Whipworm (also known as trichuris trichiura) is one of the five most common worm parasites that infect dogs and cats. These whip-shaped worms pass through their host’s excrement, and disintegrate into the soil, ground, or surfaces where other animals and humans frequent. If the infected particles are passed to the mouth or nose or are ingested in anyway, then whipworms begin to grow inside the animal. Once in the host, the whipworms lodge themselves between the small and large intestine, in a place called the cecum, where they then absorb nutrients from the body.
Causes: Dogs and cats can contract whipworms by ingesting larvae in soil, pet food, or other surfaces. Because both cats and dogs tend to scavenge and forage, they often come into contact with the parasite eggs through contaminated water, garden soil, food, and the skin of other animals.
Symptoms: Unfortunately, not all whipworm-infected pets exhibit signs and symptoms indicating the presence of a parasite. However, in extreme cases the pet might have bloody stool or diarrhea. Cats may exhibit signs of fatigue, anemia, and dehydration or weight loss. Though the animal may not be showing stark evidence or symptoms of any parasite, it does not mean that whipworms are not dangerous or deadly. If left untreated, this parasite can prove fatal.
Treatments: Veterinarians diagnose a whipworm infestation by examining the response of stool samples in a flotation procedure. Where there are whipworms or parasitic larvae in the feces, the sample will float. When a diagnosis is reached, the veterinarian will prescribe oral medication in the form of chewable pills to help kill off the larvae and the worms in the animal’s body. Like many worm parasites, whipworm is best avoided through preventative medication. This include everything from annual check-ups, de-worming medication from the earliest stages as a puppy or kitten, and by keeping a yard clean from fecal matter. Avoid keeping the cat or dog contained in limited quarters with other animals, and limit contact with feces by removing all waste from lawns where your cat or dog like to play. If you suspect the yard is frequented by other animals such as squirrels, rabbits, rodents, deer, or anything else that might leave infected droppings, using an ultrasonic device around the yard perimeter, might discourage any animals from returning. This will help protect your dog or cat from possible infection. When you go outside or on a walk, be sure to exercise your pet only where the surfaces are kept tidy and excrement-free. Finally, take your pet to the veterinarian for routine fecal-examination to ensure that your dog or cat is not infected.