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What is Giardia?

By Dr. Jessica Serbin, Clinic Services Associate Veterinarian

With spring just around the corner, it is likely that we will return to spending time in the great outdoors with our pets. However, more time spent enjoying nature also means more exposure to pests and parasites that have the potential to cause issues for both ourselves and our four-legged friends.

One such parasite is Giardia—a microscopic, single-celled organism that can infect the digestive tract of humans and animals.

When in the cyst form of its lifecycle, Giardia can survive in the environment for months, especially in standing water or moist soil. Once ingested by an animal, the cyst changes its form and attaches to the intestinal wall. Some of the organisms then return to the cyst form and are shed in the animal’s feces into the environment, continuing the cycle.

A dog or cat may not show signs of Giardia infection. If clinical signs do develop, the most common are chronic or intermittent diarrhea, mucus in the stool, gas, decreased appetite, weight loss or vomiting. Giardia can be detected through a routine annual exam. Since we have seen an increasing number of Giardia infections in our region, all fecal exams performed through our Animal Wellness Center now include a Giardia test.

The best way to protect your pet from Giardia is to prevent them from ingesting any potentially contaminated soil or water. This is especially important in areas at a higher risk of fecal contamination of the environment from other animals, such as at the dog park or areas frequented by wildlife.

If your pet is diagnosed with Giardia, don’t panic! Although people can become infected with Giardia, the type that infects dogs and cats rarely infects humans and vice versa. However, if your pet is infected with Giardia and you are immunocompromised or have other health concerns, contact your physician and your pet’s veterinarian, as this may change treatment recommendations. Promptly pick up waste from infected animals and regularly bathe your pet to prevent reinfection. And always thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after handling your pet’s waste.

If you have any questions about Giardia, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian!

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