Whipworm

Whipworm is a one-quarter inch intestinal parasite that lives in your dog’s cecum—the intersection of the small and large intestines—and the large intestine. The most common way that dogs pick up the whipworm parasite is by rooting in soil and eating dirt that contains tiny whipworm eggs that are not visible to the human eye. Consuming feces of other animals with whipworm can also cause your dog to get the parasite. With a lifespan of up to five years and the ability to continually reproduce inside of your dog’s body, whipworm can be a highly destructive parasite. Given that whipworm eggs can last up to five years in the environment, you should also clear fecal matter from your dog’s area as much as possible to avoid reinfection.
 
Recognizing and Treating the Whipworm Parasite
 
The whipworm can lead to significant health issues. The most common symptoms associated with whipworm infestation are weight loss, infection, fatigue, and diarrhea that is both bloody and watery.
 
It isn’t always easy for veterinarians at Cedar Pet Clinic Lake Elmo to diagnose whipworm in dogs. One reason for this is that a female whipworm may not lay eggs for up to 12 weeks after hatching; another is that the parasite isn’t present in every stool, which is the primary way to detect the presence of whipworm. False negatives are common, especially soon after noticing symptoms. The first step if your dog has any symptoms consistent with whipworm will be to analyze a fresh fecal sample.  If that doesn't confirm a diagnosis but our veterinarian is still suspicious of whipworm, we may recommend treating for the parasite while doing other diagnostics for diarrhea (bloodwork or radiographs).
 
The treatment for whipworm is for your dog to take an anti-parasitic oral medication until she no longer shows signs of infestation.  It is important that you give your dog the full course of medication, even if she seems better.  This is necessary to ensure that the treatment kills the whipworm completely.  Some heartworm medications, such as Heartgard (which our doctors recommend using year round), also treat whipworm so it is a good idea to use this parasite preventative regularly to prevent the infection before it has a chance to start. 
 
Tips for Parasite Prevention
 
We recommend bringing your dog in for annual preventive care between the ages of one and seven and to schedule more frequent visits if she’s a puppy or senior. We routinely check for parasites at these appointments. Additionally, avoid allowing your dog’s feces to sit for long periods in the yard; she may try to eat them. Be sure to stop her from attempting to eat feces of other dogs as well. 
 
If you have additional questions about protecting your pet from whipworm and other parasites or would like to schedule an appointment, contact Cedar Pet Clinic Lake Elmo at 651-770-3250.
 
Image credit: Annetics | iStock | Getty Images Plus

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