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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

A hookworm infection can cause gastrointestinal issues in adult dogs. However, it can be fatal to puppies. Our veterinarians in Mooresville provide information on preventing and treating dog hookworms.

What are Hookworms?

Hookworms are parasites with hook-like mouths, which they use to embed themselves in the intestines of animals, particularly cats and dogs.

These parasites are commonly found in poorly sanitized, moist, and warm environments. Once they latch onto your pet's intestine, they consume a surprisingly large amount of blood.

Hookworm infections could lead to anemia or inflammation of the intestine. Keeping your pets and their environment clean is important to prevent hookworm infections.

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 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 hookworm lifecycle has three stages.

  1. Eggs: When adult hookworms are inside a dog's intestinal tract, they lay eggs passed through the feces and hatch into larvae, contaminating the environment.
  2. Larvae: Larvae can survive in the external environment for weeks or months before infecting their next host.
  3. Adult: Once the larvae enter 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 are intestinal or stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and weight loss. Other visible symptoms may include coughing, lethargy, and poor coat quality.

  • 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)

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?

Veterinarians use fecal tests to diagnose hookworms in dogs. To conduct this test, your vet will ask you to provide a fresh stool sample from your dog, which will be mixed with a solution.

If hookworms or eggs are inside the sample, they will float to the top of the solution.

However, this test is only accurate once the worms mature enough to produce eggs. Unlike some other worms and parasites, hookworms are able to remain latched to your dog's intestinal tract even after defecation.

It is important to note that fecal float tests may not be accurate in young puppies as hookworms take 2 to 3 weeks to reach maturity and produce eggs.

How are Dog Hookworms Treated?

Anthelmintics are a class of drugs that can be used to eliminate hookworms. These medications are usually taken orally and rarely cause side effects.

However, they are only effective in killing adult hookworms, requiring repeated treatment every 2 to 3 weeks.

If your dog develops anemia due to a hookworm infection, a blood transfusion may be necessary to save its life.

Can Hookworms Infect Humans?

If a human lies on a part of the ground contaminated with hookworms, they might grow itchy or irritated, a condition called "ground itch." In some rare instances, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs including the eyes. Consistent bathing and hygiene habits may help prevent hookworm infection 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 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.
  • Please 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 Mooresville vets today to book your pup's examination and fecal test.

New Patients Welcome

Lake Norman at Mooresville Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our veterinarians are passionate about improving the health of cats, dogs and exotic pets. Book your pet's first appointment today.

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