Hookworm in Dogs: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Hookworms are a type of external parasite that can cause serious effects in dogs and puppies ranging from stomach upset to more serious complications. Here, our vets in Columbia share some information about hookworm infections and how you can help protect your dog or puppy from these parasites.

Hookworm Infections in Dogs

Hookworms are an external parasite that can infect both cats and dogs. They get their name from the peculiar shape of their mouth, which forms a hook. While they are only about 1/4" - 3/4" in size, they can ingest surprisingly large amounts of blood once they latch onto your pet's intestine. If your pet develops a significant hookworm infection, this could lead to anemia or inflammation of the intestine. 

Hookworms are often found in moist, warm environments and commonly infect animals that are living in unsanitary conditions.

The Transmission of Hookworms

There are four common ways that dogs can be infected with hookworms. They are:

  • Larvae can penetrate your dog's skin leading to infection. 
  • A dog can easily ingest hookworm larvae when grooming their feet, or by 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 the milk of an infected mother. 

Lifecycle of a Hookworm

The three stages of a hookworm's life are egg, larvae and adult. Here is what occurs with each stage:

  • Adult hookworms lay microscopic eggs within a pet that's been infected. These eggs are then passed through the feces, where they hatch into larvae and contaminate the environment. 
  • Larvae can survive for weeks or even months before infecting an unsuspecting dog. 
  • Once the larvae make their way into your pooch's body, they migrate to the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs. The cycle then begins again. 

Symptoms of Hookworm Infections in Dogs

While gastrointestinal upset is the most common symptom, some of the others that your dog may experience are:

  • Dry, dull coat
  • Coughing
  • Generalized weakness
  • Pale gums 
  • Significant weight loss
  • Failure of the puppy to grow or develop properly 
  • Bloody diarrhea 
  • Skin irritations

If you note any of the signs listed above, you should contact your vet right away to schedule an examination. If you have a puppy, they will need veterinary care immediately as this can be life-threatening.

Diagnosing Hookworms

Hookworms are easy to diagnose through a fecal flotation test.

Your vet won't be able to spot hookworms in your dog's poop as they don't typically live there. The eggs however will commonly be present in the stool. The stool will be mixed with a solution that will cause the eggs (if present) to float to the top of the solution where they can easily be spotted.

However, this test is only accurate once the worms have matured enough to begin producing eggs. Unlike some other worms seen in dogs, you will not typically see hookworms in your dog's poop because the worms stay securely latched onto your pet's intestinal lining until the condition is treated.

It takes two to three weeks for worms to reach maturity and begin producing eggs, for this reason, fecal floats may not be accurate in diagnosing hookworms in very young puppies.

Options For Treating Hookworms

Anthelmintics are the class of drug that is typically prescribed to combat a hookworm infection. These medications are typically given orally and rarely produce side effects. That said, these medications are only effective at killing adult hookworms so it will be necessary to repeat treatment two to three weeks following the first treatment.

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

Can your dog give you hookworms?

Lying on infected ground can allow the hookworm larvae to begin burrowing into the skin leading to a condition called 'ground itch'.

In some rare cases, hookworm larvae can penetrate and damage internal organs including the eyes, which can cause blindness and complications. Good bathing and hygiene habits can help to prevent hookworm infections in people.

Preventing Hookworm Infections

There are several key approaches when it comes to preventing the spread of hookworms in dogs:

  • 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 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.

Would you like to schedule your dog for a routine examination and parasite prevention? Contact our Columbia vets to book an appointment.