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Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworm infection typically causes gastrointestinal upset in healthy adult dogs but can be fatal to puppies. Our veterinarians in Ketchum provide information on hookworms in dogs, including treatment and prevention methods.

What are Hookworms?

Hookworms are parasites with hook-like mouths that embed themselves in the intestines of animals, commonly cats and dogs. They are often found in moist, warm environments where pets can contract them if the area is poorly sanitated. They ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they latch onto your pet's intestine. Some hookworm infections could lead to anemia or inflammation of the intestine. 

How do Dogs Get Hookworms?

Dogs can contract hookworms through four distinct methods:

  • Larvae can enter your dog's skin, potentially causing an infection.
  • Dogs can easily ingest hookworm larvae by 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: Adult hookworms lay eggs inside the dog's intestinal tract. The eggs pass through the feces, 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 make their way into 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?

Hookworms in dogs primarily cause intestinal or stomach upset. Additionally, they may manifest in 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. 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. Your vet will ask you to provide a fresh stool sample to determine if your dog has hookworms.

They will then mix the sample with a solution. If hookworms or hookworm eggs are present, they will rise to the top of the solution.

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

Unlike some other worms and parasites, hookworms can remain attached to your dog's intestinal tract after defecation.

Keep in mind that it takes 2 to 3 weeks for hookworms to mature and start laying eggs, so fecal float tests may not be reliable for detecting hookworms in young puppies.

How are Dog Hookworms Treated?

A class of drugs called anthelmintics can be used to eliminate hookworms. These medications are typically given orally and rarely produce side effects. They are only effective at killing adult hookworms, so repeated treatment will be necessary (typically every 2 to 3 weeks).

If your dog comes down with anemia caused by a hookworm infection, a blood transfusion may be necessary to save your dog's life.

Can Hookworms Infect Humans?

Lying on the ground contaminated with hookworms can cause humans to develop itchiness or irritation, known as "ground itch." In rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and harm internal organs, including the eyes. Maintaining regular bathing and good hygiene practices can effectively prevent hookworm infections 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:

  • Deworm puppies at approximately 2-3 weeks of age or when symptoms occur.
  • Nursing female dogs should be dewormed when their puppies are also dewormed.
  • Make sure to clean up after your dog when you're at the park or out on walks, and ensure your yard remains 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.
  • Ensure your dog stays current with their parasite prevention. Many products designed to prevent hookworms also effectively protect against other parasites. Consult your vet to discover the appropriate 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 Ketchum vets today to book your pup's examination and fecal test.

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Sun Valley Animal Center is accepting new patients at our two convenient locations! Our vets are passionate about the health of our Valley's pets. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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