Giardia… What Do You Know About This Nasty Parasite?

My niece rescued a puppy recently.  This poor little thing has suffered from two bouts of giardiasis in the short time she’s had her.  My niece’s puppy got me thinking about my experiences with dogs and giardia.  And wow!  Is it unpleasant!

Giardiasis is an illness you probably haven’t heard of unless either you or your dog has experienced it.  That’s right… people can get it too.  In fact, it’s the most common intestinal parasite in humans.

What is it?

In dogs, giardiasis can be completely repulsive or it can go absolutely unnoticed.  It’s an illness caused by a single-celled parasite called giardia that infects the gastrointestinal tract.

Giardia is not a worm, bacteria or virus.  It’s a parasite.

This parasite can cause diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy.  But some dogs show no symptoms at all.

There are 7 different types of giardia that affect dogs, cats and humans.  They’re labeled A through G.  Dogs usually get C and D, but can get A and B which are the strains humans get.  Cats are usually infected with F.

When people get “travelers diarrhea”, it’s caused by giardia.  They’ve likely consumed water contaminated by the parasite. This is not uncommon in some countries.

Giardia goes through two phases.  The first is the fragile form when it’s growing and feeding on the gut.  Then it matures, and it’s encapsulated in microscopic cysts (sacs) that come out in your dog’s poop.  These cysts are very hardy and can survive for several months in the right environment—water and dampness.

How do dogs get it?

Dogs are infected when they consume anything with contaminated feces on it; another dog’s poop, a stick, a toy, grass, water.

When the dog swallows the cysts, they pass into the intestines and go through a transformation into a trophozoite, the growing feeding form.  They feed off the intestinal wall.  They reproduce by dividing and some become cysts. Those cysts eventually pass in the stool about 5 to 12 days from ingestion.

This is a parasite you’ll find any time of the year, anywhere in the U.S. and around the world.

What are the signs?

Some times a dog will be a carrier of giardia and will be asymptomatic, perhaps for many years. Then, without warning, after years of undiagnosed giardia your dog may have a sudden bout of bloody diarrhea.

But usually a dog with this parasite has symptoms.  Their diarrhea may be bloody, greasy, frothy, mucousy and very smelly.  They may have diarrhea continuously or intermittently.

Your dog may also vomit, seem lethargic and suddenly lose weight.

This parasite causes many gastrointestinal disturbances in dogs.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

If you suspect your dog has giardia, call your vet.  If left untreated, severe diarrhea can be fatal, especially in puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with health problems.

Your vet will need a fresh stool sample.  They’ll do one of two tests:  The fecal float test or the fecal ELISA test.  The float test checks for evidence of giardia cysts in the stool sample.  Whereas the ELISA test checks for giardia antigens in the dog’s body.

The float test isn’t very accurate.  An infected dog will shed cysts intermittently from their GI tract, making it possible to get a stool sample with no cysts in it.

As a result, false negatives are common with the float test.  Doing the fecal float test 3 times over the course of 5 days can improve the likelihood of detection though.

The ELISA test is more accurate but your vet will need to send the stool sample out to a lab.  It isn’t usually done in the office. So you’d have to wait for the results.

If your dog tests positive, your vet will prescribe one of two drugs, maybe both. Fenbendazole or metronidazole for 3 to 10 days is the usual treatment.  How long and which drug depends on your dog’s case.

Your vet may recommend a low-residue highly digestible diet like Husse to lessen the diarrhea during treatment.

Bathe your dog on the last day of treatment to remove any giardia that may be on their coat, especially around the hindquarters.  Start from your dog’s head and work towards their rear end.  After washing their behind, don’t touch the areas you’ve already cleaned.

Disinfect your dog’s bowls and toys in boiling water or the sanitize cycle in your dishwasher.

Steam clean upholstery and carpeting, and wash bedding on the sanitize cycle in your washing machine.

Disinfect hard surfaces with a bleach solution or a household cleaner made for disinfection.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s case and their overall health, they may need other tests, treatments, and follow-up.  But 2 to 4 weeks after your dog finishes treatment your vet will want to run another fecal test to be sure the giardia is gone.

If your dog has recurring giardia, consider whether the parasite is still living in their environment. If other dogs or cats live in the house, you may need to treat them as well.

Dirt and grass can harbor giardia for months.  Spray diluted bleach on the areas where they’ve pooped.  If you walk your dog in your neighborhood, take a spray bottle with you to spray the area after you’ve picked up their poop.

Are there serious risks?

Most healthy dogs recover from giardiasis with no complications.  But older sick dogs or dogs with compromised immune systems are at risk for complications including death.

In addition, people with compromised immune systems are at risk of getting giardia from a dog. You can’t be certain which strain your dog has.  They can have A or B.

So if someone in your home has cancer, AIDS, is very old or very young, they should take precautions. And use extreme caution when handling poop or giving the dog medicine.  Wash hands thoroughly after doing so.

Can it be prevented?

You can minimize your dog’s exposure to giardia by limiting their time at dog parks, kennels, doggy day care and the groomers.

Don’t let your dog drink from communal water bowls at the pet store, the dog park, or any other place in your community.

They should never drink from puddles, lakes, ponds or streams.  Feces from other animals may contaminate them.

