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Vail Valley pets: Watch out for giardia this spring

Nadine Lober
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado “-Snow is melting in Colorado’s Vail Valley, water is flowing and dogs are anxious to roam in the streams. Most of the people who live in Eagle County 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 in the cyst stage of its life cycle. It is more commonly found in stagnant water ” ponds, rivers with little flow and water holes from melting snow. People and pets should not to drink from these water areas because of the risk of giardia.

It is sometimes very difficult to prevent pets from drinking this water, especially when hiking on a warm day. If your dog does drink from these waters, he may not necessarily get diarrhea. Some dogs and people have developed immunity and never get sick. But, on the other hand, 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 since we regularly wash our hands. For dogs ” who do not wash their paws, tend to step in their feces and lick their rectums ” the disease can keep reoccuring.

Clinical signs may appear in animals of any age, but it’s more common in dogs and cats less than one to three years old. If your dog has ingested the parasite, he may show mild to severe signs. The first sign is a diarrhea that is light colored and has mucous in it. It usually has a rancid odor. Flatulence (gas), straining to defecate and vomiting may also occur. If this persists, over time 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. The animals appetite and eating habits may not change.



If your dog has 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 (trophozoite), which lives in the intestines, or the non-motile cysts that pass in feces, under the microscope. Other laboratory tests are usually normal.

Veterinairna’s treat giardia with antibiotics, typically metronidazole. There are other medications that may be more effective if this one does not treat the condition. It may take a longer course of antibiotics or the diarrhea may return. There is a vaccine that has had moderate success. It is usually used in dogs that have chronic recurrence of giardia.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



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 can infect humans, but I would still avoid letting your dogs paws touch your lips.

Veterinarian Nadine Lober can be reached at 970-949-7972. E-mail comments about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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