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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworms are a common parasitic infection in dogs. They reside in the intestines and feed on the dog's blood. Understanding the signs, treatment, and prevention of hookworms in dogs is essential for every pet owner. In this blog post, we will cover what hookworms are, signs to look out for, treatment options, and preventive measures.

What are Hookworms?

Hookworms are intestinal parasites that can cause significant health issues for dogs. The most common species that affect dogs include Ancylostoma caninum and Uncinaria stenocephala. These worms can be transmitted through various routes, including ingestion of larvae from contaminated soil, skin penetration, or even through a mother's milk during nursing.

Once inside the host, hookworms attach themselves to the intestinal lining and feed on the dog's blood. If left untreated, this can lead to severe blood loss, especially in puppies, and can cause life-threatening anemia.

What are the signs of hookworms in dogs?

The primary symptom of hookworms in dogs is intestinal upset. Other symptoms may 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)
Contact your vet immediately if your dog displays any of these hookworm signs. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections. 

How do dogs get hookworms?

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

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

What is the lifecycle of the hookworm?

The hookworm lifecycle has three stages, including egg, larvae and adult. 

  • Adult hookworms lay microscopic eggs within an infected pet. 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 dog's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. The cycle then begins again. 

How are hookworms diagnosed?

Hookworms are easy to diagnose through a fecal flotation test. 

Your vet will request that you bring in a fresh stool sample from your dog. The stool will be mixed with a solution that causes 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 mature enough to produce 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.

It takes worms two to three weeks 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?

Anthelmintics, a class of drugs typically administered orally with few side effects, can kill hookworms. However, they are only effective at killing adult hookworms, so treatment will need to be repeated two to three weeks after the initial treatment.

If your dog is experiencing severe anemia due to hookworms, a blood transfusion may be needed to save your dog's life.

Can hookworms infect humans?

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. 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.

Hookworms in dogs are a serious health concern that requires prompt attention. You can protect your furry friend from these harmful parasites by being aware of the signs of hookworm infestation, seeking timely treatment, and implementing preventive measures.

Regular veterinary care and maintaining a clean environment are crucial steps in ensuring your dog stays healthy and free from hookworms. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so stay vigilant and proactive in your dog's health care regimen.

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

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