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Hookworms are a type of intestinal parasite that is prevalent worldwide, affecting millions of dogs every year. These soil-transmitted parasites attach themselves to the lining of a dog's intestines and feed on their blood, which can lead to anemia and a host of other health complications. If left untreated, hookworms can even be fatal, especially for young puppies.
This comprehensive guide will delve deeper into the world of hookworms in dogs, exploring everything from their symptoms and causes to the most effective methods of prevention and treatment. Whether you're a concerned dog owner or simply looking to learn more about these parasites, this post is the ultimate resource for all things hookworms in dogs.
The term “hookworms'' is used to describe a common class of intestinal parasites that can affect both humans and animals alike. Thus far, experts have identified several different species of hookworms, with the most common being the Ancylostoma caninum, Ancylostoma brasiliense, and Unicinaria stenocephala species.
This parasite gets its name from its distinctive bent head and sharp mouthparts, which allow it to “hook” onto a dog’s intestinal lining, where it must feed on blood to survive. They are very small and thin in appearance, roughly the size of a penny, though, unlike other classes of intestinal parasites, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to physically see them in your pet’s stool. In most cases, hookworms will remain attached to the intestinal lining until the condition is treated.
Hookworms can be found all over the world, though a recent study performed by Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in conjunction with IDEXX Laboratories revealed that, “The South… had the highest rates of positive tests for hookworms, affecting 15% of dogs and 72% of (dog) parks, versus a low in the West of 1.5% of dogs and 17% of (dog) parks. The Miami area had a particularly high prevalence, with hookworms present in more than one-third of dogs sampled.”
The hookworm life cycle is a complex and fascinating process that begins with the adult parasite living inside of the host, where they receive nutrients by latching onto the intestines and feeding on blood. From there, they reproduce and shed eggs into the host's fecal matter, which are then deposited onto the soil during a bowel movement.
Once on the soil, these eggs hatch and go through several developmental stages before finally becoming infectious larvae. These larvae can be transmitted in one of two ways: by penetrating the skin of an unsuspecting host or by being ingested.
The life cycle begins anew when a hookworm infiltrates the host’s lungs, where it can be coughed up and re-swallowed. This allows the hookworm to make a second trip to the small intestine, where it again reproduces and continues to spread.
As the parasites begin to infiltrate the intestines, any number of GI-related symptoms may arise, including:
In addition, because hookworms must feed on blood to survive, an infected dog can quickly become anemic, causing the gums to change from a bright red color to a paler pink shade, with a noticeable change in energy. Additionally, coughing, pneumonia, and skin infections may occur as a result of the infection, though this is rare.
It is also important to note that many adult dogs with hookworms will remain asymptomatic, making regular fecal screenings essential for proper diagnoses. Without testing, the infection may go unnoticed for weeks, months, or even years until symptoms appear. This is why it's so important to take your dog to the vet periodically - early detection leads to more successful treatment of any underlying conditions.
Hookworms in dogs are spread mainly through feces. The larvae can be ingested when a dog inadvertently swallows them, often by grooming their feet or by coming into contact with contaminated soil or fecal matter. Hookworms can also penetrate the skin of a dog in rare cases, though this is a far more common method of transmission for humans.
It's important to note that hookworms are highly contagious and can be passed from one animal to another quite easily. Therefore, it's important for pet owners to practice good hygiene and keep their pets away from areas that may be contaminated with hookworm larvae.
Crowded areas frequented by a myriad of dogs are a hot-bed for transmission, especially in the following spaces:
Additionally, hookworms can be spread to young puppies through the mother’s mammary glands or placenta.
The most common method used to diagnose hookworms in dogs is through fecal examination. During this procedure, the veterinarian will collect a sample of the dog's feces and examine it under a microscope for the presence of hookworm eggs. Additionally, bloodwork may reveal the presence of hookworms if a dog’s red blood cell count is diminished (a sign of anemia)
Hookworms in dogs are typically treated with deworming medications, such as Fenbendazole or Pyrantel, which are designed to kill the parasites. These medications can be administered orally, though they may need to be repeated more than once over a period of several weeks in order to completely eliminate the hookworms.
Once your pet has finished his treatment, it’s also a good idea to re-submit a fecal sample so that your veterinarian can ensure the infection has been cleared fully.
Most of the time, hookworms are simple and inexpensive to treat. However, dogs suffering from secondary issues such as pneumonia or anemia will require more extensive care, such as IV fluid therapy, iron supplementation, or even blood transfusions. Of course, this all depends on the degree of illness, but fortunately, most dogs do not require hospitalization to treat hookworms.
According to The Natural Pet Doctor, there are also several easily-accessible food items that can be used as a natural dewormer for your pet, including:
It’s important to note that two of the three aforementioned ingredients can be toxic to dogs if dosed inappropriately. Therefore, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian prior to use so that they can help you determine a suitable dose and frequency for your specific pet.
Let’s face it - there’s no way to totally keep your pup from being exposed to hookworms, but there are many ways that you can prevent them.
For starters, make sure that your pup never misses their annual vet visit and fecal screening. Routine examination of your pet’s stool is a great way to keep an eye on things and ensure your monthly preventatives are doing their job, which leads us to our second tip: make sure your pup always gets his monthly flea/tick/heartworm prevention.
Not only do oral preventatives, such as Heartgard and Simparica Trio, protect your dog from dangerous diseases like Heartworm, but they also contain a generous dose of dewormer to keep your pup’s stools firm and parasite-free!
Finally, make sure to always pick up your pup’s stool - especially in public places! Doing so is a fool-proof way to stop hookworm transmission in its tracks.
Yes, hookworms are highly contagious and readily transmitted through fecal matter and into the surrounding soil. They can also be passed from mother to puppies in utero, as well as to humans! If your pup has been diagnosed with hookworms, it’s important to practice good hygiene and wash your hands often after handling their stool - even if it’s through a plastic doggy bag!
Because hookworms latch onto the intestines, many of their associated symptoms manifest in the gastrointestinal system. This can cause diarrhea, vomiting, inappetence, lethargy, and more.
Though not a common occurrence, hookworm infections can be fatal to dogs. Puppies and outdoor dogs that are not on a regular deworming schedule are the most vulnerable, though any dog can succumb to hookworms if the infection is serious enough.
It can be alarming to discover that your dog has a parasitic infection, but fortunately, most can be treated swiftly and without breaking the bank. Just be sure to contact your veterinarian if you suspect your pup may have hookworms so that they can prescribe an appropriate course of treatment, and make sure to practice healthy preventive measures to reduce the spread. Finally, remember that by staying informed and doing whatever you can to ensure your pup's safety, you will give them the best chance at leading a happy and healthy life.