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What is Whipworm and Why Should I Care?

Reviewed by Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC on Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Posted April 17, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

What are whipworms?
Whipworms are an intestinal parasite that can occur in both dogs and cats; however, they are seldom seen in cats in North America. Whipworms are named for their characteristic whip-shaped body. The body is composed of a thin, filamentous, anterior end (the “lash” of the whip) and a thick posterior end (the “handle” of the whip). Adult worms are about 2-3 inches in length. The adult worms live primarily in the cecum (the equivalent of your appendix) where they insert their long, skinny ends into the lining of the intestine and feed on blood, other tissue fluids and the lining itself.

How common are whipworms?
According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, canine whipworms occur not only in dogs but also in foxes and coyotes; in samples of dogs in the United States in shelters and at veterinary teaching hospitals, whipworms were found in almost 15% and 10% of dogs respectively. Keep in mind, though, that these results are based on the recovery and identification of eggs requiring specific preparation of the stool sample. Consider that eggs are not always shed and eggs are not shed immediately upon infection or even maturity of the adult worm. You can see that many infections may actually be missed meaning that true infection rates may be higher.

How does my dog get whipworms?
Unlike some other common intestinal parasites in dogs, whipworms cannot be transmitted via other species/hosts or between mother and offspring before birth or during nursing. Infection does not require direct contact with another dog. Whipworm infections only occur when a dog eats infective stage eggs from the environment. However, that means it can happen anytime your dog inadvertently ingests soil that has been contaminated with whipworms eggs, for instance, eating grass, rooting in the dirt, or playing with toys that have been in contact with soil. In addition, wild canines like foxes and coyotes can carry whipworms. Once deposited these whipworm eggs can survive in the environment for years. All of this put together means that the risk of infection to your dog can be significant.

Dog Looking UpWhat are the symptoms of whipworms?
Some dogs show no symptoms at all of being infected with the worms but still serve as a source of contamination in the environment and infection for other pets. Clinical cases may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea with or without mucus or
Related symptoms: 

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.