Following my last article on zoonic diseases – the diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans, I would like to continue the discussion. Today, let’s talk about one of the least mentioned, yet probably one of the most common symptoms quoted by pet owners as diarrhoea in their animals.
And while the symptoms itself can certainly be associated with a wide range of acute and chronic conditions and diseases, one particular parasite can cause rather serious discomfort to the animals and can easily make its way into the human system, infecting the person and causing similar problems, symptoms and illnesses.
I love parasitology and the study of parasites, as gross as it sounds. Giardia is one of my favorite parasites, at least when I look at it under the microscope. It looks almost like an alien with long tentacles and big head, or a micro jelly fish, swimming along under the microscope lens. It is very cool organism, except of course for the fact that it lives in the poop, loves it and can cause a mayhem everywhere it gets to.
In all seriousness though, giardia can be rather devastating. It is a single-cell parasite that has several genotypes. “The giardia parasite has two forms: a fragile feeding form known as the trophozoite exists in the gut of infected animals, while the hardy cystic form is shed in feces and can survive several months in the environment, particularly in water and damp environments”. Giardia infection affects both animals and humans, and transmission and contamination is rather quick too.
Interestingly, many research reports suggest that the most common causes for “traveller’s diarrhoea” is not food poisoning as commonly thought, but in fact, it is giardia, that enters the body though infested water or irresponsible personal hygiene. With animals, it is well known that giardia is important common cause of illness, causing the symptoms like diarrhoea and vomiting. The tricky part with giardia though in dogs and cats, is that the symptoms are often completely absent in the infected animals, and if the stool test is not performed regularly, the animal might be infecting those around it – other animals and humans – while being completely healthy looking itself. Giardiasis is easily transmitted by eating or even sniffing the cysts from contaminated ground or drinking contaminated water. There cysts are able to infect another animals or human immediately.
As new puppies are brought to our clinic we insist that the stool test is performed to ensure that we find all the parasites present in the animal’s system to safeguard the health of both – the health of the animals and its human family. Although, the giardia cysts might be found in otherwise healthy adult dogs with no apparent symptoms, in puppies and debilitated adult animals it may cause severe, diarrhoea and if left untreated, can potentially be fatal. Diagnosis of giardia is not difficult but may require several different tests. For instance, while fecal flotations or microscope feces smears might fail to detect it, the stool sample should be analyzed on the giardia snap test for the presence of giardia specific antigens.
The prognosis for treatment of giardia is generally very good, especially if caught early and treated with strict protocol. As said earlier, it may be fatal or have severe complications in animals with compromised immunity, such as elderly animals, very young animals and those with preexistent conditions. The protocol for the treatment is generally standard, but only a qualified veterinarian should prescribe the treatment, taking into the account each individual animal’s health history, symptoms and age. Some animals might go home right away with treatment, while others might need supporting care, re-hydration if severe diarrhea is present, and even a course of antibiotics, if secondary bacterial infection has developed.
At Animal Mama Clinic we always suggest that the animals are re-tested again after the completion of their treatment to ensure that the animal is clear from the parasite. The environment where animal lives must be thoroughly disinfected and if there are other animals in the family – they should be tested and treated as well. For the environmental disinfection, it is suggested “to use chlorine at 1:32 or 1:16 dilutions, or 1-2 cups in a gallon of water, and be sure that all surfaces can be treated with bleach. For instance, the sofas or fabric covered areas maybe disinfected with sprays such as “Lysol and quaternary ammonium compounds, which are also reported to be effective in killing the parasite”
Most importantly it is to remember that giardia is a zoonic disease and such as it is very common that pet-to-human contamination will take place. After the animal has been diagnosed with giardia, I highly suggest that you see you physician, inform him that your pet has been diagnosed with giardia and to carry out necessary tests and if needed, get treated as well.
Finally, as the holiday season approaches there will be a lot of pets being booked into pet hotels and boarding facilities. Remember that even those dogs with no symptoms can still be source of infection. Thus, in conditions where large number of animals are housed together like kennels, boarding facilities and farms, regular stool samples are absolutely necessary to avoid contamination of entire facilities.
Likewise, it is important for owners to remember that if you do have your animal staying in a boarding facility contamination may be an issue. Personally, I suggest you check that the facility you choose has a high standard protocol of hygiene. In our facility, we require all incoming animals to be tested prior to entry and also undergo all vet checks. This will help us to minimise health risks. I do think this should be a routine pre-requisite for both pet owners and boarding facilities – especially if your animal is a youngster or immunocompromised.
When we came up with our slogan “because animals are people too” we meant it in all respects, One is to always take care of your animal’s health as you would of your own – because your own good health is dependent on that of your pet.
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311