For dogs, whipworms are a real threat that can cause dire health consequences, including severe weight loss, debilitation, and diarrhea. Unfortunately, many pet parents aren't familiar with the signs and symptoms of whipworm, so infestations often go untreated.
When pet parents learn about whipworms in dogs, they are better prepared to help protect their furry friends from these dangerous parasites.
What are Whipworms?
Whipworms are a type of intestinal parasite that live in the cecum and large intestine of dogs of all ages. Each worm is roughly ¼ inch long. Whipworms are contracted when a dog ingests whipworm eggs that have been shed in the stool. They can live outside of the body for up to five years, surviving in the soil.
Infestation may happen if a dog eats another dog's stool or if he has a habit of eating his own stool. It can also occur if they eat infected dirt, which is easily done when they sniff the ground, pick up toys, or clean their feet. Once the eggs are swallowed, they hatch and mature in the dog's intestines. Female worms will then lay more eggs, which are passed through the infested dog's feces, where they can then infect another dog.
Diagnosing Whipworm Infestation
Since whipworms produce a small number of eggs on an irregular basis, it can be very difficult to detect whipworm via stool samples of dogs. Additionally, since female adult whipworms don't lay eggs for ten to twelve weeks into their lifecycle, early testing may produce false negatives. This means that a veterinarian may need multiple stool samples to produce an accurate diagnosis. Generally, any dog that is experiencing chronic diarrhea should be suspected of having whipworms and will probably be treated by a vet with a whipworm dewormer.
Treating Whipworm Infestation
Typically, effective whipworm treatment takes the form of two separate treatments three to four weeks apart. This is because whipworms present a high re-infection rate, because the eggs can remain viable in the external environment for so long. As a result, once a dog has contracted whipworm, he will need to be treated again every three to four months.
A preventative option that can save pet parents the trouble of this treatment is to use a heartworm medication with a whipworm medication built in. Whipworms are very uncommon today and do not infest dogs as often as they used to, because of these medications.
In addition to using a whipworm preventative, pet parents can prevent their dogs from contracting whipworm by practicing simple hygiene. This means feces should be removed from the yard and disposed of immediately, and that dogs should be dewormed regularly. Additionally, it may be wise to fence your yard in order to prevent strange dogs from defecating in the area, thus exposing your dog to whipworm infestation.
Finally, dogs should see the vet for regular check-ups and should receive medical care immediately for any diarrhea or weakness, as these may be a sign of whipworm infestation. Although whipworm infestation is relatively rare nowadays, it does happen and these simple preventative measures can help pet parents keep their four-legged friends whipworm-free throughout all stages of life.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian.