The whipworm (Trichuris vulpis) is a common dog intestinal parasite.
The front part of the worm is long and threadlike, but the posterior end is thicker, giving it the appearance of a whip (hence the name “whipworm”).
An adult worm can grow to a length of 2 to 3 inches (50 to 76 mm).
Life Cycle of Whipworm
The life cycle of the whipworm is relatively simple compared to other intestinal worms such as hookworms or roundworms.
- Adult female worms lay eggs in the host’s intestines and the eggs are passed in the feces.
- Dogs get infected with whipworms by ingesting food or water contaminated with whipworm eggs.
- Once ingested, the eggs hatch into larvae inside the dog’s gut.
- In a little less than three months, the larvae mature into adults in the intestines, where they fasten to the wall of the gut and feed on blood.
- Adult female worms in the intestines lay eggs which are passed in the feces, and the life cycle of the whipworms is repeated.
Symptoms of Dog Whipworm Infestation
Dogs with mild whipworm infestation show little or no symptoms at all.
Heavy whipworm infestation can cause diarrhea, which can be sudden (acute), or on and off over a period of time (chronic).
There is an urgency for the dog to relieve himself. And while the dog is doing so, you can see him straining. This is the result of an inflammation of the intestinal wall (colitis).
Large amounts of mucus are produced by the inflamed intestine, so the stool is usually bloody and mucoid-like. Sometimes hemorrhage into the intestine occurs, resulting in anemia.
Dogs with a heavy infestation may also lose weight and become weak. Puppies will have stunted growth.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dog Whipworms
Diagnosis of whipworm infestation is by finding eggs in stool samples. It is not easy to find eggs in the stool samples, however, since female whipworms lay fewer eggs than other worms, and there are long periods during which eggs are not shed.
As a result, multiple samples may be needed to get a definite diagnosis.
Heavy whipworm infestations can lead to serious health problems in dogs such as chronic colitis and anemia. Therefore, it is important to use deworming medicines to eradicate the worms.
There are several dewormers that are effective against whipworms (e.g. Panacur, Drontal Plus).
The biggest problem is, since the whipworms live in a dog’s colon, it is more difficult to attain high drug concentration in that part of the body. Therefore, it is advisable to have a second deworming treatment three weeks after the first, and a third treatment in three months. This way, we can be sure that the worms are totally eradicated from the dog’s body.
Prevention of Dog Whipworms
Since the eggs of whipworms can remain infective for up to 5 years, public sanitation is very important to prevent dog whipworm infestation. Yards, dog parks, and kennels should be cleaned daily. All fecal material should be collected and removed. (Once again, we should all be responsible dog owners and pick up after our dogs!)
In addition, since whipworm eggs are hard to detect in fecal examinations, routine annual fecal examinations should be carried out to make sure that your dog is not infested.
The drug Interceptor, which is used to prevent heartworms, can also control and prevent whipworms in dogs.