There are many kinds of internal parasites that a dog can catch throughout their lifetime. Unfortunately, being drawn to eating grass, checking out dead things, or lapping up some stagnant sources of water outdoors can lead to a variety of issues. One of those parasites that dogs can get is hookworms, and a hookworm infection is not something to play around with. This is a very serious type of infection that can have life-or-death consequences, so it’s a good idea to educate yourself thoroughly on the condition if you have a dog. In this guide to hookworm infections in dogs, we will cover:
- What hookworms are
- What causes hookworms
- The symptoms of a hookworm infection
- How hookworm infections are diagnosed
- How hookworm infections are treated
- How to prevent hookworms
It’s not only dogs that can be harmed by hookworms. These parasites can jump to humans as well and can be just as dangerous for people. This guide will help you keep both your dog and yourself healthy.
What Are Hookworms?
A hookworm is a type of parasite, similar to a tapeworm or any other internal parasite. They have hook-shaped mouths that they use to attach themselves to the interior wall of the intestine. There, they stay alive by sucking blood from the intestine. They are extremely small, but despite that, they do cause a significant amount of blood loss to the host. If a dog has a hookworm infection that is significant, the amount of blood that could be lost is way more than people realize.
What Causes Hookworm Infection in Dogs?
A hookworm infection is caused when a dog ingests or comes into contact with hookworms or hookworm larvae. In most cases, puppies are far more likely to get hookworm infections than adult dogs are. There are four ways to contract hookworms:
- Coming into contact with hookworms orally
- Coming into contact with the skin of an animal that has hookworms
- Catching hookworms from the mother dog when still in utero through the placenta
- Catching hookworms from the mother dog when nursing through her milk
As you can see, two of those main causes of hookworm infection are only situations that puppies would be in, which is the reason that puppies are generally more likely to have hookworms than adult dogs.
There are a great many ways to come into contact with hookworms orally or through the skin. For example, if a dog swallows hookworms in water, or sniffs at soil that has been urinated or defecated on by a dog with hookworms, they could become infected. If a dog digs and roots in the ground with their nose where hookworms are, they could become infected. A dog could even become infected if they simply walk over some ground where hookworms are.
After hookworms get into the body, they migrate through the body through the digestive system to the intestine. Here, they mature and start their whole life cycle which includes migrating to the muscle tissue surrounding the intestines. They can become dormant here, or continue to suck blood from the muscles and harm the dog. Additionally, hookworm larvae can “reactivate” after becoming dormant, especially in dogs that become pregnant.
Symptoms of Hookworm Infection in Dogs
There are quite a few symptoms that are related to hookworm infections in dogs. The most common symptom, and the most dangerous is anemia. A dog that is losing too much blood on a regular basis can quickly become anemic, which causes a variety of symptoms of its own. The main symptoms of hookworms are:
- Having pale gums
- Losing weight
- Bloody stool, especially diarrhea
- Muscle weakness
- Tar-like feces
- Being very tired all the time
- Not growing at a normal rate
- Scratching or biting at the paws
In some cases, a hookworm infection can cause death because the dog is losing too much blood. The longer a hookworm infection goes without treatment, the more likely it is to be fatal – which is why it’s very important to have a dog checked out if they are acting at all strange or showing any of these symptoms.
How Hookworm Infections Are Diagnosed
Typically, the main way that hookworms are diagnosed is through a microscopic examination of a sample of the dog’s stool. Hookworms are too small to be seen by the naked eye. If you see rice-like particles in your dog’s stool, it is likely tapeworms, because hookworms are microscopic. The sample is examined for eggs mostly, because hookworms lay eggs daily, so the presence of eggs is a good indicator that a dog has hookworms.
However, a stool sample test may not be reliable in a puppy that is still nursing, because it takes a few weeks for eggs to start showing up. In this case, the mother may be tested, or the vet may simply prescribe a deworming medication to prevent infections in puppies. This is usually a good idea anyway, just to keep your puppies healthy.
In some cases, if one dog in a litter is showing signs of having a hookworm infection, the vet won’t test all of the other dogs. Instead, they’ll just go ahead and treat all the dogs to be sure they don’t get infected. It doesn’t harm dogs to have de-wormer medicine if they don’t have worms, so most owners feel it’s better to be safe than sorry. The chances are good that if one puppy has hookworms, either from the mother’s milk or from any other means of getting hookworms, the other dogs have some level of infection as well, simply because they are constantly touching each other.
How Hookworm Infections Are Treated
An oral de-wormer is the only way to treat hookworms in dogs. The good news is that oral medication is typically very effective. As long as your dog is taking the medication and any supplements recommended by your vet to help reduce the effects of anemia, your pet should be just fine.
