A cut of soilSome intestinal parasites are easier to get rid of than others, and perhaps none is quite as formidable as the dreaded whipworm. A relatively common parasite of the dog (as well as coyotes and  foxes), the whipworm, or Trichuris vulpis, can be hard to get rid of.

What’s a whipworm

The dreaded whipworm is a small worm, averaging under a centimeter in length. They feature a long, skinny whip-like tail (hence their name). Because they live in the cecum, (where the small and large intestines join.), most times pet owners never see the worms in the stool. They whipworm attaches to the tissue of the intestine in this location and feed on the blood within the intestinal wall. They lay eggs here as well, which then pass into the stool, contaminating the soil surrounding the feces. In 2 to 4 weeks, these eggs in the environment are capable of infecting a new host.

How pets get infected

Because the whipworm eggs are hiding in the dirt and surrounding environment, a dog will often become infected while grooming itself. Once a pet is infected, the whipworm egg gets to work hatching and heading to the cecum to make its new home. This process takes about a week. A few whipworms are no big deal, however a large infestation can  result in diarrhea, blood loss, or periodic weakness characterized by electrolyte imbalance.

So why are whipworms such a pain in the rear? (Pun intended). Firstly, female whipworms do not lay eggs constantly, so unless fecal samples are examined multiple times, infestation may be missed. Also, young whipworms take 2-3 months to mature and be susceptible to traditional deworming. This means that multiple dewormings must take place to entirely eradicate an infection. Finally, whipworm eggs are quite hearty. Once they contaminate the soil in an area, it is virtually impossible to get rid of them. The environment may be contaminated for years, making repeat infestation highly likely.

What to do

So what can we do? Thankfully, we do have dewormers that are quite effective. If whipworm infestation is diagnosed (or suspected), pets are prescribed a deworming medication such as fenbendazole or febantel. Doses are often repeated in a few months. Because of the high likelihood of repeated exposure, pets that have whipworms also often benefit from remaining on a monthly parasite preventative that provides whipworm protection. There are several heartworm prevention products that also provide this benefit. Whipworms are tricky little worms, but with a little knowledge it is possible to control them in our pets.