Hookworms might not be the most common parasite that affects cats, but they are one of the most dangerous.
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woman holding cat and talking to veterinarian about hookworm
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Hookworms are small, intestinal parasites that get their name from their hook-like mouthparts. They're about as nasty as they sound, but fortunately, prevention of hookworms in cats is easy with routine care and a little help from your vet. If your cat or kitten comes into contact with hookworms, learn to recognize the signs of infection so you can get your furry BFF feeling better sooner.

Can Cats Get Hookworms?

The list of animals that can be infected by hookworms is long, and it includes you, me, our dogs, and our cats. There are several different types of hookworms, but in general, says Brian Evans, DVM at Dutch, the disease is zoonotic (meaning it can spread from animals to humans and vice versa). The feline and canine hookworms are less likely to affect a human's digestive tract, but they can burrow into the skin causing cutaneous larva migrans. (Warning: the pictures of these hookworm infections are not pleasant!)

Hookworms are a little nastier than common intestinal parasites in cats. Unlike other intestinal worms like roundworms and tapeworms, hookworms feed on blood versus eating food and drinking materials floating around the cat's intestines. Luckily, hookworms in cats can be prevented and treated.

How Do Cats Get Hookworms?

According to Evans, cats can become infected with hookworms in several ways. Once infected, hookworms can pass from cat to cat via fecal matter or by coughing and expelling larvae.

Ingestion of Eggs

We can't see them with the naked eye, but a female hookworm can lay hundreds of eggs. These eggs can live in the soil outside for weeks or even months. Collection of rouge eggs on the paws or in the fur could result in accidental ingestion during grooming.

Burrowing of Larvae

These nasty little buggers don't always need to hitch a ride for ingestion. "Cats can also become infected by the larvae penetrating through the skin directly from the environment," Evans explains. The most common point of entry is your cat's paws, so look out for lesions on the pads.

Ingestion of Worms

Like the ingestion of eggs, your cat could pick up adult hookworms on her fur and ingest them during grooming. More commonly, Evan says, cats will become infected when they eat an animal or insect that is infected with hookworms. Lastly, if a queen is infected with the hookworm parasite, she could pass the worms through her milk to her kittens.

Hookworm Symptoms in Cats

Evans says that kittens and outdoor cats, particularly those living in warm, humid climates have the highest occurrence of hookworm infections. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Dark, tar-like diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Pale gums
  • Coughing
  • Fast breathing
  • Lesions and itchy skin, especially on the paws

Because hookworms feed on blood, a severe infestation could quickly lead to anemia and medical complications in cats, with a less severe infestation causing havoc for kittens. Unfortunately, the worms are typically too small to see in your cat's poop, so recognizing the signs and prevention is key.

Hookworm Treatment for Cats

"If you suspect your cat may have hookworms, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and bring in a fresh fecal sample," Evan says. If your cat is anemic or lethargic, emergency care may be required.

Over the Counter Medicine

When you bring in a fresh fecal sample to your vet, they'll send it to a lab to test for the parasite. If the test comes back positive, they'll prescribe a round of dewormer. The treatment is typically inexpensive with little to no side effects for your cat. But, more than one treatment may be necessary to kill adult and larvae hookworms. While you're there, ask your vet if they recommend an over-the-counter dewormer for prevention.

Home Remedies

Because the eggs, larvae, and worms are difficult to see with the naked eye, only your vet can diagnose hookworms in your cat. Cats and kittens can experience life-threatening side effects from improper parasite medication choices or administration—so don't skip consulting with your vet before treating your cat for hookworms at home.

Veterinary Treatment

"If your cat is very anemic and lethargic, some cases may require hospitalization and blood transfusions," Evans says. Recognizing the early signs of infection can prevent severe side effects and hospitalization.

How to Prevent Hookworms and Other Parasites in Cats

"One way to minimize the risk of infection by hookworm is by keeping your cat indoors," Evans says. But keeping your cat inside isn't foolproof when it comes to contracting hookworms or other common parasites.

A simple monthly preventative can keep your cat clear of hookworms and other common parasites like fleas, ticks, heartworms, and more. Your vet can help you decide which parasite preventative is right for your cat based on their age, weight, and lifestyle. Whichever preventative you choose, Evans says not to skip your cat's yearly preventative fecal testing.

Lastly, Evan says, keeping a clean environment and promptly removing stool from the litter box will help prevent the spread of any hitchhiker larvae, eggs, or worms.