Hookworms are internal parasites found mostly in cats, which may cause disease. There are four species of hookworm which can infect the cat. Hookworm infections tend to be more severe in younger cats, under two months of age. They are found in warm areas with high humidity levels, such as the southern United States. These small, thin worms are typically up to a half inch long and feed on your cat’s blood and tissue fluid by attaching themselves to wall of the small intestine. In severe cases, this may lead to malnutrition and death.
Signs & Symptoms of Hookworms in Cats
Symptoms of a hookworm infection can be seen in as few as ten days:
- Bloody diarrhea, often resembling tar in severe infestations
- Pale tongue, gums, and nose
- Weight loss
After 2 to 3 weeks, your cat will start shedding hookworm eggs in his/her stool, and these eggs will hatch in about 48 hours. The newly hatched larvae will become infective within seven days.
Causes of Hookworms in Cats
The most common hookworm species that infect cats are:
- Ancylostoma braziliense
- Uncinaria stenocephala
There are many different ways that your cat can get hookworms, including:
- Direct ingestion of larvae in infected soil or water
- Feeding on a mother’s milk containing larvae
- Migration of larvae through the placenta in cats
- Penetration of larvae through the skin, usually the foot pads
- Migration of larvae through the blood, into the lungs, where the cat may cough them up and then swallow them into the intestine
- Ingestion of the intermediate host, such as mice or other rodents
Diagnosis of Hookworms in Cats
Diagnosis begins with a complete history and a physical exam. Your veterinarian will be most likely to do the following:
- Fecal Floatation - This test is used to determine the presence of parasite eggs in your cat’s stool. It involves taking a small fecal sample from your cat using a lubricated fecal loop. The feces are then put in a small container with a solution that will allow most of the fecal matter to sink, and the parasite eggs to float. A slide is then made of the floating material and examined under a microscope. The slide is then scanned for hookworm eggs. Because the eggs take 2 to 3 weeks to pass in the stool, a fecal examination result may be falsely negative, and diagnosis will be based solely on clinical signs.
Treatment for Hookworms in Cats
Your veterinarian will likely use a dewormer if your cat is positive for hookworms. Typical drugs used are pyrantel pamoate (Nemex or Strongid), fenbendazole (Panacur), febantel/praziquantel/pyrantel pamoate (Drontal Plus), and mebendazole (Temintic).
Some drugs will kill only the adult worms or cause encysted larvae to be released, so combinations of drugs (Drontal Plus), or multiple treatments. may be used (second treatment is usually 1 to 2 weeks after the first administration).
A follow-up fecal exam may be recommended by your veterinarian to ensure the infestation has been controlled. Cats may become carriers of hookworms after recovery from the infestation. Larvae will hide out in cysts inside your cat, and be released during times of stress or illness. This will again cause worms in the intestine and bloody diarrhea.
Prevention of Hookworms in Cats
Hookworms can be prevented by:
- Having your cat dewormed multiple times within the first three months of life, as a precaution
- Having regular fecal exams for your cat every 6 to 12 months
- Regular use of heartworm preventives that protect against hookworms as well
- Good sanitation in kennel areas
- Control of rodents (Use caution with rat poison, it is toxic to your cat!)
- Testing females for the parasite prior to breeding
- Subsequent litters of mothers who have passed on a fatal hookworm infection in her milk should be monitored and should be treated for the parasite aggressively. Mothers may also be treated during their pregnancy.
Hookworms can be transmitted to humans and can cause a skin disease called cutaneous larval migrans, where the larvae penetrate the skin and cause itching and lumps. If hookworms infect the human intestine, you may get a condition called eosinophilic enteritis, which causes abdominal pain.