Causes of Whipworm Infection in Dogs
Dogs infected with adult whipworms pass the parasites’ eggs in their feces, contaminating the soil, grass and other areas that their stool comes into contact with. Adult females can lay thousands of eggs in one day. These eggs are extremely resistant to environmental conditions, including temperature and weather extremes. They can easily survive in the environment - and remain infective – almost indefinitely. For months or even years, whipworm eggs from the feces of infected dogs are the prime source of infection to other canine passers-by. Dogs become infected by eating the whipworm eggs. This commonly happens when a dog walks through a contaminated area and then licks its paws and fur during self-grooming.
Once whipworm eggs get into a dog, they settle in its upper digestive tract, usually hatching in the small intestine. Newly-hatched larvae burrow their slender, “whip-like” heads into the dog’s small intestinal lining (called the intestinal mucosa), where they lodge, feed and grow. For the first week or two after hatching, the larvae usually don’t cause noticeable symptoms in the host dog. Eventually, however, adolescent whipworms migrate out of the small intestine and move into the cecum and large intestine, where they mature over a matter of months. The cecum is the part of the digestive tract that connects the small intestine to the large intestine. The large intestine is also called the colon, or the lower bowel. Whipworms infiltrate the tender lining of the lower digestive tract and dine on the dog’s tissues and bodily fluids. These blood-sucking parasites cause varying degrees of gastrointestinal irritation and inflammation, which in some cases becomes quite severe.
Most over-the-counter de-worming medications do not effectively prevent or resolve whipworm infections The best way to control these parasites is to use prescription de-wormers, and it is well worth a trip to the veterinarian to obtain them. Milbemycin oxime reportedly is an excellent preventative against whipworms and a number of other parasites, including mosquitoes. It is available in oral form. Since whipworm eggs are extremely hardy, de-worming protocols should be followed to a tee upon the recommendation of the dog’s veterinarian. Dogs that are not on a regular de-worming program probably should not be taken to areas frequented by dogs whose health status is unknown, particularly areas with a lot of obvious fecal contamination. Unfortunately, sometimes this includes public dog parks, city parks, playgrounds and similar areas, where most dog owners enjoy taking their dogs.
Good environmental hygiene is important to controlling the spread of both internal and external parasites. Kennels, crates, dog runs, yards and other areas where dogs urinate and defecate should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. A high-quality diet, regular moderate exercise and free access to fresh water can also help to keep companion dogs healthy, happy and fit.
The main cause of whipworm infection is ingestion of parasite eggs that are expelled in fecal matter of infected dogs. Fortunately, there are several good options for treating dogs with whipworms. Some of these are not appropriate for use in very young puppies or in pregnant females. Treatment should always be accompanied by nurturing supportive care and a healthy diet.