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What is whipworm in dogs? Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Dogs can be affected by both internal and external parasites that can cause uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms and conditions. One commonly seen type of parasite is whipworm. Here, our Killen vets discuss the causes and symptoms of whipworm in dogs, what treatments are available, and how to prevent future infections.

What exactly is whipworm in dogs?

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?

This intestinal parasite can be easily identified by its shape. They have a thicker front end and a long thin back end that looks much like a whip, which is where they get their name from.

What causes whipworm in dogs?

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. 

What is the whipworm lifecycle in dogs?

Whipworms have three main life stages: 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.

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.  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.

Whipworm Symptoms in Dogs

When a dog is newly infected with whipworms, they are unlikely to show any symptoms. In some cases, the signs of whipworm in dogs may never become apparent as some canine companions remain asymptomatic. 

That said, some of the most common whipworm symptoms in dogs include:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in stool
  • Anemia

How are whipworms in dogs diagnosed?

Diagnostic tests known as fecal exams are considered 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 on an inconsistent basis. For these reasons, diagnosis can be tricky and may require repeated fecal exams to reach an accurate diagnosis. 

My dog has been diagnosed with whipworm, what is the treatment?

The unfortunate truth about whipworms is that they are incredibly difficult to get rid of. This is because the eggs are extremely resilient to all of our standard treatment measures.

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. 

How can I prevent my dog from getting whipworm?

Most of the time, preventing parasitic infections will be much easier than trying to treat them. This is true for whipworm.

Heartworm medication has the added benefit of also being able to protect against whipworm. 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 Center Star Veterinary Services we also offer a selection of prevention products to help protect your dog against many potentially life-threatening 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.

If your dog is experiencing symptoms related to whipworms, contact our Killen veterinarians to book an examination for your canine companion.

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Center Star Veterinary Services offers walk-in veterinary services. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Killen companion animals. Get in touch today to learn more about our services.

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