Global Worming: Beware!
So you've seen those worms in your pet's stool before, right? Here's some knowledge about what they are, how to treat, and how to avoid in the future.
The canine whipworm, also known as Trichuris vulpis, is an intestinal parasite that all Philadelphia pet parents should be aware of. With clinical signs ranging from diarrhea and weight loss to asymptomatic infection, make sure this parasite doesn’t fly under your radar. Whipworm eggs are transmitted through infected fecal matter and environmental fomites (such as soil and ground water) and can survive for months to years with an increased prevalence in the Philadelphia and Baltimore areas. Since these intestinal parasites pose a risk at any age, it is important to understand the clinical symptoms and how to take preventative measures to best protect your pets.
Trichuris vulpis eggs are shed into the environment from the host’s (often another dog) large bowel and passed in feces. Once in the environment, the eggs will mature for approximately one month and are hardy enough to survive in both winter and summer months. After the larvae develop into the infective stage, they are ingested by a new host and travel along the gastrointestinal tract until they reach the large bowel. Once within the colon, larvae invade the intestinal wall mucosa and set up shop. There they replicate and continue passing new eggs into the feces. This disease is spread directly from dog to dog and the eggs are very resistant to environmental desiccation, so in highly populated urban areas, transmission is rapid!
If your pet is experiencing an uncomplicated/light infection, there may be no clinical signs and you may not realize your pet is shedding eggs and contaminating the environment. However, with heavy infections, more severe symptoms may occur including profuse bloody diarrhea, straining to defecate, weight loss, anemia (chronic blood loss) and even death. Notably, symptoms may begin prior to the ability to visualize whipworm eggs in feces making diagnosis challenging.
CONTROL AND TREATMENT
If you fear your pet may be experiencing symptoms of a whipworm infection, please seek veterinary attention. Your veterinarian will perform a fecal floatation and centrifugation to evaluate for parasitic eggs and evidence of whipworms. However, even in a heavily infected animal there can be low numbers of eggs present in stool, so a negative float cannot rule out intermittent shedding and infection.
Preventative measures should be instituted as the best practice to avoid intestinal parasitism. Environmental control such as cleaning up after your pet when outside and avoiding areas that likely have a high degree of contamination (such as dog parks) are good daily practices. Additionally, consulting your veterinarian to ensure your pet is receiving an adequate monthly preventative is the best form of control. If living in the Philadelphia area, a monthly heartworm preventative that has coverage against all forms of intestinal infections including hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and tapeworms is most beneficial. To ensure your monthly product controls whipworm infections, look for active ingredients such as Milbemycin or Moxidectin on the label.
If your pet tests positive for a Trichuris vulpis infection, veterinary intervention will be warranted. Your veterinarian will prescribe a dewormer to destroy the adult worms and developing larvae within the intestinal tract which should help to resolve clinical signs. However, an appropriate broad-spectrum monthly heartworm preventative can also control infections. Remember, regular preventatives are the best way to treat and prevent intestinal infections and reinfections!