Roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and heartworms are all common internal parasites that can cause many health problems for cats.1
Their presence in your cat’s body can be dangerous for their health and contaminate your environment. But there is another type of worm that is less common in cats in North America: whipworms.2
Let’s learn what vets and other scientists know about this microscopic whip-shaped worm and its causes, signs, and how to care for it in cats.
What Are Whipworms?
Whipworms (Trichuris spp.) are nematodes that infect the large intestines of mammals.3 They are called “whipworms” because they have a slender, whip-like appearance. These tiny parasites can cause various health problems in pets and typically affect dogs. Specifically, the species Trichuris vulpis commonly inhabits a dog’s cecum and colon. Cats are usually infected with a whipworm species called Trichuris serrata (in North America) and Trichuris campanula (in Europe).4
However, these parasites are rarely seen in cats and usually do not lead to serious illness, though heavy infestations can cause diarrhea. Infections are more common in tropical and subtropical regions, such as the Caribbean and South America, and may be associated with clinical signs like those described for dogs.
What Are the Signs of Whipworms in Cats?
Signs of whipworm infection in cats include bloody diarrhea, weight loss, lack of appetite, dehydration, and anemia. In severe cases, the infection can cause inflammation of the large intestine and lead to other serious health issues.
However, according to the Tropical Council for Companion Animal Parasites, whipworm infections are generally well tolerated by cats and usually remain asymptomatic.
Either way, if you suspect that your cat may have intestinal parasites, you should consult your veterinarian. They will be able to diagnose the infection via a physical examination and by performing laboratory tests on a stool sample.
What Are the Causes of Whipworms in Cats?
The most common cause of whipworm infection in cats is the ingestion of contaminated materials, such as soil, food, and feces.
Cats can also become infected with the parasites by grooming themselves after coming into contact with infected soil or feces or by eating small infected prey.
Unlike some other types of gastrointestinal worms that mostly affect kittens, whipworms can infect cats of all ages.
How Do I Care For a Cat With Whipworms?
If you find worms in your cat’s feces or if they show signs of parasitic infestations, such as diarrhea and loss of appetite, you should consult your veterinary team promptly.
If they find that your cat has whipworms, they will administer the appropriate treatment to destroy both the worms and the larvae present in your pet’s body. It usually involves deworming medications, which can be given by mouth or topically. Repeated treatments may be needed over several months.
Afterward, you should follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for caring for your cat at home. You’ll need to prevent reinfection by keeping your cat’s environment spotless and cleaning their litter box regularly.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How are whipworms diagnosed in cats?
Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your cat is infected with whipworms by performing a fecal flotation test on a stool sample. This test can detect parasite eggs because these will float in a special solution and onto the surface of a glass slide for examination.
How do I prevent my cat from getting whipworms?
Can whipworms infect people?
Yes, but they are not the same ones that affect pets. Whipworms that infect humans are Trichuris trichiura. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 604 to 795 million people worldwide are infected with whipworms.
However, note that other types of intestinal parasites can be transmitted from pets to humans, such as roundworms.
Are whipworms the same as roundworms?
Although both can infect animals and humans, these are two different species. Roundworms are intestinal parasites like whipworms, but they live in the small intestine (whereas whipworms live only in the large intestine).
Cats are not immune to intestinal parasites. Fortunately, whipworms are not common in domestic cats living in North America and Europe, and serious complications from this type of parasite don’t occur frequently.
However, you still need to regularly deworm your feline friend and keep their environment clean. Although whipworms are usually an incidental finding in cats during a routine fecal check, other types of internal parasites can cause more serious health issues.
Featured Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock
- What Are Whipworms?
- What Are the Signs of Whipworms in Cats?
- What Are the Causes of Whipworms in Cats?
- How Do I Care For a Cat With Whipworms?
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- How are whipworms diagnosed in cats?
- How do I prevent my cat from getting whipworms?
- Can whipworms infect people?
- Are whipworms the same as roundworms?