adult hookworms, necessitating repeated treatment every 2 to 3 weeks.

In the case of hookworm-induced anemia in your dog, a life-saving measure may involve a blood transfusion.

Can Hookworms Infect Humans?

Lying on contaminated ground with hookworms can cause itchiness or irritation, known as "ground itch." In rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs, including the eyes. To prevent hookworm infection, maintain consistent bathing and hygiene habits.

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 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 Gilbert vets today to book your pup's examination and fecal test.

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