Hookworms in Cats

Hookworms are a common intestinal parasite found in cats. These tiny worms can also infest humans and dogs. Cats can contract them by eating soil, feces or small animals who are infected with hookworms. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of hookworms in cats.

Life Cycle and Transmission of Hookworms in Cats

Hookworms are small, thin worms that can grow as long as half an inch. They are common in humid, hot regions. There are at least four species of hookworms that infect cats.

Hookworm larvae spread through infected feces, and can also burrow in through an animal's skin to cause infection. Larvae can become encysted in your cat's flesh, making them harder to get rid of. Hookworms that burrow in through an animal's skin often travel to the lungs, where they are coughed up and swallowed, eventually making their way to the digestive tract. Cats may also cat hookworms by eating a mouse or other small animal infected with the parasite.

Adult hookworms typically live in the cat's intestine. Cats infested with hookworms secrete eggs and larvae in their stool. These larvae can go on to infect other animals and humans.

Symptoms of Hookworm Infestation in Cats

When hookworms penetrate a cat's skin, the site of penetration often becomes inflamed and irritated. Usually, skin penetration occurs on the abdomen or bottoms of the feet. Sores can develop where hookworms have passed through the skin.

Hookworms can cause coughing and difficulty breathing as they pass through your cat's lungs on their way to his digestive tract. Once they reach the digestive tract, hookworms can cause weight loss, anemia, diarrhea and weakness. Immature hookworms may encyst themselves in your cat's flesh, becoming active and reinfecting the cat when it experiences a period of stress or illness. Hookworms can be passed from mother to kitten via their milk; hookworms can be fatal in newborn kittens.

Hookworm Diagnosis and Treatment in Cats

Your vet should be able to diagnose hookworms via a stool sample. Be sure to let your vet know if you have recently traveled to a hot, humid climate with your cat.

Hookworms in cats can be treated by administering medication. Selamectin, ivermectin, milbemycin and pyrantel pamoate are used to treat hookworm infestations in cats. The type of medication your vet prescribes will depend on your cat's age and general state of health. Your cat will probably need two rounds of treatment, administered two weeks apart; a follow-up stool sample will be taken to ensure that your cat's digestive tract is free of hookworms.

Because hookworms can remain dormant in your cat's body, in places other than the digestive tract, hookworm infestation can recur, often when the cat is under stress or suffering from another illness. If your cat is pregnant, see your vet before she gives birth, to avoid the spread of these parasites to her newborn kittens. Newborn kittens can die rapidly from hookworm infestation.