While hookworms may only cause gastrointestinal distress for healthy, adult dogs, this type of infection can be life-threatening for puppies. Here, our vets in La Mesa share information about hookworms in dogs, their lifecycle and how they can be treated and 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.

How are hookworms transmitted to dogs?

Dogs can get hookworms in four different ways:

  • 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 hookworm lifecycle?

The hookworm lifecycle has three stages.

  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, where they mature into adults and begin the cycle once again.

Symptoms of Hookworms 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, so you will need to seek emergency veterinary care immediately.

Diagnosing Hookworms in Dogs

Veterinarians diagnose hookworms in dogs by conducting fecal tests. This works because hookworm eggs can be found in your dog's poop. To perform a fecal test, your vet will require a fresh stool sample (you will need to bring this with you). 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 already completed a full lifecycle and eggs have been produced. Unlike some 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. This is because it takes two to three weeks for hookworms to reach maturity and begin egg production.

How are hookworms in dogs treated?

Anthelmintic (parasite-destroying) drugs eliminate hookworms effectively. These medications are given orally on a schedule pre-determined by your vet. However, note that 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.

Can humans get hookworms?

Lying on the ground that has been contaminated with hookworms can cause itchiness or irritation, known as 'ground itch'. In some cases, the larvae can make their way into the organs including your eyes. To prevent hookworm infection, maintain consistent bathing and hygiene habits.

How can I prevent my dog from contracting hookworms?

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 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.

Is your dog showing signs of a hookworm infection? Contact our La Mesa vets today to book a physical exam and fecal test.