Hookworms in Cats – Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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(Last Updated On: November 11, 2018)

 

What are hookworms?   Transmission   Symptoms   Are hookworms dangerous?   Diagnosis   Treatment

Hookworms in cats

 Hookworms at a glance: 

  • About: Hookworms are small parasitic worms which live in the small intestines.
  • Transmission: Cats become infected via skin penetration, ingesting larvae in the environment and possibly in-utero and via the mother’s milk.
  • Symptoms: In many cases, there will be no symptoms if they do occur they can include black, tarry stools, anemia and poor coat condition.
  • Treatment: Anti-worming medication.

What are hookworms?

Hookworms are small, thin nematodes that are approximately 10 to 20 mm in length and are a common intestinal parasitic worm of dogs but can also infect cats.

Hookworms live in the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine, where they attach themselves to the mucous membrane using teeth-like hooks to feed on the blood. An adult hookworm can consume up to 0.1 ml of blood every day, changing their point of contact every 4-6 hours.  A heavy infestation can lead to anemia.

Types of hookworms:

The most common types of hookworms to infect cats are Ancylostoma and Uncinaria, of which there are several species:

    • A. ceylanicum
    • A. braziliense
    • A. tubaeforme
    • U. stenocephala

Transmission:

Cats can become infected in a number of ways, which are listed below:

  • Via the skin (penetration): When a cat comes into contact with an environment infected with hookworm larvae which can penetrate the skin, from their they migrate to the intestine where they mature(percutaneous infection).
  • Ingestion or inhalation: Cats can also become infected by ingesting infective third stage larvae of uncinaria in the environment, during grooming or via contaminated water and food.
  • In utero: Worm eggs may be passed on from mother to her unborn puppies via the placenta. It hasn’t been established if this is the case with feline hookworms yet.
  • Transmammary: Again, in dogs, it is possible for hookworm infection to be passed to her puppies via the breast milk. When a dog becomes infected with hookworms most of them migrate to the small intestine. However, some enter other tissues of the body, becoming dormant for years. During pregnancy, they reactivate, migrating to the mammary glands and out through the milk.   It hasn’t been established if this is the case with cat hookworms yet.

Life-cycle of  hookworms:

Hookworm eggs pass into the environment via the cat’s stool. Depending on conditions, within 2 – 5 days these eggs hatch into infective larvae (immature worms). At this point, they can infect a passing cat.

Once the cat comes into contact with infective larvae, they travel to the small intestine where they hook onto the wall and mature. When they reach maturity, they lay hundreds of eggs which pass out of the body via the feces, these eggs can survive for a long period of time in the environment.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of hookworms vary depending on the severity of infection and the type of hookworm involved. In some cats, no symptoms are apparent. When symptoms do appear, they typically include:

  • Black or bloody stools due to bleeding in the intestines
  • Anemia (weakness, pale gums)
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor coat condition
  • Skin irritation, especially on the feet where hookworm larvae penetrate the skin
  • Weight loss
  • In kittens, stunted growth

Diagnosis:

Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose hookworm via fecal flotation. A stool sample from your cat is mixed with a liquid solution, any eggs present in the feces float to the top which are collected and viewed under a microscope to determine the type (hookworm, roundworm etc) as well as the number of eggs present.

Are hookworms dangerous to cats?

Hookworms are more prevalent in dogs than they are in cats, and when cats do have them, they are more likely to be in smaller numbers. Treat any worm infestations immediately. As hookworms feed on the cat’s blood, cats can become anemic. Adult cats are more resistant to hookworms than kittens.

Treatment:

There are many effective medications to treat hookworms and your veterinarian will be able to recommend an effective product. Most worming medications come in two forms, either topical which is applied to the skin on the back of the neck or tablet form.

Severely infected kittens may require hospitalisation and blood transfusions to treat anemia.

Do I need to worm my indoor only cat?

This is a debatable topic and veterinarians seem to vary in their opinion. Worm indoor cats twice a year as it is possible to transport worm eggs into the house via our shoes. Speak to your own veterinarian if you are unsure if you should worm your indoor only cat.

Can I catch hookworms from my cat?

You can, although they can’t develop into the adult form as they do in cats. The infective larvae are found in the soil or sandy areas such as beaches or children’s sandpits and are able to penetrate the skin. From there they migrate beneath the skin, causing a red, itchy skin eruption. Commonly affected areas are hands, feet, between the toes and buttocks however they can migrate to the eyes, causing blindness, this condition is known as Cutaneous Larva Migrans (also called creeping eruption or ground itch). Hookworm larvae cannot complete their life cycle and die in the epidermis.

Hookworm migration in human

Prevention:

  • Regular worming, as recommended for the particular brand of worming product you are using. Worm all cats in the house at the same time.
  • Regular cleaning and removal of fecal waste in your cat’s litter tray.
  • Preventing hunting in cats.
  • If you do allow your cat to go to the toilet in your garden if they do clean up any feces quickly.
  • A female cat should be de-wormed two weeks prior to breeding and receive another dose late in pregnancy.
  • Worm kittens from two weeks and every two weeks until they are 2 weeks old.

Adults and children should avoid walking barefoot in areas which have been defecated in by animals.

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