Hookworms are small, thin worms that live in the intestine of their host. They have teeth-like mouth parts that allow them to attach and reattach to the intestinal wall where they feed off the host's blood. This process leaves tiny ulcers that can cause anemia, intestinal bleeding, diarrhea, and in some rare cases, even death. Cats become infected after ingesting hookworm eggs found in feces or eating infected animals including rodents, birds, and cockroaches. Hookworms can also migrate to an animal through the skin. Older, well-nourished cats may harbor worms without showing signs of infection, however they can pass worms to kittens either directly or through their milk.
Most cats infected with hookworm will experience only mild symptoms (listed below), however one species of hookworm (ancylostoma tubaeforme) can cause fatal blood loss in kittens with a serious infection. The larvae of hookworms can also infect people, however infection is usually limited to skin irritation and inflammation.
- failure to gain weight or weight loss
- bloody or tarry stools
- coughing due to egg migration through the lungs
- skin irritation on the feet between the toes
- pneumonia in young animals with a serious infection
Protect your family and your pet by ensuring all pet waste is picked up regularly, especially in areas where children play. Also remove contaminated soil and rid your yard of mice and rodents that are a potential source of infection. Females should be free of hookworm before breeding and kept out of contaminated areas during pregnancy. It is also important to keep all sleeping areas clean.