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Giardia infection in pets

Posted Jan 27 2009 8:08pm

With a new dog in our life, comes new health issues. When we first took our new dog in, he had bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. At first we figured it was just stress of the move to a new home, but unfortunately it was something more. A stool sample tested by the vet revealed an infection of Giardia.

Giardia are actually protozoans (single celled organisms) and are commonly found in the intestines of many animals, including dogs. This microscopic parasite clings to the surface of the intestine. A few percent of dogs and cats will carry Giardia organisms and not show any signs of disease. ((graphic description alert!)) Actual diarrhea, bloody or mucous stool often accompanied by gas production is seen most often in affected puppies and kittens. Giardia can have a significant impact on the health status of malnourished and stressed pups and kittens.

Giardia is transmitted from one dog to another through the ingestion of cysts in contaminated feed, drinking water or feces. Cysts may also be found in streams or other water sources, and can live for long periods of time in the water. Surveys have shown that about 14% of the adult dog population and over 30% of dogs under one year of age were infected.

The cysts are fairly resistant, and can survive for several months outside the animal as long as sufficient moisture is present. Mature cysts are usually found in the feces of infected animals. Animals become infected by ingesting these cysts. The ingested cysts then break open in the new host's intestine to release the motile feeding stage (trophozoite). Giardia reproduce by a process of cell division (called binary fission).


Giardia can infect humans. They symptoms are similar of those for dogs. However, there are still questions as to whether or not the strand that infects humans is the same that infects dogs. The significance pets play as a source of infection for humans is still under study.

Luckily, the treatment for my dog was oral medication. After only one day on the antibiotics, Kelso stopped vomiting, and his excretions became more normal. He’s been a much happier puppy and becoming easier to house train. Also, big brother Rocco didn't show any symptoms, but was put on medications just to be sure.

Just another day in the life of adopting a puppy.

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