Hookworms are parasites in the genus Ancylostoma, which in their adult and 4th-larval stages live and breed inside of the intestines of companion animals. They are voracious blood feeders, and they attach (or “hook”) onto the intestinal lining of dogs and cats, causing blood loss and subsequent anemia. If left untreated, hookworms can cause severe illness, and even sudden death, especially in young puppies who acquire the parasite by transmammary infection – that is, from the milk of their mother. Older puppies and mature dogs can become infected by ingesting hookworm larvae or eggs from the environment, particularly from coming into contact with feces of other infected dogs. In either case, treating these blood-sucking parasites is paramount when an infection with them occurs in companion animals.
Effective hookworm treatment includes a regimented de-worming protocol. Often this involves using oral pyrantel pamoate first, to be followed by blood transfusions for severely affected puppies and possibly intravenous fluid support as well. If your dog has been diagnosed with hookworms, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s recommended de-worming schedule, and have an additional fecal examination performed once the treatments have finished to confirm that all of the parasites have been eliminated from your dog’s system. Most cases of hookworms in dogs respond well to anthelmintic (deworming) treatment. Iron supplementation may also be recommended by your veterinarian, along with a high-protein diet, anti-diarrheal medications and vitamin supplements.
There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat hookworm; most of these are given orally. The drug treatments currently include Fenbendazole (Panacur), Milbemycin oxime (Interceptor), Pyrantel pamoate (Nemex), Praziquantel/pyrantel/febantel (Drontal Plus), Praziquantel/pyrantel (Drontal), Ivermectin/pyrantel (Heartguard Plus) and Dichlorvos (Task Tabs), among others. As new treatments are always being developed, your veterinarian is the best person to help you diagnose hookworm infection in your dog, and to guide you through the best treatment protocol.
As mentioned above, dogs are normally infected with hookworms in one of two ways: they either ingest hookworm larvae or eggs already present in the environment, or they are infected with the hookworms through their mother’s milk. Ensuring that all bitches are free of hookworms before they are bred or whelp can help to avoid hookworm transmission to puppies. More specifically, the current protocol is that bitches should be treated from about the 14th day of gestation with Fenbendazole (“Panacur”), and again on about the 14th and 28th day of lactation (after birth of the puppies), to kill migrating larvae and adult worms before they reach the puppies through the mom’s milk. Once a dog has been treated for hookworms, it is important to keep their environment clean of all fecal matter in order to ensure that the dog stays free of hookworm infections. Note that hookworms can constantly repopulate the bowels of dogs from larvae sequestered in intestinal tissues. This can happen for months, or even for years. Also, Ancylostoma in the environment are destroyed by freezing, so a hard winter can stop the signs of clinical hookworm infection.
Unfortunately, some dogs infected with hookworms die suddenly from their infection, even when they receive appropriate treatment and care. This is especially true in very young puppies. Thankfully, most dogs recover fully with appropriate de-worming and nutritional support.