Whipworms are intestinal parasites found in dogs that can cause severe illness if left untreated. Today our Capitola vets explain the symptoms of infection and how whipworm is treated in dogs.
What are whipworms?
Whipworms are intestinal parasites found in dogs that are named for their "whip-like" shape. They are about 1/4 inch long and live in the large intestine of dogs where they can cause severe irritation of the intestinal lining.
Dogs can get whipworm by ingesting infected matter. Whipworm eggs can live in a variety of environments and can be present in feces, animal flesh, soil, food, or water.
Whipworm Life Cycle in Dogs
Whipworms pass microscopic eggs in a dog's stool. The eggs are heat and drought resistant and can remain alive in the environment for up to 5 years. Once the eggs have been laid, they mature to an infective stage in 10-60 days, at which time they are able to infect, or re-infect, a dog.
When a dog swallows a mature egg, it hatches and then grows into an adult whipworm in the lower intestinal tract where it continues to live and reproduce.
Symptoms of Whipworms in Dogs
The most common symptom of whipworm infection is chronic diarrhea. Other signs that your pup might have whipworm are weight loss, bloody stools, dehydration, and anemia. Some dogs that are infected with whipworm are asymptomatic, meaning they don't experience any symptoms but are still capable of passing on whipworm to other dogs through their feces.
Diagnosis of Whipworm
Whipworms are diagnosed by finding eggs on microscopic examination of the stool during a fecal exam. However, the eggs can be difficult to find as whipworms only pass a small number of eggs on an inconsistent basis. Due to this, whipworm tests often show false negatives and several stool samples may need to be analyzed to find evidence of whipworm eggs. Furthermore, female whipworms take 11-12 weeks after hatching before they begin to lay eggs, so evidence of infection cannot be seen until after that point.
Because it is so difficult to diagnose, most dogs that present with chronic large bowel diarrhea are treated as though they have whipworm. Response to treatment is an indication that whipworms were present, but could not be detected on fecal examination.
Whipworm in Dogs: Treatment Options
There are several drugs that are effective against whipworms. All medication requires two treatments that are spaced 3-4 weeks apart.
Due to whipworm eggs being extremely hardy, re-infection is highly possible and it may be recommended by your vet that your dog is re-treated a few months after the initial treatment regimen.
Some heartworm medications can also control infections, which is why regular parasite preventatives are the best way to treat and prevent whipworm infections and reinfections in the future.