Whipworms (Trichuris trichiura) are intestinal parasites that reside in the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cats, although they are much more common in dogs. The tend to live in the cecum and colon of dogs instead of the small intestines like many other intestinal parasites. They are only about ¼ inch long as adults.
Whipworms attach to the lining of the intestines and suck blood from the capillaries found there. They tend to be some of the most harmful intestinal parasites and can often cause watery, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, poor hair coat, dehydration, lethargy, anemia and general debilitation.
Whipworm infection in dogs and cats occurs when they ingest microscopic eggs that are shed in the stool of already infected animals. Whipworm eggs are very resistant to heat and can remain viable in the environment for years. Ingestion of dirt or fecal material through grooming occurs regularly in both dogs and cats.
Whipworm is diagnosed by identifying the eggs shed in the feces. A small fresh fecal sample should be brought to the clinic where it is mixed with a special solution that encourages parasite eggs to float to the top and adhere to a slide. The slide is then examined under a microscope and the whipworm eggs are identified by a veterinary technician. It is important to note that just because whipworms are present does not mean that enough eggs will be shed to be detected on a fecal sample. Whipworms pass very small numbers of eggs on an irregular basis. Repeat fecal samples (especially in puppies) are sometimes needed to detect the presence of whipworms. In some cases of chronic diarrhea deworming for whipworms even if they are not detected may be advisable.
Whipworm treatment consists of an oral liquid dewormer. This dewormer is usually given for 3 consecutive days. This is repeated in three weeks and again in three months. It is often advisable to continue this three day course of treatment every three months to prevent reinfection if your pet will remain in the same environment. Treating your pet’s environment is equally as important as treating your pet since whipworm eggs can survive for several years in the environment. Thoroughly cleaning all surfaces in your home as well as picking up all feces outside will help to minimize the possibility for reinfection. If your dog continue to be exposed to whipworm eggs in the environment reinfection can occur within 10-60 days. Fecal samples should be checked at least annually in dogs with a history of whipworm infections.
Whipworms are not infectious to people.