Whipworms are a common parasite that makes their home in the large intestine and cecum of dogs. Today our Riverbank vets explain more about whipworms in dogs including symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
What is Whipworm?
Whipworms (scientific name Trichuris vulpis) are intestinal parasites that can seriously impact your dog's overall health. Measuring about 1/4 of an inch long, these parasites make their home in your dog's large intestine and cecum where they attach to the mucosal lining causing extensive irritation.
What do Whipworms Look Like?
For those who don't want to image search this (we do not recommend image search this), this intestinal parasite can be easily identified by its shape. They have a thicker front end and a long thin back end that look much like a whip.
What is the Whipworm Lifecycle in Dogs?
There are 3 stages to the lifecycle of a whipworm, egg, larvae, and adult. The eggs are laid in the dog's intestine where they are incorporated into the dog's stool. This means that an infected dog spreads whipworm eggs each time they have a bowel movement. The eggs are extremely resilient and able to remain alive in the environment for up to 5 years. They can also infect humans.
Once out in the world, the eggs typically mature into the infective stage in about 10-60 days, at which point they are ready to infect the next host animal or human. Soon after they are ingested they hatch and mature in the pet's intestine where they lay more eggs and begin the cycle once again.
How do I Know if my Dog has Whipworms?
If your dog has recently become infected there will probably be few signs of a whipworm infection, and even in later stages of infection, some dogs will remain asymptomatic (show no symptoms). That said, some of the most common whipworm symptoms in dogs include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Blood in stool
How are Whipworms in Dogs Diagnosed?
Fecal exams at your vet's office are the best way to monitor your dog for intestinal parasites including whipworms. Whipworm eggs normally require a microscope to be seen because they are 50-55 micrometers long, for context human hair is between 17- 180 micrometers wide. Whipworms take up to 12 weeks to mature and begin laying eggs, and tend to lay limited numbers of eggs and on an inconsistent basis. For these reasons, diagnosis can be tricky and may require repeated fecal exams to reach an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment for Whipworm Infestation?
Because whipworm eggs are so resilient, reinfection often occurs making whipworms a challenging parasite to get rid of.
Whipworm treatment for dogs consists of prescription medications to kill the parasites living within your dog's intestine, and if necessary, further medications to treat any uncomfortable symptoms your dog may be experiencing. Most medications to treat whipworm in dogs will require two treatments spaced about 3-4 weeks apart. To help prevent reinfection it will be necessary to thoroughly clean your dog's bedding, kennel area, and dog run. Your vet may also recommend re-treating your dog every 3-4 months to help fight reinfections.
Preventing Whipworm infections
Prevention is far easier and more effective than treatment in most cases. Many heartworm medications for dogs also protect against whipworms. By providing your pet with monthly heartworm medication you could also be helping to protect your pet against a host of intestinal parasites including whipworms, hookworms and roundworms. Ask your vet for information on how best to protect your dog.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.