Fleas and ticks are the obvious external annoyances to our pets, but internally, our animals can harbor a confusing and potentially dangerous collection of worms, including whipworm.
Whipworms are picked up through ingestion of eggs present in the stools of infested animals, either domestic or wild.
After the eggs pass through the digestive system, the worms develop in the lower intestine, imbedding themselves in the lining while leaving enough of their bodies exposed to allow the parasite to feed on the matter in the intestine.
The activities of the worms cause few problems at first, since the irritation of the intestinal lining is minor and the nutrients taken by the worms are not significant. The worms settle in, producing eggs which are excreted with the stools to complete the cycle.
The problems start when the animal ingests more of the eggs and adds to its burden of worms. As the worm load grows, the RTC effects of the infestation start to show.
Readily obvious are loss of condition and a dull hair coat, along with an increased thirst and softening of the stools caused by the worms' interference with the function of the lower intestine.
Eventually the situation will become serious: The animal becomes dehydrated and emaciated and often will require intensive veterinary care.
Long before that stage, however, whipworms, like other worms, can be easily diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian.
The diagnoses is made from a fresh stool sample, with a test that isolates worm eggs for identification under a microscope.
This step is important, since medication to treat one kind of worm may be ineffective on another. Common over-the-counter worming medications should be avoided for that reason, since most are designed for roundworms, which are are commonly a problem in young animals, not mature ones.
Treatment consists of administering prescribed medication at intervals designed to completely clear the system of worms. Frequent re-examinations are necessary to make sure the parasites have been eradicated.
Although whipworms are easily diagnosed and treated, they are not easily avoided. Their eggs are hardy -- surviving up to 10
years -- and they are everywhere.
Because wild animals such as coyotes carry the pests, pets in rural or newly developed areas are especially prone to pick up the worms, as are treated animals that return to an infested back yard.
Preventive care is the best way to deal with the parasites. To keep whipworms from plaguing your pet:
* Clean up the yard daily. Since infested stools lead to infested animals, picking up pet deposits promptly is the best way to ensure that your pet avoids contact with whipworm eggs.
* Make sure a stool examination is part of your pet's annual checkup. Like the blood test for heartworm, a stool examination for other worms is the best way to catch a health problem before it becomes serious.
* Ask your veterinarian about adding preventive medication to your pet's daily routine if whipworm becomes a recurrent problem.
Daily heartworm medication is available in combination with an anti-hookworm drug that has also proven effective against whipworms. The drug works to prevent picked-up eggs from developing into worms, but it is not effective against fully developed worms.