Hookworms are intestinal parasites that get their name from their hook-like mouthparts. They use these to hook themselves onto the lining of the intestinal wall. Unlike many worms, this particular type is small—usually just reaching 2-3 mm. You’ll need a microscopic examination to see the larvae. The common species that affect cats include Ancylostoma braziliense and Ancylostoma tubaeforme.
How The Cat Gets Infected
Infected animals release hookworm eggs into the environment. These hatch into larvae. These larvae can remain in the soil for weeks while still alive, retaining their potency. The larvae then get into your cat through its skin or feet, like when it’s playing around in the yard or park. The cat may also ingest them as it licks itself. Some of the hookworm larvae can get into the trachea, from where they are coughed up and then swallowed. Kittens can also get infected through the mother’s milk.
The hookworm then attaches itself to the lining of your pet’s intestinal walls, and proceeds to feed on its blood. It releases its eggs right into the digestive tract, and these are then passed into the environment through the cat’s feces, and the cycle continues as other animals are affected.
How Hookworms Affect Your Cat’s Health
As the worms feed on the cat’s blood and tissue fluids, the pet bleeds right into its digestive tract. During the process, the worms release anticoagulants, injecting them onto the feeding site. This stops the blood from clotting. So, the infected cat suffers blood loss through two ways: from the hookworms feeding habits, and the continued bleeding at the attachment sites.
Clinical signs of infection include anemia and blood in the stool, which may look like tar. Kittens will have a bigger issue with anemia in comparison to adult cats. There may also be skin irritation—especially at the paws, pointing to the sections where larvae burrow themselves into the skin.
Diagnosing Hookworms In Cats
Fecal flotation is basically, when cat’s fecal waste is mixed with a solution that makes the hookworms eggs to float and stick on the glass side that is at the top of the solution. Because they are not visible to the naked eye, eggs must be observed under a microscope, they are easy to identify due to their unique appearance. The diagnosis is fast, especially due to the large numbers of eggs that the adult hookworms release.
Treating Feline Hookworm Infections
The treatment process is simple and safe, and even easy on your wallet. Simply administering anthelmintic, a deworming medication, will kill the adult worms. Note that this does not affect the larval stage of the hookworm, so at least two treatments will be required. To kill worms that mature between doses, you’ll need to utilize additional doses at intervals of 2-3 weeks. Blood transfusion may be necessary in case of severe anemia.
Treatment for worms is part of the measures carried out during the vaccination of kittens. This should be done every 2 weeks when the kitten is between 3 and 9 weeks of age. Prevention of reinfection is possible through periodic deworming. Remember to appropriately dispose the fecal waste, be it from cats or dogs, which is in your yard to prevent infections spreading.
Note that the pets are not the only ones at risk. The hookworms can also be transmitted to humans, especially kids who are fond of playing in contaminated environments like the sandboxes, which may contain the larvae of the hookworm. Though the cat hookworms will not affect humans in the same way (in the small intestines), the larvae burrowing into the skin can cause conditions like cutaneous larva migrans. While the condition is easily treatable, it can result in mild to extreme discomfort in the infected individual. Maintaining a clean environment and proper hygiene is key in preventing hookworms from infecting both pets and their owners.