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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworms are a concern for dog owners, affecting pet health and posing a risk to humans. This blog post by our vets in Kennesaw covers signs, treatment, and preventive measures. It also discusses the reasons, timing, and interpretation of blood testing for hookworms in dogs.

What are hookworms?

These intestinal parasites have hook-like mouthparts and are commonly seen in dogs and cats. They are only about 1/4" - 3/4" in size but can ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they latch onto your pet's intestine.

A significant hookworm infection in your pet 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 do dogs get hookworms?

Dogs can become infected with hookworms in one of four ways:

  • 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 an infected mother's milk. 

What is the lifecycle of the hookworm?

The hookworm lifecycle has three stages, including egg, larvae and adult. 

  • Adult hookworms lay microscopic eggs within an infected pet. 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 are the symptoms of hookworms in dogs?

The primary symptom of hookworms in dogs is intestinal upset. Other symptoms may include:

  • Dry, dull coat
  • Coughing
  • Generalized weakness
  • Pale gums 
  • Significant (unexplained) weight loss
  • Failure of 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. 

Hookworms in Dog Poop

One of the most telling signs of hookworm infection is finding hookworms in dog poop. These small and thin worms can sometimes be seen with the naked eye. However, a fecal examination by a veterinarian is often necessary to confirm the presence of hookworm eggs.

How are hookworms diagnosed?

Hookworms are easy to diagnose through a fecal flotation test. 

Your vet will request that you bring in a fresh stool sample from your dog. The stool will be mixed with a solution that causes the eggs (if present) to float to the top of the solution, where they can easily be spotted.

However, this test is only accurate once the worms mature enough to produce eggs. 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.

It takes two to three weeks for worms to reach maturity and begin producing eggs. For this reason, fecal floats may not be accurate in diagnosing hookworms in very young puppies.

Treatment of Hookworms in Dogs

Treatment for hookworms in dogs typically involves anthelmintic medications, which are specifically designed to eliminate intestinal parasites. These medications are usually administered orally and may need to be given over a period of time to ensure all the worms, including larvae, are eradicated. Treating the environment is essential, as hookworm larvae can survive in the soil and reinfect your dog.

Can hookworms infect humans?

Lying on the infected ground can allow the hookworm larvae to begin burrowing into the skin, leading to a condition called 'ground itch.'

In some rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs, including the eyes, which can cause blindness and complications. Good bathing and hygiene habits can help to prevent hookworm infections in people.

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 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 parasite prevention. Many products formulated to prevent hookworm will also help. Speak to your vet to learn more about the right parasite preventive 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 Kennesaw vets today to book your pup's examination and fecal test. 

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