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Hookworms in Dogs

What are Hookworms in Dogs?

Hookworms, namely Ancylostoma caninum, Ancylostoma brasiliense, and Unicinaria stenocephala, rank among the most prevalent parasitic infections in dogs, alongside roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. They are of particular concern due to their ability to infect a wide range of mammals, including humans.

These parasites are named for their distinctive hooked mouthparts, which enable them to attach to the lining of the intestines and feed on blood or liquefied tissue. Hookworms have a global distribution.

Recent research conducted in the United States has identified hookworms as particularly prevalent in the Southeast, where a significant number of sampled dog parks were found to be infested.

Symptoms

Due to the life cycle of hookworms, the majority of symptoms in dogs are related to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Common signs include black, tarry stools, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Additionally, due to the parasites’ blood-feeding behavior, dogs may develop anemia, leading to symptoms such as lethargy, weakness, and pale gums. While less common, skin infections, coughing, and pneumonia may also occur.

Regrettably, many mature, healthy dogs infected with only a small number of worms may not display any symptoms, necessitating testing for detection.

Causes

A parasite is an organism that resides on or inside another organism known as the host, where it finds protection and sustenance, often at the expense of the host’s health. Adult hookworms inhabit the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of the host, specifically the small intestine, where they feed on blood by attaching themselves to the intestinal lining. Within the GI tract, they reproduce, with females releasing eggs into the host’s feces. Once excreted onto the soil, these eggs hatch, undergo several developmental stages, and infect other hosts through:

  • Penetrating the skin of unsuspecting hosts, typically through the feet, a phenomenon commonly observed in humans (referred to as cutaneous larval migrans or clinically termed as a creeping eruption).
  • Ingestion, either from contaminated soil, feces of other animals, or consumption of prey.

Upon entering the host, hookworm larvae migrate through the tissues to reach the lungs. From there, they are coughed up, swallowed again, and travel back to the small intestine to continue their life cycle.

During their migration within the body, hookworms may enter a dormant stage known as encystment. In this state, they remain inactive for a period, only to periodically reactivate and resume their destructive cycle. One instance of reactivation occurs during a dog’s pregnancy when the worms migrate to the mammary glands and are subsequently ingested by the nursing pups. Additionally, hookworms can be transmitted to the pups through the placenta.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians typically diagnose hookworm infections in dogs through a procedure known as fecal flotation with centrifugation, which involves examining fecal samples. This test is commonly performed directly at the animal hospital. Initially, the feces are mixed with a solution and then centrifuged to concentrate any parasite eggs present. Subsequently, the sample is scrutinized under a microscope to identify the characteristic oval eggs of hookworms. The likelihood of detecting hookworms increases with the volume of feces examined during the procedure.

Treatment

Treating hookworm infections in dogs is typically uncomplicated. Deworming medications like Fenbendazole, Pyrantel, Moxidectin, and Milbemycin are commonly used and are usually administered with a follow-up dose a few weeks later. These medications are generally cost-effective.

However, dogs experiencing severe anemia and/or secondary complications such as pneumonia may require more intensive treatment approaches, including:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Feeding tubes
  • Iron and/or vitamin supplements
  • Additional medications
  • High-quality, high-protein diets

It’s essential to recognize that certain groups are at higher risk of developing severe illness from a hookworm infection, including:

  • Puppies
  • Dogs in densely populated environments (such as shelters or boarding facilities)
  • Dogs with underlying health conditions

Living and Management

Fortunately, there are several measures pet owners can take to minimize hookworm infections in dogs, including:

  • Schedule at least biannual check-ups and stool examinations with your veterinarian, increasing frequency if you have a puppy.
  • Administer a monthly flea and heartworm preventive medication that includes a dewormer.
  • Maintain cleanliness within your home environment.
  • Provide your dog with high-quality nutrition.
  • Reduce stress in your dog’s life whenever possible.
  • Promptly address any signs of illness in your dog.
  • Limit access to areas of the yard that may be contaminated. Hookworm larvae are vulnerable to cold temperatures and sunlight, and they can only survive in soil for a few months. Additionally, consider adding borax to the soil, as it can effectively control hookworm eggs.
  • Remove feces from the yard, wearing gloves to avoid potential infection and reduce the risk of transmission.
  • Treat pregnant dogs with an approved product daily during the final trimester and several days into nursing to reduce transmission from mother to pups.

Are Hookworms in Dogs Contagious?

Yes, hookworms in dogs are contagious to both other dogs and humans, making them a zoonotic parasite. If your dog has been diagnosed with hookworms, it’s crucial to take certain precautions to prevent yourself from becoming infected. These preventive measures include:

    • Wearing gloves when handling and disposing of feces.
    • Promptly cleaning areas where your dog has defecated.
    • Practicing good personal hygiene.
    • Avoiding sharing bedding with your dog.
    • Refraining from walking barefoot or sitting on soil and sand that may be contaminated.
    • Seeking advice from your primary physician if you suspect you have contracted hookworms from your dog.

Hookworms in Dogs FAQs

Can hookworms kill dogs?

Yes, hookworms can be fatal to dogs, particularly puppies and dogs that spend a significant amount of time outdoors without being regularly dewormed.

Are hookworms visible in dog feces?

Hookworms, along with roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms, can sometimes be observed in a dog’s feces. Hookworms typically appear as thin strings in the feces, although they may not always be visible to the naked eye. It’s important to consult a veterinarian for proper examination if you suspect your dog has hookworms.

How can you tell if your dog has hookworms?

Detecting hookworm infection in dogs can be challenging, as symptoms may not always be apparent. However, routine deworming medications, often included in heartworm preventatives, can help treat infections. Additionally, regular stool examinations performed by a veterinarian are recommended. The Companion Animal Parasite Council advises testing dogs for intestinal parasites at least four times during their first year of life and at least twice yearly thereafter.

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