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Posted on 03-13-2015

The Scoop on Giardia Poop

What is it?

Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea and is found on surfaces or in soil, food, or water that has been contaminated with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals. It is more prevalent in certain regions in the country, and Colorado has a higher prevalence due to our many lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, snow, and rich soil that contain the parasite that is spread from our abundant wildlife. Additionally, the annual snow melt from the Rocky Mountains carries the parasite down from the mountains to settle in the soil in the foothills and plains of northern Colorado.

How do our pets get it?

Transmission occurs upon ingestion of parasite cysts shed by animals or humans. The cysts are acquired from fecal (poop)-contaminated water, food, objects/surfaces or through self-grooming. Dog strains are not known to infect cats, and cat strains are not known to infect dogs. Human infections are primarily acquired from other humans, and transmission from dogs and cats to humans appears to be rare. Unfortunately, dogs and cats may have subclinical infections and show no signs of disease. We call these pets ‘carriers’, as they may be spreading the parasite unknowingly.

How do we test and treat the parasite?

The CAPC (Companion Animal Parasite Council) recommends testing symptomatic (intermittently or consistently diarrheic) dogs and cats. Fenbendazole (Panacur) is effective in eliminating Giardia infection in dogs when treating for 5 days in conjunction with bathing using shampoo to remove fecal debris and associated cysts.
If other pets live with an infected dog or cat, all those of the same species may also be treated with a single course of anti-giardial therapy (Panacur).Current data do not support the use of Giardia vaccines as part of a treatment or preventative protocol.

What if treatment fails or if my dog keeps getting infected?

Unfortunately, sometimes we end up having recurrence of diarrhea in dogs previously treated for Giardia, at which time, we find that they are still infected or have likely become re-infected.  Dogs that are most susceptible to reinfection include those that frequent dog parks, those that have underlying medical conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), those that have access to streams and rivers, and those in boarding and daycare situations.  Sometimes, it is that housemate that is a carrier, but asymptomatic that continues to shed the parasite and infect those around it.  If you find your dog has had to be treated for Giardia several times, then it is likely that one of these risk factors is involved and your veterinarian may decide to change treatment protocols.

What can we do to help at home?
Remove feces (poop) daily and dispose of fecal material with municipal waste.
Environmental areas (e.g., soil, grass, standing water) are difficult to decontaminate, but household surfaces can be sanitized by steam-cleaning or use of commercially available disinfectants. Allow surfaces to dry thoroughly after cleaning.
People with increased susceptibility to infection due to underlying disease should consider limiting their exposure to Giardia-infected pets and seek medical attention if symptoms occur after being exposed to an infected animal.

Resource for this information: http://www.capcvet.org/capc-recommendations/giardia/

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