Diarrhea has a number of causes, but one that we saw quite a bit in our patients this summer is Giardia, a parasite that is transmitted in stool (Giardia can be transmitted to humans in this way, but people most often get this parasite from contaminated water). Once a pet is infected, it will typically take 5-12 days in dogs and 5-16 days in cats for the parasite to be found in the stool — however, diarrhea can occur before the parasite actually shows up in the stool.
To diagnose Giardia, your veterinarian will need a fresh stool sample from your pet. As this parasite cannot be detected by the naked eye, the doctor will examine the sample under a microscope. Sometimes the test may need to be repeated, as this parasite can shed intermittently — so while an initial test may come up negative, further tests may come up positive. A newer variety of test is the “snap test,” which tests for Giardia proteins in the stool. The snap test does help improve diagnosis; however, while almost all veterinarians have the capability to look at a stool sample under the microscope, the snap test is less readily available, and not all veterinarians will be able to offer it.
Treatment for Giardia involves multiple aspects of your pet’s life. Oral dewormers are given, as with many intestinal parasites. But with Giardia, bathing and hygiene are just as important as medication. This parasite can stick to your pet’s fur, and when the animal licks itself, he or she can be reinfected. You will also need to dispose of all stool immediately, and clean bedding and flooring regularly. Diluted bleach will kill this parasite on floors and in the laundry — however, killing Giardia on surfaces like grass is far more difficult, since it would require killing the plant life as well.
Other preventative measures include wearing gloves when handling stool and always washing your hands after handling stool or playing with your pet. There is a Giardia vaccine available, but this particular vaccine does not prevent infection. Instead it reduces the amount of the parasite shed in the stool, thereby reducing the amount of environmental contamination. This treatment doesn’t usually help animals that have already contracted the parasite, but it may be helpful in kennel situations and with pets that keep getting reinfected.
If your pet has diarrhea, please give your primary care veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital a call as soon as possible. We can help diagnose the cause and get your pet the treatment that he or she needs.
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