Hookworm is a parasite that lives in the small intestines of mammals. It is also the most common of the intestinal parasites that infest dogs. There are different types of hookworms that can infest dogs and cats.
- A.caninum can infect a dog.
- Uncinaria stenocephala can infect both dogs and cats.
- A.braziliense and A. tubaeforme species of the hookworm infect only cats.
Hookworms are smaller than other intestinal parasites like dog tapeworms and roundworms. Their effect on the host’s body is also different from other parasitical worms. Worms in dogs are usually excreted and are visible in stools, but hookworms are so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye. In most cases, even a microscopic examination is unable to reveal their presence.
Hookworms are also different from other worms in the manner in which they cause diseases. The other kinds of worms mechanically obstruct the intestinal passage and migrate through tissues, but hookworms cling to the intestinal walls and suck the host’s blood.
Dogs can get infested with hookworms in many ways. Hookworms lay eggs in the intestines of an infested animal. The eggs are then excreted through stools. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae can migrate through water and vegetation and enter a dog’s body through various routes. Infestation can occur when a dog consumes larvae from infested water or soil or eats another animal like a rodent that is already infected. Some larvae can directly penetrate the dog’s skin. Other means of infestation can be linked to the birth process. Puppies can get infested with hookworms while in the uterus or when nursing if their mother is already infested.
It takes about five to seven weeks for an adult hookworm to mature, mate and lay eggs. For this reason, diagnosing infestation at an early stage is difficult. It is most likely that symptoms of hookworms in dogs will surface before you can actually detect any worms in the dog’s feces. Once infested, hookworms produce a somewhat different set of symptoms of worms in dogs as compared to other intestinal parasites. These are some of the symptoms:
- Weight loss to the extent of emaciation
- Dark stools that appear like tar
- Dry and dull coat
- Pale gums
- Restricted growth in younger dogs
Hookworms are voracious blood suckers and can cause severe anemia. Hookworms also damage the mucus-secreting membrane that lines the body cavity. Hookworm infestation is potentially fatal.
Hookworms are not included in the list of common feline parasites, but if they do take up residence in a host they can be very dangerous to the overall health. They have been known to spread to epidemic proportions. Preventive measures like treating the environment and flaming the area where you see feces can help in the prevention of this potentially fatal parasite.