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Hookworms in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworms are an internal parasite that can cause issues ranging from mild gastrointestinal upset in adult dogs to life-threatening complications in puppies. Here, our vets in Greeley discuss the contraction and transmission of hookworms in dogs as well as the diagnosis and treatment options for this condition.

What are Hookworms?

Hookworms are parasites equipped with hook-like mouths that burrow into the intestines of animals, particularly cats and dogs. These parasites thrive in inadequately sanitized, moist, and warm environments, posing a risk to pets. Once attached to your pet's intestine, they voraciously consume significant quantities of blood. Hookworm infections may result in anemia or inflammation of the intestine.

How do hookworms infect dogs?

Some of the most common ways that dogs contract hookworms are:

  • 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 hookworms in dogs?

There are three distinct stages to a hookworm lifecycle. They are:

  1. Eggs: Adult hookworms lay eggs while inside the dog's intestinal tract. 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 enter the dog's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and begin the cycle once again.

What are the signs of hookworms in dogs?

Hookworms in dogs cause intestinal or stomach upset as their main symptoms. Additionally, you may observe other more visible symptoms, such as:

  • 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. Puppies have a higher risk of developing hookworms and are more likely to experience complications, so immediate treatment is crucial.

How does a vet check for hookworms in my dog's poop?

Vets diagnose hookworms in dogs by conducting fecal tests to look for hookworms (more specifically their eggs) in your dog's poop. To facilitate this process, your vet will instruct you to provide a fresh stool sample from your dog. They will then mix the sample with a solution. If hookworm eggs are present, they will float to the top of the solution. It's important to note that this test yields accurate results only once the worms have matured sufficiently to start producing eggs. Unlike some other worms and parasites, hookworms can remain attached to your dog's intestinal tract after defecation.

Keep in mind that the accuracy of fecal float tests may be compromised in young puppies, as it takes two to three weeks for hookworms to reach maturity and begin egg production.

What are the treatment options for hookworms in dogs?

Anthelmintic (parasite-killing) drugs eliminate hookworms effectively. Administer these medications orally, as they rarely cause side effects. However, note that they specifically target adult hookworms, necessitating repeated treatment every two to three weeks.

Some infected dogs may develop hookworm-induced anemia. In these cases, your vet may recommend the need for life-saving measures including a blood transfusion.

Are canine hookworms contagious to people?

While adult hookworms cannot infect people, the larvae can. This happens either through bare feet or by lying on contaminated ground with hookworms can cause itchiness or irritation, known as 'ground itch.' While this does not develop into a complete hookworm infection, it can result in the larvae migrating through the body, causing damage to vital organs. To prevent hookworm infection, maintain consistent bathing and hygiene habits including frequent hand washing.

How can I prevent hookworm infestations?

There are several things you can do to help protect yourself, your dog and your family from hookworms, including:

  • 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 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 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.

Is your dog showing signs of a possible hookworm infection? Contact our Greeley vets today to schedule an examination and diagnostics.

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