While whipworms are an important intestinal parasite of dogs, they are rarely found in cats in North America. What makes “whips” most notable is how hardy the eggs are in the outdoors. Eggs can still infect or re-infect even after lying in the soil or on vegetation (like grass or plants) for long periods of time.
Infective whipworm eggs are resistant to harsh outdoor conditions and can remain viable for many years.
Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC)
All About Whipworms
Named for their whip-like bodies, whipworms (Trichuris serrata and Trichuris campanula) are intestinal parasites that can infect and sometimes cause harm to cats of all ages. Whipworms are very rare in cats of North America. Cats get them by accidentally ingesting the infective eggs from contaminated grass/plants or soil. The swallowed eggs hatch and attach to the inner lining of the large intestines to feed on the cat’s blood and tissue fluids of the intestinal lining. There are no known clinical signs associated with whipworm infections in cats. [8,9]
Whipworms are very rare in cats of North America[8,9] but are still looked for on stool (fecal) testing. Whipworm eggs are notoriously resistant to drying and heat, so they can remain in the environment for many years. While unlikely in the U.S., cats frequenting areas with infective whipworm eggs are at risk of infection or re-infection.[1,5]
Adult whipworms are only about ¼ inch in length and named for their whip-shaped bodies. The front end of the worm with the mouth looks like the thin end (“lash”) of a whip (about 75% of their length) which they thread into the lining of the cat’s intestine. The back end of the worm with the reproductive organs looks like the thick (“handle”) of a whip (about 25% of their length). Adults are thin and small but when passed in stool can be seen with the naked eye.
The football or barrel-shaped eggs of whipworms are only detectable by examining a stool (fecal) sample under a microscope (ClueJay Cat Stool Test Level 1, 2, or 3). If found, it’s a giveaway that adult whips have infected the cat and treatment is needed.
There are no known clinical signs reported for whipworm infections in cats. [8,9] It is assumed that a heavy infection (lots of whips) in a cat could result in symptoms similar to a dog such as diarrhea, bloody stools, mucus stools, dehydration, blood loss anemia, or weight loss.
If your cat is acting sick, please contact a veterinarian right away.
Cats get whipworms in only one way, by mouth. They accidently swallowed infective eggs from grass, plants, soil (from self-grooming), or drinking contaminated water where stool with whipworm eggs had decomposed. Kittens can get whipworms in the same way and not from the mother’s womb or milk. In the U.S. whips are an unusual parasite to find in cats and kittens.
The life cycle of the whipworm is simpler than other worm life cycles. Cats accidently swallow the infective eggs when eating contaminated soil or vegetation like grass or plants. The eggs pass into the cat’s small intestine where the larvae hatch and burrow into the lining (mucosa) of the intestine to grow for a week or two. Then they move to the large intestine where they bury their thin, mouth ends (“lash” of whip) into the mucosa. Here they feed on the cat’s blood and tissue fluids. The larger, reproductive tail-end (“handle” of whip) hangs in the intestine and will start releasing eggs into the stool in about three months.[3,5] A female whipworm can produce more than 2,000 eggs per day. Note that whipworms are very rare in cats of North America[8,9] but are still looked for on stool (fecal) testing.
People are very unlikely to get infected with whipworms.[5,7] There are occasional reports of infections (Trichuris vulpis) from accidentally ingesting the eggs in contaminated dirt or on unwashed, contaminated fruits or vegetables. These rare infections typically have few or no symptoms, and are readily treated. Practice good hygiene by thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water (get those thumbs too!) after touching stool, soil, and other materials that could be contaminated with pet stool.
In the U.S., whipworm infections appear to be rare in domestic cats but a lot more common in dogs. Transmission of whipworms between cats and dogs is unlikely.
Since whipworm eggs are very difficult to clear from contaminated soil, it’s best to prevent them from getting there in the first place. Prevent whipworms by keeping cats indoors, regular stool (testing), and deworming if a whipworm infection has been positively identified in your cat’s stool.
