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Hookworms in Dogs: How to Spot the Signs

6 min read

Updated - Aug 25th, 2022

Key Points

  • Hookworms are common parasites that live within your dog’s intestines and feed off blood vessels in the intestinal walls.
  • Common symptoms can include: anemia, weight loss, pale gums, itchy paws, lethargy, bloody diarrhea, and stunted growth.
  • These parasites are mainly spread through contaminated feces and dirt or in-utero with an infected mother.
  • Hookworms are diagnosed using a simple fecal test at your veterinarian’s office.

Hookworms are parasites that make themselves at home within your dog’s intestines – Yuck! 

If you cringed at the word “parasite,” we get it. No one likes the thought of an unwelcome visitor wreaking havoc on their furry friend’s small intestine. But there’s no need to panic.

Luckily, hookworms are fairly easy to treat and prevent through regular fecal tests and preventive deworming medications. Dogs that are treated for hookworms early have a better shot at avoiding complications, so bring your dog to the vet immediately if you notice any symptoms or suspect your dog has been contaminated.

Here’s a rundown of what to look out for, and how you can treat and prevent these pesky parasites.

Symptoms 

Hookworms, scientifically known as ancylostoma caninum, use their hook-shaped mouths to feed off blood from tiny blood vessels in your pup’s intestinal wall. The blood loss that results may cause the following symptoms:

  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Itchy paws
  • Lethargy
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Stunted growth

Occasionally, hookworms can be serious. Young puppies who are still growing may have a harder time withstanding blood loss than adult dogs. Catching hookworms early gives dogs a better chance of recovery, so if you notice any of these signs of hookworms, be sure to report them to your vet as soon as possible.

Causes

Hookworms are mainly spread through contact with contaminated dog poop or dirt. Adult worms lay eggs in a dog’s intestinal tract, which are then expelled through their feces. If contaminated poop is not disposed of quickly, the hookworm life cycle continues. These eggs hatch into larvae and contaminate the surrounding environment. Dogs who come into contact with the contaminated animal feces or earth are at risk of contracting hookworms.

Dogs develop hookworms in three main ways: 

  • Through oral ingestion of hookworms or hookworm larvae. There are a few ways this can happen: your pup can sniff or lick contaminated feces or soil. Your dog may also accidentally ingest hookworms by grooming their paws after walking in a contaminated area, or by drinking contaminated water. Finally, newborn puppies can ingest hookworms through their mother’s milk if the mother is infected.
  • Through skin contact. Hookworm larvae have a knack for burrowing into the skin. If your dog’s skin comes into direct contact with larvae – say, your pup rolls around in contaminated soil – they could become infected. 
  • In-utero. Unborn puppies can contract hookworms from an infected mother before birth.

Diagnosis 

To determine whether or not your dog is infected with hookworms, a vet will perform a fecal test. The vet will take a sample of your dog’s stool and examine it for hookworm eggs and hookworm antigen, a protein found on the surface of adult hookworms. If the vet discovers either of these, they will diagnose your dog with hookworms.

Treatment 

Luckily, it’s fairly easy to treat hookworms once they’re discovered. Your vet will most likely prescribe a broad-spectrum dewormer called Pyrantel Pamoate. Pyrantel Pamoate is an anthelmintic taken orally that kills adult hookworms in your dog’s system. Because it does not kill larvae, your dog will most likely take a second round of the medication 2-4 weeks after the first, to kill off any remaining hookworms.

Hookworms are a more serious threat to growing puppies who may not be able to survive the blood loss without more drastic measures of care. If your pup develops anemia or a similar secondary problem as a result of blood loss, your vet may suggest some or all of the following treatments:

  • Blood transfusions
  • IV fluids
  • Diet adjustments
  • Additional medications or supplements

Recovery and care

During your dog’s recovery, it’s important that your dog avoids reinfection. If your dog was recently diagnosed with hookworms, wear gloves when disposing of their feces. Be sure to remove and dispose of feces immediately to prevent contamination of the surrounding environment.

After you’ve given your dog their recommended dose of dewormer, your vet will run a follow-up fecal test to ensure hookworms are gone.

Prevention 

One crucial practice for hookworm prevention is keeping your dog’s environment clean and free of potentially contaminated feces. 

Routine preventive care is another important way to combat hookworm disease. Dogs should receive a routine fecal test for hookworms every two years, regardless of whether or not they’re showing any symptoms. These tests can detect both hookworms and other types of intestinal parasites.

As another preventative measure, puppies should receive deworming medication at 6-to-8 and 10-to-12 weeks of age. Since puppies are particularly susceptible to hookworms and are most at risk for developing complications, regular deworming medication is a must. 

Certain monthly heartworm prevention medications also protect against hookworms – ask your vet if your dog’s medication does. 

What to expect at the vet’s office

Your vet will need a small stool sample from your dog and so do your best to save one to bring to the office. Once you arrive at the office, your vet will examine your dog’s feces under a microscope. If they find hookworm eggs or antigens, they will diagnose your dog with hookworms. The vet will then prescribe your pup a dewormer and provide instructions for your dog’s recovery period. 

The bottom line

Hookworms are pesky parasites that feed off blood vessels in your dog’s intestinal tract – leading to blood loss. The good news is that hookworms are easy to treat once discovered. But since complications arise from the blood loss caused by a hookworm infection, it’s important to visit your vet immediately if you notice your dog experiencing any symptoms.

You can take steps to prevent your dog from contracting hookworms by keeping your dog’s environment clean and staying up to date on routine vet care such as regular preventative deworming and routine fecal tests.  

FAQs

Can pet insurance cover hookworms?

Pumpkin dog insurance plans reimburse you 90% of all eligible vet bills. This could include vet visits, care, and treatment for unexpected parasitic infections, such as hookworms.

Pumpkin also offers an optional preventative care package as an add-on to insurance plans. This is not insurance, but an optional benefit that can help you cover measures to prevent hookworms, such as routine fecal tests. 

Can you see hookworms?

Hookworms can be seen by the naked eye, so you may be able to see them in your infected dog’s feces. Hookworms can look like long, thin strings. However, it is not always possible to see hookworms, even if your dog is infected. If you are worried about a potential infection, keep an eye out for symptoms and have your dog’s feces routinely tested at the vet.

Can humans become infected with hookworms?

It is possible. Poop from infected dogs can contaminate an environment. Human infection often occurs through skin contact with hookworm larvae in a contaminated environment. Hookworms in humans cause itchy skin infections and occasional abdominal symptoms as well. 

If your pet has been diagnosed with hookworm, you should be especially careful disposing of their poop. You should also avoid walking barefoot or letting children play in an environment that could be contaminated. 

Did you know?

  • Hookworms are named for their hook-shaped mouthpieces, which they use to latch onto your dog’s intestinal walls to suck blood.
  • Some regular heartworm medications also prevent hookworms, as well as other parasitic pests like tapeworms, roundworms, and whipworms. Ask your vet if your dog’s monthly heartworm prevention medication can prevent hookworms as well.
  • Pumpkin Dog Insurance plans cover 90% of eligible vet visits — making it easier for you to provide your pet the best possible care if accidents and illnesses arise. Fetch a quote today!


Caitlin is a writer and the proud roommate of an adorable and elusive cat named Olive.