Giardia is found all around the world and typically infects dogs, cats and humans. It is a single-celled parasite that is found in 2 forms, a fragile form known as a trophozoite and a hardier cystic form. It is the cystic form that is generally shed in feces. The most common ways to become infected with this parasite are through drinking contaminated water, eating unclean food or ingesting cysts from the contaminated ground.
Although this parasite may be tiny and simple, it has the potential to cause serious negative effects in susceptible people and animals. Young animals and those that are immunocompromised appear to be most likely to become ill from exposure. Damage caused when this parasite attaches to the intestinal wall can lead to diarrhea of varying severity. Foul-smelling, fatty stools that may be watery and contain blood or mucus is common. If left untreated, chronic intermittent diarrhea may result. In contrast, some animals may not show any symptoms at all.
Diagnosis of a Giardia infection is sometimes made by microscopic evaluation of the stool for the presence of trophozoites or cysts using a special flotation solution. This method is not always able to confirm an infection, as this parasite is often shed intermittently and can be difficult to diagnose. In some cases, stool samples are checked for antigens specific to Giardia to help rule in or rule out this parasite.
Treatment of Giardia generally involves using one or more oral medications. Metronidazole and Fenbendazole are two medications commonly used, either singly or in combination. Feeding a diet that is highly digestible may also be helpful in treating diarrhea or loose stools associated with this infection. Keeping your dog’s environment clean, dry and picking up stools immediately after they are passed will help prevent the spread of this parasite or re-infection of your pet. Bathing is also recommended during treatment to remove any cysts that could be on your pet’s fur. Practicing good hygiene, in general, is important to protect yourself and others from accidental infection.
If you have any questions, please give us a call at 204.253.2668.
Written by: Brenda K, RVT