While ClueJay does not dispense or prescribe medications, there are deworming medications available over-the-counter (OTC) and through veterinarians for whipworm prevention and treatment. Fenbendazole is the medication that is recommended for cats for whipworm treatment.[8,9]
It’s always best to consult with a veterinarian prior to administering any whipworm medication, even an OTC version, to make sure it will be safe and effective for your pet. Always read the medication administration directions carefully and be on the lookout for potential side effects (like vomiting) when any deworming medication is administered.
Veterinarians recommend stool (fecal) testing kittens 2 to 4 times during their first year of life, and 1 to 2 times each year in adult cats (every 6 to 12 months). Veterinarians often call this stool test a “Fecal O&P”, with the O&P meaning “ova (eggs) and parasites”. It includes special preparations of the stool sample and analysis using a microscope to look for certain types of parasites like whipworms. This same test is also used to recheck stool samples after treatment. Typically, a recheck stool test is done 2-4 weeks after deworming a cat that was treated for whips to help confirm that the treatment was effective.
Kittens and cats should also be tested when symptoms of possible whipworm infection are present such as diarrhea, bloody stools, mucus stools, dehydration, blood loss anemia, or weight loss. Please contact a veterinarian right away if your cat is acting sick.
Some veterinarians still do the Fecal O&P at their practice with trained veterinary technicians. Most however, “refer” or ship their patient’s stool samples to an external animal reference laboratory for preparation (including centrifugation), analysis, and reporting, where the laboratory technicians and testing processes are more specialized.
With the simple and convenient ClueJay testing solution from home (ClueJay Cat Stool Test Level 1, 2, or 3), you can directly access this same professional reference lab testing for whipworms that veterinary professionals use every day. ClueJay uses reference quality stool preparation techniques and centrifugation, along with a highly trained laboratory team to maximize the likelihood of finding whips and their eggs if present in the sample. All three levels of ClueJay cat stool tests search for whipworms.
Finding whipworms or whipworm eggs in your cat’s stool sample likely means that your cat is infected with whipworms and should be treated with a deworming medication. A test result is not the same as a veterinarian’s diagnosis, so it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian about your cat’s test results to determine the safest and most effective treatment and prevention plan, and when to do follow-up stool tests.
ClueJay stool tests report positive whipworm results using a quantitative estimation scale of 1 (1 egg or parasite was seen), 1+ (2 to 4 eggs or parasites were seen), 2+ (5 to 10 eggs or parasites were seen), 3+ (11 to 50 eggs or parasites were seen), or 4+ (>50 eggs or parasites were seen) per (approximately) one gram of stool. This is based on both a naked-eye visual and then a microscopic exam of the stool after special preparation and centrifugation techniques. This scale provides some perspective on the potential burden of worm infection (more eggs likely means more worms in the intestines).
Most veterinarians will recommend rechecking a cat’s stool sample 2-4 weeks after treatment for whipworms. If you have other cats in the household, they should be tested as well since whipworms in one cat could mean whipworms in more than one cat.
If your cat had a stool O&P (fecal ova and parasite) test and whipworms were not seen, that is great news. Most veterinarians recommend retesting a stool sample every 6 to 12 months and still look for whipworms each time, even though they are rarely seen in the U.S.
Keep in mind that it’s possible for cats to have whipworms without their eggs being found in the stool test (called a “false negative” result); especially if the infection is mild (very small number of worms) or is recent (whipworms are still too young to shed eggs) or a male-only infection. False negative results for whipworms can also occur because eggs are not always present in every stool sample and because they are more challenging to tease out of the stool (compared to roundworm and hookworm eggs) in the laboratory even when present. Also depending on their lifestyle, cats can remain at risk of whipworm egg exposure so a negative test result today doesn’t mean it couldn’t be positive later. This explains why regularly testing for whipworms (1-2 times per year in adult cats; 3-4 times for kittens) is recommended throughout the cat’s life.
- VCA Hospitals, Whipworm Infections in Dogs
- Pets & Parasites, Dog Owners – Whipworms
- American Kennel Club, Whipworms in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention
- PetMD, Whipworms in Dogs
- Companion Animal Parasite Council, Trichuris Vulpis
- PetMD, “Whipworms in Cats”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Parasites – Trichuriasis (also known as Whipworm Infection)
- Wikipedia, Trichuris Serrata
- AAVP (American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists, Trichuris felis
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