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Dogs are prone to picking up all kinds of nasty worms that can do some severe damage. One common type is hookworm. What are the symptoms to look out for? How are they treated? And how can you prevent your dog from getting hookworms in the first place? We’ll answer these questions and more. It’s important to note that hookworms can be especially serious and fatal for puppies, so early diagnosis and treatment are critical.
Hookworms (Ancylostoma caninum or Ancylostoma braziliense) are intestinal parasites that live in the digestive systems of dogs or cats. This 3-millimeter-long parasite is named for its hook-like mouthpiece to attach itself to the lining of a dog’s small intestine, where it feeds on the lining’s blood vessels.
The hookworm has four stages:
- Egg, stage-2 (rhabditiform) larvae, stage-3 (filariform) larvae, and adult. The microscopic eggs pass through the feces and hatch into stage-2 larvae.
- In one to three weeks, they become stage-3 infective larvae.
- Infective larvae can survive more than four weeks in warm and moist soil.
- Once larvae make their way into a dog, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs, continuing the cycle. Adult hookworms can cause anemia and inflammation in the small intestine.
Hookworm infestations are always caused by oral ingestion or by larval penetration of the skin. Dogs can ingest the larvae by eating feces or contaminated soil or water or licking their paws, which may have picked up the larvae on a walk or in your yard. Larvae can also burrow into the skin if the dog lies on contaminated soil.
Puppies can also acquire hookworms through milk from their mothers or through the mother’s placenta during pregnancy. Puppies are especially at risk for hookworm complications — an infestation can cause severe anemia in puppies, which can be fatal.
If your dog is showing any symptoms, it’s important to seek veterinarian care as soon as possible. Signs of hookworms in dogs include:
- Weight loss
- Pale gums
- Progressive overall weakness
- Bloody diarrhea
- Poor appetite
- Itchy paws
Since hookworms aren’t visible to the naked eye, a veterinarian must examine a stool sample microscopically. This, and a physical examination of your dog will help your vet determine the best course of treatment.
Typically, a vet will prescribe an oral dewormer or anthelmintic. Dewormer treatments have few side effects, but they only kill adult hookworms. So your vet will probably recommend treating your dog again in two to four weeks to kill new adults that form from any surviving larvae.
Common hookworm medicine for dogs (commonly found in heartworm treatments):
If your vet suspects severe, life-threatening anemia, your dog may need a blood transfusion, but this is rare.
There are several measures you can take to help prevent hookworms.
- Give your dog a heartworm preventative chewable tablet every month. These medications help prevent heartworms and hookworms. Some highly-rated brands include:
- Clean up dog poop immediately before the eggs hatch, and any larvae have time to infect the soil. Find the best pooper scooper and poop bags here.
- Avoid areas where there’s a lot of dog feces on the ground.
- If you have to board your dog, make sure the kennel practices proper hygiene and keeps crates, runs, and yards free of feces.
Hookworm larvae can infect humans by burrowing into our skin. This is most likely to happen if you’re walking barefoot in your yard or other areas where dogs have defecated. But a major human hookworm infection is rare in the United States. It mainly affects people in developing nations in the tropics and subtropics due to poor sanitation and the warm, moist climate.
Human infection usually first causes an itching sensation, rash, and visible track marks on the skin. Left untreated, people infected by many hookworms may experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy, and it could be dangerous as the larvae migrate to internal organs.
If you haven’t been picking up your dog’s poop and are worried that your yard may be infected with hookworm larvae, check out this brief video to learn how you can treat the soil.
If you’re not sure your dog has hookworms or another type of parasite, read our comprehensive article on worms in dogs. In that article, we cover all the common infective worms, including heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and other intestinal parasites, and the symptoms of each type.Tagged With: Parasites, Worms