Giardia are a type of single celled organism known as protozoa that are actually quite common in the intestines of dogs and a variety of other animals. Still, Giardia is considered a parasite which is found on the surface of the intestine or floating in the inner mucous lining of this organ. A small minority of dogs and cats can carry the Giardia parasite without ever showing symptoms of the disease. Still for the majority of those infected, Giardia can lead to very serious conditions including malnutrition and other diseases.
Giardia is known to be found in two forms. A live and active form that is mobile and feeds in the intestines as well as a cyst form that is not mobile and is excreted in your pet’s stool. The cysts can actually live for a very long time outside the body and contain the mobile version of Giardia which are released when the cysts are in a new intestinal environment.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
As mentioned many dogs and cats carrying Giardia will never show signs of disease other than diarrhoea from time to time. Still more serious symptoms include drastic or steady weight loss, lethargy, changes in eating habits, and mucous in your pet’s feces. Since such symptoms are common amongst many gastro-intestinal diseases, proper diagnosis of Giardia requires a thorough and exhaustive review of your pet’s health.
Confirming a diagnosis of Giardia requires that cysts or mobile versions of the protozoa are found in the stool of your pet but negative findings do not necessarily rule out Giardia. The protozoa are only passed in the stool occasionally and as a result multiple stool samples are often required. Usually, veterinarians will require at least 3 stool samples and the diagnostic process can take as much as 7 to 10 days.
There are two common antiprotozoal drugs, metronidazole and quinacrine, that are usually prescribed by veterinarians. Regardless of whether your animal is presenting symptoms of a Giardia infection, all animals that have been exposed to the protozoan should be treated. The course of these treatments will usually vary depending on the severity of the infection. Nonetheless, these are the only known treatments for Giardia and your veterinarian is the best person to set the treatment details.
In addition, certain steps can be taken to prevent the spread of the disease. Firstly, be watchful as to where your pet gets water. Some kennels have had problems with their animals spreading Giardia as all the animals had access to the same infected water sources. Furthermore, you should attempt to create a safe enclosure for your pets to defecate so as to prevent contamination of food and water sources. If you have multiple pets and one of them develops symptoms of Giardia then the risk of other animals developing symptoms is much higher. Speak to your vet about how to prevent the spread of this protozoan between your pets. While quarantine is a bit of an extreme measure, it may be worthwhile to keep infected pets away from healthy ones until treatment has been taken care of.