By Dr. Karen Burgess

What exactly is a whipworm?
Whipworm is a parasite or worm found in the large intestine and cecum. The adult whipworm is only 1/4” in length. Whipworms cause a great deal of irritation as they attach to the intestinal lining and ingest blood. Whipworm disease is often considered one of the more dangerous worms to a dog’s overall health.

What are the signs of whipworm infection?
Animals that test positive for whipworm may have no symptoms, be critically ill, or present with profuse watery or even bloody diarrhea. In some cases whipworm disease can lead to electrolyte disorders that resemble another condition called Addison’s Disease.

How do dogs and cats get whipworm?
Whipworm disease is transmitted from dog to dog via eggs passed in the feces. While it takes ten to sixty days for the fecal eggs to become infective to a dog, they are also very resistant to heat and drying. For this reason once an area has been exposed to whipworms it is assumed that all future dogs kept in this environment will also be exposed. Once ingested the whipworm goes through several stages before arriving in the large intestine and embedding itself.

How is whipworm diagnosed?
A microscopic examination of fecal matter will demonstrate whipworm eggs. Unfortunately whipworm eggs may only be shed intermittently by the female worm. For this reason, pets showing signs of large intestinal diarrhea may benefit from a preventative deworming in spite of a negative fecal exam.

What is the treatment for whipworm?
Treatment for the adult whipworm involves an oral dewormer while also addressing any clinical disease. Some monthly heartworm preventative pills also contain dewormer for whipworms. Whipworm larva that have not yet matured or arrived in the large intestine will not be treated by standard dewormers. This requires repeated treatments as the whipworm matures to an adult and becomes susceptible to drug therapy.

How can whipworm be prevented?
Whipworm is found frequently in the environment making prompt removal of fecal matter essential to control. Cleaning hard surfaces with dilute bleach (one cup per gallon of water) is recommended, but whipworms are considered nearly impossible to remove from the environment once exposed. Avoid taking an infected pet to swim or communal dog areas in an attempt to minimize exposure to others. Monthly treatment with heartworm preventative as early as possible is also recommended.

Can humans contract whipworm?
Humans are not infected by whipworms.