Dogs and cats get intestinal parasites from exposure to other animal's feces, eating animals (such as rodents/birds), drinking from puddles, or from their mother (through her feces, milk, or while in the uterus). This is the main reason why we 'deworm' animals frequently, sometimes monthly, depending on their risk. Another important reason is to prevent the risk to humans from picking up a parasite.
Most of us have read the news article about the couple from Windsor who contracted hookworm in the skin of the feet while on vacation in the Dominican Republic. While the concentration of hookworm is higher in tropical climates, this IS a parasite we see in the Windsor-Essex County area in dogs and cats. Dogs and cats acquire hookworms from another animal's feces, through penetration of the parasite through the skin, from their mother, or in cats, from eating rodents.
The parasite lives in the intestinal tract, 'hooking on' to the inside of the intestines. The worms feed on blood and can cause anemia, which can be fatal if there is a large number of worms present. They can also cause diarrhea and loss of protein from the GI tract. Good news? It is a parasite that is easily found on fecal sample testing since the adult worms lay eggs that are released in the feces. It is also easily treated with specific deworming medication, but we will ask that you remove any feces from your yard to prevent them from re-infecting themselves (wear gloves!).
Hookworms are deposited in feces in soil, on sand, etc. If the area where they are deposited is not exposed to high temperatures from the sun- i.e., shaded sandy soil areas, the parasite can live well. They wait for a human or animal to walk in the area for the parasite to penetrate through the skin. Since their normal life cycle involves living in the intestines, being under the skin isn't a normal place for these worms. They cause weeping sores which are painful and itchy on the feet. These can be treated, but it is an awful issue to have to go through.
Dr. Kim Quinn
South Windsor Animal Hospital
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