A reader wrote to us about hookworms, or what are believed to hookworms, afflicting his dog. Having observed the worms, which the reader described as 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch long with rounded (or perhaps “hooked” is the better term) ends, he asked what hookworms look like. We’ll address this specific question, but we’ll also say a few remarks about hookworms in general, just in case some of our readers are not familiar with this common parasitic worm found in dogs (and other mammals, including humans, for that matter).
Hookworms are parasitic nematodes that afflict a wide range of mammals. They live in the small intestine and can lead to such problems as a loss of iron and protein. The hookworms that affect dogs are known as Ancylostoma caninum or, in the parlance of the non-scientist, dog hookworms. In the larval stage of its life cycle, hookworms will penetrate a dog’s skin and move through the circulatory system into the digestive tract. Hookworms can also enter a through a dog’s mouth. The adult hookworms lay eggs in the intestine that are often embedded in the dog’s feces. The worms themselves are also commonly found in a dog’s feces, so examining your dog’s waste is a good way to determine if he or she has hookworms (or other parasitic worms). Diarrhea and anemia are common symptoms of dog hookworms.
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And what exactly do hookworms look like? About as our reader described them. They do tend to be between 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch long, and their bodies tend to be curved in the shape of a hook (that is, the head is curved relative to the rest of the body). Some types of hook worms are straight, but generally dog hookworms have the curved body. Here is a closeup, and rather frightening, picture of a hookworm:
If your dog does have hookworms, they should be taken to the vet. Most non-prescription medications do not work against hookworm infections, and besides that, veterinarians will have access to a wide range of tools to help fight the infection.
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Of course, it is preferable if your dog doesn’t get infected with hookworms at all. In order to reduce the risk, make sure that your dog gets screened for worms twice a year. If your dog is “high-risk” (like dogs that live in condensed urban areas, for example, or dogs that live in a home with multiple pets), he or she should get screened even more than twice a year. It is also crucial to make sure that your dog’s waste is cleaned up quickly. The last thing you want is for your dog to come into contact with feces, where hookworms and their eggs are often found, that has accumulated around the yard.