Intestinal parasites, like whipworms, can enter pets' gastrointestinal systems and cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms. Here, our La Mesa vets discuss the causes and symptoms of whipworm in dogs, how these infections are diagnosed and what can be done to treat them.

What is whipworm in dogs?

Trichuris vulpis (whipworms) are intestinal parasites that can seriously impact your dog's health and well-being. 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.

What do whipworms look like?

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.

What causes whipworm in dogs?

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

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 10-60 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, where they lay more eggs and begin the cycle once again.

The Symptoms of Whipworms in Dogs

If your dog has recently become infected with whipworms, you will likely notice very few signs. 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

Diagnosing Whipworms in Dogs

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. 

Treatment for Whipworms in Dogs

Because whipworm eggs are so resilient, reinfection often occurs, making whipworms a challenging parasite to get rid of.

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 retreat your dog every 4 months to help fight reinfections in the near future.

Preventing Whipworm in Dogs

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 your vet for information on how best to protect your dog.

Here at Rancho Village Veterinary Hospital, we are proud to be able to offer a selection of prevention products to help protect your dog against intestinal parasites. We also provide pet wellness plans to fit all sizes of dogs. Our pet wellness plans for dogs in La Mesa and across San Diego County include the essentials for your pet to thrive.

Our wellness plans include annual and six-month physical exams, core vaccinations, bloodwork, and heartworm testing. They will also include a fecal exam and a 12-month supply of flea, tick, and heartworm prevention medications.

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.

Is your dog showing signs of a whipworm infestation? Contact our La Mesa vets to have your canine companion examined.