Hookworm are a common intestinal parasite of dogs and cats that can cause severe disease especially in puppies and kitten. The worms attach to the wall of the intestine and suck blood resulting in diarrhoea, anaemia and sometimes death. They can also cause a skin disease in humans (cutaneous larval migrans).
As well as being ferocious blood suckers, hookworm are prolific breeders. Each female worm is reported to produce 20,000-30, 000 eggs so heavy contamination of the environment and reinfection of the pets is common.
The eggs are shed in the pet’s faeces and hatch into larvae which can live for several weeks in the soil especially in moist conditions. Pets can become infected from their mother (in-utero or from her milk), by ingesting the larvae which are in the environment (soil, water, grass) or by the larvae penetrating their skin.
Signs of infection depend on the burden of worms and may include pale gums, weakness, lethargy , failure to grow , diarrhoea, and sometimes the diarrhoea is black and tarry or with blood. The worms are too small to see in the droppings.
Diagnosis involves faecal flotation tests (finding the eggs in the faeces), and blood tests – in the very young you may get severe anaemia before adult worms have started to shed eggs.
Treatment involves a specific worming regime and in some cases blood transfusions, intravenous fluid and nutritional support are required.
A recent case (a puppy that had reportedly been wormed but was so severely infected he needed a transfusion to survive) highlights the fact that they are still a problem in SE QLD. There has been reports of some resistance of hookworm to some of the worming tablets on the market so please make sure you speak to your veterinary team about which brands of wormer are effective. It is also essential to ensure your pet gets the correct dose for its body weight.
We recommend dogs and cats should be wormed every 2 weeks until they are 12 weeks old, then monthly until 6 months of age and then at least every 3 months for life. For more information please ask one of our friendly staff.
For those interested there is a great web site on all types of parasites that affect pets and their owners. As its american based it does cover some parasites we do not have in Australia but its got some great videos on parasites, their life-cycles, zoonotic potential etc.