Hookworms are tiny parasites, measuring around 3mm in length, that infect the intestines of dogs, as well as cats. Despite being so small, hookworms suck a lot of blood and can exist in large numbers in your pet. Because of this, it is important to get the problem treated before it causes serious, life-threatening anemia in your dog.
Look for signs your dog has itchy feet.
In a heavily infested environment, the very first sign might be a dog that is troubled by itchy feet. This is because of the larvae can move from the ground and migrate through the skin to infect the dog. This causes inflammation and irritation in the paws.
Pay attention to bouts of diarrhea.
In adult dogs the most common sign is diarrhea, which is also bloody. Diarrhea is usually accompanied by abdominal cramps and signs of discomfort.
Diarrhea can be a sign of a variety of medical problems in your dog. If your dog has repeated diarrhea, you should get the dog looked at by a veterinary professional.
In adult dogs, the hookworms anchor to the lining of the small intestine and secrete an anticoagulant, which stops blood clotting. This means not only does the dog lose blood when the hookworm feeds and sucks blood, but after the hookworm detaches there is continued blood loss from the site of attachment. This is why the dog’s stool is usually bloody.
Look for the signs of anemia.
When sufficient blood has been lost, the dog becomes anemic. To check for this look at the dog’s gums, which should be a healthy pink color. Pale pink, gray, or white are all indications of anemia.
Keep an eye out for the signs of exhaustion and fatigue.
If anemia goes undetected and untreated, the blood becomes so thin that the heart races and the dog becomes weak. This means that the dog could easily collapse due to slight exertion.
The breathing is also often rapid and shallow, and unless treated the animal may die.
Look for symptoms in puppies.
Puppies can be infected before birth via the mother’s placenta, and also through her milk when they suckle. Puppies born with hookworm infections often fail to thrive, grow poorly, and their coats are dull and starry.
They may have persistent diarrhea, and can die from blood and fluid loss.
Because a puppy’s system is so fragile, it’s important to take them to the vet at the first sign of any illness. This would mean the difference between life and death.
Take your dog to a veterinarian if you suspect hookworms.
A hookworm infection needs to be treated by a veterinarian. They will be able to assess whether your dog is infected, the seriousness of the infection, and how best to proceed with treatment.
Bring a fecal sample with you to the vet’s office.
Hookworms are so small that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Your vet will diagnose an infection by examining a fecal sample under the microscope. This process with be quicker if you come with a sample ready to inspect.
When you call your veterinary office to make an appointment, ask them about bringing in a sample if they do not mention it.
It takes around two to three weeks before adult hookworms start producing eggs, (which are detected in the feces) so false negatives are possible if the feces are tested shortly after a fresh infection.
Follow your veterinarian’s suggestions for treatment.
Treatment is based on killing adult worms with an appropriate anthelmintic, a type of anti-parasitic medicine. The treatment is repeated two weeks later, in order to kill all the worms once they hatch.
Even anthelmintics that are effective against hookworms, do not kill the larvae. Thus two or three treatments every two weeks are necessary, in order to kill larvae that were present in the first round of treatment.
Be sure the dog is weighed accurately and the dose is determined according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
To prevent reinfection ensure the environment is as clean as possible. Unfortunately there is no product licensed to treat larvae that persist in the soil, so prompt picking up of poop is the best preventative measure.
For example, concrete runs should be scrubbed down daily with dilute bleach. All fabrics in the house should be vacuumed well and washed, if possible.
Understand how dogs become infected.
In order to lessen the chances of your dog getting infected, you should understand how your dog could get infected. Adult dogs have two ways of becoming infected:
Your dog could get hookworms by contact and then ingestion of infected feces. For example, when the dog walks through feces and then licks its paws.
The worms can burrow through the dog’s paws to gain entry to the blood stream. This is facilitated if the dog is kept in damp conditions which means the skin of the paws is permanently weakened by dampness.
Give your dog a heartworm medication that includes medication that prevents hookworms.
Most monthly heartworm medications include a hookworm preventative as well. This means that it is very important to remember to give your dog this medication every month. Products that are effective include:
Ivermectin + pyrantel: Found in Heartgard Plus, Iverhart Plus, Tri-Heart Plus
Pyrantel + praziquantel: Found in Virbantel
Milbemycin: Found in Interceptor and Milbemax
Milbemycin + lufenuron: Found in Sentinel,
Imidacloprid + Moxidectin: Found in Advantage Multi
Fenbendazole : Found in Panacur, SafeGuard
Treat newborn puppies.
Newborn puppies should be given hookworm preventative medication at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks. This is important, as hookworms are common in newborn puppies.
Make sure that you use only products suitable for puppies, such as fenbendazole.
Giving repeated medication makes sure that any larvae, which are not killed by the medication, are killed once they hatch.
Be sure you have treated breeding dogs.
Female dogs that have produced a litter of infected puppies, should be treated against hookworms prior to any subsequent pregnancies. In addition, giving the pregnant female fenbendazole by mouth from day 40 of pregnancy to two days post-whelping can help control the transmission of larvae via the placenta and milk. The dose is 25 mg/kg by mouth with food, once daily.
Keep risk factors in mind.
Those dogs most at risk of picking up hookworm infection are those living in warm moist environments, as the survival of hookworms outside the dog is more common. Also, dogs kept in unsanitary conditions where they have contact with other dogs’ feces, means they are more liable to come into contact with hookworm.