Whipworms in Dogs
Written by Small Door's medical experts
Whipworms in dogs are an intestinal parasite. While not usually life-threatening, they can be dangerous for young or senior dogs, as well as those with compromised immune systems. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of whipworm infestation and treat them early for a speedy recovery.
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Whipworms are one of the “big four” intestinal parasites commonly found in dogs, along with roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Typically, dogs ingest whipworm eggs, which hatch into larvae in the small intestine, and then move into the large intestine where they develop into mature adults. They embed themselves in the tissue of the gastrointestinal tract to feed, which can cause severe discomfort.
The symptoms of whipworms in dogs can vary in intensity. Many cases of whipworms go undiagnosed, as light parasite loads are generally asymptomatic. With heavier infestations, however, you may notice some of the following symptoms:
Fresh blood in feces
In large numbers, whipworms can lead to gastrointestinal inflammation, which causes diarrhea. Sometimes this diarrhea will appear gooey and bloody. The diarrhea can also become chronic and difficult to control, which leads to weight loss and dehydration. With severe parasite loads, whipworms can also cause anemia.
Another rare side effect of whipworms in dogs, which is not yet well understood by veterinarians, is that they can potentially cause symptoms that mimic Addison’s disease. These symptoms, like the inability to regulate electrolytes, can lead to a potentially life-threatening dehydration crisis.
Weight loss, dehydration, diarrhea, and anemia can also be symptoms of more serious conditions, including dangerous and highly contagious viral infections like parvovirus. If you notice any of these symptoms or other changes in your dog’s behavior, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Whipworms lay eggs in the large intestines of their host, which are passed out through the animal’s stool. The eggs then mature over a period of two to four weeks into an infective stage, when they are capable of infecting new hosts.
Your dog may ingest infective whipworm eggs either by consuming contaminated soil or through grooming; they can get onto your dog’s fur when they lie on the ground or play outside, and are then ingested when they lick themselves during grooming.
Whipworms in dogs can be difficult to diagnose. Whipworms and their eggs are not visible to the naked eye, so a definitive diagnosis must be made by a veterinarian. Whipworm eggs may show up in a fecal sample, however, unlike many other intestinal parasites, females lay eggs intermittently instead of continuously, so eggs will not always be present in a fecal sample and repeat testing may be required.
In many cases, veterinarians suggest deworming dogs if they suspect whipworms based on symptoms. If the symptoms resolve, a post-hoc diagnosis can be made that way. Your veterinarian may also be able to offer a newer fecal test that looks for whipworm antigen, which can identify a whipworm infestation even if no eggs are being shed.
Dogs with symptoms resembling Addison’s disease are usually tested for Addison’s before anything else, as the condition is serious. Once Addison’s has been ruled out, your veterinarian will search for other causes of the symptoms, like whipworms.
If your dog is diagnosed with whipworms, it is important to recognize that not all commonly available deworming medications work on this parasite. Your veterinarian will likely recommend products that contain fenbendazole (Panacur), febantel (Drontal Plus), moxidectin (topical) or oxantel.
Since whipworms take a long time to mature, you may need to repeat the deworming process at a certain interval to ensure the infestation is completely cleared. Your veterinarian can advise on the right approach for your dog.
If your dog is recovering from a whipworm infestation, or whipworms are common in your area, you may wish to speak to your veterinarian about switching to a heartworm preventative that protects against whipworms. Heartworm preventatives with milbemycin, like Sentinel, Interceptor, and Trifexis, protect against whipworms in addition to heartworms.
Is There a Cure for Whipworms?
Luckily, there is a cure for whipworms. The proper medication will eventually cure your dog of whipworms.
However, whipworm eggs can last for long periods of time in the environment. So to prevent reinfection, you may need to repeat the deworming process, and your veterinarian may recommend heartworm preventatives that treat whipworm infections as well.
Are Whipworms Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?
Whipworms rarely, if ever, infect humans. However, they can infect other dogs in the household, and several species of whipworms can infect cats (although this is usually not a problem).
What Is the Cost for Treating Whipworms?
Relative to more serious conditions, the cost for treating whipworms is fairly low. However, the cost will depend on several factors, including the severity of the symptoms and the number of diagnostics needed to determine the cause.
For example, dogs that present with symptoms of Addison’s disease will require additional diagnostics compared to a dog that presents with less severe symptoms. At minimum, you can expect to pay for an office visit and fecal examination diagnostics, as well as medication. For severe cases, such as if your dog is dangerously dehydrated, supportive care like fluids may also be required.
Most dogs recover from whipworms. With medication and any necessary supportive care, your dog will most likely make a full recovery.
However, whipworms can be difficult to control. The long maturation cycle makes treatment a drawn-out process, and whipworm eggs can remain in the environment for up to five years under the right conditions. Removing them from the environment is therefore almost impossible, although the eggs are susceptible to desiccation and require a warm, moist environment to become infective. Placing your dog on heartworm preventatives that also treat whipworms will reduce the risk of reinfection and can help you manage whipworms in your dog.
Whipworms are preventable. Talk to your veterinarian about the parasites commonly found in your area and discuss whether you should place your dog on a preventative that targets whipworms. There are several options on the market and your veterinarian can help you choose the one best suited for your dog.
Is There a Vaccine for Whipworms?
There’s no vaccine for whipworm infections, but there are preventative medications available.
Whipworms are one of the four most common intestinal parasites found in dogs. While low parasite loads may be asymptomatic, heavy infestations can cause diarrhea, bloody stool and weight loss, and can lead to more serious issues such as anemia and dehydration. Thankfully whipworms in dogs are easily treated, but it’s important to contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice any symptoms, to help your dog recover swiftly.