Hookworms are common parasites of the small intestine of dogs and cats.
How Hookworms are Transmitted
Dogs and cats can be infected through the ingestion of hookworms’ larvae from contaminated soil or from larvae actively boring through the dog’s skin. Puppies can also be infected immediately after birth through their mother’s milk. Cats can also be infected by ingestion of infected prey (i.e. mice).
The Life Cycle of the Hookworm
Adult hookworms live in the small intestine of dogs and cats, where they lay eggs that are shed in the environment through the animal’s feces. Within weeks, larvae hatch from the eggs, ready to infect the dog or cat. After infecting a host, larvae start migrating until they reach the intestine of the dog or cat, where they develop into adult, egg-laying worms. Some larvae do not reach the gut: they remain encysted in various organs until a stimulus such as pregnancy, reactivates them and causes them to restart migrating.
Larvae boring through the skin cause a strong, itchy inflammation. Migration through the respiratory system may cause inflammation and cough. Adult worms attach to the intestinal wall with hook-like teeth and feed on blood and tissues, causing lethargy, bloody diarrhea and anemia. When hookworms migrate on the internal gut surface, they leave behind bleeding wounds that are particularly dangerous to puppies and kittens. The presence of 500 worms can cause a 2 kg puppy to lose half its total blood volume in one day causing death.
Treating Hookworm Infection
Since many puppies/kittens are infected soon after birth, and are continuously re-infected through their mother’s milk or through the environment, it is important to initiate the de-worming treatment when the puppies are old enough. Mothers of infected puppies/kittens should be treated concurrently. This will prevent them from developing the disease and shedding parasite eggs in the feces, thus avoiding environmental contamination. Adult dogs should be placed on a parasite preventative to deter transmission throughout their lifetime