Intestinal parasites can have a serious impact on the internal health of your dog. Here, our vets in Montecito discuss the impact of hookworms in dogs and puppies, the symptoms your pet may experience, and how they can be prevented.
Hookworms in Dogs: What are they?
These intestinal parasites have hook-like mouthparts and are commonly seen in both dogs and cats. While they are only about 1/4" - 3/4" in size, they can ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they latch onto your pet's intestine. If your pet develops a significant hookworm infection, this could lead to anemia or inflammation of the intestine.
Hookworms are often found in moist, warm environments and in pets that live in poor conditions involving overcrowding or poor sanitation.
How are hookworms transmitted?
There are four ways that a dog can become infected with hookworms, they are:
- 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 the milk of an infected mother.
What are the different stages of a hookworm's lifecycle?
The hookworm lifecycle has three stages, including 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 make their way into your pooch's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. The cycle then begins again.
What symptoms accompany a hookworm infection in dogs?
Along with gastrointestinal (GI) upset, your dog may experience other uncomfortable symptoms such as:
- Dry, dull coat
- Generalized weakness
- Pale gums
- Significant and unexplained weight loss
- Failure of the puppy to grow or develop properly
- Bloody diarrhea
- Skin irritations (especially around paws)
It's important to contact your vet and schedule an exam as soon as you notice the symptoms of hookworms. It's not uncommon for young puppies to die from severe hookworm infections.
How are hookworms diagnosed in dogs?
Your vet may attempt to diagnose hookworms through a fecal flotation test.
When performing a fecal flotation test, the stool will be mixed with a solution that will cause the eggs (if present) to float to the top of the solution where they can easily be spotted.
Unfortunately, this also means that the eggs can't be found until the worms are producing them. 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.
Because eggs may not be detected for up to three weeks after infection, your vet may choose to perform a fecal exam. This involves viewing a stool sample under a microscope to look for the eggs.
What are the treatment options for hookworms in dogs?
A class of drugs called anthelmintics can be used to eliminate hookworms. These are oral medications with a low risk of side effects. That said, these medications are only effective at killing adult hookworms, so it will be necessary to repeat treatment 2-3 weeks following the first treatment.
If your dog is suffering from severe anemia due to hookworms, they may require a blood transfusion to help replenish their blood cells and prevent serious and potentially life-threatening complications.
Are dogs able to transmit hookworms to humans?
Yes, hookworms are zoonotic. This means that your dog will be able to transmit them to you, usually through direct contact.
If you are exposed to hookworm larvae, you may experience something known as 'ground itch' as they attempt to borrow into your skin.
In some rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs, including the eyes, which can cause blindness and other complications.
You can help reduce your risk of hookworm infection by bathing and cleansing daily and keeping up with good general hygiene.
How can you prevent your dog from getting a hookworm infection?
Here are some of the main ways that you can help prevent hookworms in dogs:
- Puppies should be dewormed at approximately 2-3 weeks of age, and if symptoms occur.
- Nursing female dogs and their puppies should be dewormed at the same time.
- 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. There are many products formulated to prevent hookworms. 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.