Whipworms (Trichuris vulpis) are thin, two to three inch long thread-like intestinal parasite worms that narrow at one end like a whip. All dogs are at risk, but puppies may be more profoundly affected.
How Puppies Get Whipworms
Dogs contract the parasite by ingesting eggs found in the soil. Eggs can live for five years in the soil of cold climates. Consequently, whipworms may cause more problems in northern states than in southern climes where the eggs are more readily killed.
The eggs hatch and mature in the dog's large intestine in about 70 to 90 days. The parasite feeds on blood by burrowing into the wall of the intestine. In small numbers, whipworms cause few problems. The female worm produces fewer offspring than many other kinds of intestinal parasites, like roundworms, so typically the infestation is light.
Symptoms of Whipworms
Puppies infected with whipworms often are also infected with other parasites, such as hookworms, and the combination can be devastating. A heavy worm load of whipworms may cause diarrhea, vomiting, anemia and weight loss, and such dogs typically have a rough coat or "unthrifty" appearance.
Diagnosing and Treatment of Dog Whipworms
Diagnosis is made by finding eggs during microscopic examination of the stool. But dogs may show clinical signs for several weeks before worm eggs will be shed in the stool. Later, eggs may only be shed intermittently, continuing to make diagnosis difficult.
Effective medications are available, but once whipworms are in the environment, infestations can be hard to contain since dogs are often re-infected from the egg-contaminated soil. Treatment for three months or longer may be necessary to totally eliminate the infestation.
Good hygiene is the only way to reduce the chance of your dog contracting whipworms. Pick up the yard after your puppy at least weekly, and more often is much better. Heartworm preventatives can prevent whipworms as well as some other parasites such as fleas.