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What’s in the pond water? Water-borne parasites

Ever worry about what your pet could be contracting when he/she stops and drinks out of a pond or other stagnant body of water? Many water-borne parasites can cause clinical signs that are anywhere from mild to severe. The most common parasites include, but are not limited to:

Giardia: Giardia is a protozoan that can live for a long time in stagnant water. It causes diarrhea, which is often watery but not bloody. It can be hard to detect on a regular fecal float at your vet, and often further testing is required. It is shed intermittently in the feces, making detection that much harder. The most common treatments are fenbendazole and metronidazole. There is a vaccine for giardia that does not prevent the infection, but does prevent shedding of the protozoan — making it useful in kennel-type situations. Is it transmittable to humans? Yes, humans can be affected by drinking contaminated water.

Coccidia: Coccidia is a single-celled organism that is transmitted by the fecal-oral route, meaning that it is passed in the stool of the host and ingested by another host. The most common form of Coccidia Isospora is species-specific and therefore is not cross-transmitted. Coccidia causes watery, voluminous diarrhea, with or without blood. It is easily passed to young animals with weaker immune systems but rarely affects adults. It is usually detected on a fecal flotation, but a very small amount of Coccidia can cause an infection, so it can be missed on a fecal flotation. Coccidia is commonly treated with Albon or sulfa drugs. Can it be passed to humans? The most common form is species-specific, but humans can contract the Coccidia toxoplasma from cats, which can be a risk for pregnant women.

Leptospira: Leptospira is a spirochete bacteria that affects dogs and rarely cats. It thrives in warm, stagnant water such as a marsh or muddy area and is usually shed in the urine of wildlife or rodents. It initially causes a fever; then the fever subsides, and the clinical signs progress to liver damage and kidney failure. Leptospira can be detected by a blood test. Many dogs are vaccinated for Lepto as part of their annual checkup. The vaccine is specific for certain serovars or strains of Lepto, so it is still possible to contract Lepto after being vaccinated. The treatment for Leptospira is supportive care and antibiotics, but the prognosis is poor.

Campylobacter: Campylobacter is a bacteria often found in water contaminated with feces. It mostly affects puppies less than 6 months of age, and rarely affects cats. It is often isolated from the GI tract of normal adult dogs, but can overwhelm the system in puppies, causing a high fever and watery, mucoid or bloody diarrhea. The diagnosis is made on a fecal wet mount. Animals that are positive for campylobacter and have an associated high fever are treated with antibiotics.

Cryptosporidia: Cryptosporidia is a protozoa affecting both cats and puppies usually less than 6 months old. It is usually found in water contaminated with feces. It causes watery diarrhea, weight loss, bloating, gas and nausea. It is hard to detect on routine fecal flotation, and usually is detected by sending a fecal out to a lab that uses special flotation solution. The clinical signs are usually self-limiting and rarely require treatment other than a bland diet for three days. If the diarrhea is severe, occasionally IV fluids and supportive care are required.

The majority of the water-borne parasites cause diarrhea, which is treatable in a healthy animals. An immuno-compromised or otherwise debilitated animal might have more severe clinical signs. Among water-borne parasites, Leptosporidia carries the poorest prognosis if it advances to liver and or kidney failure. The best prevention is to make sure your dog is vaccinated, to carry fresh water for your dog, and to try to discourage them from drinking from stagnant water.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

10 Comments
  1. Pingback: Watch Tip: Contaminated Water « Sunbear Blog Squad

  2. Reply
    Juno McCoy

    I’m wondering if there is a test kit available (how to find one) to test for parasites in our fish pond that may be affecting the dog. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Great question. I have not found one yet, but you can certainly have your water tested for Giardia at your local agg coop or water testing center.

  3. Reply
    Broken Arrow Vets

    Since we can’t test all the waters, ponds or rivers in our community, it’s important that we ourselves should be the ones who must make the effort to take care and guard our pets whenever they go outside. For we will never know what’s out there that might harm them.

  4. Reply
    Lou G

    My son’s healthy pit bull died today after getting into some stagnant water on Christmas day. Soo sad… It destroyed his kidneys–and took him so fast! He was in vet hospital day after Cmas, but couldn’t save him. Please keep your pets away from stagnant water!!

  5. Reply
    Velma

    My puppy drank tap and now she can’t even get up she just fall over I worryed about her

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      TAKE HER TO A VET. Tap water does not do this. BE WORRIED>!!

  6. Reply
    Angi

    My mother got 2 new puppies, both are shepherds from supposedly a reputable breeder on 5/30. Apparently, when we got them home, we found that the 1 year old and the 8 month old both found out to have giardia and had been drinking well water, they also have chickens, horses, and are around them as well. The puppies also, as you know, eat their own feces. I was playing with the puppies like crazy and they were licking my face and I was playing with their paws etc and both were in need of a bath when we first got there. They both had diarrhea when they were brought home and still do but were supposedly given a clean bill of health from their vet which we are investigating.
    About 5 days later I got very ill with abdominal pain, fever and diarrhea and still have it 9 days later, very badly, including the fever which I’ve had all week. It’s been as high as 101.8. I went to the doctor and was told I had Campylobacter. The vet did not say the animals had this but I have not eaten in over week and have not been around poultry, raw meat or bad drinking water of any sorts, no ponds, lakes etc. Only the animals. I had been playing with them all week, the week before up until 6/and we did not know they were sick until Wednesday of last week, 6/9, and I went to the dr. 6/12. I let them know about the animals and although I don’t have giardia I have this other. I would assume Campylobacter would have shown up for the vets but they didn’t mention it. Could I still have gotten it from the dogs????
    No one else in my family is sick and we all eat the same foods and I have 2 young daughters and no one else has been around the dogs expect me my mother. My mother has been around them daily, however, she does not allow them to lick her on the face etc. I roll around on the ground with them and they do at times get their little tongues in my mouth. I wash my hands after I’m done playing with them, but by then, the damage is already been done. I’m now on an antibiotic as of today but trying to determine if this could have come from the dogs if I’ve not been around any raw meat etc. I saw the dr. yesterday and am unable to communicate with the dr. again today, just an MA, so cannot get these questions answered and wondered if anyone might be able to answer here or had experience with this. I don’t know of any other way of getting this other than through direct contact with the animals. Any thoughts, ideas??? Thanks in advance.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      I really can not comment except to say that it sounds VERY suspicious of the dogs giving you this problem. Campy or giardia can cause your symptoms and the dogs could have had either or both. The dog can carry campy and not be very sick. It is very hard to test for sometimes so it can be easily missed. The giardia can mask the campy and the treatment for giardia can fix the campy. Soooo… it sounds like bad luck and bad habits (dont let new dogs lick your face or get close to their stool) but fixable. Good luck. Anyone else have a comment?

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