Whipworm is a common occurrence in dogs, but most owners are unsure of what to look for. Our Charlotte vets explain what whipworm is, its symptoms, treatment, and what can be done to prevent it.
What Are Whipworms?
Whipworms are named for their whiplike appearance, a thin anterior end, and thick posterior end. Adults live primarily in the cecum but can also be in the large intestine if the infection is bad enough.
As with roundworms, adult whipworms produce environmentally resistant eggs, which means they are hard to get rid of. It takes about a month for them to develop into larvae.
After a dog ingests eggs containing infective larvae, they will develop into reproductive adults after approximately 3 months. Unlike roundworms, whipworms do not migrate outside of the intestinal tract so there is no somatic migration into tissues, no migration of larvae to pups in utero, and no transmammary transmission.
Due to the long prepatent time, whipworms are normally diagnosed in dogs older than 6 months.
How Do Dogs Get Whipworms?
Whipworms live at the beginning of a dog's large intestine (cecum) and colon, where eggs can be passed into the dog's feces. A dog can get whipworms by ingesting an infested substance such as feces, animal flesh, water, soil, or food.
Eggs can survive for up to five years in moist warm environments. In mild cases, you typically won't see symptoms. However, severe cases can cause symptoms such as weight loss, diarrhea, inflammation, and occasionally anemia.
Dogs can be diagnosed with whipworms when your vet takes a fecal sample, bug false negatives are not common as eggs are not easy to find on all samples. If you see blood in your dog's stool, repeat fecal exams are recommended. Often, three monthly treatments will be prescribed by your vet.
The easiest way for the vet to determine if your dog has worms is with a stool sample. However, there are also signs you can look out for at home which include:
- Abdominal pain.
- Weight loss.
- Poor coat appearance.
- Pot-bellied appearance.
The best way for your dog to be protected against whipworm is to have them properly vaccinated. Vaccinations will protect your pup from parasites like whipworm as well as a range of contagious, often serious, diseases.
Several drugs are effective against whipworms. All drugs require two treatments, spaced at a three to four-week interval, to clear the infection.
The most frustrating thing about whipworm infections is the high rate of re-infection because whipworm eggs are extremely hardy in the environment. So when a dog is diagnosed with an infection, our Charlotte vets suggest you treat it again every three to four months.
Whipworms are far less common today than in previous years, because of the use of heartworm products for your dog, which also helps prevent worms.
Prevention At Home
If whipworms are common in your area, or if your dog was recently diagnosed with whipworms, you might want to consider switching to a heartworm preventive that also prevents whipworms. Look for preventatives with these active ingredients:
For prevention, cleaning up after your dog is vital to health and sanitation.