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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.

  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

    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

    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?

  7. Reply
    Cindy Sanderson

    so how do I treat our ponds so the dogs don’t get ill? They have been in the ponds for the last 7 years, this is first time we have had problems

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      no idea…anyone else?

  8. Reply

    can any of these parasites cause sterilization and/or reproductive problems. I am a GSD breeder and 6 of my females did not get pregnant which is unbelievable. I have well water and use carbon filters. I did test my water for iron, nitrates, etc., but no test for bacteria. We do have goats and chickens that are not too far from where the well is. Could run off into the well cause this to happen? we are stumped! is there something to “reboot” the girls systems? we are waiting to our vet but Im looking for other opinions .. Thanks

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Check the male, unlikely there is anything other than serious hormones that I can think of that would cause this. I assume you are not using hormones on the goats for milk? Check the male dog or you stumped me.

  9. Reply

    We were @ a camp ground near the coast of Wa. It was hot & my husband & I were walking our shnorkies. My husband let 1 go to the water/inlet/pond? & the other dog wanted to go too. They both drank but I didn’t let Bear drink lots. He did get his feet & legs covered in mud/muck. I washed him off in a different area. That was yesterday. This aft he had diarea. (Am was norm) Once home (8 hr drive) he played chace as norm. I was hesitant but fed him dinner he apparently has diarea still. When should I take him to the vet if @ all??

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      If he ate dead fish (Salmon) then yes right away. If it was just sea water try a bland diet for a day for 2 then take him to a vet. If he starts vomiting or not eating and acting lethargic, then take him to a vet also. Try the bland diet and good otherwise. Good luck.

  10. Reply

    My dog is a diabetic and is on insulin twice a day some days she won’t eat but will drink a lot of water and then she is sick she does it 2or3 times all after each other.and she has very soft poos .is this pancrea

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      This is very specific and you need to ask your vet who is taking care of her. Sounds like she needs to have her blood sugar checked again, because this sounds like a blood sugar issue not pancreatitis.

  11. Reply

    My dog drank water out of his water dish that wasn’t changed in a couple days cuz we were gone and he got to it before I could go and change it when we got home. Now he’s coughing and breathing hard. It sounds like he has an upper respiratory infection. Could it be from that?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Very unlikely unless he vomited and aspired some….. You would much more likely see diarrhea if anything at all. This sounds like something else.

  12. Reply

    My Springer swims in a reservoir and drinks water when picking up sticks I’ve thrown. A women said she got really sick from accidentally taking in water from same reservoir (a bacteria infection). My dog has been acting lethargic and sleeping lots, nose running, not normal playful self. Is there a test that can be given for sickness from “bad water”? His blood work early spring before swimming was fine. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Nothing other than blood work. The fist sign would be diarrhea and vomiting I would suspect. The water might be a red-herring for something else going on. I would repeat blood work and explain to the vet your concerns. I have never seen bad water do anything other than diarrhea, BUT there are certainly blue green algae issues and other things that can cause problems. I would ask your vet what is in the area.

  13. Reply

    I took my dogs to the doggie beach on the Gulf Coast. It was the bay side, so the water is a little stagnant, its also the side that at one point years ago was very polluted. They have been there before and not gotten sick, so I admit I was not as diligent with watching to see if they drank the sea water (read: I was extremely busy reading my magazine and praising the efforts of the city for ensuring my nearly 1 year olds would be exhausted). Both are hacking and sound congested. They intermittently throw up yellow liquid. BUT – they both are eating, drinking, playing and don’t have a fever. They don’t even throw up their food (totally), just a few little pieces that slip out with the yellow. . Could they just be working out the muck?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      It is possible. If they are eating well and otherwise fine you can give it time to see if it works its way out. If it gets worse or they cant keep food down or have diarrhea then you should see a vet. It might be very minor but you would not want to miss something more serious. Give it a day or 2 if they are just coughing and hacking a little.

  14. Reply

    Just wondering when people say clean fresh water for your dogs, what happens when your dog puts its feet in the bowl and digs it out which then dirties it daily. Is this water dangerous for the dog to drink? I have the bowl off the ground and they still dig. I can’t justify changing the water 10 times a day as I’m on tank water.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      I think changing that water every day or 2x a day is as good as you can do. It always depends on what your dog has stepped in and where you live. If you live in a city or near construction, factories, salty places…. you need to change it more. Maybe invest in an automatic waterer? I suspect your dog will be just fine.

  15. Reply

    I took in a stray Jack Russell Beagle mix about 2 months ago. He has been fine until yesterday morning. He became vey lethargic and had diarrhea with one bought of vomiting which resulted in just a little mucus and water. He is licking ice cubes and drinking a little but refuses to eat. His bowel movements are very runny and muddy looking. He did get ahold of some cat poop in the litter box and may have drank from a puddle after it rained while walking him. He is no longer lethargic but he is sleeping a lot and still has diarrhea, I have not seen any blood in his poop. Should I take him to the vet or see if he is able to eat within the 12 hours?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      I always recommend a vet visit. The vet can give you medication to make him less nauseous and his diarrhea go away faster. If you leave him he will possibly get better, but slower. He probably has a nasty GI upset and needs some medication to heal faster.

  16. Reply

    My american bully just drank some… apparently really old rain water from a bucket outside when i let her out this morning… i have a concern cause its literally black water. I have a pit thats almost 2 but shes on a lead wen we go out. So i brought her in and went to get ciera the am. Bully which is like 8 or 9 and i caught her. We are hear doing normal.. back in bed stuff. After lookibg all this up.. im getting uneasy….

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Worst case is usually diarrhea and vomiting. Bad water in America us usually not that bad. If you are in Asia, Africa or South America you might have bigger concerns.

  17. Reply

    Well thank u! We just came back from shopping and theres no signs of vomiting or diarrhea.. i got another one for u. Ok maybe 2… first… my bully…. she has a thing for munchin on her tail?! Second…. she has a small marble size bump on her chest… under the skin ni redness… she dont mess with it.. but u can def feel it… any ideas?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      See a vet for the marble size lump. Maybe nothing, maybe serious. Munching on her tail is usually anal glands or fleas. Have the vet check her anal glands too. Those are issues that need a vet to feel.

      • Reply

        Thank u doctor stewart!

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