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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Protect Your Pet From The Giardia Parasite

Protect Your Pet from the Giardia Parasite

PetSmart Brent Carroll, DVM/Banfield

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Protect Your Pet from the Giardia Parasite

Giardia is a microscopic parasite that lives in the intestines of many domestic and wild animals. The parasite is shed in the feces and can survive in moist areas, particularly stagnant water and animal waste. If people or animals ingest contaminated water or food or touch and accidentally ingest infected animal waste, they may develop a serious intestinal infection. Your pets can also get infected from licking their paws after walking in contaminated areas or from direct contact with infected animals.

Because Giardia is a zoonotic parasite, there is a risk that it can be transmitted between pets and humans. People suffering from Giardia infection are subject to the same health threats as their pets.

What To Watch For
Giardia attaches to the intestinal lining, damaging the tissue and interfering with the host's ability to absorb nutrients. If your pet is infected, it may exhibit one or more of the following signs:

  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • vVomiting

If Giardia parasites remain in the host for a long time, they erode the intestinal lining and cause sporadic bloody diarrhea. Left untreated, your Pet may become increasingly debilitated and susceptible to other infections.

If your pet shows any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away, and bring a small, fresh stool sample so the veterinary team can check for signs of the parasite under a microscope. Keep in mind that finding the organism is difficult, because the parasites are shed in the feces only intermittently. Additional fecal examinations may be needed on different days.

Veterinary Care

If your pet is infected with Giardia, your pet's doctor has a broad range of antibiotics and dewormers to treat the infection. If diarrhea and vomiting are severe, a special diet and antidiarrheal and anti-nausea drugs are needed.

Giardia can rob your pet of specific nutrients, so vitamin supplementation may also be necessary. Because cross-contamination is common and some animals do not show clinical signs, all pets in your household may need treatment. Unfortunately, recurrent infections are common. Veterinarians recommend routine evaluation of fecal samples to help catch infections early.

What You Can Do
Cleaning your pet's environment is an extremely important part of eliminating the organism, preventing reinfection and protecting your family. The following steps will help eliminate the threat to your family:
 

  • Dilute bleach in water (use four ounces of bleach per gallon of water) and apply the solution to runs, kennels and food bowls. Caution: thoroughly rinse the disinfected areas before you give your pets access to them. Bleach can harm animals if it contacts the skin or is ingested.
     
  • Don't let your pet drink from streams or lakes. Bring iodine tablets with you when you camp to treat drinking water, as the iodine kills Giardia. Anytime you're away from home, have fresh, clean water available for your pet.
     
  • Keep the yard clean of feces. Feces from all animals, including birds, can be sources of infection. Regularly remove animal waste from your yard to help minimize exposure. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after contact with feces. All children and adults who are especially susceptible to any type of infection (such as people undergoing chemotherapy or with AIDS), should avoid contact with animal waste.

Authored and edited by Brent Carroll, DVM

Did You Know...

Giardia infects up to 20 percent of the world's population. The disease is most prevalent in developing countries with poor sanitary conditions, poor water quality control, and overcrowding. In the United States, Giardia is a major cause of waterborne outbreaks of diarrhea in humans.

© Banfield 2002.5 HOEP #81107

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