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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworms are a parasite that leads to gastrointestinal distress in adult dogs that are otherwise healthy. However, this parasitic infection can to a puppy if contracted. In this post, our Oceanside vets discuss hookworm in dogs, including the causes, signs, treatment, and prevention of these parasites.

What Are Hookworms?

These intestinal parasites possess hook-like mouths and are frequently found in both dogs and cats. Despite their small size of approximately (1/4" - 3/4"), they attach themselves to the intestines of your dog and can consume a substantial volume of blood. If your dog were to experience a hookworm infestation, it could potentially result in anemia or intestinal inflammation.

Hookworms tend to thrive in damp and warm surroundings, particularly in dogs residing in suboptimal conditions, including those that are overcrowded or lack appropriate sanitation.

How Dogs Contract Hookworms

There are four ways that a dog will typically be infected by hookworms:

  • 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 the milk of an infected mother. 
  • Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin leading to infection. 

Lifecycle of Hookworms

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. 

Signs & 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
  • Coughing
  • Significant (unexplained) weight loss
  • Failure of the puppy to grow or develop properly 
  • Bloody diarrhea 
  • Skin irritations (especially around paws)

If your dog is showing any of these signs, contact your vet right away. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections. 

How Hookworms Are Diagnosed

Diagnosing hookworms is a straightforward process that is accomplished through a fecal flotation test.

When you visit your vet, they will require a fresh stool sample from your dog. The sample is then mixed with a solution that prompts any eggs present to rise to the surface, making them easily detectable.

However, it's important to note that this test only provides accurate results when the hookworms have matured enough 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 see hookworms in dog poop until the condition is treated and they are eliminated through your dog's waste.

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 eradicate hookworms. These medications are typically given orally and rarely produce side effects. That being said, these medications are only effective at killing adult hookworms, so your dog will require another round of treatment 2-3 weeks following the first.

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?

A person lying on the infected ground can allow the hookworm larvae to begin burrowing into the skin, causing a condition called ground itch.

In rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs, including the eyes, which can lead to blindness and other complications. Good bathing and hygiene habits can help prevent hookworm infections in people.

Hookworm Prevention for Dogs

When it comes to preventing the spread of hookworms in dogs, there are several key tactics:

  • 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.

Are you worried that your dog may have hookworms? Contact our Oceanside vets today to book an examination and fecal flotation test for your pup.

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