Dogs and cats can get giardia
Most of us in the valley have heard of the protozoan parasite giardia.
Giardia is a common cause of diarrhea in dogs, cats and humans. It is a water-borne parasite when in the cyst stage of it’s life cycle. It is more commonly found in stagnant water, such as ponds, rivers with little flow and water holes from melting snow.
It’s not a good idea to drink from these bodies of water because you can contract this parasite and possibly get the clinical signs of giardiasis.
It is sometimes very difficult to prevent our pets from drinking this water, especially when you are hiking on a warm day and you are not carrying adequate water supply for your dog.
If your dog does drink from these waters, he may not necessarily get diarrhea from ingesting the parasite. Some dogs and people have developed an immunity to this parasite and never get sick.
But if you do carry this parasite, you or your dog can shed the cysts in your feces. For humans, this may not be a sanitary problem, because we regularly wash our hands. For dogs, who step in their feces, tend to lick their rectums and don’t wash their paws giardia can spread and recur.
Clinical signs may occur in animals of any age, but is more common in dogs and cats less than 3-years-old. If your dog has ingested the parasite, he may show mild to severe signs.
The first sign is watery or cow-pie – figuratively – diarrhea that’s light colored, mucoid and usually has a rancid odor. Flatulence, tenesmus and vomiting may also occur. If this persists it may lead to chronic debilitation.
This disease can be acute, intermittent (which can be frustrating and hard to treat) or chronic. Relapses may occur several months after spontaneous or therapeutically induced recovery.
If your dog has a persistent diarrhea and a recent history of drinking dirty water, it is imperative to get a fecal analysis. Sometimes it may take a few samples to detect the two forms of giardia: the motile organisms (trophozoites) or the non-motile cysts under the microscope.
The treatment requires a certain antibiotic, typically metronidazole. There are other medications that may be more effective if this one does not treat the condition. Sometimes it may take to treat or recurrence of the disease causes the diarrhea to return.
There is a vaccine that has had moderate success. It is usually used in dogs that have a chronic recurrence of giardia.
Giardia is the most common intestinal parasite in humans in North America because it is so easily contracted by ingestion. And there is no conclusive evidence that cysts shed by dogs and cats are infectious for humans, but I would still avoid letting your dogs paws touch your lips
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