Similar to tapeworms and worms, hookworms are a group of blood-sucking parasites that can live in your cat’s digestive system. They belong to the genus Ancylostoma. These parasites affect a wide variety of mammals, not just cats. They are known as “hookworms” due to the hook-shaped mouth with which the parasites anchor themselves to the intestinal walls.
Read on to learn more about hookworms in cats, their possible causes, the most common symptoms, how to treat them, and how to prevent them in the future.
What are hookworms in cats?
Feline hookworm is a parasitic disease caused by worms belonging to the Ancylostomatidae family, which includes several species. Cats are most affected by Ancylostoma tubaeforme, Ancylostoma braziliense, and Uncinaria stenocephala. Compared to dogs, cats tend to harbor relatively few hookworms, and these are generally less aggressive than the species found in dogs.
Cats become parasitized when L3 larvae (third instar larvae) enter their bodies. This can happen through ingestion, by penetrating your skin, or by consuming the milk of an infected mother. The larvae settle in the feline’s small intestine and continue to develop until they reach their final adult stage.
This type of parasite has teeth to adhere to the wall of your cat’s small intestine, causing extensive damage to the intestinal lining. The disease often progresses to traumatic ulcerative enteritis, and the most common symptoms include anemia, progressive wasting, and dramatic weight loss.
Causes of Feline Hookworms
Generally, hot and humid environments create the perfect conditions for hookworm proliferation, especially in areas where there is overcrowding and poor sanitation. Female hookworms lay thousands of microscopic eggs that end up in the cat’s feces. The larvae will eventually hatch from the eggs and remain alive in the soil for weeks or months. The most common routes of transmission are the following:
- Percutaneous: the larvae enter the body through the cat’s skin in areas without fur.
- Oral: usually occurs when the cat grooms its paws after having been in contact with the larvae.
- Mother’s milk: Kittens become infected through ingestion of milk from a parasitized mother.
Pathogenesis of hookworm in cats
Once the parasites reach the intestine, they will latch onto the intestinal lining with their large, serrated mouth. This will cause traumatic intestinal inflammation, which will cause the cat to start losing blood. The parasites also secrete anticoagulant substances that prevent the blood from clotting, ensuring a constant blood flow. This produces anemia and general weakness in the affected cat.
Symptoms of hookworm in cats
Most of the visible symptoms of feline hookworm infection are a consequence of the traumatic intestinal inflammatory process that begins once the parasites have latched onto the intestinal walls. These are the most common clinical signs that hookworms are affecting a cat:
- Itchy feet
- Weight loss in adults.
- Reduced growth in kittens.
- Intestinal ulcers.
- Bloody diarrhea
- Progressive anemia.
- Pale mucous membranes.
- Respiratory insufficiency.
- Poor coat quality.
If you notice any of the clinical signs listed above, you should contact your vet immediately. Keep in mind that kitties with parasites are extremely susceptible, and these parasites can be very debilitating, even deadly.
Diagnosis of Hookworms in Cats
It is possible to diagnose a hookworm infection before the appearance of the first symptoms by means of a parasitological test. Most of the symptoms listed above are non-specific and can be attributed to various feline diseases or infections. However, if you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take them to a vet for diagnosis.
The most common parasitological test to detect this type of parasite is done through a technique called fecal flotation. This technique involves mixing a small amount of cat feces with a special solution. This causes the hookworm eggs to float and stick to a glass slide, where they can be easily identified under a microscope.
Treatment of hookworm in cats
The first thing to do if a cat is affected by this parasite is to stabilize the cat. This is done by providing adequate nutrition, administering fluid therapy to correct electrolyte imbalances or dehydration, and assessing whether a blood transfusion is necessary. An antiparasitic medicine called an anthelmintic should also be given.
Most anthelmintics can kill adult larvae but are ineffective at treating early-stage larvae. For treatment to be successful, another dose should be given every 2 weeks. In this way, the drug is able to kill the adult larvae that matured after the previous treatment.
Prevention of hookworms in cats
The best way to prevent parasites in cats is through regular deworming.
In the case of pregnant cats, it is advisable to deworm them at the end of pregnancy in order to reduce the chances of transmitting the infection to the kittens through milk. As for the puppies kittens, they must be dewormed at 6 weeks. Then the treatment should be repeated every 2 or 3 weeks up to 3 months. Thereafter, preventive internal and external deworming is recommended every 3 months.
Strict hygiene in the home is especially important if the cat can go in and out of the house. Proper disposal of cat feces is important, as feces must be removed from litter boxes every day.
Can humans get hookworms from cats?
Yes, feline hookworms are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted to people. Hookworms do not infect humans internally like they do in cats or dogs, but they can cause a skin disease called cutaneous larva migrans. This can only occur if humans come into contact with a parasitized cat or litter contaminated with its feces. The infection causes a mild dermatitis accompanied by an itchy sensation.