Hookworms in Dogs – Symptoms, Treatment, and Causes

Abandoned stray dog on the road.

Parasitic in nature, hookworms can be fatal to dogs if left untreated. They invade the small intestines of a dog, biting through and causing blood to seep out. They can cause anemia, and will greatly decrease a dog’s appetite. The eggs travel through a dog’s digestive system and come out through its stool, infecting the soil around it.

What Symptoms Are Common?

The first symptom noticed in dogs with hookworms is a severe loss in appetite. Many may appear thin because of this.

Another common symptom is anemia. This may make dogs feel tired, unable to get out for exercise, and decrease appetite even more.

The lining of the ears may appear pale, with the lips and nostrils looking lighter as well. This is due to the anemia that sets in.

Dehydration may start to set in, as dogs with this parasite often have diarrhea.

Are There Uncommon Symptoms?

Some dogs may experience constipation and have trouble going to the bathroom at all. When they do go, their stool appears dark and even has a tar-like appearance.

What Causes Hookworms in Dogs?

Contaminated water is a common culprit for spreading hookworms. Dogs that drink the water and ingest the parasites will become infected.

Mothers are also able to pass hookworms along to their puppies. The puppies ingest the parasite from their mother’s milk when feeding.

The larvae may also penetrate a dog’s skin, making their way into his system. The environment is a large factor.

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Are Hookworms Contagious?

Hookworms can be passed from a mother to her newborns through her milk. This makes hookworms a contagious infection that can easily be spread. For this reason, it is necessary for pregnant dogs to be checked regularly for signs of hookworms.

Other dogs could also become contaminated when coming in contact with an infected dog’s stool. Cats, and even foxes and similar mammals, are also able to get hookworms.

Humans are able to get hookworms as well. The parasite can penetrate the skin, and make its way inside a human body. For this reason, it is important for owners to wear gloves, and carefully handle their pets while they are infected.

It is even possible for hookworms to cause infection through a person’s feet. The worms are often found in contaminated soil where a dog’s stool once sat. Although the stool may no longer be present, the parasite still will be for some time. Someone with bare feet walking by can pick up the worm, who will penetrate their skin and make their way through the person’s body.

What is the Diagnosis?

hookwormsA stool sample is often needed to determine if hookworms are present. The veterinarian will use a microscope to check the sample and determine if eggs are seen.

It sometimes takes a couple different stool samples to determine if it is in fact hookworm eggs that are being found. This is especially true for dogs living on a farm where excrement from other animals may be present. There are a number of parasitic insects and other infections that could be the culprit of the symptoms.

What is the Prognosis?

If left untreated, hookworms are fatal. Immediate treatment is necessary in order to keep dogs from meeting their end thanks to the parasite.

Young puppies are typically among those who do not make it. Their already weak systems are not able to handle the hookworms eating through their intestines. Even with treatment, death still comes for many. Death can also be sudden, even while treatment is being undergone.

How Are Hookworms Treated?

A special medication needs to be administered to kill off any parasitic worms within the body. This is often all it takes for older dogs who have handled the invasion rather well. This deworming medication needs to be given multiple times before it fully takes effect.

Puppies with an infected mother should receive the medication as early as two weeks of age. They should continue to receive doses at four weeks, six weeks, and eight weeks.

Younger dogs may require further treatment in order to combat all the negative effects the hookworms caused to their bodies. Nutritional supplements may be needed to help replace all that was lost during the time of infection.

Iron levels often drop dangerously low when hookworms are in the system, due to the anemia it causes. An iron supplement can be used to combat the problem and bring levels back up to safety.

Severe cases, or instances where the hookworms have been present for some time, warrant a stay in the veterinary clinic. Fluids will typically need to be administered to fight dehydration.

Those experiencing trouble breathing may require oxygen treatment. Dogs who have lost a great deal of blood from their seeping wounds will need a blood transfusion.

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Treatment Cost

Drontal, Interceptor, Spinosad, Pyrantel Pamoate,  Fenbendazole, and Iverhart Plus are the most common medications prescribed to treat hookworms in dogs. The total cost of the treatment will vary depending on the severity of the illness and what medication was prescribed. The running average is anywhere between $300 and $500 to rid your dog of worms.

Those pet owners who have an insurance plan, such as Embrace Pet Insurance, will likely have these costs covered.

Living with Hookworms

Some hookworms will remain in a dog’s system for awhile. Weeks of medication are often required in order to fully eliminate the parasite.

During this time, dogs may still have a low appetite and experience diarrhea. It can take a while before a dog is completely healed and ready to return to normal behavior.

Prevention Suggestions

One of the best ways to prevent hookworms from infecting puppies is to have the mother checked out and treated as soon as any signs are noticed. It is important to start treatment within the first few weeks after breeding took place, and up to a couple weeks after the puppies are born. This ensures all parasites are out of her system and the puppies can drink from her safely.

It is also ideal to keep dogs away from low levels of water. This can include water in a pond, or even just rainwater collecting somewhere within the yard. Any water noticed should be dumped out and kept away from dogs.

Dogs exhibiting signs of anemia or loss of appetite should have a stool sample taken. This will allow veterinarians to spot the parasite quickly and begin immediate treatment, making others in the area aware of a possible outbreak.

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