What is whipworm in dogs?
Concerned pet parents often ask us, "What causes whipworms in dogs?" Whipworms (medical term: Trichuris vulpis) are intestinal parasites that can severely impact your dog's general health. They measure about 1/4 of an inch long and live in your dog's large intestine and cecum, where they attach to the mucosal lining and cause significant irritation.
What do whipworms look like?
The aptly named whipworm can be easily identified by their shape. This intestinal parasite has a thicker front end and long, thin back end that looks much like a whip.
What is the whipworm lifecycle in dogs?
The lifecycle of a whipworm has three stages: egg, larvae and adult. Eggs are laid in a dog's intestine, then make their way into the dog's stool. This means that a dog that's infected with this parasite spreads whipworm eggs each time they have a bowel movement. Because these eggs are extremely resilient, they are able to stay alive in the environment for up to five years if there are moist, warm conditions for them to thrive.
Once out in the world, whipworm eggs typically mature into their infective stage in about 10 to 60 days. After they reach this point, they are ready to infect the next host animal. Soon after that animal ingests them, they hatch and mature in the pet's intestine where they lay more eggs and the cycle repeats.
How do I know if my dog has whipworms?
Has your dog recently become infected? There will likely be few signs of whipworm infection. Even in later stages of infection, some dogs will be asymptomatic (not show symptoms). However, some of the most common whipworm symptoms in dogs include:
- Weight loss
- Blood in stool
- Chronic diarrhea
- Electrolyte imbalances (increased potassium K+ and decreased sodium Na+), which mimics Addison's disease
While you may see whipworms in your dog's feces, this does not occur very often. If they are visible, they would look similar to thin pieces of thread.
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. 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.
How will my vet treat my dog's 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.
Can I prevent my dog from getting whipworm?
Yes! Preventing parasites 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.
At Companion Pet Clinic of Arizona we also offer a selection of prevention products to help protect your dog against intestinal parasites.
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.