The NOT-SO-CUTE parasite called Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes a very un-microscopic effect on both humans and pets. People and pets become infected by this parasite by ingesting it. It is found on surfaces, in soil, food or water that has been contaminated with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals. Giardia has somewhat of a hard, outer shell. This shell allows for it to survive outside a host for long periods. Unfortunately, making it quite resistant to common methods of disinfection. The most common mode of transmission for Giardia is ingestion through drinking contaminated water.
How do you know if this unwelcome visitor has infected your pet? The most common symptoms you may see are diarrhea, greasy looking poop, discomfort in the abdomen. The discomfort can be seen as hunching, lethargy or downward dog position, and vomiting. Your dog or cat might get infected by:
- Being in contact with infected feces (poop) from another dog or cat
- Rolling and playing in contaminated soil
- Grooming after contact with a contaminated surface (for example, a dirty litter box or dog cage or crate)
- Drinking water from a contaminated creek, pond, or other bodies of water
Young pets, like puppies and kittens, have a higher risk of illness than adult dogs and cats. If you suspect your pet has Giardia, please contact your veterinarian. A fecal flotation may be the next step in the diagnosis. Your vet may ask you to bring in a fecal sample which will be processed using special chemicals. It will then be put onto a slide and viewed under a microscope by a Registered Veterinary Technician. It takes a skilled eye to determine the presence of this pesky pest.
If Giardia is infecting your pet, the treatment may include antibiotics. Many factors can contribute to the appropriate treatment of giardia in your pet such as the condition of the immune system, environmental factors, medical history and nutritional status.
Giardia is also known more commonly in the human world as Beaver Fever. It categorizes the parasite as being zoological, meaning both humans and animals can contract it. Make sure that when handling a pet that may show symptoms of giardia, please wash your hands! The risk of contracting the parasite from your pet is small as humans usually contract a different strain of Giardia than pets do, but it is possible.
We hope that knowing more about Giardia will help you ward off this little pest. There is no “preventative” out there however, being aware of the signs and symptoms and knowing how giardia is contracted may help you to reduce the risk to your pets. While walking in the woods with your faithful fur-baby, maybe think twice about letting them take a dip in that sludgy, stagnant pond!
Written by: Van Isle Veterinary Hospital