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

Location

Find us on the map

Office Hours

TEMPORARY ADJUSTED COVID-19 VIRUS HOURS AND DAYS

Monday:

9:00 AM-5:00 pm

Tuesday:

9:00 AM-5:00 pm

Wednesday:

9:00 AM-5:00 PM

Thursday:

9:00 AM-7:00 pm

Friday:

9:00 AM-5:00 PM

Saturday:

Closed

Sunday:

Closed

Testimonials

Feedback from our clients

  • "Thanks for everything you did for Ready !
    Obviously he loved you all !"
    Bart V.
  • "I will continue to bring my furkids to Buck Road. They are absolutely wonderful with my dog and have been a great resource for my cat who suffers from allergies and kidney problems. They really care about their patients and their humans, and listen to me when I have concerns. They are never, ever overcrowded. Usually there is maybe one other dog in the waiting room. That is a relief and keeps everyone's stress levels down! The facility is clean and staff is always friendly and willing to walk you through, step by step, the treatment plan ahead. I never leave feeling confused. I love this place - and we keep coming back despite moving pretty far away!"
    Courtny S.
  • "Awesome staff ~ great veterinary care ~ Dutch is lucky to have such wonderful professionals looking after him!"
    Beverly B.
  • "A top notch practice. Highly recommend."
    Jason D.
  • "I've been bringing my pets to Buck Road Animal Hospital almost from the time they started and I have never had anything but positive experiences there. The staff feel like friends to me and they always make you feel like they're happy to see you and your pets. The vets take their time with you and your pets and they go out of their way to give you any information you might need about a pet's condition or treatment. I have A LOT of pets and some of my dogs have aggression issues but you'd never know it to see them there. They understand how to make any animal feel at ease and even my most difficult dog is welcomed there. I'd never go anywhere else. Best veterinary practice anywhere."
    Mary K.
  • "I have been a client of Buck Road Animal Hospital for 30 years..and they are the all the greatest caring friendly kind people..I would not go anywhere else..They go out of there way to accommodate you..They are Number 1..Hats off to Caroline Renee Leanne Donna Lindie and to the best vets Dr Steve and Dr Mary Pat."
    Carole M.
  • "Probably the greatest animal hospital of all-time. The staff is superb, and the Doctors are as kind and knowledgeable as they come. Can't wait for our next visit!"
    Andrew S.