Parasitic Diarrhea (Giardiasis) in Dogs and Cats
Wednesday, 8 May 2019 | Kate
Everything you need to know about giardia and how to test for it.
What is Giardia?Giardia is a simple, single-celled parasite that can cause illness and diarrhoea in both animals and humans, known as giardiasis.
Giardia is one of the most common parasites in dogs and comes in two forms; as a trophozoite which exists in the gut and feeds there, or as a cyst which is shed in faeces and can survive for months outside, particularly in water, and damp conditions.
How do dogs and cats get giardia?As usual this parasite requires a host to facilitate its lifecycle. So, a dog swallows a giardia cyst and it enters the gut. The cyst transforms into a trophozoite and latches on to the gut to feed. The trophozoite then divides and reproduces, some stay as trophozoites while others transform into cysts. These cysts pass out in faeces which contaminates the ground and water where it’s lapped up or inhaled by your dog or cat, or you if you’re drinking contaminated water.
Giardia cysts can be found wherever there are animals around to pick them up: parks, kennels, water courses, rivers, streams, pavements and anywhere damp.
What are the signs and symptoms?A dog can carry giardia but she won’t necessarily become infected with giardiasis, but if she is infected symptoms include:
• Sudden onset of horrible smelling diarrhoea
Always see a vet if your dog exhibits any of these symptoms. It isn’t giardiasis, necessarily, it could be colitis or any number of things, so get them checked out.
Some dogs show no symptoms but young, old and immunocompromised dogs are more likely to display symptoms and need to be treated immediately as it can be life threatening to this group.
How is it diagnosed?It takes 5 – 12 days from ingesting a cyst to passing out new ones, in dogs, and 5 – 16 days for cats, so a routine wormcount may not detect giardia cysts as they shed inconsistently.
There is a specific test for giardia that checks for antigens (cell proteins) rather than cysts and is therefore more reliable. You do the test yourself at home without having to send it off to a lab. The results are available in five minutes. You can buy your kit here at My Itchy Dog.
This is the same test a vet would carry out and if it comes back positive get to the vet immediately. If it comes back negative and you’re still worried always go to your vet for advice.
How is it treated?Your vet will give you a specific antiparasitic drug (anthelmintic) to kill both the trophozoites and cysts without causing problems for your dog or cat. Veterinary treatment is usually enough, but complications can arise in younger and older pets, and pets with a low immune system.
Why should I test for giardia?
Well, 50% of younger and older dogs and cats will get giardiasis and they’re the most at risk when it comes to fending it off. Puppies and kittens are still developing their immunity and older pets have lesser immunity as they get older. Both age groups are the least able to fight giardia so should be tested for it instead of waiting for symptoms to appear.
How often should I do the test?Every 2 – 3 months unless your pet has symptoms then immediately, and off to the vet. All infected dogs and cats should be retested a couple of weeks after treatment.
Can I catch giardia from my dog or cat?Yes, you can, and it can be really serious if you do get it. If your immunity isn’t what it needs to be (if you’re very young or older) or you’re immunocompromised with HIV/AIDS, cancer, undergoing chemotherapy or anything else which has compromised your immune system, you need to be extra vigilant.
The rear end
Be very careful when picking up and bagging dog poo, cleaning out the litter try, or cleaning it up in the home.
The front end
That’s basically it do a test, check for symptoms and, if you think your dog just has dicky tummy keep an eye out for any other symptoms and away to the vet with you.