Is Heartworm Prevention Enough?
By: Emily Griffith, GPW (2016)
We are all familiar with your run-of-the-mill ailments for pets: hip dysplasia, heartworm, fleas and ticks. But, could there potentially be another hidden danger that is growing quickly in commonality? It turns out, the answer is yes. Whip worm is something I had no idea even existed until I had my own encounter with it as a pet parent.
A little over a year ago, I was living in a rather large, third-story apartment located in a big city with a sizable complex to boot. Once I found some sort of balance in my life after several tragic circumstances were cast unto me, I decided to channel my misguided energy into something constructive again, being a pet parent. I swiftly adopted Rupert after a need arose locally for homes and it is the absolute best decision I have ever made. I quickly fell in love with my fur baby and today we are inseparable. He has even led to a major career move or two in the direction of the interest of pets and pet parents. Rupert was small as a puppy so apartment life was great! He potty trained quickly and often wanted to go out for a walk. We would stroll around the premises, smelling and remarking where other pets had been to do their business. He loved to retrace other residents’ steps through smell, winding throughout the buildings and trees. After a little time passed, Rupert began to grow…and grow… and grow! As a shelter pup adoptee, we weren’t too sure what he was as far as breed, but all we needed to know is that he was growing too big for our space and his activity level was requiring more room as well. After a brief house hunt, we found the perfect place in the country with space and fenced-in fresh air. Rupert fully embraced this change of freedom, enjoying the lack of leach and digging many holes upon move in.
Early that fall season, we took Rupert to a new veterinarian than the one we had taken Rupert to in the city for a heartworm medicine refill. Our new veterinarian asked us a few questions regarding our pet’s lifestyle and addressed if any changes had been made. When we told him yes and he specified that before refilling as procedure states, he was going to have to draw and test Rupert’s blood with a panel. These panels check for any abnormalities in the blood, like spikes or drops in blood cell counts. Rupert’s test came back, and it was positive for something. My heart sank.
“Your pet has whip worm.”
A statement no pet parent ever wants to hear- that their beloved has something wrong with them. After the veterinarian was able to calm me some and explained what whip worm was, he sent me home with treatment tailored to my animal’s severity and weight, among other extraneous factors. This brings us to several essential questions in terms of whip worm.
WHAT IS WHIP WORM?
Trichuriasis, or whip worm, is an intestinal parasite transmitted by ingestion of infested matter or rarely, by contact of an affected animal. The parasite itself, Trichuris trichiura, can infect both dogs AND cats.
HOW DO DOGS AND CATS CONTRACT THE PARASITE?
The parasite is most often ingested, however, whip worm eggs live in environments for almost any amount of time- from months to years, in a dormant stage. They are most commonly found in soil, water, food, feces, and animal flesh. They can also pose a risk to pets at any age in the life cycle.
WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN MY PET?
Sometimes, like with my Rupert, whip worm is nearly asymptomatic. This means that you have little to no measurable symptoms as an indication to an infection. Some pets display intestinal symptoms: bloody diarrhea, large bowel inflammation, dehydration, weight loss, and anemia. Only a licensed professional can diagnose whip worm through proper testing methods, such as a fecal floatation or blood draw. If you suspect your pet may have been exposed to or contracted whip worm, go to your veterinarian for help as soon as possible.
IS IT TREATABLE? HOW?
Trichuriasis can be treated, luckily. In our case and most often not typical of results, Rupert received a swift and timely round of medication that was to be repeated in successive three week to three month series. As it turns out, Rupert became infected from our soil at our new home. I asked the veterinarian about treating the soil for them in order to eradicate the threat, but he advised instead to alter Rupert’s protection and prevention from my old heartworm to a new method, as opposed to trying to change his world or environment. As he explained, due to the dormancy stages that whip worm can transcend to, it is nearly impossible to eradicate them, especially if you are expecting to do a one-time treatment.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT?
I didn’t know this until my experience, however, only certain brands provide protection against other parasites such as whip worm. Information on brands is still emerging, but Interceptor markets itself as both heartworm prevention and a broad spectrum parasiticide, just like Trifexus. Trifexus is now Rupert’s prevention; a flavored tablet given once monthly. I definitely recommend it over large syringes full of antibiotics. The price is only a few extra dollars per pill and it will save you money and heartbreak later, not to mention pain and misery for your animal.
To close, I want to remind and encourage all pet owners to ask questions, especially when in the presence of a professional to answer them, like you veterinarian. Protect your pets from harm, large or microscopic, both can have irreversible and negative consequences if you don’t.
*For more information regarding whip worm, please consult your veterinarian. Inquire if the prevention you use is enough for your beloved pets.