While hookworms may only cause uncomfortable gastric distress in adult dogs, this parasitic infection can cause death in younger puppies. Here, our vets in Sacramento talk about what hookworms are and how a dog may become infected as well as the treatment options.
Hookworm Infections in Dogs
These intestinal parasites are named after their hook-like mouths. Today we will be focusing on hookworm infections in dogs but they are known to infect both cats and dogs. While they are only about 1/4" - 3/4" in size, they can ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they latch onto your pet's intestine. If the infection is serious then your pet may experience complications such as inflammation or anemia.
Hookworms are often found in moist, warm environments and in pets that live in conditions involving overcrowding or poor sanitation.
The Transmission of Hookworms
There are four different ways that your dog may become infected with hookworms. These are:
- The larvae can make their way into your dog's skin causing 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 the milk of an infected mother.
What is the Lifecycle of the Hookworm?
The three stages of a hookworm's life include egg, larvae and adult.
- Adult hookworms lay microscopic eggs within a pet that's been infected. A dog or cat will pass feces that contain these eggs which will then hatch into larvae and infect the soil in the area.
- Larvae can survive for weeks or even months before infecting an unsuspecting dog.
- Once the larvae enter your pup's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. The cycle then begins again.
The Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs
While the obvious symptom of a parasitic infection caused by hookworms is gastrointestinal upset, the other possible symptoms are:
- Dry, dull coat
- 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 is displaying any of these signs of hookworms, contact your vet right away. Unfortunately, young puppies have been known to die from hookworm infections.
Diagnosing Dogs With Hookworms
Your vet will perform a fecal flotation test to look for signs of hookworms in your dog's poop.
This fecal test will require a fresh sample that you bring with you to the appointment. The stool will be mixed with a solution that will cause the eggs (if present) to float to the top of the solution where they can easily be spotted.
However, this test is only accurate once the worms have matured enough to begin producing eggs. Unlike some other worms seen in dogs, you will not typically see hookworms in your dog's poop because the worms stay securely latched onto your pet's intestinal lining until the condition is treated.
While a fecal floatation can help diagnose this parasitic infection it may not be the most reliable, especially in young puppies. This is because the larvae can take a few weeks to hatch.
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 the treatment 2 - 3 weeks following the first treatment.
If the hookworm infection was serious enough to deplete a large amount of blood then your pet may need a lifesaving blood transfusion.
Should You Worry About You or Your Family?
Lying on the 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. In order to prevent hookworm infections you should bathe regularly.
Preventive Care Against Hookworms
There are a few different ways that you can help protect your dog against a hookworm infection such as:
- 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.