What is Hookworm Infection in Cats
Hookworm infection is a disease caused by several species of parasites. The symptoms of animal hookworm infection depend on how the infection is acquired. Early stages of animal hookworms, the larvae, can infect the host and travel through different parts of the body. This is called larva migrans (LAR-va MIGH-granz). Painful and itchy skin infections often occur when animal hookworm larvae move through the skin. If animal hookworm eggs are ingested, then the larvae that hatch out of the eggs can reach the intestine and cause bleeding, inflammation (swelling), and abdominal pain.
Figure 1Hookworm egg - this is what a veterinarian sees in the stool of an infected dog or cat.
How Do Pets Get Hookworm?
Dogs and cats of any age may get roundworms and hookworms, but they are most vulnerable when they are very young. In fact, it is not unusual for puppies of only 2-3 weeks of age to harbor a significant number of worms. That’s because these worms are often passed from a mother to her puppies before birth. Sometimes they are passed shortly after birth, through her milk.
Symptoms of Hookworm Infection
Hookworms are intestinal parasites. They live and grow inside the intestine of your pet. Hookworms develop from eggs into larvae, and then later mature into adult worms.
Most pets show no sign of infection. However, some do. Signs may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Severe weight loss
Heavy infections in young puppies and kittens may be fatal.
Can Animals Transmit Hookworm to People?
Yes, but not directly.
Puppies and kittens are especially likely to have hookworm infections. Animals that are infected pass hookworm eggs in their stools. The eggs can hatch into larvae, and both eggs and larvae may be found in dirt where animals have been.
Eggs or larvae can get into your body when you accidentally eat or have direct contact with contaminated dirt. For example, this can happen if a child is walking barefoot or playing in an area where dogs or cats have been (especially puppies or kittens).
Treating Hookworm Infection
Hookworm infections are diagnosed frequently in puppies and dogs, but kittens and cats are not as susceptible to hookworm infections. However if cats or kittens do become infected with these intestinal parasites, prompt treatment is needed. Hookworms in cats can cause a greater amount of intestinal bleeding, and cats with hookworm infections are at risk of developing anemia. Fortunately there are numerous medications which can effectively treat hookworm infection in cats and kittens.
Cats and kittens usually become infected with hookworms when they accidentally ingest hookworm larvae. Most cats or kittens diagnosed with hookworms infections were in unsanitary conditions, or they were around other animals, (including dogs), that were carrying the parasites. Unlike puppies, kittens cannot become infected with hookworms through their mother’s placenta or milk.
If your cat has been diagnosed with hookworms, your veterinarian will treat the cat based on the cat’s age and level of infection. Oral treatments for hookworm infection in cats include ivermectin, praziquantel, or milbemycin oxime. These oral treatments are usually administered twice to ensure that all developing larvae are eliminated.
Revolution, a topical treatment that is applied to the cat’s skin between the shoulder blades, can also eliminate hookworm infection as well as fleas, roundworms, and ear mites. Cats must be older than 6 weeks of age before revolution can be applied to their skin. In some cases, the hookworm infection can be so bad that the cat or kitten suffers from severe life threatening anemia. In this instance, a blood transfusion and/or specific nutritional support may be needed.
Over the counter treatments for hookworms in cats are available, but these treatments often require repeated dosages and they may not eliminate the type of hookworm that your cat has or be appropriate for cats of certain ages. It is best to give your cat hookworm treatments that have been prescribed by your veterinarian.