Did you know that hookworms can potentially inflict gastrointestinal problems upon adult dogs? Regrettably, these parasites can prove fatal for puppies. To ensure the safety of your beloved canine companion, our vets in O’Fallon have provided insights into dog hookworms, treatment, and prevention strategies.

What are Hookworms?

Intestinal parasites known as hookworms possess hook-like mouth parts and frequently infest dogs and cats. Despite their diminutive size, ranging from 1/4" to 3/4", they can ingest significant quantities of blood upon attaching to your pet's intestine. A severe hookworm infestation in your pet can result in anemia or intestinal inflammation.

These parasites are commonly encountered in damp and warm surroundings, particularly in pets living in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions.

How do Dogs Get Hookworms?

Dogs can contract hookworm infections in four different ways:

  • Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin, leading to infection. 
  • Dogs can easily ingest hookworm larvae when grooming their feet or sniffing 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 lifecycle of hookworms comprises three stages: 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 enter your puppy's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. The cycle then begins again. 

What are the Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs?

Dogs infected with hookworms typically experience intestinal upset as their primary symptom. Additional symptoms may also be present.

  • 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 are Hookworms Diagnosed?

Your vet might perform a fecal flotation test to establish the presence of hookworms in your dog.

This procedure entails collecting a fresh stool sample from your dog and mixing it with a solution that causes any hookworm eggs to rise to the surface, facilitating easy detection.

Nevertheless, this test provides accurate results only after the worms have matured sufficiently to begin laying eggs. Unlike other worms, hookworms usually remain firmly attached to your pet's intestinal lining until they are treated, which means you are unlikely to observe them in your dog's feces.

It typically takes 2-3 weeks for hookworms to reach maturity and commence egg-laying, making fecal flotation tests less reliable for diagnosing hookworms in very young puppies.

How are Dog Hookworms Treated?

Anthelmintics, a type of medication, effectively eliminates hookworms. You typically take these drugs orally, and they cause minimal side effects. It's crucial to remember that anthelmintics specifically target adult hookworms. Therefore, it's advisable to undergo a follow-up treatment 2-3 weeks after the initial one.

In cases of severe anemia in dogs caused by hookworms, a life-saving measure may involve administering a blood transfusion to the afflicted animal.

Can Hookworms Infect Humans?

Lying on infected ground may lead to hookworm larvae burrowing into your skin, resulting in a condition known as "ground itch." In rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs, including the eyes, leading to blindness and other complications. Practicing good bathing and hygiene habits can help prevent hookworm infections in individuals.

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 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 at the park or 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 vaccinations & parasite prevention. Many products formulated to prevent hookworm will also help to prevent hookworm. Speak to your vet to learn more about 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.

If you think your dog might have hookworms, contact our vets at O’Fallon for an appointment to get your pup examined and tested for parasites.