Whipworms are intestinal parasites and one of the most common types of worms found in dogs. These worms live in the large intestine and can cause severe irritation and infection of the dog’s lower digestive tract.
Symptoms of whipworm infestation include watery stool and bloody diarrhea. Weight loss and overall failure to thrive can follow if the worms are not eliminated. A dog who is overrun with intestinal parasites will not get adequate nutrition and may eventually die from the infestation.
How Do Dogs Get Whipworm?
Whipworms, known by the scientific name Trichuris vulpis, are tiny parasites measuring less than 1/4 inch in length. Their eggs are even more microscopic. The eggs are laid in the dog’s colon and cecum, and they pass from the body in feces.
Once laid, these eggs can remain in an embryonic form until the conditions are right for their growth. Whipworm eggs are highly resistant to heat and drought. They can also survive in the embryonic form for several years.
This means that a dog can come into contact with viable whipworm eggs by ingesting feces from an infected dog. This includes their own feces and the feces of neighboring animals or dogs at the park. Because whipworm eggs are microscopic, they can live in very small particles of feces that have become part of the soil.
Dogs most commonly get infected with whipworms by eating feces or objects contaminated with feces. Once they have ingested the eggs, the embryonic worms grow to adulthood in the dog’s body. There they attach themselves to the lining of the animal’s small intestine by embedding the thick anterior portion of their bodies into the intestinal walls.
A dog with whipworm can re-infect himself regularly by continued contact with the shed eggs. He can also spread the infestation to other dogs. Dogs kept in boarding kennels or animal shelters are at the highest risk of developing whipworm and other parasites due to the close proximity to other dogs.
What Are the Symptoms of Whipworm?
A dog in the early stages of worm infestation may not show outward signs or symptoms. In many cases, symptoms don’t become prevalent until the infestation has advanced to a more serious level.
Visible symptoms of whipworm infestation include weight loss, bloody stool, diarrhea, and anemia. Your dog may appear sick or listless. Because these symptoms are similar for many different types of disease and parasite infestation, getting your pet to a veterinarian is important.
The only way to accurately diagnose a whipworm infestation is by visually identifying the worms in a dog’s feces. Your veterinarian will request a stool sample from a dog suspected of having worms. This stool sample will be inspected under a microscope to search for the tiny eggs.
Because whipworms can be easily transmitted and do not always show symptoms early on, having your dog routinely tested for parasites is a good idea. This is especially important if you live in a region with many other dogs or a rural area where your dog may have contact with wild animals.
How Are Whipworms Treated?
If your dog has been positively diagnosed with whipworm or any other intestinal parasite, your veterinarian will prescribe an anti-worm medication or “de-wormer.” Being treated for intestinal parasites is often called “worming.”
Some common anti-worm medications for dogs include fenbendazole, milbemycin, febantel and oxantel.
Because re-infection can be a major risk, you will need to thoroughly clean the dog’s living space after he has been treated for worms. Thoroughly cleaning the yard or kennel area and properly disposing of fecal matter will help to keep your dog safe and prevent transmission to other dogs in the area as well.
Treatment is not the only solution for whipworms. Preventative treatment is also accessible. Most heartworm preventatives also work to kill whipworms before they have the chance to reproduce. Not all heartworm medication is effective against whipworms, but you can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation and switch to a good preventative treatment that will help protect against both kinds of worms.
How Can Whipworm Be Prevented?
The widespread use of preventative treatment helps to protect the canine population from whipworm. Although these worms are the most common intestinal parasites in dogs, they are far less common than they once were. By keeping your dog on a routine dose of preventative treatment, you protect your pet and help to eliminate the spread of this parasite.
You can also do your part to prevent the spread of parasites and disease by cleaning up after your pet. Feces left in the grass or soil can lead to the spread of illness and parasites. Always bring a plastic bag with you when walking your dog, and be sure to dispose of his waste appropriately. Also make a point of raking up feces in your own yard and disposing of it rather than allowing it to sit in the soil.
Can Humans Get Whipworm From Dogs?
Humans have our own type of whipworm, Trichuris trichiura, that can be spread through contact with human feces. Fortunately, canine whipworm is not zoonotic. This means that you cannot get whipworm from your dog.
However, many other illnesses and parasites found in animal feces can affect humans, so it’s important to always exercise caution when handling the waste of any animal.