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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworms are internal parasites that can be especially deadly to puppies who haven't been vaccinated yet. Here, our New Ulm vets discuss the lifecycle of hookworms in dogs along with the causes, symptoms and how they can be prevented.

What are hookworms?

Hookworms, parasites equipped with hook-like mouths, 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.

While all dogs can contract hookworms, puppies are at a high risk of developing serious complications if not treated quickly.

What is the cause of hookworms in dogs?

There are four ways that hookworms are transmitted between dogs, these 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 a hookworm?

There are three main stages to the 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, mature into adults and begin the cycle again.

What are the symptoms of hookworm infections 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 awaySevere hookworm infections can be fatal for puppies. If your puppy begins to show signs of illness, please seek emergency veterinary care immediately.

How are hookworms diagnosed?

Veterinarians diagnose hookworms in dogs by conducting fecal tests. This works because hookworm eggs can be found in your dog's poop. Your vet will require a fresh stool sample to complete a fecal test. They will likely request that you bring this to the appointment when you call to book. They will then mix the sample with a solution. If hookworms or hookworm eggs are present, they will float to the top of the solution. This test is most accurate once the hookworms have completed a full lifecycle and eggs have been produced. Unlike other worms and parasites, hookworms can remain attached to your dog's intestinal tract after defecation.

Fecal float tests may not be the optimal choice for young puppies. Hookworms take two to three weeks to reach maturity and begin egg production.

What are the treatment options for hookworms in dogs?

Anthelmintic (parasite-destroying) drugs eliminate hookworms effectively. These medications are given orally on a schedule pre-determined by your vet. However, they specifically target adult hookworms, necessitating repeated treatment every two to three weeks. In the case of hookworm-induced anemia in your dog, your vet may perform a blood transfusion to save their life.

Are canine hookworms contagious to people?

The transmission of hookworms to people doesn't occur directly. Instead, the feces of an infected dog will contaminate the soil. If you often lie on the ground or walk barefoot, you may experience 'ground itch.'

This is the result of hookworm larvae burrowing into your skin. The larvae can sometimes enter the organs, including your eyes. To prevent hookworm infection, maintain consistent bathing and hygiene habits.

How can hookworm infections be prevented?

There are a few different ways that hookworm infections can be prevented. They are:

  • 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 hookworms will also help prevent hookworms. Speak to your vet to learn more about parasite prevention for your canine companion.

Preventive Care Services at New Ulm Regional Veterinary Center

At New Ulm Regional Veterinary Center, our vets focus on preventive care to prevent common diseases and disorders from impacting your pet's health.

When combined with regular wellness exams, pet vaccinations and parasite prevention at our clinic form the foundation of your furry friend's annual healthcare.

Preventive care gives your pet their best chance at a long, healthy life. Our team will work with you to create a plan for preventive care, including cat and dog vaccinations and parasite prevention.

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.

Are you concerned that your dog may have hookworms? Contact our New Ulm vets today to schedule an examination.

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