Spring is coming and we will all be eager to hit the outdoors. You know when you break out the trail shoes or dust off the mountain bike you are gonna get that look from your best friend. We want you to feel safe about letting your pet outside into the world of infectious diseases and parasites. Everyone knows that “worms”, giardia, and other parasites are common issues with our dogs and cats when they are born. For the most part, our clients are very compliant about getting their puppies and kittens dewormed for common worm like parasites in the first 6 months of their life. But what about after?
You would be amazed to know how many cases a year, The Animal Medical Center of Woodland Park diagnoses and treats for a common parasite known as Giardia. Literally, hundreds. Giardia is a flagellated protozoan parasite that colonizes and reproduces in the small intestines of several vertebrates, causing giardiasis. Their life cycle alternates between an actively swimming trophozoite and an infective, resistant cyst. These cysts can survive in the environment for months or even years. This single cell organism is extremely adapted to its environment here in Teller County and it can be found everywhere and anywhere. It can survive in very cold temperatures. Giardia lives inside the intestines of infected humans or other animals. Yes, this means that you can contract this illness from your pets. Individuals become infected through ingesting or coming into contact with contaminated food, soil, or water. The Giardia parasite originates from contaminated items and surfaces that have been tainted by the feces of an infected animal. Usually our pets are infected by drinking contaminated run off water in a stream, puddle or pond. They can also get it from our local wildlife by eating the feces directly or walking over the fecal material and cleaning themselves later on.
The symptoms of Giardia, which may begin to appear 2 days after infection, include violent diarrhea, excess gas, stomach or abdominal cramps, upset stomach, vomiting and nausea. The symptoms in our companion animals can be quite variable depending on the strain and number of parasites they are infected by. Some pets will show no outward signs of an infection, whereas other pets can become very sick and depressed. Resulting dehydration and nutritional loss may need immediate treatment. After 2–4 days of diarrhea, the opposite can occur, constipation for 4–7 days, still with acute gas production.
At AMC we always recommend that your pet has a parasite screening at least once or twice a year. This will ensure we are catching asymptomatic carriers and treating those who may only have mild signs. Treatment can be challenging due to the resistant nature of this parasite and multiple treatment cycles may be necessary to eliminate the infection. Prevention of the parasite can be challenging given its ubiquitous nature in our area. Here are a few tips to reduce the chances of your pet contracting Giardia.
- Never let your pet drink water from an outside source. Only tap, filtered, or bottled water. The parasite is quite small and can get thru some filtration mechanisms so this is not a guarantee, but will reduce the numbers of parasites we are exposed to.
- Never allow your pet to eat or come in contact with feces from wildlife, domestic animals like cattle or horses, or other pets. Fecal to oral transmission is the fundamental way this parasite will continue to survive and fulfill its lifecycle.
- Never allow your pet to eat or come in direct contact with dead or dying animals. These animals can be contaminated not only with giardia but also other parasites, bacteria, or viruses.
- When in the outdoors, maintain control of your pet by voice or physical restraint so that you can keep them out of trouble.
So, in summary, Giardia is everywhere. We can sometimes prevent transmission by simple precautions. If your pet displays the symptoms discussed it may be Giardia, other parasite or bacterial infections, or unrelated. Either way, it is always a good idea to have your pet checked by your Vet at The Animal Medical Center of Woodland Park for parasites on a routine basis. This will ensure your pet, your family, and other pets sharing the outdoors are not exposed to these potentially serious infections.
This May we are bringing about awareness about Giardia and other parasites that your pets can be exposed to even in adulthood. At any time feel free to ask your local Veterinarian about how to test, prevent and treat for common parasites in Teller County. Check out our website, Facebook, and new Twitter account to learn about promotions that will be available all May that will help your pet stay healthy, happy, and parasite free.