Whipworms in Dogs: How to Treat and Prevent This Parasite Problem
Their unique life cycle makes them a frustrating issue for pet owners, but luckily it is treatable.
Picking up dog poop is never a fun task, and it can quickly become concerning if you notice something squirming in the pile they leave behind. Parasites are not something dog owners want to think about, but being in the know can help you treat an issue quickly and possibly prevent these pests from affecting your pooch in the first place.
"Most people don't realize how susceptible their dogs are to internal parasites," says Amanda Stout, DVM, at Cedar Rapids Animal Hospital. "Dogs love to eat stools from other dogs or wildlife, which can carry parasite eggs; and many parasites are also harbored in the soil." Whipworms—much like tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms—are infectious parasites that can impact your dog's health no matter where you live or how much outdoor time your pup gets. Luckily, they are treatable and preventable.
What Do Whipworms Look Like?
Whipworms are so named for their shape. They resemble a whip with one thick end and one long, thin end. Scientifically they are called Trichuris vulpis and are one of the most common intestinal parasites in dogs.
About one-quarter inch long, this parasite can live in your dog's cecum, colon, and large intestine where the thick end of the organism attaches to the mucosal lining and embeds itself in the wall. As the worm grows it causes gastrointestinal irritation and discomfort. Even though they are small, whipworms can cause a lot of damage in large numbers and should be treated seriously.
How Do Dogs Get Whipworms?
Whipworms are tough organisms. Their eggs, which are very tiny, are environmentally resistant and difficult to destroy. In fact, the eggs can live for up to five years! Dogs are known to eat things—namely feces—that contains these eggs.
Gross, we know.
Each egg contains a cell that in one-month's time will develop into an infectious larvae. Then over the course of the next three months, those larvae will turn into mature whipworms. Veterinarians typically diagnose whipworms after six months of age, Stout said, as the worm themselves take so long to mature. Fortunately, whipworms cannot be transferred from mother dogs to their puppies.
Can Humans Get Whipworms From Dogs?
Take a deep breath. The other bit of good news is that whipworms are not likely to affect humans. This is a problem that your pooch may face that you'll have to help them get over. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take precautions while picking up dog messes from the yard. Wear gloves and wash your hands immediately after this task to avoid any issues.
Signs of Whipworms in Dogs
So how do you know if your dog is being plagued by whipworms? It can be tricky for sure as some dogs don't show outward signs of an infection, especially when they are first impacted. And you aren't likely to see whipworms or their microscopic eggs left if your own dog's feces.
The eggs themselves can take up to 12 weeks to mature, so it can be a slow process from initial infestation before you realize anything is wrong.
Because they cause irritation in your dog's lower intestinal tract and colon, you may see your dog deal with symptoms such as:
These can be symptoms of other issues your dog may be facing, so it is important to reach out to your vet immediately. Stout says she diagnoses a dog every couple of months.
Whipworm Treatments for Dogs
Your first step if you suspect your dog has fallen victim to whipworms is to consult your vet. Multiple stool samples may need to be taken, because of the whipworms' unique life cycle and the fact that mature whipworms release eggs intermittently. This can lead to negative samples and the false sense that your dog is no longer dealing with an infestation.
Stout notes that a vet is likely to recommend a whipworm medication and your dog may need to be taking that for an extended period (every couple of months, in fact) to ensure the parasites are fully eliminated. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the treatment process is that the likelihood of reinfection is pretty high, thanks to those long-living eggs that can be re-ingested by your pooch. Keep the life cycle of the whipworms—egg, larvae, adult—in mind so you can work with your vet to find the best treatment plan.
Preventing Whipworms in Dogs
If you'd like to avoid dealing with whipworms all together, the good news is that there are some preventative measures you can take to keep them—and other such parasites—away. Perhaps the best prevention measure is to pick up your pet's poop promptly (and these waste bags get rave online reviews.) This will help eliminate an environment for eggs to grow and infect animals.
If you have a sandbox in your yard, it's best to keep that covered so as to prevent other animals from contaminating it. You should also commit to regular fecal exams for your pet when they visit the vet. And most importantly, Stout says all dogs should be on a monthly deworming product to prevent internal parasites, including whipworm. "The risk for exposure is all around us, so there's no excuse not to keep your dog on a monthly deworming product, especially in the summer," Stout says.
Giving your dog regular heartworm preventatives can help prevent whipworm infections, so creating a habit of treating your pet could save you a lot of worry down the road. Talk with your veterinarian for their suggestions to get the right mix of ingredients.