Whipworms in Dogs and Cats
Whipworms are a large intestinal parasite in dogs and cats. Dogs often get infected with Trichurias vulpis and cats get infected with T. felis, T. serrata, and T. campanula. Whipworms tend to be rather species-specific, meaning dogs and cats have their own whipworm parasites. Continue reading to learn about these long-lived parasites, how your pets can become infected, symptoms, testing, and treatments!
Whipworms: The Parasite Life Cycle
Whipworms are not directly infectious in the fresh feces. The whipworm eggs develop the infectious larval form in 2 to 3 weeks once out in the environment. Once dogs and cats ingest the larva in the infective eggs, the larva attaches to the lining of the small intestines and eventually move to the large intestines and feed on the blood and tissue lining of the host.
70-90 days after attaching to the host’s intestinal tract, the whipworm females begin laying eggs. They can live and lay eggs for up to 16 months! The eggs can live in the environment for YEARS and can survive extreme temperatures, light exposure, and are resistant to desiccation.
Symptoms of Whipworm Infestation in Dogs
Clinical symptoms can be present before eggs are detectable in the fecal sample. With mild infestations, some pets do not show symptoms.
- Intermittent diarrhea or soft stools
- Blood and/or mucous in the stool
- Weight loss
- Reduced appetite or anorexia
- Severe infections can cause weakness, low body temperature, muscle tremors, abdominal pain, and low heart rate
How can my vet diagnose a whipworm infection?
Fecal floatation tests to look for whipworm eggs are a common initial test to start with. However, since symptoms can develop before the female worms start to lay eggs and not all parts of the fecal sample will have eggs present, this test cannot detect every infection.
ELISA test on the feces to look for DNA evidence of the whipworms is becoming an increasingly popular way to detect whipworms. This test does not rely on the whipworm eggs.
Some dogs with whipworms will also have abnormal electrolyte levels, mainly low sodium and high potassium. This abnormal electrolyte combination is often seen in dogs with hypoadrenocorticism, aka Addison’s Disease. Addison’s Disease can also cause intermittent GI symptoms but is a problem with the adrenal glands. For more information on Addison’s Disease, click here!
How can my pet be treated if they have whipworms?
Whipworms can survive in the environment and in the body for a long time, so multiple treatments are often needed to help resolve the infection and reduce the risk for reinfection.
Picking up the fecal material immediately or at least once daily is very important to limit the number of parasite eggs getting into the environment.
Treatment with products like Panacur, Drontal Plus, and Milbemycin oxime, and preventatives like Interceptor, Sentinel, Advantage Multi, Trifexis, and Nexgard can all kill whipworms that are in the intestinal tract. These medications need to be repeated at least monthly for 3 months to resolve an infection.
Can I get whipworms from my dog or cat?
Humans have their own species of whipworms that prefer us as hosts. There are rare reports of humans being infected with T.vulpis causing visceral larval migrans. The dog whipworm is not a normal parasite of people, so the worm gets confused and moves through various internal organs like the liver and lungs causing various non-diarrhea-related symptoms like fever, coughing, liver enlargement, etc.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pets’s whipworms or another condition?
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