Whipworms are a common cause of infection in dogs and can be found in the United States. Some types of whipworm may also infect cats. Death can occur following infection if the infected animal is left untreated.
Whipworms differ from the majority of other internal parasitic worms in that they affect the large intestine as opposed to the small intestine. They are commonly found to reside in the cecum of the infected animal. The description of the whipworm can be inferred from its name. It has a thin front end which seems to appear a lot like a whip and a thick end, which appears much like a whip handle.
Dogs of all ages are more susceptible to contracting the disease if they are kept in small, enclosed environments. This is especially true if they defecate and urinate in these areas and if this is not immediately cleaned up. Contaminated materials act as source of infection and the whipworm is thus transmitted by ingesting these materials. Other animals may also contribute to the transfer of the parasite.
Following catching the parasite, the signs and symptoms may vary. Some may present no signs or symptoms at all while others may have diarrhoea containing blood as well as experiencing weight loss. Trichuris vulpis is known to be a zoonotic disease, although this is rare. This means that it can be transmitted to and from humans.
Transmission of Whipworms
The more common method of transmission of this parasite is following the ingestion of whipworm infected materials. If the eggs of the parasite are present in these materials then the parasite can be transmitted. Such materials may include food, water and even flesh.
The eggs are passed in the faeces after the infected animal defecates once they have been laid by the adult worms in the cecum. It has also been suggested that other animals are able to transmit the disease. Self grooming can result in infection if exposed contaminated matter attaches itself to the fur.
Once passed in the faces, whipworm eggs can survive outside the host for as long as a few years. The environments the eggs can survive in for this period of time include faeces, soil and water. It can take up to a whole month for the eggs to mature and thus become infectious. Whipworm eggs can prove very difficult to destroy in the environment especially since they are resistant to very high temperatures or even freezing.
Signs and Symptoms of a Whipworm Infection in Dogs
Different degrees of infection present different degrees of severity in terms of the signs and symptoms observed in affected dogs. One reason suggested for this is that the infection increases its adverse affects as the increasing number of whipworms become present in the large intestine and cecum.
Some infected dogs are known to be asymptomatic. This means that they show no signs or symptoms following an infection. This is one of the problems of the disease because if an affected animal shows no indication of infection, then the spread of parasite becomes much more likely as no methods of control are put in place.
As the disease progresses and more whipworms can be found in the intestine, there can be inflammation of the large bowl. In addition there can be the production of bloody diarrhoea, which is sometimes covered in mucous. The infected dog loses weight and becomes dehydrated. Occasionally, the large intestine haemorrhages and the result is anaemia. The coat may also lose its condition and the dog may vomit.
Treatment of Whipworm Infections
There are effective treatments available to deal with whipworm infected animals. These medications can include fenbendazole, febantel, milbemycin oxime, praziquantel, pyrantel, or ivermectin. The medications used to de-worm dogs are known as wormers. These wormers may be given two or three times depending on the advice of the veterinarian.
In cases where the parasitic disease has progressed so that the animal severely deteriorates, medication may be given to relive such symptoms. If the animal becomes very dehydrated, fluid may be given to replace those lost.
Prevention of Whipworm Infections
Preventative measures prove to be worthwhile when dealing with the parasites called whipworms. This is because once an animal has become infected; the eggs passed out during defecation can remain in the soil for as long as a few years. In addition regular de-worming should be administered.
Contaminated soil should ideally be replaced and faeces immediately removed. Animals should not be allowed to become exposed to contaminated areas. Shoes can bring contaminated soil into the house and so this should be avoided. The dog should be prevented from entering areas of overcrowding where the parasite can rapidly be transmitted.
High levels of hygiene should be regularly maintained and areas prevented from becoming damp, moist or humid. This is especially important due to the fact that some affected dogs show no signs of infection and so pass on the disease to others if the conditions are favourable.
Diagnosis of Trichuris vulpis
Diagnosis may be initially made by observing the signs and symptoms presented. A medical history of the animal and the area are often also acquired. Following this, a sample of the dog’s faeces is taken and the eggs detected and identified using a microscope. This method of diagnosis is usually a necessity and is often done more than once since the eggs are generally passed intermittently and so a negative test does not always mean a negative diagnosis. Faecal floatation is a controversial method used since the eggs do not always float to the surface when left on a glass slide. Another suggested way with the aim of detecting the presence of whipworms in a dog is by taking blood tests.
Prognosis of a Whipworm Infection
When the infected animal is treated, there is often a good prognosis provided there are no complications. In some severe cases where the diarrhoea is chronic, the prognosis is not so good and occasionally there may be a resultant death.