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Hookworms, like all parasites, can wreak havoc on a dog’s health. Young puppies are particularly at risk because of their immature immune systems. Adult dogs can easily contract a hookworm infection, particularly from contaminated soil.
If your dog is experiencing any of the signs noted in the post, you should get him/her to a veterinarian for a physical examination. Hookworm infection can be treated. Unfortunately, you may not realize your dog has hookworms until they begin to cause serious problems.
Understanding Canine Hookworms
Adult hookworms (ancylostoma caninum or ancylostoma braziliense) are intestinal parasites that feed on small blood vessels. As the name implies, hookworms have tiny hook-like mouths which allow them to stick to the intestinal wall.
Why Don’t Heartworm Infections Die Out?
Adult hookworms are very small white worms that thrive in the intestinal tract as long as they have blood to suck. They’re in no hurry to leave and will repeat their life cycle continuously until medical treatment is administered to the dog to halt the cycle.
First Stage Larvae
Adult hookworms are in no hurry to leave. Male and adult female hookworms mate in the dog’s intestine. A large number of eggs are produced and then excreted through a dog’s feces.
This is called first stage larvae. The eggs typically hatch within 1 or 2 days. In order for this to happen, the soil needs to be moist (not wet) and the temperature has to be somewhere in the 75 to 77 degree Fahrenheit zone.
First stage larvae lives in a mixture of soil and feces until it molts to the second stage larvae.
Second Stage Larvae
The larvae molt from the first stage into the second stage where they continue to feed on bacteria (feces and soil).
In these early stages, the larvae have an esophagus that consists of three sections known as the body, neck, and bulb). At this point they are called rhabditiform larvae.
Third Stage Larvae (Filariform Stage)
At this point, the second stage larvae molt but retain the skin from their second stage. This skin is known as a “sheath”.
At the third stage, the larvae no longer feed on feces but searches for an animal to infect. This is known as the infective larvae and where the biggest danger lies for dogs.
At this point, all it takes is for a dog to sniff the ground, lick the ground, or ingest contaminated soil/feces. That dog then becomes the new host and the cycle continues.
Different Species of Hookworms
The two most common types of hookworms to infect dogs are Ancylostoma caninum, Uncinaria stenocephala, and Ancylostoma braziliense.
Humans can become infected with hookworms through the skin. However, the only species of hookworms that can can be transmitted through direct contact of human skin is called N. Americanus. A common route of passage for this is the the skin of barefoot walkers.
How Do Adult Dogs Get Hookworms
There are four possible ways for a dog to contract a hookworm infection:
- Oral ingestion (through feces and contaminated soil)
- Skin penetration (for example, through the paws)
- Mother’s milk – hookworms are transmitted through the mammary glands of a pregnant dog leaving young puppies vulnerable
- Grooming – dogs are notorious for rolling around in the grass or dirt. If they happen to pick up the larvae on their fur they can accidentally ingest it through the grooming process.
Are Hookworms Dangerous?
The biggest danger to dogs who have hookworms is the potential for severe anemia. This is especially true of puppies. Young puppies should be dewormed at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age.
Left unchecked, hookworms will multiply within the intestines. They will continue to feed and lay new eggs which keeps the cycle going.
Hookworm larvae can burrow through your dog’s skin (such as cracked paws) and cause inflamed, painful skin.
Humans, however, can also contract hookworm infections through the skin. The resulting skin disease is known as cutaneous larva migrans (CLM). It’s also known as creeping eruption and causes what’s known as a “ground itch”. In southern parts of the USA they’re known as sandworms because the larvae live in the sandy doil.
This infection causes intense itch that looks like twirling lesions. Itching can become so intense that the human is driven to scratch to the point of infection. This condition, similar to hookworms in dogs, can be treated with oral antifungal and insecticidal agents.
SYMPTOMS OF HOOKWORMS IN DOGS
As with most illnesses, catching hookworms early can save your dog a lot of discomfort. There are several symptoms of hookworms in dogs that owners should be aware of to prevent an infection.
These symptoms include:
- Pale gums
- Significant weight loss
- Bloody diarrhea
- Itchy legs
- Bad growth
Puppies can die from dehydration quickly, so if your dog is vomiting and/or has diarrhea, be sure to bring him/her to the veterinarian. Dehydration is the number one cause of death in young puppies. This can be caused by a number of things including parvo, ingesting toxic substances, and parasitic infection.
The main clinical symptoms are related to bowel discomfort and anemia.
These symptoms can also be a sign of another illness. So, call your vet if you experience any of these symptoms in your dog.
How Are Hookworms Diagnosed in Dogs?
Hookworms are diagnosed with a microscopic examination of a stool sample using a technique called fecal flotation.
Fecal flotation is a test used to diagnose parasitic worms. To conduct the test, a fecal sample is mixed with a special fluid that causes the parasite eggs to float. When they reach the surface the eggs are collected with a glass side. This slide is then examined under a microscope.
Unfortunately, hookworms might not be identified on the first examination because it takes a few weeks for the larvae to mature and produce eggs. In addition, adult hookworms don’t easily let go of the intestinal wall and may not show up in the dog’s stool.
How Are Hookworms in Dogs Treated?
There are several effective anthelmintic drugs that eliminate hookworms.
Anthelmintic means “to expel parasites from the intestines”. These types of drugs are administered orally with few side-effects. The downside is that they will only kill adult hookworms, leaving the larvae to hatch, grow, and repeat the cycle.
For this reason, it’s important to continue treatment through several life cycles of the hookworm to eliminate all of them. In rare cases, dogs with severe anemia may need a blood transfusion.
When used according to directions, anthelmintic medications are considered safe and provide a broad spectrum of activity. Mild side-effects may include:
- Mild abdominal discomfort
How to Prevent Hookworms in Dogs
Hookworm larvae are sometimes killed off in colder weather (environmental change) and can succumb to bleach decontamination. A hard frost will kill hookworms.
The best way to avoid hookworm infection is by taking appropriate control measures. For example:
Pick Up Dog Poop
If there are no hookworm eggs/larvae in the environment, other animals cannot be infected. Follow this practice in your clinic and convince your clients to do it at home.
Use reliable, environmentally-friendly “poop bags” by turning them inside out and picking up the stool. Without touching the stool, pull the bag down over the waste and dispose of everything in the trash can.
Covered sandpits cannot be contaminated by dogs and cats passing by.
Deworm Dogs Regularly
With an approved anthelmintic, deworming newborn puppies at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age and monthly thereafter if possible.
Hookworm larvae can survive for weeks in cool, moist soil, but do not survive very long in extremely cold or warm, dry temperatures. The best prevention is to remove feces from your yard daily and give your pet monthly heartworm prevention that also protects against hookworm infections.
We always recommend consulting your veterinarian first to find out how best to treat and prevent worms in your dog as every dog and situation is different!
You can check your dog’s stool for signs of hookworms; however, they are very small and not easily seen by the naked eye. Maintaining good crate and yard hygiene is probably one of the best ways to keep parasites like worms away from your dog.
Start and keep your dog on a regular anti-parasite oral or topical for long-term effectiveness. In many, if not all, cases, parasites cannot be eliminated with one treatment.
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