The following is a blog post written by our summer volunteer, Mary Watkins. Mary is applying to vet school this fall – good luck Mary!
What are whipworms?
Whipworms (Trichuris vulpis) are small intestinal parasites that are commonly found in dogs. They get their name from their appearance, having a skinny head and a thick tail. It can be difficult to detect whipworms because they live in the lining of the large intestine and don’t lay eggs continuously. Because they are smaller and harder to detect than the other common parasites (roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms), pet owners may not be aware of the possibility of a whipworm infection.
How do dogs get whipworm?
Whipworm eggs pass with the stool. After about 2-4 weeks, the whipworm eggs are capable of infecting a new host. This means that dogs get whipworm by consuming contaminated soil, rather than directly eating their own stool. Dogs will consume the eggs, often while grooming themselves after being in a contaminated area. Regularly cleaning dog feces out of the yard will help prevent whipworm, however as eggs can stay in the soil for up to five years, it is almost impossible to remove or kill eggs in the soil.
What are the signs of infection?
A few whipworms may not cause any symptoms. However, if a dog has a lot of whipworms embedded in its large intestine, this can cause inflammation. The most common side effect of this is bloody diarrhea. The diarrhea can become a chronic problem. Other symptoms include dehydration, anemia, and weight loss, which can be mistaken for Addison’s disease. However, if the cause is whipworms the dog will test negative for Addison’s and make a full recovery once dewormed.
How do vets take care of whipworms?
As stated above, whipworm can be difficult to diagnose because eggs will not show up in every fecal sample taken. Any dog showing the symptoms of whipworm should be treated for whipworm. A second deworming about 75 days later is necessary to fully rid the dog of whipworms, because they have a long maturation period. Some heartworm preventatives, like Interceptor and Trifexis will also deworm for whipworms.
Whipworm in cats and humans
Humans and cats can also get whipworms, however, it is a species-specific parasite, meaning that humans cannot get canine or feline whipworms. While there is a species that infects cats, it is very rare in North America.