What Is Giardia?

Patapsco Valley View

What IS Giardia?! No, It's Not

An Italian Cooking Show Hostess!

Volume 16                                                                          June 2013

“My dog has WHAT?!” says the nervous voice on the other end of the telephone line.

The receptionist calmly replies, “It’s Giardia, Miss Smith.”

“What is THAT?!“ is the question…, followed quickly by, “can I get it?!”

Giardia is a protozoan parasite (one-celled organism) that can infect a variety of species, including pets and people. Yes, it is possible for a person to be contaminated with the parasite by their pet.

Giardia lives in the intestinal tract of animals and people. It may not cause any symptoms at first, but with time, as it propagates and becomes more numerous, diarrhea commonly occurs. Some people and pets may have more severe symptoms such as abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Pets are often diagnosed faster and treated sooner than the human patient, since veterinarians tend to do fecal tests as a regular part of the yearly examination.

Giardia cysts are found in the stool of infected animals and humans. These cysts are resistant to environmental extremes such as hot weather or snow, and they can live in soil or water that has been contaminated with infected feces for a long time.

Pets and people are often exposed to the cysts by coming in contact with contaminated sources in the environment. Giardia is often transmitted by ingesting water from lakes, streams, rivers, and even neighborhood swimming pools and hot tubs. Just swallowing a small amount of water can cause a person or pet to become infected. Remember, you are sharing that water with every animal who enters that water. So be very careful when you and your pet are enjoying the great outdoors. It’s much safer to bring a supply of clean drinking water for both humans and animals who are wandering through the woods on a warm summer day, than to let your pet get a drink of water from the beautiful bubbling stream beneath the weeping willow.

Luckily, Giardia is easily diagnosed in your pets through their regular fecal tests. At the laboratory there are normally two tests available to screen for the Giardia cysts. The first test is the “O & P” or Ova and Parasite. It’s a microscopic test where the technician looks for the presence of the parasite in a solution made from the feces. The second test also uses a stool sample, but it tests for the DNA of the Giardia parasite, and is much more sophisticated. At Patapsco Valley Veterinary Hospital we employ BOTH tests whenever a fecal is checked.

Treatment is normally very strait forward. Drugs that are used include metronidazole and fenbendazole, and sometimes they are used in conjunction to treat Giardia infections.

Obviously it’s best to prevent your pet from being infected in the first place so we recommend the following steps:

1) Have your pet’s stool checked at least once a year or whenever they develop a case of diarrhea.

2) Practice strict hygiene by cleaning any surfaces that may have been contaminated by feces.

3) Wash your hands after using the bathroom, and make sure that your children do too.

4) Clean up behind your pet. Place dog and cat feces in plastic bags and put in the trash.

5) Keep pool and hot tub waters treated with the correct level of chlorine.

6) Have guests shower before and after using the neighborhood pool or hot tub.

7) Keep your pet from drinking pool water.

8) When swimming in a lake, river, or pond, make sure that you, and your pet, don’t ingest the water.

9) If your pet develops diarrhea, take a stool sample to the vet for a simple fecal test. The earlier Giardia can be diagnosed, the easier it is to treat and eradicate from your pet’s system.

Giardia is a common parasite. Together we can make it more UN-common.