Dogs are prone to picking up all kinds of nasty worms that can do some serious damage. One common type is the 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 even fatal for puppies, so early diagnosis and treatment are key.
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 that it uses to attach itself to the lining of a dog’s small intestine where it feeds on the lining’s blood vessels.
The hookworm has 4 stages: egg, stage-2 (rhabditiform) larvae, stage-3 (filariform) larvae and adult. The microscopic eggs pass through the feces, where they hatch into stage-2 larvae. In 1 to 3 weeks they become stage-3 infective larvae. Infective larvae can survive 4+ 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 by 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 complications from hookworms — an infestation can cause severe anemia in puppies, which can be fatal.
- Weight loss
- Pale gums
- Progressive overall weakness
- Bloody diarrhea
- Poor appetite
- Itchy paws
Since hookworms aren’t visible with the naked eye, a veterinarian must microscopically examine a stool sample. 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. They have few side effects, but they only kill the adult hookworms. So your vet will probably recommend treating your dog again in 2 to 4 weeks to kill new adults that formed from any surviving larvae.
If your vet suspects severe, life-threatening anemia, your dog may need a blood transfusion, but this is a fairly rare occurrence.
- 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 their 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 U.S. and mainly affects people in developing nations in the tropics and subtropics due to poor sanitation coupled with 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 can be dangerous as the larvae migrate to internal organs.
If you haven’t been picking up your dog’s poop in a timely manner 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 as well as other intestinal parasites and the symptoms of each type.
Has your dog ever had worms?