Hookworms (Ancylostoma caninum, Ancylostoma braziliense, and Ancylostoma tubaeforme) are intestinal parasites that reside in the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cats. They are only 1/8 of an inch long and are very difficult to see with the naked eye. Hookworms can affect both dogs and cats but are much more common and problematic in dogs and young puppies.
Hookworms feed by attaching to your pet’s intestinal lining and sucking blood from the small blood vessels located there. Large numbers of these parasites can cause serious problems by ingesting large volumes of blood- especially in small puppies and sick or debilitated animals. Symptoms of hookworms can include bloody stool, diarrhea, weight loss, poor haircoat and pale gums or weakness/lethargy from anemia.
The ingestion of hookworm eggs or larvae is the most common route of infection. Hookworm eggs are shed in the feces and can hatch and survive in the soil for months. Ingestion of dirt or fecal material through grooming occurs regularly in both dogs and cats. Infection can also occur when Hookworm larvae penetrate the skin and migrate to the intestines to mature. Puppies can also contract hookworms before birth through the placenta or after birth through nursing.
Hookworm is diagnosed by identifying the eggs shed in the feces. A small fresh fecal sample should be brought to the clinic where it is mixed with a special solution that encourages parasite eggs to float to the top and adhere to a slide. The slide is then examined under a microscope and the Hookworm eggs are identified by a veterinary technician. It is important to note that just because Hookworms are present does not mean that enough eggs will be shed to be detected on a fecal sample. Repeat fecal samples (especially in puppies) are sometimes needed to detect the presence of Hookworms.
Hookworm treatment consists of an oral liquid dewormer. This dewormer kills only adult worms and must be given again 2-3 weeks after the initial treatment to ensure that all parasites are killed. Treating your pet’s environment is equally as important as treating your pet since Hookworm larvae can survive for several months in the soil. Thoroughly cleaning all surfaces in your home as well as picking up all feces outside and working to dry out any especially wet areas of the yard will help to minimize the possibility for reinfection. Moving your pet to a completely different area outside for several months is sometimes the most effective way to prevent an ongoing problem.
In order to prevent Hookworm infestations prophylactic deworming of all puppies, kittens, and nursing mothers is recommended. Good hygiene and sanitation with the prompt removal of all stool from the yard or litter box drastically reduces the chance for infection. Revolution and Heartgard are also effective preventative medications that can be given monthly.
True Hookworm infection in people is extremely rare. Most instances of Hookworms in people occur in unsanitary conditions when the larvae burrow into the skin and cause itching. This condition is commonly called “ground itch”. Very few instances of hookworms migrating deeper into the body and partially maturing in the intestines have been reported.