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Whipworms in Dogs: Signs, Causes, and Treatment Options (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Marti Dudley DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 13, 2024 by Dogster Team

Whipworms in Dogs: Signs, Causes, and Treatment Options (Vet Answer)


Dr. Marti Dudley Photo


Dr. Marti Dudley

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Gastrointestinal parasites commonly infect our four-legged companions. One of the more challenging parasites to rid dogs of is whipworms due to their long life cycle. General debilitation, weight loss, and diarrhea are just a few of the signs a dog with a whipworm infection may have. Continue reading below to learn more about whipworms in dogs.

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What Is a Whipworm?

Trichuris vulpis, the common canine whipworm, is a macroscopic gastrointestinal parasite. The parasite is smaller than most gastrointestinal worms, maxing out at 2 inches long. There are several different species of whipworms, but Trichuris vulpis is the species that impacts dogs. Dogs can come into contact with this worm through environmental contamination. The life cycle of the parasite is long, making it more challenging to diagnose an infection and more difficult to rid the body of whipworms.

Dogs become infected with whipworms when an infectious egg is consumed from the environment. This can happen through coprophagia, or consumption of feces. This isn’t the only means by which this occurs; however, commonly, dogs consume the infectious egg from contaminated soil or water. Once the canine has ingested the mature egg, the larval stage is released in the small intestines.

From there, the worm seeks refuge in local glands where maturation continues for a week. Once the larval stage matures into the adult, the worm finds its way into the cecum and large intestines where it buries its head into the lining of the intestines and consumes host blood. After making a home within the large intestines, the worm will fully mature and start releasing eggs several weeks after the infective stage is consumed. The worm releases eggs into the intestines, which are then passed in the stool and deposited in the environment.

Fresh feces are not infective, as the larva must mature in the egg before becoming infective, and this process can take weeks to complete. Additionally, a whipworm egg is very hearty and can survive in the environment for years.

Common internal parasites in dog and cats Roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms infographics
Image Credit: Double Brain, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of a Whipworm Infection?

Signs of a whipworm infection can vary. Some patients may not exhibit any clinical signs suggesting infection. Those with a heavy worm burden, or those that are immune compromised, tend to have the most noticeable clinical signs. As parasitism persists, damage to the large intestines occurs, resulting in poor water absorption.

In animals with a large worm burden, inflammation that occurs within the large intestines results in the common clinical signs seen. Anemia, or low levels of red blood cells, may be noted in severe infections.

Dogs infected with whipworms may exhibit:
  • Weight loss
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dehydration

Diagnosing Whipworm Infections

Like most gastrointestinal parasite infections, fecal tests are helpful in diagnosing infection. Fecal floatation tests are often used, which check for eggs within the stool through the use of a microscope.

An additional test exists that checks for whipworm antigens. Due to the life cycle of the whipworm, this ELISA test may be the most helpful, as worms are not constantly shedding eggs. It takes over 10 weeks from the time a patient is infected with whipworms before the mature worm will release identifiable eggs. This means a fecal flotation test may show negative results even though an active infection is occurring within the patient.

sick dog
Image Credit: Christin Lola, Shutterstock

Pseudo-Addison’s Disease

Although the exact pathogenesis, or disease process, is not understood, some dogs develop abnormalities in blood work secondary to whipworm infections. Only a portion of dogs infected with whipworms will exhibit these abnormalities. The abnormalities in blood work can resemble those of Addison’s Disease or Hypoadrenocorticism.

Dogs with this syndrome have electrolyte abnormalities identical to that of Addisonian patients and can be profoundly dehydrated. Due to the life cycle of the whipworm, routine fecal tests may not show an infection with whipworms. The only true way of differentiating an Addisonian patient from a dog with whipworms is by testing cortisol levels.

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How to Treat Whipworm Infections

Fortunately, whipworm infections are treatable with help from your veterinarian. Due to the long life cycle of the parasite, the Companion Animal Parasite Council suggests that your pet should be dewormed monthly for 3 months. Common dewormers used to treat other parasites are not always efficacious against whipworms. Fenbendazole and Febantel are two dewormers that are effective against this parasite.

Often, veterinarians will recommend switching dogs with a whipworm infection to a milbemycin or moxidectin-based heartworm preventative. Examples of products helpful against whips include Sentinel, Advantage Multi, and Interceptor. This is helpful because the heartworm preventative is given monthly, which will continue to deworm regularly against whipworms.

Dog dewormer for heartworms, hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm and whipworm
Image Credit: sophiecat, Shutterstock


Periodically rechecking fecal tests after treatment is recommended. Your veterinarian will help guide you on retesting protocols. Retesting is important, as there may be treatment failures and a high rate of reinfections.

How Do I Care for a Dog With Whipworms?

The best thing you can do for your dog with whipworms is to lower the chances of reinfection. This can be achieved by promptly disposing of fecal matter, as fresh stool is not infectious. Additionally, it is critical that you continue with appropriate preventative medication year-round, which may be a heartworm medication that dewormer for whipworms. Close observation of your patient is recommended.

Dog dewormer with food in hand of vet
Image Credit: sophiecat, Shutterstock

Zoonotic Potential

A zoonotic disease is one that can be spread from an animal to a person. Although there have been reports of human infections with Trichuris vulpis, the Companion Animal Parasite Council doesn’t consider it zoonotic due to lack of evidence. Still, precautions should always be taken to minimize this chance by maintaining good hygiene, which includes thorough washing of hands after handling fecal matter.

Frequent Asked Questions

My dog was diagnosed with whipworms, can this be passed to my cat?

Although cats can develop whipworm infections, they are not susceptible to the canine variety, Trichuris vulpis. As a result, your dog is unable to pass whipworms on to your cat.

My dog keeps developing whipworms; what can I do?

Your veterinarian may recommend a heartworm product that is efficacious against whipworms. There are several products available, including Sentinel, Trifexis, and Advantage Multi. It is important to clean your dog’s environment of stool as soon as possible to prevent reinfection.

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In Summary

Whipworms can be a stubborn parasite to rid your pet of. Fortunately, whipworm infections can be treated and are rarely life-threatening. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with appropriate treatment recommendations. There are preventative medications available to routinely deworm against whipworm infections. The best thing you can do for your pet if they have been diagnosed with whipworms is to promptly dispose of their feces to lower the risk of reinfection.

Featured Image Credit: ALEX_UGALEK, Shutterstock

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