Whipworms can make puppies feel awful. They cause stomach upset and diarrhea, and they can prevent puppies from gaining weight, With a severe infestation, puppies may lose enough blood to become anemic. All dogs are vulnerable to whipworms, but puppies are more likely to suffer ill effects due to their smaller size and less developed immune systems.
What Are Whipworms?
Whipworms (Trichuris vulpis) are parasitic worms that reside and feed in dogs' digestive tracts. These thin worms are two to three inches long and taper at their anterior (head) ends, giving them a whip-like appearance.
A puppy may accidentally ingest the worms' eggs by eating outdoor plants, infected rodents, or other animals' feces. Once ingested, the eggs hatch and the worms burrow into the walls of the puppy's intestines where they feed on tissue, not blood. Their presence is very irritating, though, which may cause bleeding of the intestinal walls.
Symptoms of Whipworms in Puppies
Whipworms cause symptoms similar to other intestinal parasites, and a puppy may have multiple worm species in its gastrointestinal tract at one time. Even if whipworms are the only worms affecting a puppy, the effects can take a serious toll on the pup's health.
Whipworms characteristically cause diarrhea and vomiting due to intestinal irritation, and their prolonged presence can eventually cause anemia and weight loss. Infested dogs typically have a rough coat or "unthrifty" appearance because their health is compromised.
Puppies infected with whipworms are often found to carry other parasites such as roundworms and hookworms because these parasites' eggs are typically located in the same materials that a puppy may eat.
Causes of Whipworms
Dogs contract these parasites by ingesting eggs that have passed in the feces of other animals. Eggs can live for five years in the soil, even in cold or dry climates. Puppies unknowingly eat whipworm eggs that are present in non-food outdoor items, including:
- Grass or leaves
- Dead rodents
- Animal feces
- Bits of soil
Diagnosing Whipworms in Puppies
A diagnosis of whipworms is made by finding eggs during a microscopic examination of a puppy's stool. It's important to note, however, that dogs may show clinical signs of parasitic infestation for several weeks before worm eggs will be shed in the stool. Veterinarians recognize these signs, with the help of owners' observations. Even if eggs are not found on a fecal examination, treatment may be administered based on symptoms alone.
Oral medications containing the antiparasitic chemicals albendazole and mebendazole are used to treat whipworm infestations in a puppy's intestines, but they will likely need to be administered multiple times.
Prognosis for Puppies with Whipworms
Puppies that receive prompt treatment for whipworms generally recover and regain robust health. If a puppy has suffered longstanding effects of an infestation, then it will need appropriate supportive treatment and nutrition to nurse it back to health. In rare cases, puppies can die from intestinal parasites, but most can be saved with attentive care.
Once whipworms are shed in the environment where a pup lives, infestations can be hard to eradicate since the puppy (or other dogs in a household) can become re-infected from ingesting eggs in the yard. Treatment for three months or longer may be necessary to eliminate an infestation.
How to Prevent Whipworms in Puppies
Good hygiene is the only way to reduce the chance of your dog contracting whipworms. Keep your yard clean by scooping poop daily. Ask your vet about monthly heartworm preventatives, which can kill whipworms and other intestinal worms as well as heartworms.
Are Whipworms Contagious to Other Animals?
Whipworms can be spread to other dogs in a shared environment, but they are not contagious to cats or humans.