Like other intestinal parasites, whipworm infections can cause uncomfortable symptoms for your canine companion. Here, our San Angelo vets talk about what causes whipworm in dogs, how they can be treated, and what you can do to protect your furry friend from infection.

What is whipworm in dogs?

Trichuris vulpis (more commonly known as whipworms) are intestinal parasites that can seriously impact your dog's overall health and well-being. These parasites can measure around 1/4 of an inch long and make their home in the large intestine and cecum of your dog. While there, they attach to the mucosal lining of your pet and cause serious irritation.

What do whipworms look like?

This parasite is easy to identify as they were named for the shape they take. They have a thicker front end and a long thin back end that look much like a whip. 

What is the whipworm lifecycle?

There are 3 stages to the lifecycle of a whipworm: egg, larvae, and adult. Eggs are laid in a dog's intestine, where they are then incorporated into their stool. This means that infected dogs have a chance of spreading whipworm to others every time they have a bowel movement. These eggs are very resilient and may remain alive for up to 5 years in the environment.

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

Whipworm infections do not have many signs during early stages. In the later stages of their infection, some dogs may even remain asymptomatic. That being said, some common whipworm symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

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

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.

The eggs are especially hardy, being able to live up to 5 years. 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. the most common treatment schedule involves three treatments, scheduled roughly a month apart.

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 on an inconsistent basis. For these reasons, diagnosis can be tricky and may require repeated fecal exams to reach an accurate diagnosis. 

How Your Vet Will Help

Unfortunately, whipworm infections in dogs can be difficult to clear up as these parasites are resistant to several different types of parasite medications. Treatments for whipworms in dogs will consist of prescriptions of medications to kill the parasites as they live and feed in your dog's intestine. If necessary, further medications may be needed to treat uncomfortable symptoms your dog may be experiencing.

Most medications prescribed to help treat whipworms will require treatments about a month apart. To help prevent reinfection, you should make sure you thoroughly clean your dog's kennel area, bedding, and yard. Your vet may also advise that you retreat your dog every 4 months to help fight reinfections shortly.

Preventing Whipworm in Dogs

Preventing whipworm is far easier and more effective than treatment in most cases. Many heartworm medications for dogs will 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.

Here at Western Veterinary Hospital, we are proud to be able to 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.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of whipworms? Contact our San Angelo vets to have your canine companion examined.