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Cat Hookworm: Risks, Symptoms, And Treatment

Feb 5, 2008
Most cats will battle a parasite of some sort at some point in their lives. There are four types of hookworm that may possibly infect your cat. Ancylostoma tubaeforme is known as the feline hookworm, and Ancylostoma braziliense is known as the canine and feline hookworm. Uncinaria stenocephala is known as the northern canine hookworm. Ancylostoma caninum, or the canine hookworm, is said by some authoritative sources not to infect cats, but rather only foxes, dogs, and perhaps humans.

Risks of cat hookworm -- Critical risk factors include limitation of exposure, and vary by environmental and hygiene factors. As with other parasites, outdoor cats are at higher risk of exposure to the worm. Cats that are regularly allowed to hunt or roam are at highest risk for infection. Poor sanitation and overcrowding in shelters may contribute to the spread of the worm as well. Other than U. stenocephala, which is more common in colder climates, hookworm infections tend to be higher in warm, moist environments.

What happens inside your cat -- Roundworms swim freely in the cat's intestines, but the cat hookworm will literally hook itself to the wall of the intestine and draw blood. They inject an anti-coagulant at the feeding site to keep the blood from clotting. If the worm changes feeding locations, the old location may continue to bleed into the intestines. The resulting blood loss causes anemia in the cat.

Signs and symptoms -- The anemia caused by the blood loss is usually more serious in kittens, as well as cats already weakened from other illnesses. In cases that are serious enough, a blood transfusion may be required and there may be a risk of death. Hookworms in your cat may create any of the following symptoms: stunted growth in kittens, poor coat, weight loss, pale gums, anemia, weakness, and bloody diarrhea. Bleeding in the gut may cause black tarry stools.

Transmission and lifecycle -- Infection may be a result of ingestion of larvae. The carrier may be contaminated water or soil, or an infected transport host such as a rodent. Skin penetration, typically through the feet, may also occur. Infected mothers may pass the disease on to kittens in their milk.

Cat hookworms have a direct life cycle, meaning that they can be transmitted without a host. Many other parasites require a host.

Adult hookworms hook themselves to the intestinal wall and begin feeding. They pass microscopic eggs into the bowel of the cat, which ultimately end up in the cat's stool. The eggs hatch and develop into larvae (immature worms). The Centers for Disease Control state that under the right conditions of moisture and temperature, eggs can develop into the infective larvae stage in as few as five days. Time varies, though, and this process may take up to three weeks or so. According to most sources, the larvae can exist in the soil and remain infective for many months.

When infection starts via skin penetration, the larvae will migrate via the circulatory system to the lungs. They will then make their way up to the throat, where they are swallowed. Once in the intestine, they may mature and begin producing eggs, and the cycle begins again.

Prenatal infection through transplacental blood flow before birth occurs in dogs, but has not been established to occur in cats. Some sources state that kittens may become infected through infected milk from a a queen, but others state that this has not been proven.

Cat hookworm diagnosis and treatment -- Yearly testing for cat parasites, especially worms, is important, as it's possible that healthy cats may show few symptoms until infection becomes severe. Hookworm eggs cannot be detected with the naked eye, but infection is fairly easy for your vet to diagnose through examination of the cat's stool under a microscope. At least two treatments of deworming medication are needed in order to completely rid your cat of hookworm. Typically, treatments are administered at 2 - 3 week intervals. Kittens should be, and typically are, treated for hookworm during their kitten vaccination series.
About the Author
Author Kurt Schmitt, an experienced cat owner, publishes the website for cat lovers keeping you informed about cat parasites and other cat health problems.
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