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Cats Hookworms








What are hookworms?

Hookworms are parasites which get their name from the hook-like mouthparts they use to attach to the intestinal wall. They are only about 1/8" (3 mm) long and so small in diameter that you cannot see them. Despite their small size, they suck large amounts of blood from the tiny vessels in the intestinal wall. A large number of hookworms can cause anemia. This problem is most common in kittens, but it will occasionally occur in adult cats.


In general, cats tend to harbor very few hookworms compared to the number carried by infected dogs.


How did my cat get hookworms?

Adult hookworms pass hundreds of microscopic eggs in the cat's stool. The eggs are invisible to the naked eye. Larvae (immature worms) will hatch from the eggs and remain in the soil for weeks or months. If the cat swallows any of these larvae, (by licking fur or feet after being in a contaminated area) hookworm infection will be established.


The larvae may also burrow through the cat's skin and migrate to the intestine, where they will mature and complete their life cycle.


Whereas in dogs, prenatal infection (infection prior to birth) may be a significant problem (puppies may become infected by the placental blood flow and then later through the mother's milk), prenatal infection has not been demonstrated to occur in kittens.


What kinds of problems do hookworms cause for my cat?

For cats, the most significant problems appear related to intestinal distress and anemia. Blood loss results from the parasite sucking blood from intestinal capillaries. A blood transfusion may be needed in some cats because of the rather severe anemia which can be produced by hookworms.


The presence of pale gums, diarrhea, or weakness might suggest the need to specifically determine the cat's red blood cell count. Some cats experience significant weight loss with hookworm infection.


In dogs, skin irritation and itching can be one of the common signs of a heavily infested environment. The larvae burrow into the skin and cause the dog a great deal of discomfort. The hookworm of cats does not appear to have this type of burrowing behavior.


How is hookworm infection diagnosed?

Hookworms are diagnosed with a microscopic examination of a small stool sample.


How are the hookworms treated?

There are several very effective drugs that will kill hookworms. These are given by injection or orally and have few, if any, side-effects.


However, these drugs only kill the adult hookworms. Therefore, it is necessary to treat again in about 2-3 weeks to kill any newly formed adult worms that were larvae at the time of the first treatment.


Since the cat's environment can be laden with hookworm eggs and larvae, it may be necessary to treat it with a chemical to kill them. There are several available that are safe to use on grass, that can be found at your local garden center..


Are feline hookworms infectious to people?

The type of hookworms which infect cats do not infect humans; however, the larvae can burrow into human skin. This causes itching, commonly called ground itch, but the worms do not mature into adults. Direct contact of human skin to moist, infected soil is required. Fortunately, this occurs rarely if normal hygiene practices are observed.


What can be done to control hookworm infection in cats and to prevent human infection?

  • All new kittens should be examined for worms by a stool analysis. To effectively break the life cycle of the most common intestinal parasites, kittens should be dewormed on the schedule recommended by your veterinarian.

  • Prompt deworming should be given when any parasites are detected; periodic deworming may be appropriate for cats at high risk for reinfection.

  • All cat feces should be disposed of promptly, especially in yards, playgrounds, and public parks.

  • Stool should be removed from litter boxes daily.

  • All cats should be examined yearly for worms by a stool analysis.

  • Strict hygiene is important, especially for children. Do not allow children to play in potentially contaminated environments.


Clean litter pans daily and thoroughly.


Keep your cats indoors or else take preventive measures of treating the environment to ensure that there is no re-infection.


If you have any other cats in your household, they also should be dewormed.