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Hookworms in Dogs

A healthy adult dog infected with hookworms will usually experience gastrointestinal upset. However, it can be fatal to puppies. Our vets in Tucson share facts about hookworms in dogs and how they can be treated and prevented. 

What are hookworms?

Hookworms are parasites that embed themselves in the intestines of animals, most frequently cats and dogs. They are frequently found in moist, warm environments where pets can contract them if the environment is not adequately cleaned. Once they attach to your pet's intestine, they consume a surprisingly large amount of blood. Some hookworm infections may result in anemia or intestinal inflammation. 

How do dogs get hookworms?

Dogs can get hookworms in four different 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 poop 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. 

Are some dogs more likely to get hookworms?

Yes, certain breeds, such as Greyhounds and most hunting dog breeds, are more susceptible to hookworm infections. This is due to their outdoor lifestyles and behaviors, such as digging and exploring in potentially contaminated areas, that increase their exposure to contaminated soil. Additionally, puppies and older dogs with weaker immune systems are also at a higher risk of contracting hookworms.

What is the lifecycle of the hookworm?

The hookworm lifecycle has three stages.

  1. Eggs: Adult hookworms lay eggs while inside the intestinal tract of the dog. 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 is intestinal or stomach upset. Other, more visible symptoms include:

  • Dry, dull coat
  • Coughing
  • Generalized weakness
  • Pale gums 
  • Significant (unexplained) weight loss
  • Failure of 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?

By analyzing a dog's poop, veterinarians can diagnose hookworms. Your veterinarian will request 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 have matured sufficiently to start laying eggs. Hookworms are able to remain attached to your dog's intestinal tract after your dog poops, unlike some other worms and parasites.

How are dog hookworms treated?

Anthelmintic drugs can be used to eliminate hookworms. These medications are typically administered orally and produce few adverse effects. However, they are only effective against adult hookworms, so repeated treatment (typically every 2 to 3 weeks) is required.

If your dog comes down with anemia caused by a hookworm infection, a blood transfusion may be necessary to save your dog's life.

Can hookworms infect humans?

The condition known as "ground itch" occurs when a person lies on soil contaminated with hookworms. In rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and cause damage to internal organs, including the eyes. Consistent hygiene and bathing practices may aid in preventing hookworm infection in humans.

While it is possible for dogs to transmit hookworms to humans, it is not a common occurrence. As above, consistent hygiene and bathing can help prevent hookworms 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 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.

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 Tucson vets today to book an examination and fecal test for your pup.

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