Hookworms are a common intestinal parasite in dogs, particularly in the southern United States. This parasite is important for pet owners to be aware of not only because of its ability to infect our pets but also because it can infect humans, too. To protect your dog from hookworms it’s essential to understand this parasite’s life cycle and routes of transmission in both dogs and humans.
What Is Hookworm in Dogs?
Hookworms are intestinal parasites that live in a dog’s digestive tract. The hookworm attaches to the inside of a dog’s intestine and feeds on a dog’s blood through the intestinal wall. While adult dogs may experience few symptoms of hookworm infection, young puppies infected with hookworms can rapidly develop severe anemia that can be fatal.
Causes of Hookworms in Dogs
There are several ways dogs can become infected with hookworms. Hookworm larvae live in soil, which means dogs can ingest larvae from a contaminated environment. An infected dog sheds hookworm eggs into the environment through their feces, which means dogs can actually re-infect themselves with hookworm by contaminating their own environment. Dogs can also ingest hookworms by eating other animals that are infected, particularly cockroaches.
Hookworm larvae can also penetrate the skin, after which they travel to the lungs and the trachea where they are then coughed up and swallowed. The larvae then make their way to the small intestine, where they attach to the intestinal lining and mature into adults.
Puppies can become infected with hookworms while nursing. Hookworm larvae accumulate in the mother’s mammary glands and are passed in the milk to the offspring during nursing. Puppies should be dewormed at 2, 4, 6 and 8 weeks of age to account for the high rate of hookworm infection that occurs after birth.
Can You Get Hookworms From Your Dog?
Your dog can’t give you hookworms directly, but you can get hookworms from contact with contaminated soil or feces from an infected dog. Children are at the highest risk of infection. To reduce your risk of contracting hookworms, practice good sanitation by cleaning up dog feces immediately and do not allow children to play in areas where pets defecate.
11 Hookworm Symptoms in Dogs to Know About
Although infected dogs shed hookworm eggs in their feces, these eggs are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Occasionally, pet owners may see live adult hookworms in their pet’s stool but many adult dogs with hookworm infections do not show any symptoms of disease. Infections tend to be more severe in puppies than in adult dogs.
Signs of hookworm infection in dogs can include:
- Failure to gain weight
- Pot-bellied appearance
- Pale mucous membranes
- Blood in the stool
- Poor coat condition
- Sudden death
If you suspect your dog may have a hookworm infection, it is important to see your veterinarian right away for proper diagnosis and treatment of this intestinal parasite.
How to Diagnose Hookworms in Dogs
To diagnose a hookworm infection, your veterinarian may recommend the following tests:
Physical examination. Your veterinarian will perform a full head-to-tail physical examination of your dog to look for signs of hookworm infection, such as pale mucous membranes or changes in your dog’s coat.
A fecal sample. A sample of your dog’s feces will be evaluated to look for hookworm eggs, which indicates that your dog has mature hookworms living in his or her intestine.
Fecal antigen testing. A test for an antigen produced by both adult and immature hookworms can help identify hookworm infections.
Hookworm Treatment for Dogs
If your dog is diagnosed with hookworm, it is important to treat the infection quickly. Hookworms feed on your dog’s blood, which can cause life-threatening anemia if left untreated. Fortunately, hookworm infections are easily treatable with the right medication.
Hookworm Medication for Dogs
Hookworm infections are treated with dewormers. These drugs kill the adult worms that are responsible for your dog’s hookworm infection. However, because many of these medications do not kill the parasite larvae, your dog may need an additional treatment in two to four weeks to kill the larvae that will have matured into adult worms. This ensures that the entire life cycle of the parasite has been eradicated.
General Cost of Hookworm Treatment for Dogs
Dewormers are generally inexpensive, but your dog may need two to three courses of medication to kill all of the parasites. Severely affected dogs may also need additional care, including hospitalization and blood transfusions, which can quickly become costly. For a typical hookworm infection, pet owners can expect to spend between $50 and $100 on treatment.
How to Prevent Hookworms in Dogs
Puppies should be dewormed at 2, 4, 6 and 8 weeks of age to prevent hookworm infections transmitted via nursing. Adult dogs should be placed on a monthly preventive product and monitored with regular fecal screenings once or twice per year.
Prompt removal of feces from your yard will prevent hookworm eggs from hatching and dispersing larvae into the environment. This is especially important for dogs who have been infected, as re-infection is possible.