Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

If an otherwise healthy adult dog contracts hookworms, they'll likely suffer from gastrointestinal distress. However, this parasitic infection can be fatal to puppies. Today, our Sharpsburg vets discuss the signs, causes, treatment, and prevention of hookworm in dogs. 

What are hookworms?

These intestinal parasites have hook-like mouths and frequently afflict both dogs and cats. Despite their small size (about 1/4 of an inch to 3/4 of an inch), they attach themselves to an animal's intestine and can consume a substantial volume of blood. Hookworm infestation can cause anemia or intestinal inflammation in dogs. 

Hookworms tend to thrive in warm, damp surroundings, particularly in dogs that live in suboptimal conditions, including those that are overcrowded or lack appropriate sanitation. 

How Dogs Contract Hookworms 

Dogs typically contract hookworms in one of five ways:

  • While grooming their feet (if hookworm larvae have attached themselves to your dog's foot)
  • Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin, leading to infection
  • 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 their mother's milk, if she is infected

Lifecycle of Hookworms 

There are three stages to the hookworm lifecycle, including egg, larvae, and adult. 

  • Adult hookworms lay microscopic eggs within a dog that's been infected. 
  • The dog then passes the eggs through their feces, where they hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment. 
  • Larvae can survive for weeks or even months before infecting another dog. 
  • Once the larvae make their way into your pooch's body, they move to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. 
  • The cycle then repeats. 

Signs & Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs 

The primary symptom of hookworms in dogs is gastrointestinal upset. Other symptoms can include:

  • Significant (unexplained) weight loss
  • Generalized weakness 
  • Failure to grow or develop properly (puppies)
  • Pale gums
  • Coughing
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Dry, dull coat, 
  • Skin irritations (especially around paws) 

If your dog shows any of these signs, contact your vet right away. Young puppies can die from severe hookworm infections. 

How are hookworms diagnosed?

Hookworms can be diagnosed with a fecal flotation test. A relatively straightforward process, this test is often completed by a veterinarian when they request a fresh stool sample from your dog. The sample is then mixed with a solution that prompts any eggs present in feces to rise to the surface, rendering them easily detectable. 

However, it's important to know that this test only provides accurate results when the hookworms have matured enough to begin laying eggs. Unlike some other types of worms found in dogs, hookworms generally remain firmly attached to your pet's intestinal lining, which is why you won't typically see hookworms in dog poop until the condition is treated and they are eliminated through your dog's waste. 

Since worms take about two or three weeks to mature and start laying eggs, fecal flotation tests may not be an effective diagnostic method for hookworms when used in very young puppies. 

How are dogs with hookworms treated?

Vets use anthelmintics to eradicate hookworms. These medications are typically given orally and rarely produce side effects. However, they are only effective at killing adult hookworms, so your dog will require another round of treatment 2-3 weeks following the first.

If your dog is suffering from severe anemia due to hookworms, a blood transfusion may be necessary to save your dog's life.

Can Hookworms Infect Humans?

A person lying on the infected ground can allow the hookworm larvae to begin burrowing into the skin, causing a condition called ground itch.

In rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs, including the eyes, leading to blindness and other complications. Good bathing and hygiene habits can help prevent hookworm infections.

Hookworm Prevention for Dogs

When it comes to preventing the spread of hookworms in dogs, there are several key tactics:

  • Puppies should be dewormed at approximately 2-3 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 their parasite prevention. Many products formulated to prevent hookworm will also help to prevent hookworm. Speak to your vet to learn more about the right 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.

We can help protect your dog against hookworm and a variety of other parasites. Contact our Sharpsburg vets to book an appointment for your pup.