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Giardia in dogs

Tell your veterinarian if your dog regularly dives into ponds

MetPet.com Staff Writer

It is hot, the pond or river or lake looks terribly inviting but take some precautions before letting your dog go swimming in untreated water.    Make sure you have your dog's Giardia vaccination up to date. 

Giardia is a one-celled protozoal parasite that causes giardiasis.  In humans, it is one of the most common protozoan water borne illnesses although it is unknown if the species of Giardia that infects humans is the same as that which infects dogs, cats and other animals. 

Dogs ingest the Giardia cyst most likely through drinking contaminated water.  Since the parasite can live outside of hosts possibly for months, it may also be transmitted from infected fur, lawns, kennels, etc.  In the small intestine, the cyst opens into a trophozoite that attaches to the intestinal wall and reproduces through division.  At some point in its lifecycle, the parasite then becomes a cyst again and passes through the feces ready to be ingested by another host. 

Giardia prevents absorption of nutrients in the intestine interfering with proper digestion.  The result commonly includes diarrhea, loss of weight and possible loss of appetite.  Diarrhea can be caused by any number of bacteria or other causes and Giardia cysts are difficult to detect in feces (take several samples over several days since cysts are not always being shed) so it is not always possible to pinpoint Giardia as the cause of symptoms. 

There is much that is unknown about this parasite including how common it is, how often infection leads to disease, whether it can be passed between humans and animals or even all of the details about its lifecycle.   It is a good idea, therefore, to err on the side of caution particularly with young dogs, older dogs and those with compromised immune systems. 

Treatment includes the use of one or a combination of different drugs some of which have been approved for use in dogs for other intestinal parasites and some which have not.  Efficacy is questionable as the parasite may still be present in the intestines even though cysts cannot be detected in the feces. 

In general, prevention is the best idea.  A vaccine, GiardiaVax from Wyeth is available from your veterinarian.

Another alternative is to maintain your dog's hygiene, avoid untreated water and areas of possible contamination such as parks and kennels. 

 
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