Any dog owner knows there are plenty of internal and external parasites that can affect the health of their four-legged friend, including heartworms, tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms and fleas.
There are already articles on this site about all of the former, but one of the more common parasites is whipworms and these are the topic of today’s article. Whipworms in dogs – and these tiny parasites are called this because of the distinctive shape of the adult worm, which somewhat resembles a whip (see the magnified image of a whipworm in the picture below and you will see why they are so-called).
Whipworms in dogs and cats can be caused by eating or drinking food or water that has been contaminated with whipworm eggs, although many dogs get whipworm by licking contaminated dirt from the floor, or their body. Once the eggs have been swallowed, they hatch and become adult worms that feed on blood, a process that takes around three months. Treatment is available, although the worms themselves are very hardy and can be difficult to kill.
There are some signs that you should look for to determine the presence of whipworms in dogs. Diarrhea is the most common symptom, caused by the worms living in the large intestine and cecum; you may also notice that there is blood mixed in with your dog’s feces. This loss of blood is not generally serious, unless it is copious and continues for a long time. The worms themselves are several inches long and extremely thin, although you are more likely to see eggs in the feces, rather than the actual worms.
Other symptoms may give you a clue that your dog has whipworm, including anemia, dehydration and a loss of weight. One of the problems with trying to accurately diagnose this particular parasite, is that these symptoms are all possible indications of other conditions; they may also occur before there is any visual evidence of whipworm eggs.
If you or your vet suspects whipworm the usual diagnosis is to carry out a fecal flotation procedure on a stool sample, which will verify the existence of the worms and eggs.
This is a parasite that can affect dogs of any age, although is more common in younger dogs. Both over the counter and prescription medications are available, although any treatment generally has to be carried out for several months.
Whipworms in dogs is not usually serious or life-threatening if treated in time, although it can cause your dog some discomfort and pain. Making sure that your pet’s sleeping area is sanitized will help; you should also avoid putting your dog in close proximity with other dogs. It is also recommended to have your vet check for parasites at least once a year.