However, again, it’s important to get started with treatment as soon as possible. Additionally, hookworms are not something that can be healed with any sort of home remedy. The only way to treat this type of infection is through a prescription medication that kills the hookworms so that they stop laying eggs and are expelled from the body.
During your pet’s treatment, you must be sure to clean up any feces indoors or outside, because this is where your dog will be expelling the hookworms. The hookworms in the stool could still be alive and could be transferred to people or other pets. Remember, it only takes walking on the ground where a hookworm is to get them in the system.
It usually takes about three treatments to fully get rid of hookworms, in order to get rid of the larvae and eggs as well. Once the three treatments are done, the vet will do a new stool sample examination to be sure that your dog is hookworm-free.
Preventing Hookworm Infections
There are preventative medications that you can give your dog to help prevent hookworms, just like the chewable heartworm prevention tablets. There are also oral liquid medications for puppies that help prevent hookworm. It is very important that you use these preventatives if you want to avoid hookworms in your dog. These aren’t the same as a vaccine like the rabies vaccination – these medications aren’t an inoculation. Instead, they just act as a precursor to getting the worms, so that the body is ready to fight off the worms right away if they are contracted. It’s like taking a headache medicine before getting a headache to prevent the pain from ever happening, in a way.
If you suspect your dog has hookworms, you should avoid skin contact with them, and handle any feces with gloves or a shovel. Be sure to keep your yard free of feces from passing dogs to ensure that your dog has less of a chance of coming into contact with hookworms. This step is important for both your health and the health of your dog. If the area where they play and go to the bathroom is clean, they are less likely to get hookworms.
It’s also important to go ahead and de-worm a pregnant or nursing dog, even if she isn’t showing signs of an infection. This helps to ensure that the puppies stay healthy. She should be de-wormed two weeks after being bred, and the de-worming procedures should keep going once a month or so until the puppies are born. This helps prevent worms from developing during the pregnancy and stops them from being passed through the placenta as well.
There are some rare cases where a dog may need to be hospitalized to have fluids and blood transfusions to keep them alive while the hookworms are killed off. If your dog has severe anemia from an advanced case of hookworm infection, this could be the only way to save them. However, by this stage of hookworm infection, it is very possible, and even likely, that the dog won’t make it, even with blood transfusions and other treatments.
Finally, it’s important to keep both your dog and yourself clean. Good hygiene can help prevent hookworms from traveling from the surface of the skin to the intestines. Be sure that children wash their hands frequently and aren’t playing in areas where dogs frequently go to the bathroom.
What Happens When People Get Hookworm?
The adult hookworms are not able to get into a human’s system; however, hookworm larvae can transmit into a human’s system, and they can do a lot of damage. Unlike in dogs, hookworms travel all over the human body, damaging the eyes and many other internal organs. As long as you are careful to wash your hands after digging in the dirt, and do not handle feces without gloves, it’s rare to contract hookworm.
However, it’s important to note that children and anyone who works in dirt regularly, like a landscaper, may need to be extra careful. Pay attention to spots on the skin that are very itchy with no apparent bug bite – this could be a sign of a hookworm burrowing into the skin.
To Sum It Up
Hookworms are living creatures that get into a dog’s internal organs and suck blood. They can cause anemia, weakness, lethargy, and death, as well as other more mild symptoms. This condition is more frequently seen in puppies, and it is very important to get treatment right away. The longer hookworms are allowed to breed inside the intestines, the more likely it is that a dog won’t be able to recover from the infection.
No dogs are more prone to developing hookworm infections than any other dogs. This is something that any dog can get through oral investigation of the world, through their mother’s milk, through skin contact with an infected dog, or through the placenta when in the womb.
There is an easy way to handle the infection providing that treatment happens soon enough. A three-part oral medication program is all you need to do to help treat hookworm infections. Prevention includes de-worming your dogs with prevention medications and keeping your yard clean from feces.
Finally, humans can contract hookworms if they don’t wash their hands after digging in the dirt, or if they handle a dog with hookworms without immediately washing their hands. Make sure that children can’t play in areas where dogs regularly go to the bathroom to prevent them from getting hookworms.
The Final Word
Hookworm infection is a very common condition that is often seen, and it’s easy to prevent. Be sure to get your dog a de-worming preventative medication, and you should be able to avoid this infection just fine. If you have puppies on the way, have the mother dog de-wormed as the vet recommends, to keep the puppies safer as well. Finally, don’t let your dog sniff around stool or areas where other dogs have urinated to keep them safe.