Hookworms are blood-sucking parasites that live in the small intestine. The scientific name for the Hookworm we encounter in our area is called Ancylostoma. They can be very pathogenic and even cause death due to anemia and low protein level.
Hookworms are spread by eating infected larvae that are in the environment. These infective larvae can also penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream where they mature into adult Hookworms in the small intestine. Puppies can also get infected while nursing or in the uterus prior to birth. Some Hookworm larvae migrate to muscles where they serve as a source of future infections.
Pets with Hookworms have the potential to be very ill, especially in dogs. Symptoms include lethargy, dark stools or diarrhea, weakness and vomiting. In severe cases they are anemic and debilitated, especially the older and younger pets. The larvae might even irritate the skin when they penetrate between the toes and pads.
Adult Hookworms are small so they are usually not seen passed in the feces. This diagnosis is made primarily by finding the distinctive egg in your pet’s feces. Any pet that is anemic should have its feces checked for this parasite.
These eggs are more oval than Roundworms, and the membrane is thinner.
Infected pets might require hospitalization and even a blood transfusion if their symptoms are severe. There are different types of worming medications used, some require retreatment several weeks after the initial treatment because of the larvae that migrate through the body. All require checking your pet’s feces to make sure the parasite has been eliminated. Long term treatment and surveillance in the form of fecal exams are necessary. Dogs with chronic problems are put on heartworm preventive medication on a monthly basis since this medication also kills Hookworms. Any dog put on heartworm preventive medication needs to be checked for heartworm disease before we start preventive medication.
Fecal exams should be performed frequently on pets that have a history of Hookworm infestation. Prompt removal of feces helps prevent contamination of the yard with larvae. Larvae are killed in cold climates when exposed to freezing temperatures.
Public Health Significance
Hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin of people and cause significant irritation. These larvae can migrate through the body and cause damage to internal organs. Just like in Roundworms discussed above, puppies should be routinely treated for this parasite at a young age.
Coccidia is not technically a worm, but a protozoan parasite that infect dogs and cats primarily, but can be seen in other species.
Coccidia life cycles are complex and involve many stages of development. Coccidia produces cysts instead of larvae and eggs. Dogs and cats usually get the infection from ingesting the cysts in the environment or eating animals like mice that are already infected.
Symptoms usually occur in young animals and include diarrhea and abdominal pain. These young animals can become severely dehydrated and the infection can be life threatening. This is especially true in pets that are stressed or have other parasites. Many pets, especially the older ones, do not show any symptoms when infected.
Diagnosis of Coccidia infection is made by identifying the very small eggs in a fecal sample. They can be very difficult to detect due to their small nature and variable shedding by a pet. This is why our doctors will occasionally treat a pet for Coccidia even though the fecal exam is negative for this parasite.
Sulfa type medications or sulfa and antibiotic combinations are used to affect a cure. They need to be given for up to 3 weeks. Kittens that are very ill require hospitalization and intravenous fluids to help them fight off the infection.
Prompt removal of feces helps prevent continued environmental contamination.
Public Health Significance
A version of Coccidia, called Toxoplasmosis, is of particular significance to pregnant women since it can cause disease in unborn children. The most common source of infection for pregnant women is eating improperly cooked meat (especially pork, lamb, and venison), not necessarily from the feces of cats. In a cat that does have Toxoplasmosis, the eggs that are laid in the environment (litter pan) do not become infective until 24 hours have passed. If the litter pan is cleaned twice daily the eggs will not have time to become infective to pregnant women. Wear gloves when you change the litter pan. Better yet,have someone else clean the litter pan. When you garden you should also wear gloves since stray cats may use the soil as a litter pan. Keeping your cat indoors and not feeding it raw meat will prevent it from getting Toxoplasmosis and passing it on.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 60 million people in the United States are infected with the Toxoplasmosis parasite. Few have symptoms because a healthy immune systems keeps it in check. You may feel like you have the “flu,” swollen lymph glands, or muscle aches and pains that last for a few days to several weeks. However, most people who become infected with toxoplasmosis don’t know it. On the other hand, people with immune system problems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, those taking certain types of chemotherapy, or persons who have recently received an organ transplant, and infants, may develop severe toxoplasmosis, which results in damage to the eye or the brain. Infants who became infected before birth can be born retarded or with several other serious mental or physical problems.
Care Animal Hospital nestled in the heart of Bloomingdale and founded by award-winning veterinarian Dr. Richard Kane, is Hillsborough County’s largest full service, mixed animal veterinary facility providing a comprehensive range of services for ALL of the pets in your family including large and small exotics, birds, and farm animals. Contact CARE Animal Hospital today to schedule a checkup for your pet.