Learning that your cat has been carrying around a horde of tiny worms in his stomach can be pretty traumatic. Whipworm is one of many intestinal parasites that can infest cats, but they are actually pretty uncommon in domestic felines. Luckily, feline whipworms are not a significant threat to humans.
Whipworms are simple creatures. They have a narrow, thread-like body with a thin filament that extends from their rear end. When examined under a microscope, they do look like whips. These worms attach themselves to the lining around your cat's intestines. This soft tissue is filled with blood vessels that absorb and transport nutrients from digested food, so it makes a perfect place for a bloodsucking parasite to set up shop.
Since whipworms tend to live in the upper parts of your cat's intestines, they are not found in their host's stool as often as roundworms or tapeworms are. Even when they do pass through, they are much more difficult to spot due to their tiny size and semitransparent bodies. If your pet's stool is unusually dark or red, which indicates blood loss, then whipworms may be responsible. Other common symptoms include constant diarrhea, decreased energy levels and refusal to eat. Since these symptoms are somewhat general, it is important to have a vet make a formal diagnosis before you attempt to treat the problem.
Whipworms aren't a serious threat to adult cats, at least compared to some of their more insidious parasitic brethren. In fact, some cats don't display any symptoms at all if the worm population is not out of control, according to Whitney Veterinary Hospital. This does not hold true for kittens, though. Even a few whipworms can jeapordize a baby cat's health by taking too much blood from his tiny circulatory system. This causes temporary anemia, or excessive blood loss, which requires immediate medical attention. Any sign of health problems, appetite loss or pain in a kitten should be taken seriously and treated promptly.
While humans can actually get whipworms, they are not the same species as those that infest cats. In fact, cats and dogs rarely transmit whipworms to one another because canine whipworms are not adapted to survive in feline hosts. Feline whipworms are pretty rare in North America, but the canine version is a common problem for dogs in the United States, according to Companion Animal Parasite Council.
Whipworms can be treated through a lengthy worming procedure that can take several months to complete, according to Animal Planet. It takes such a long time because conventional medication for these parasites doesn't completely eradicate worms in every stage of development, and it can take a while for the entire population of eggs to hatch and develop. Whipworm treatments require a prescription, so ask your vet about a treatment schedule to rid your pet of these nasty pests.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.