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Parasite Control - Hookworms

Parasite Control - Hookworms
October 4, 2021

Back in the 20th Century as I began the practice of veterinary medicine and surgery in Ripley County, I saw a multitude of diseases caused by parasites. That is still true today although the treatment and prevention drugs and strategies are more sophisticated and improved.

 I'll never forget the time I was standing by a fence with an old farmer discussing a cow I had just treated when his horse came up to us from the pasture. As nonchalant as you please, the farmer spits from his mouth into his hand the wad of tobacco he had been chewing and offered it to the horse. The equine appeared to be familiar with this treat and readily consumed it. He explained to me that the tobacco would kill the worms in his horse's stomach. Being a young vet and open to new information, I researched this newfound revelation and discovered that indeed there were anti-parasitic properties in nicotine. I consoled myself by thinking that surely the nicotine was not nearly as effective as the tube worming of horses we used to do in the 1980s. Nevertheless, I respected the old farmer's ways. He no doubt had learned this technique of deworming from his father who had learned it from his father, and so on.

Also, back in those days (and to a lesser extent today), I was presented with a litter of puppies that were usually about 6-8 weeks old and "ain't doin' right".

They would be lethargic and weak. Their gums were pale instead of pink. A  fecal check would reveal an abundance of hookworms. These little blood-sucking parasites of the small intestine were capable of draining a puppy of its limited supply of life-giving fluid. There seemed to be a threshold of anemia, once crossed, the pup could not revive. A liquid medication to kill the hookworms was immediately given, and those who survived would continue to manufacture red blood cells all the way to total recovery. Some of the same dewormers of the 1980s are still around today and continue to be commonly used and largely effective. Additionally, there are new and improved medications to choose from.

But something has happened on the way through the early 21st Century. When racing greyhounds were being adopted after their careers were ended a super hookworm was being discovered, resistant to the usual deworming medications.

These resistant hookworm species are now spilling over to the pet dog population. This is a public health concern because hookworms can infect people through skin contact, causing a condition known as cutaneous larval migrans. 

This 20th Century hookworm mutating into a 21st Century drug-resistant hookworm can become a big problem because of dog parks, boarding kennels, and other places where dogs congregate. Today, at my clinic, I have pets with hookworm infections that the old one or two rounds of the standard medications have not eliminated. After your dog is treated for hookworms, a follow-up examination of its feces should be performed to ensure the efficacy of the treatment. There is a drug that is approved for use in Europe, but not the USA, that appears to be able to kill these resistant strains of hookworms. Perhaps, it will gain approval here.

When you take your new puppy to the vet, always bring a fecal sample. I have tested many puppies to have roundworms, hookworms, and other parasites, even though the breeder has tried to do a good job of deworming before sale. After your pup's first vaccination, bring a fecal sample to the next visit to ensure they are not resistant to hookworms present. There is nothing like poor parasite control to hold a puppy back from normal development. Then,  continue prevention of all parasites on an ongoing basis throughout its life. This is an important part of giving your pet its' best life possible.

Submitted by
Harley Robinson, DVM