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What is whipworm in dogs? Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Whipworms are intestinal parasites that can cause a range of symptoms in dogs. Here, our Arlington vets discuss the causes and symptoms of whipworm in dogs, how these infections are diagnosed and what can be done to treat them.

What are whipworms?

Trichuris vulpis, or whipworms, are an intestinal parasite that can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms in dogs. These parasites can measure around 1/4 of an inch long and make their home in your dog's large intestine and cecum. While there, they attach to the mucosal lining of your pet and cause serious irritation.

How can whipworms be identified?

This intestinal parasite can be easily identified by its shape. It has a thicker front end and a long, thin back end that looks like a whip. This is how they got their name.

How do dogs contract whipworms?

Dogs become infected with whipworms by swallowing contaminated soil or other substances containing dog feces that are infected with the whipworm eggs.

What is the lifecycle of whipworms in dogs?

The lifecycle of a whipworm includes three stages: egg, larvae, and adult. Eggs are laid in a dog's intestine, where they are 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 resilient and may remain alive for up to five years in the environment.

Once out in the world, the eggs typically mature into the infective stage in about 10 to 60 days. At this point, they are ready to infect the next host animal.  Soon after they are ingested, they hatch and mature in the pet's intestine, laying more eggs and beginning the cycle again.

What are the symptoms of a whipworm infection?

In the early stages of a whipworm infection, there may be little to no obvious symptoms. Some dogs may remain asymptomatic in the later stages of their infection. That being said, some common whipworm symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

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

How are whipworm infections diagnosed?

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. 

What are the treatment options for dogs with whipworms?

Whipworms are resilient, making them difficult parasites to get rid of. Reinfection can often occur.

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 thoroughly clean your dog's kennel area, bedding, and yard. Your vet may also advise that you re-treat your dog every four months to help fight reinfections.

How can whipworms be prevented?

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 for information on how best to protect your dog.

Here at Crossroads Animal Clinic, we are proud to be able to offer a selection of prevention products to help protect your dog against intestinal parasites. We also help prevent many diseases and illnesses in companion animals with vaccinations and other preventive care at our clinic in Arlington.

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.

Contact our vets to schedule your dog (or cat) for an exam and preventive pet care, including vaccinations, at our clinic in Arlington. 

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Crossroads Animal Clinic is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Arlington companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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