There’s little more disturbing and disgusting to pet parents than parasites, and even as pet professionals, they gross us out too. Intestinal worms, fleas, and ticks are all live off the blood of your pet and that in itself is upsetting. Along with being gross, parasites can also severely harm your pets’ health.
One of the most often overlooked but dangerous parasites that dogs and cats suffer from is hookworms. These nasty parasites can be fatal for puppies and kittens, and wreak havoc on more mature pets, too.
To protect your pet’s health, we’ve put these minuscule parasites under the microscope to help you learn about how hookworms operate and the risks they pose to your pet.
What Are Hookworms?
Hookworms are tiny intestinal parasites that look like white worms that latch onto their host’s intestinal lining. They earn their name by having hook-like teeth that look like a monster out of a horror film. After attaching to the walls of the small intestine, they feed on the blood from your pet’s blood vessels, robbing your pet of blood, little by little.
While hookworms are individually itty-bitty, up to 3 mm in size, they rapidly multiply and together can consume enough blood to cause anemia. In young animals, hookworm’s interference with the circulation of red blood cells can be so severe that it can lead to death.
How Do Dogs and Cats Get Hookworms?
One of the most terrifying facts about hookworms is that there are many ways they can enter your pet’s body to infect them. Another is that their larvae can live for months outside of a host’s body, waiting to infect a dog or cat.
Hookworms are able to burrow through the skin. This common for dogs that dig in the backyard and cats that use the bathroom outside. They can also be ingested from drinking contaminated water or eating something infested with larvae, like poop or small animals. Bugs like mosquitos can deposit infective larvae when they bite.
Puppies and kittens can contract hookworms while still in their mother’s womb. They can also pass through the mother’s milk.
Can Humans Get Hookworms?
Yes, in a sense. Adult hookworms cannot survive in the human body, but their larvae can. Gross, right? Hookworm larvae burrowing into skin can cause the development of a skin condition called cutaneous larva migrans. Left untreated, larvae will continue to move around the body, causing respiratory and gastrointestinal problems and eventually iron deficiency anemia from the ongoing loss of blood.
Severe damage to a human’s health is rare for hookworms, but with spring gardening in full swing, remember to wash your hands after working in the soil and wear protective footwear outdoors.
How Can I Tell if My Pet Has Hookworms?
Pets with hookworms can appear sluggish from the loss of blood. They may lose or struggle to put on weight. If you notice your puppy or kitten isn’t growing at the rate you expect, make an appointment to have them checked.
Because hookworms cause anemia, infected dogs and cats will have pale gums. Another very serious symptom of internal parasites is bloody diarrhea.
Often, when a pet first contracts hookworms, they don’t show any signs. Keeping your pet’s regular vet appointments can help diagnose hookworms before they have a chance to damage your pet’s health.
If you suspect your dog may have hookworms, a veterinarian can diagnose them - bring a poop sample - and treat them by prescribing dewormers. Treatment only kills adult hookworms so you’ll treat your pet over the course of a few weeks.
How Do I Prevent My Pet From Getting Hookworms?
The best way to keep your pet safe from parasites is prevention. During your next visit, we can prescribe a monthly oral medication for your cat or dog, and many come in a yummy chewable tablet. You may be familiar with brands like Heartgard Plus®, Interceptor®, or Sentinel®, and most options include prevention for infections from other parasites like whipworm and roundworm.
Maintaining a clean home and yard is also effective for stopping the spread of parasites. Pick up poop right away and keep your dog or cat from chasing rodents. (Easier said than done, we know!) If your yard includes a sandbox, consider covering it when it’s not in use, so any neighborhood felines don’t mistake it for a litterbox.
And - as if you needed another reason - wash your hands!
As the weather heats up, the soil softens, and your pet spends more time outdoors, they are at a higher risk for parasites that thrive in moist, warm conditions. Don’t let hookworms get hooked on your pet.
Low on heartworm preventative? Make an appointment today to renew your pet’s prescription or order now from our online store.
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