Q: I have a beautiful Sheltie mix named Boo who is the love of my life. He just got diarrhea again and the vet said he had hookworms. Why does he keep getting hookworms? They keep giving me medicine and the diarrhea goes away for a while but he gets it again and again and sometimes I see blood in his poop and what a mess! What can I do?
A: We can certainly help Boo with the hookworms. It is important to understand the life cycle of hookworms. The hookworm eggs are in your dog’s feces and wherever your dog has gone to the bathroom outside there are hundreds of eggs. The microscopic worm eggs develop into a baby worm as quickly as three days.
The baby worm is called a larva. The larvae live in the ground. The larvae can enter the dog’s body either through the mouth or skin. This means your dog can lick his body and ingest hookworm eggs or he can eat contaminated grass, dirt, or mulch. Your dog can also get hookworms from eating infected insects, rodents or reptiles.
Humans can even track hookworm eggs into the house on microscopic bits of dirt from their shoes. The dog then walks on the floor and the larva can enter his body. In tropical areas where the ground never freezes, hookworms can be transmitted year-round. Cats and humans can also get hookworms.
Once the hookworm enters the dog’s body it can develop into an adult and attaches to the intestine with tiny hook teeth. It can also migrate through the dog’s body and some worms will encyst and hibernate for long periods of time. The encysted larvae are usually not killed by routine deworming treatments.
Stress and hormones can cause the larva to wake up and emerge. The mother dog can pass hookworms to her unborn pups and the worms can infect the pups in the milk. This is why puppies are dewormed every two weeks starting at 2 weeks old.
So what can you do to help decrease your dog’s chances of getting recurrent hookworm infections?
1. Immediately pick up and bag your dog’s feces. This decreases hookworms in the soil. Encourage other dog owners to do the same.
2. Keep him from eating grass, rodents, reptiles, and insects.
3. Avoid areas where dogs congregate since the soil may be contaminated with hookworm larvae. If your dog is getting re-infected continually, try walking him in a different area. Small dogs can be paper trained to eliminate inside.
4. Put your dog on a preventative medication. Some heartworm preventative products have the ability to prevent hookworms as well. It is important to give it to your dog at least every 30 days. Some veterinarians will have you give a preventative every two to three weeks if your dog is getting re-infected continually. The Proheart injection can be good for owners who often forget to give the monthly heartworm medication. Proheart works continuously for six months.
5. Have your dog’s fecal sample tested every six months to pick up early hookworm infections. It may need to be checked more often if he has diarrhea or frequent hookworm infections.
6. Decrease stress in your dog’s environment.
7. Work closely with your veterinarian to get your dog healthy. If your dog has other health problems that are causing hormonal imbalances or disease, it can make him more susceptible to hookworms.
8. Dogs with frequent hookworm infection can get anemic. Your dog may need to be on a special vitamin tonic to replace the iron and B vitamins lost from the worms sucking large amounts of blood.
Good luck with Boo.
Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.