What are Whipworms?
Since the whipworm is burrowing itself into the mucosa portion of the intestine, the body’s immune system reacts and inflames the bowel, causing the feline to lose a large portion of nutrient-absorbing abilities. As the intestine is compromised, only a portion of food your cat is consuming will be absorbed by the body and the feline will begin to lose weight and become lethargic.
The whipworm is a 45-75mm long parasite with a thick posterior and thin filamentous end that resembles a whip, ergo the common name “whipworm.” Although these worms are referred to as whipworms by the majority, there is more than one species of whipworm and should be identified by the name Trichuris trichiura, the cat whipworm.
The whipworm is a type of parasite, meaning the worm must have a host to survive in its adult form. The whipworm eggs are present in the environment and will stay unhatched until they are ingested. A cat who drinks water, licks soil off her paws, or consumes food material can infect herself with whipworm eggs. The eggs land into the small intestine where they hatch into larvae and make their way to the large intestine. Inside the large intestine, the whipworm larvae burrow their anterior end into the mucosa of the cat’s colon. From here, the parasitic worm will feed and mature into adult whipworms.
Symptoms of Whipworms in Cats
A mild infestation of whipworms in cats will show no evident signs or symptoms, but as the worms multiply, the burden of these parasites begin to take their toll on a feline’s body, causing the following symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome
In severe cases, whipworm infestation can cause a hemorrhagic effect inside the colon, causing the appearance of fresh blood to appear in the feces. A severe whipworm infection in cats can be recognized by the following symptoms:
- Bright, red blood in the stool
Causes of Whipworms in Cats
Whipworm in cats is caused by the ingestion of water, food or flesh (mice, birds, etc.) contaminated with adult whipworms, whipworm larva, or eggs.
To understand how a cat may become infected with whipworms, an individual must understand the lifecycle and nature of these parasitic worms. Whipworms latch on to the mucosa layer of the cecum or colon of the cat, feeding and laying eggs. These thick-shelled, weather resistant eggs, are passed through the feces, enter the soil and become active to infest within one to two weeks. If your cat drinks water from an outside source or even licks her paws after being outside, she could pick up one of the 2,000 whipworm eggs a female can lay in a day. A feline can also infect herself with whipworms upon consumption of prey animals such as rodents, birds, and other appealing prey.
Diagnosis of Whipworms in Cats
If you notice your cat has been losing weight while still maintaining the same eating habits or is experiencing loose, bloody stools, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as these may indicate a whipworm infection.
The veterinarian will likely request a stool sample from your cat, from the morning of your appointment, to diagnose the parasite. The thick-shelled, football-shaped eggs that are normally passed into the environment by the whipworms will be present in an infested cat and can be identified under a microscope. In order to view the eggs, the veterinarian will first need to separate the eggs from the fecal matter through the use of a centrifuge and diluted water. After the sample is removed from the centrifuge, a microscope slide is placed on top of the vial and the eggs rise to the top, sticking to the slide. The slide is then removed and can be placed under the microscope to complete the fecal flotation test.
Treatment of Whipworms in Cats
Whipworm infestation in cats is generally treated on an outpatient basis as the medication for whipworms is generally easy to administer. Your veterinarian may prescribe any of the following antiparasitic agents to terminate your cat’s whipworms: Mebendazole, febantel/praziquantel/pyrantel pamoate, or fenbendazole. Dehydrated cats or anemic felines may also receive intravenous care to reverse the effects of whipworm infestation. Anti-inflammatory drugs are also commonly prescribed to alleviate the irritated interior of the large and small intestine.
Recovery of Whipworms in Cats
As with any medically prescribed treatment, it is important for your cat to complete the full cycle of treatment. Improvement can be seen in as little as seven days, in non-severe cases and a total recovery can be expected.
The anti-parasitic medication will terminate the worms and your cat will pass them through defecation, therefore it is crucial to maintain a clean environment. Clean your cat’s litter pan daily, and wash bedding material. Make sure to wear gloves during the cleaning process, as human infestation is a possibility. It is also advised to isolate the feline to keep it from infecting other pets during treatment.
Whipworms Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I found a stray cat laying down in a field. There were flies all over her and she was super skinny. What do I do? I cannot take her to the vet because that costs too much.
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I recently rescued a 'big orange' (tabby) from the parking lot at work after he was dumped there.
He is doing great, a mellow fellow.
He did, however, test positive for whipworms only.
I have two other cats, all use the same litterboxes, which are cleaned continuously each day, usually right after they poop. Since they are inside it keeps the smell down, and the cats happy.
How much of a risk to my other cats, is there, to whipworm infection. Oskar is now being treated with a daily dose of panacur x 5 days, to be repeated once next month, and once the following month.
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My cat has evidenced whipworms three times since i adopted her a year and 2/3 ago, since she adopted me. most vendors and also our veterinarian recommend against whipworming medicine specified for DOGS, saying that is too strong concentration for my 13 pound cat. i suggested maybe i could use Advantage Multi for an 8 pound dog and the answer was no. we have used Panacur C at the advice of Pet Coach's Dr. Melanie. i saw whips in my cats stool after. i liked Panacur C because Merri also had giardia and Panacur C protects against giardia. But i do not like to mix a gram powder in water three days in a row and make her swallow (and gag) on it. i thought of Advantage Multi for an 8 pound DOG expecially because the wormer goes on the back of the neck. Most cat wormers do not include whips, most vendors and veterinarians say that cats do not usually have whipworms. i saw one mature whipworm in Merri's box 2 months ago, she deposited that when i was in the bathroom with her. so i really want to keep worming her with something that includes protection against round, hook, > and whips.< Can you assist Merri and me with trying to find an all 'round wormer? do you believe dog wormer for an 8 pound dog would be harmful for my 13 pound cat?
Under no circumstances should a canine worming medication be used on cats. There is no approved treatment for whipworms in cats, but the feline version of a medicine approved in dogs may work; both milbemycin or praziquantel/pyrantel pamoate should be effective in treating the whipworms and are available in tablets suitable for cats. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
thank you so much for your intelligent professional advice. this is the first sincerely competant answer to my question i have found. it has really been discouraging to be told, cats don't usually get whipworms, afre you sure she doesn't have something else instead that looks like whips but isn't? right now, i'm going to continue looking up the big scientific words for the wormer and late in May, probably let you know how this worked out for Merri. yours truly, sandymerkel
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