Giardia in Pets

If your pet frequently explores and drinks from ponds, lakes, streams and puddles, he may be at risk for giardiasis (commonly known as giardia). Symptoms include very loose stool, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

Giardia lamblia are protozoan (a one-celled organism) parasites that live in the intestines of various animals including humans. Surveys of various canine populations report a presence of giardia as follows: a) 10% prevalence in dogs that receive proper care. b) 50% prevalence in puppies. c) 100% prevalence is possible in breeding kennels. Young animals and individuals with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infection. Giardia is not as common in cats but can be found in felines less than 3 years of age.

A high prevalence factor combined with the ability of giardia cysts to survive for longer periods of time in the environment are the primary causes of new giardiasis infections. Giardia is simplistic in structure, adapts to perform basic functions, multiplies in the animal, and can survive outside the host and within the environment for extended periods of time.

Giardia lives in the intestine by surviving on the hosts’ nutrients. Although they do not have the structure of normal cells, they have evolved to swim around using thin, long whip-like structures called “flagellae.” They have discs through which they suck and hold on to the intestinal wall. They multiply by fission (dividing) under favorable conditions. They round up to form cysts and are shed in the feces of the host.

The cysts are resistant to the harsher conditions found outside the body and can remain infections for months in cool, damp areas. They accumulate in both indoor and outdoor environments that are susceptible to high levels of moisture such as kennels and standing pools of water. When animals ingest these cysts through contaminated water or food, they are broken in the stomach and release trophozoites, which populate the animal’s intestines and continue the life cycle.

Giardiasis causes problems with normal intestinal function, which leads to diarrhea and an inability to properly absorb nutrients. After infection occurs, it takes 5-16 days for the trophozoites and cysts to be found in the feces even though diarrhea can precede the shedding of giardia. Depending on the severity of infection, diarrhea can vary from being self-limiting, intermittent or continuous in nature.

Fortunately, most pets do not become seriously ill from giardiasis. Detecting the giardia trophozoites or cysts in the feces is quite simple and there are many drugs effective in treating the illness. These are available as prescribed by a licensed veterinarian after diagnosis has been made.

Recurring infections are prevented by keeping the animal’s environment clean and dry. Fecal waste should be removed daily. Common household disinfectants like Lysol can be used as part of the cleaning protocol. Surfaces should be allowed to dry thoroughly after cleaning. Animals that have been diagnosed with the illness should be bathed in order to remove any fecal debris and associated cysts. Additional preventative measures include keeping pets from drinking or playing in stagnant water sources.

If you suspect that your pet may have giardia, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Early detection and treatment will have your pet on the road to recovery more quickly.

Giardia in Pets

Connecticut Humane Society

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Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society