Never let your dog eat another dog’s poop, or their own (that’s a topic for another day).

If you live in a place where giardia is in the drinking water, buy a filter meant specifically for getting rid of this parasite.  Or boil your water.  And always let the water cool before giving it to your dog to drink.

But despite your best efforts, your dog may get giardia.  It’s common in rescue dogs.  It’s common when dogs come from breeders with lots of other dogs.  It’s common when dogs are with other dogs regularly.

The best you can do is treat giardiasis proactively if it happens to your dog… and have a lot of paper towels and Nature’s Miracle on hand.

Has your dog had giardiasis?  What were their symptoms?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)…  6 Things To Know

The new year is underway!  Maybe you’re thinking about starting it off with a new pet.   A kitty perhaps.  If you will rescue this cat and don’t know their background, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is particularly important to understand.

If you already own a cat, do you know about FIV?  Here are 6 things to be aware of.

1) What is FIV?

Feline immunodeficiency virus is like HIV in humans.  It attacks the immune system making a cat that has the virus vulnerable to other infections.

A cat that has FIV can appear normal for years.  But like HIV in humans, it progresses.  Eventually normal harmless bacteria found in the environment become a danger to an infected cat, making them seriously ill.  At that point, your cat will have feline AIDS.

Unlike HIV, humans can’t contract FIV.  It’s only transmitted cat to cat.

2) How does a cat get it?

A deep bite wound is the most common method of FIV transmission.  Aggressive, intact, male cats that roam and like to fight are most often infected.

Indoor cats are at minimal risk unless you bring an infected cat into your home and the cats fight. Casual contact between cats doesn’t seem to be an effective method of transmission.

Sometimes a mother can pass the virus to her babies in the birth canal, or through her infected milk.

Sexual contact is not a common method of spreading the disease either.

3) What are the signs?

When a feline is first infected there may be few noticeable symptoms.  Initially the lymph nodes carry the virus.  So you may notice the’re swollen.  And the cat may run a fever.

Because these initial symptoms are subtle, they often go unnoticed.

It can be years later before signs of immunodeficiency appear.  The cat’s health may deteriorate progressively.  Or the cat may experience periods of bad health and periods of good health.

Here’s what you may see:

Poor coat condition

Persistent fever with loss of appetite

Inflammation of gums and mouth

Abnormal appearance of the eyes

Wounds that don’t heal

Persistent diarrhea

Seizures

Behavior changes

Slow, progressive weight loss

Severe wasting (in later stages)

Change in urination habits

Several types of cancer are more common in cats with FIV as well.

4) How is it diagnosed?

Your vet will do blood work to diagnose feline immunodeficiency virus.  A blood test will detect FIV antibodies.

However, it takes 8 to 12 weeks for the antibodies to be detectable in the bloodstream.  So if your cat comes home with a deep bite wound, your vet will likely wait to test for this virus.

If you are adopting a kitten, having them tested before they’re 6 months old may not be useful. This is because kittens born to an infected mother will carry the antibodies from the mom until they’re 6 months old.  As a result, they’ll test positive even though they don’t have the virus.

And a cat that has been vaccinated against FIV will test positive even though they don’t have FIV. If you rescue a cat and don’t know their vaccination status, you might get a false positive on a blood test.

5) Can it be prevented?

It’s not likely your indoor cat will get FIV.  But if you’re concerned about an outdoor cat, keep them inside.

If your cat has FIV, keeping them in will protect other cats from getting the virus.  And it will minimize the risk to your cat of picking up other infections that will make them sick.

An infected cat is not likely to give an uninfected cat in your home the virus unless they are fighters.  Keep fighters apart.  And be sure to spay or neuter the infected cat to minimize the chances of passing FIV on.

Any adopted cat should be tested before bringing them into your home.  But remember if they’re younger than 6 months you may get a false positive.  Talk to your vet if you’re considering adopting a cat, especially if you have a kitty at home already.

If you bring a healthy cat into your home with an infected cat in it, that cat may expose the healthy cat to other serious infections.  Be sure to thoroughly clean the environment. Keep the sick cat’s food, water, litter boxes, toys and bedding away from the healthy cat.

Vaccinate against any other infectious diseases any new cat or kitten you bring into your home with an FIV cat in it.

Since I mentioned an FIV vaccine, you might think your cat should get it.  Although an FIV vaccine exists, it’s not effective and most vets don’t recommend it.

If your cat spends time in a cattery or another home with felines, be sure those cats don’t have FIV.

6) Is there a treatment?

There is no cure for FIV.  Therapy will consist of treating the infections.  Most cats with it can live normal lives for years.  But you must manage their health.

You can extend the asymptomatic period by feeding your cat a well-balanced nutritionally complete diet like Husse to keep their immune system functioning as long as possible.

Never feed a cat with FIV a raw diet.  Uncooked meats carry the risk of food-borne infection, a risk a healthy cat may handle but not one that’s immune compromised.

Your vet will want to see your cat every 6 months to maintain continued good health. But once an infected cat has had one or more severe infections, the outlook is not good.

Keep watch for any changes no matter how subtle and call the vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary.  Early intervention in managing infections is essential to maintaining your felines quality of life.

Does your cat have FIV?  How have you managed it?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top.