Let's talk about hookworms. Puppies are especially prone to parasites of all kinds, but this week, let us focus on just one of those parasites. What are hookworms exactly? To answer pointedly, they are intestinal parasites that live in the digestive system of either your dog or cat. They get their name "hook"worm because they literally hook themselves into the lining of your pet's digestive system and, using their hook-like mouthpieces, feed off of the blood vessels of the intestinal lining.
The hookworm has a 3-stage life cycle: egg, larvae, and adult. These parasites start their life as microscopic eggs nested in your pet's stool where they can grow into larvae and contaminate the environment. But how long can they live outside of the pet's body? The American Kennel Club tells us that, "the larvae can survive for weeks or even months before infecting your dog." Once your dog, or cat, is infected. The hookworms attach themselves to their intestinal lining and grow into adults. They then lay eggs and continue the cycle.
How can your pet get infected? Hookworms can be transmitted a couple of different ways. Paws are notorious for picking up transmittable parasites. If one infected pet has a bowel movement in the grass, then the next pet to pass by can simply contract the infection by walking through it. Another way a pet can pick up hookworms is through oral transfer. Either by sniffing, getting the stool on their nose and then licking it, or eating the stool directly. It is also commonly picked up when some fecal matter is accidentally in contact with food or water and therefore ingested. For puppies, it can also be transferred in the womb and through the mama's milk.
Hookworms are also classified as a zoonotic parasite. A zoonotic parasite or disease is one that can transfer from pet to human or visa versa. Though we may not be as likely to pick up the hookworms orally, we can pick it up by allowing an infected pet to lick our face, or by walking barefoot through an infected environment. Adult stage hookworms are not passed to humans, but the larvae can burrow under our skin. Migrating larvae can affect organs and even eyes. Thankfully, this is rare and can be avoided by bathing and washing hands regularly, and knowing how to keep your environment as clean as possible to help prevent infection.
What are some common symptoms of hookworms to look for? The American Kennel Club gives us these to look for:
* Pale gums
* Weight loss
* Bloody diarrhea
* Itchy paws
* Poor growth
These symptoms could also be signs of other diseases going on in your furry friend's body. Contact your local veterinarian if you notice any of these.
What can you do if your pet becomes infected? First off, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and have their stool tested to confirm diagnosis. Treatment usually involves an oral dewormer that is given to help kill adult stage hookworms. Because of this, your veterinarian will probably recommend treatment again in 2 to 4 weeks to target the existing larvae that may have survived into the adult stage. The second step would be to go home and clean up all the stool and clean your environment. Hookworms thrive in a warm, moist environment. We recommend cleaning up all stool immediately after each bowel movement is made. This will be the most effective way to keep larvae from having the chance to infect the environment. You will need to package all stool and discard in the trash to limit exposure to other pets. Lastly, you will want to speak to your veterinarian about getting your pet on a heartworm prevention that also targets hookworms and helps keep the infection from happening again.
If you suspect your pet may have hookworms, or you would like to have their stool tested for ease of mind, call your local veterinarian to set up an appointment.