Hookworms are excessively greedy blood suckers and cause extensive loss of blood. They ‘hook’ on to the walls of the intestines, draw out blood and ingest it directly. Some can bite and cause lacerations which result in blood leaking. To add to the misery, the esophageal glands of the hookworm secrete an enzyme that inhibits blood coagulation.
Hookworms can penetrate skin and infect humans as well. Walking or playing barefoot in areas where dogs defecate increases your and your child’s risk of infection. A study of the lifecycle of hookworms can go along way in achieving the goals of treating hookworm infection and eradicating hookworms from the environment.
Depending upon the species, an adult hookworm can lay up to thirty thousand eggs in a day. A moist loamy soil and warm temperatures are most conducive to hookworm survival. These hardy parasites have been known to survive in tougher climatic conditions also. Unlike other worms in dogs , hookworms develop in feces only when the feces are broken up naturally by earthworms or rain. Larvae in their infective stage move out from the feces and wait in the soil or vegetation for a host to pass by.
Hookworms enter a dog’s body and move on to the intestines in different ways:
- The dog can get infected by ingesting larvae directly from the soil or by preying on infected hosts like rodents and mice.
- Puppies can get infected through their mother’s milk during nursing.
- Some hookworm parasites can penetrate the skin tissue and bore through tissues until they migrate through blood vessels or lymphatic ducts to ultimately arrive in the lungs. From there, they penetrate the capillaries, through bronchioles, bronchi, and the trachea and finally into the pharynx. The dog coughs and swallows the larvae, and they travel through the digestive tract to the small intestines.
Larvae that are ingested reach the small intestines directly through the digestive tract. Once in the intestines, they shed the outer skin and grow into adult hookworms. Adult hookworms can live in a dog’s body from two months to two years, causing some of the most serious symptoms of worms in dogs like severe anemia. Severe hookworm infection can cause death by reducing the protein levels in the body. Severe anemia in puppies and dogs can also result in death.
Depending upon the age of the dog, eggs are again excreted in a dog’s feces after fifteen days to a month. Only a small percentage of eggs mature in the environment. In some cases, the host is resistant to hookworm larvae. They may move through the body without ever reaching the small intestines.
Prevention and sanitation of the environment and regular de-worming are the only methods of controlling and treating hookworms, which are sometimes termed as "carnivore hookworms".