Hookworms have a small, thread-like body with sharp spikes near the mouth. They are parasitic in nature, which means they feed on a host animal. They attach themselves to the lining of the small intestines of dogs and suck out blood from their body. For this reason, they are considered extremely harmful for a dog's health. A hookworm infestation is quite common in dogs, and can affect both adults as well as puppies. If puppies get infested by hookworm, it can even lead to death.
How do Dogs Get Infested?
Hookworms can get into the dog's body by many different means. Ingestion of food or drink contaminated with its larva is the most common medium of transmission. Hookworms that are found in soil can penetrate through the dog's skin when they burrow their paws into the infected soil. When a healthy dog comes in direct contact with an infested dog, then the worms may change their host through skin penetration. Breastfeeding puppies may get it from their mother's milk. An infested pregnant dog can pass it on to the unborn puppy through the placenta.
The hookworm larva that enters the digestive system of the dog grows into an adult by feeding on the blood from its host's body, and starts laying as many as 20,000 eggs each day. So, you can imagine how harmful this worm infestation is for your pet. As the worms suck out blood, the infested dog suffers huge blood loss, which leads to anemia. Some common identifiable signs and symptoms of anemia in dogs are as follows:
- If you check their gums, inner lining of the nostrils, or under the eyelids, lips, and ears, you would notice that these areas have turned pale because of lack of red blood cells in the body.
- Discolored tongue
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Consistent fatigue
- Diminished growth in puppies
There are some additional symptoms in dogs that show up in a few of them, but many others may not get it. Some dogs tend to have diarrhea, and vomiting. Others may suffer from constipation and pass hard, dark and tarry stools. If the larvae penetrates the skin, then your pet would get an unusual itchy sensation. When there is a severe infestation, it starts affecting the lungs, resulting in cough and pneumonia.
Hookworms in dogs can be diagnosed with the help of laboratory testing of the stool samples. The main aim of the treatment is the elimination of both adult and larval forms of hookworms from the pet's body. The medicines are either administered orally or through injections. Firstly, doctors prescribe medication that can kill the adult worms. The adults are eliminated first, mainly because they lay eggs in large numbers every day. Then, heartworm medication is used to control the number of the larvae. The killed worms are then excreted through feces.
This treatment has to be continued for a long time before all the hookworms are removed completely. Vets recommend testing stool samples after every few months, to check for the presence of hookworms. If newborn puppies are infested with hookworm, their medication starts as early as the age of 2 weeks, and continues even after weaning in order to ensure that all larvae are expelled from their body. The medication is often accompanied by nutritional supplements. Iron supplements are important to treat the anemic condition. Fish oil supplements are also given to strengthen their immune system. The dog foods that you offer them should be rich in protein and fats.
Once the symptoms of hookworm subside, and the laboratory tests of stool samples confirm that the parasites are eliminated from their body, you must take care to prevent any further re-infestation. This is possible by maintaining proper hygienic environment for the pets. Clean up their feces on a regular basis. Disinfect their living areas and bedding thoroughly. Your vet may suggest a treatment with a de-wormer once in a month to prevent re-infestation.