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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

A hookworm is a parasite that can cause gastrointestinal distress in an otherwise healthy dog. However, this parasitic infection can become fatal to puppies. Here, our Exeter vets explain the signs, causes, treatment, and prevention of hookworm in dogs. 

What are hookworms?

Hookworms are named for their hook-like mouths and are frequently found in both dogs and cats. While these intestinal parasites are small (measuring between one-quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch), if they attach themselves to your dog's intestines they can consume a substantial volume of blood. A hookworm infestation can potentially lead to inflammation in the intestine or anemia. 

Hookworms tend to thrive in warm, damp settings, particularly in dogs that live in suboptimal conditions that are often crowded or lacking in appropriate sanitation. 

How Dogs Contract Hookworms 

Dogs that are infected with hookworms typically contract them in one of four ways: 

  • A dog can ingest hookworm larvae when grooming their feet, or by sniffing contaminated soil or feces.
  • Unborn puppies can contract hookworms through the mother's placenta in utero. 
  • Once born, puppies can contract hookworms through a mother's infected milk. 
  • Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin and cause infection. 

Lifecycle of Hookworms 

There are three stages of the hookworm's lifecycle. These include egg, larvae and adult. During these stages, the following typically occurs:

  • Adult hookworms enter a dog's body and lay microscopic eggs. 
  • The dog then passes these eggs through the feces. The eggs then hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment. 
  • Larvae are able to survive for weeks or even months before infecting an unsuspecting dog. 
  • Once larvae get into your dog's body, they move to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. 
  • The cycle then perpetuates. 

Signs & Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs 

Intestinal upset is a common symptom of hookworm in dogs. Other symptoms may include: 

  • Coughing 
  • Skin irritations (especially around paws)
  • Generalized weakness 
  • Pale gums
  • Dull, dry coat
  • Significant, unexplained weight loss 
  • Bloody diarrhea 
  • Failure of a puppy to grow or develop properly 

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, contact your vet right away. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die as a result of 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 two to three 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 two to three 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 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. 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.

Protect your dog against hookworms and a variety of other parasites by having your vet administer parasite prevention medication.  Contact our Exeter vets today to book an appointment.

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