While any kind of parasite infestation in puppies is bad, hookworms are particularly dangerous. Because they suck blood, they can rapidly kill puppies by causing anemia. Fortunately, common anthelmintics, or wormers, given in multiple doses can get rid of these pests. Humans are also vulnerable to hookworms, although transmission from canines to people is rare.
It's not unusual for puppies to be afflicted with worms. Roundworms can cause poor growth and a potbelly appearance. Whipworms impede weight gain and cause loose stools. Of all the common worms in puppies, hookworms are the most potentially deadly. So named because of the hooklike projections by which they connect to body tissue, hookworms drink the blood of host animals. While adult hookworms reside in the small intestine, their larvae can migrate through the bloodstream into the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. While adult dogs can be seriously compromised by hookworm infestation, puppies who suffer infestation are at greater risk of death because of blood loss.
While adult dogs pick up hookworms from contact with feces or contaminated soil, puppies acquire hookworms from their mothers. They are either born with them or acquire them via the milk. If not all of the puppies in the litter are infected by these methods of transmission, unaffected babies will eventually pick up hookworms from fecal material around the whelping area. Before breeding your dog, make sure she is free of parasite infestation. Your vet can advise you about safe worming products to use during pregnancy.
Puppies infested with hookworms don't look healthy and aren't very active. They don't gain weight properly, and their coats look bad. Many experience diarrhea, with tarry stools resulting from blood in the intestines. If the larvae head to the lungs, a pup will develop a cough and other respiratory ailments. When coughing, the pooch will bring larvae back into the throat and swallow them, so the larvae head right back into the gastrointestinal tract.
Puppies infested with hookworms can quickly become anemic. This means they lack sufficient amounts of red blood cells circulating in their bodies. These crucial cells, produced in the bone marrow, bring oxygen to cells and remove carbon dioxide. Puppies suffering from anemia have pale gums and pale ear, nose and lip linings.
Your vet diagnoses hookworm infestation by testing a fecal sample. She might worm the puppies with fenbendazole, pyrantel pamoate or mebendazole, all of which kill hookworms in the gastrointestinal tract. The worming must be repeated in a month to eradicate worms already migrating during the initial treatment. While routine worming starting as early as 2 weeks of age controls hookworms in puppies, animals already severely infested require additional treatment to survive. Such treatment might include intravenous fluid therapy, dietary changes and iron supplementation. Puppies suffering from anemia and blood loss might need blood transfusions.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.