Giardia: A Parasite of Many Species

If you have a friend who camps or fishes, you may have heard that they had been infected with Giardia. Or your veterinarian may have told you that your cat or dog had Giardia. In either case, you probably wondered, can I catch it as well?

Giardia is a protozoan parasite (one-celled organism) that can infect a variety of species, including pets and people. The human form of Giardia really likes people, the canine form likes dogs, the feline form likes cats, and the ruminant form likes cows and sheep. But it is possible for any of the forms to infect any of the other species.

In an animal or a person, Giardia lives in the intestinal tract. It may cause no symptoms, especially at first, but with time and as the organism becomes more numerous as it propagates, diarrhea commonly occurs. Some people may have more long standing or severe disease; then the symptoms can also include abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Pets also get diarrhea when infected, but they tend to get diagnosed faster as it is common to do regular fecal testing in veterinary medicine.

Giardia cysts are passed in the feces of infected animals and people. These cysts are resistant to environmental extremes, and thus can live in feces or fecal contaminated soil, surfaces, and especially water, for a long time.

Pets and people are usually exposed from contaminated sources in the environment. Giardia is a common cause of recreational water illness, from pools, water parks, water play areas, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and oceans. Pets and people swallowing even a small amount of water can become infected. You share the water, and the germs in it, with every person or animal who enters that water. The infective Giardia cysts can also be present on other surfaces contaminated with feces such as bathroom fixtures, changing tables, diaper pails, and toys. Uncooked, fresh produce can be contaminated as well.

Luckily, Giardia is easily diagnosed in veterinary medicine. There are two tests commonly performed: a microscope test call an "ova and parasite" (O&P) where the technician looks for the presence of the parasite in a solution made from the feces and then centrifuged. The other test also uses a stool sample, but uses a more sophisticated method to check for any DNA of the Giardia parasite.

Treatment is usually very rewarding. Drugs commonly used are metronidazole or fenbendazole, although in stubborn cases they may be used at the same time.

What can you do to prevent infection in the first place? Have your pets' stool checked regularly for parasites (at least twice yearly). Practice strict hygiene, cleaning surfaces that could become contaminated by stool. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, and insist your children do as well. Every day, place any dog and cat feces from your property into plastic bags that will go to a landfill. If you have a pool, keep it well maintained, don't allow any person or pet in the pool if they have diarrhea, and have everyone shower (with soap) before entering the pool. Don't allow children to defecate while in the pool. Don't swallow any water when you are in a pool or any other type of recreational water. Wash all produce well before consuming.

Giardia is a common parasite. Your veterinarian can check your pets for Giardia by performing a stool test, and treat if necessary. You can prevent your family from being infected by some common sense, good hygiene practices.

Sources:

Companion Animal Parasite Council
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Testimonials

  • We have been clients of New Prague Animal Care for over 13 years. They have provided exceptional and compassionate care for our “pack” (6 dogs and 3 cats). As a professional dog trainer, breeder of Best in Show and Master Hunter Retrievers as well an owner of multiple kennel/ doggy daycare facilities (30+ years), I have worked with numerous veterinary clinics both in the Twin Cities and nationwide. Dr. Steve and his crew rate among the finest I have worked with. The clinic has all of the fea

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  • My dad has taken all of his dogs there for years, and I take mine there as well. Dr. Lavalle's bedside manner is amazing, and his staff are so genuine and caring. I always have, and will continue referring people to take their pets here. They are hands down the best veterinary care in the area!

    - Amber C
  • Have taken our dogs to Dr. Lavallee for over 10 years and he is great with each of them. He and his staff are very caring and helpful.

    - Barb S
  • Middle of a snow storm a few days ago. My little puppy was injured. I live in Faribult. Vet offices were closed in town. They actually called me while in route to see if I was ok. They were so good with the puppy. The cost was very reasonable. Called today to see how everything was going. I really was very impressed with this office. I recommend this place.

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  • Awesome experience! My pets love the care they get from Dr. Lavallee and his staff! They are not just a number; they care for them like my babies are family! Would highly recommend them!

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  • Found a 6-wk old kitten on the side of the highway and brought it in at 7pm on emergency basis. I was blown away by the compassion of Dr. Johnson's team. What a great experience. True animal people!

    - Anna H
  • Moved to New Prague and found this place for our dog.. Such great service, friendly staff, amazing Dr. and very accommodating to all of our needs!! Highly recommended by my pet family!!!

    - Kerri N
  • We love New Prague Animal Care, they are always so kind and caring, from the phone calls to when you walk in. We take our Siberian Husky Bandit in and he gets so much attention, well loved. We've had to take him in twice for emergencies, the in house testing was great, Dr. Johnson was able to resolve the issue almost immediately. I wouldn't take him anywhere else.

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