A closer look: Hookworms in Cats
Hookworms is a general term referring to parasitic worms that feed off blood within the intestine. The most common types of hookworm infestation in cats are caused by species of the *Ancylostoma * genus.
Hookworms can suck enough blood from their host to cause life-threatening anemia, especially in a small or immunocompromised host. They can also cause skin disease in exposed humans.
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Hookworms are common in cats. The prevalence of hookworm infections is somewhat tied to geographical area, with incidence rising significantly in the southwest United States.
Many healthy adult cats show no symptoms, especially if the infection is mild. Symptoms are more visible in smaller cats, or immunocompromised cats.
Severely affected cats may show symptoms associated with severe anemia.
Any cat presenting with symptoms of anemia, such as weakness, pale gums, and blood in feces requires emergency medical care.
Hookworms are less likely to infect indoor cats that live in a clean, sanitary living environment. Outdoor cats are more at risk, as are cats living in crowded environments such as a shelter. They are also less of a concern if veterinary recommended preventative measures, such as routine deworming and fecal examination, are observed.
Hookworms live in intestines, and pass their eggs in the host’s feces. If a cat comes into contact with an area contaminated with eggs, the eggs can become caught in their fur. The trapped eggs hatch and larvae burrow through the skin into the body.
Eggs can also be ingested through drinking contaminated water or eating infected prey. A cat can also consume eggs through normal grooming of an infected animal (including themselves).
While hookworms transfer through fecal matter, hookworms themselves rarely leave a host. Instead, microscopic eggs are laid in the intestines, and pass with stool. Worms may become visible in feces in a particularly severe infection, or after the deworming process has begun.
Testing and diagnosis
A symptomatic cat undergoes a full diagnostic workup to determine their overall health, including:
- Physical examination
- Diagnostic imaging
- Fecal analysis
- Specific testing for viral infections that can cause immunosuppression, such as FeLV or FIV
Steps to Recovery
Infection is treated with antiparasitic medication, which targets mature worms and forces them out of the body with stool. Repeated applications of medication are necessary, ensuring that newly hatched or developing worms already in the patient’s system are also targeted.
For severe infections leading to anemia, supplemental treatment includes blood transfusions, fluid therapy, and oxygen supplementation. Additional supportive measures include gentle warming of the animal and nutritional support.
Deworming medication targets worms already in a patient’s system, but does nothing to prevent re-infection. Recurrence is always possible.
Prognosis for hookworm infections is usually good, although at least two treatments spaced two or three weeks apart are indicated.
Prognosis in cases of anemia is more guarded. Kittens and immunocompromised adults are most at risk of severe infections, and have a poorer prognosis.
Hookworms are contagious between animals. Proper hygienic care is essential for preventing parasitic infections. Keeping a clean living space, including sanitary removal of feces, prevents hookworm eggs from contaminating an area or transferring to multiple pets in the same household.
Bathing washes existing eggs from the fur before they are ingested, or hatch and burrow through the skin. Outdoor cats may benefit from routine bathing to reduce the risk of infection.
Vet-recommended preventative measures such as antiparasitic medication also reduces the likelihood of infection.
Are Hookworms in Cats common?
Hookworms are common in cats. Hookworms are more common in the southern US.
- Oral medication
- Blood transfusions
- Fluid support