Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Scary Truth about Giardia and the Importance of Fecal Exams

As you may, or may not, be aware, we ask that dogs who participate in daycare at Dachs 2 Danes get a yearly fecal exam.  It never ceases to amaze me how many people have never even heard of a fecal exam before they come to us. This tells me that most vets are not letting patients know what a fecal exam is, and why it is important; especially for puppies and socialized dogs.

Not all puppies are born with worms. However, it is so common for puppies to be born with Roundworm and Hookworm that most puppies get de-wormed as a precaution.  While Tapeworm is the parasite you can actually find in a dog’s feces (which looks like dried-up rice), Roundworm, Hookworm, and Whipworm are not usually visible to the naked eye. What does this mean for your dog? He can be infected and you don’t even know it.

While worms are gross and scary to think about, we want to talk more about a parasite that isn’t talked about very often. That parasite is Giardia.

What is Giardia?

Fancy Answer: Giardiasis is an intestinal infection of man and animals caused by a protozoan parasite Giardia intestinalis (also known as Giardia lamblia).

Simple Answer:  Giardia is a simple one-celled parasitic species; it is not a "worm", bacteria or virus.  

How does a dog contract Giardia?

Long Answer: “A dog becomes infected with Giardia when it swallows the cyst stage of the parasite. In susceptible dogs, once the cyst passes into the dog's intestines; it goes through transformation to the trophozoite or feeding form and attaches to the intestinal wall to feed.  Trophozoites reproduce by dividing, and some transform into the cystic form. Eventually, the dog passes cysts in its stool.
These cysts are immediately able to infect another animal. Giardiasis can be transmitted by eating or sniffing the cysts from contaminated ground, or by drinking contaminated water.
When Giardia cysts are found in the stool of a healthy adult dog without diarrhea, they are generally considered a transient, insignificant finding. However, in puppies and debilitated adult dogs, they may cause severe, watery diarrhea that may be fatal if left untreated.” – VCA Animal Hospital

Short Answer:  "Giardiasis can be transmitted by eating or sniffing the cysts from contaminated ground, or by drinking contaminated water."

What are the symptoms of Giardia?

Long Answer: “These microscopic parasites attach themselves to the intestinal wall, and the damage causes an acute (sudden-onset) foul-smelling diarrhea. The stool may range from soft to watery, often has a greenish tinge to it, and occasionally contains blood. Infected dogs tend to have excess mucus in the feces. Vomiting may occur in some cases. The diarrhea may be intermittent. The signs may persist for several weeks and gradual weight loss may become apparent.  Most dogs do not have a fever but may be less active.” – VCA Animal Hospital

Short Answer: Giardia can cause a foul-smelling diarrhea that may range from soft to watery. It often has a greenish tinge to it, and may, on occasion, contain blood. The infected feces also tends to have an excess of mucus. Vomiting may occur in some cases.

How is it Diagnosed?

Fecal floatation exams are meant to catch parasites in the stool. Detecting tiny Giardia cysts requires a special zinc sulfate floatation solution. Unfortunately, because Giardia cysts are shed inconsistently in the feces, infection can go undetected.  But stool samples can be analyzed for the presence of Giardia specific antigens (cell proteins), if an infection is suspected. Many cases are diagnosed on the basis of medical history and clinical signs suggestive of Giardia.

How is it treated?

“The most common drug used to kill Giardia is metronidazole, an antibiotic. It is normally given for five to seven days to treat giardiasis. Another anti-parasitic drug, fenbendazole, is suggested as a potentially useful treatment, especially when used in conjunction with metronidazole. Some dogs may require follow-up tests and treatments based on their condition and severity of infection.” -VCA Animal Hospitals

Will my dog be alright?

The disease is not usually life threatening unless the dogs' immune system is immature or immunocompromised. 

What Dachs 2 Danes does to combat contamination?

  • Yearly Fecal Exam: Because dogs can be a carrier of parasites without showing symptoms, we ask for a fecal exam to be done at least once a year.
  • Poop Pick up: Picking up poop promptly, then sanitizing the immediate area.
  • Nightly Sanitization: We clean the daycare nightly (inside and out) with Triple Two, a product that cleans, kills, and prevents bacteria growth.  This cleaner works to fight Kennel Cough, Canine Distemper, Rabies Virus, Avian Influenza, Hepatitus, Coccidia, Giarrdia, and more. 
  • Open Communication: We will let you know if we notice any unusual changes in your pup. We ask that you please let us know if your dog has been diagnosed with Giardia or another parasite. If he/she has, we ask that they stay home until they are parasite free (i.e. after treatment and a clean fecal exam).

What I can do to prevent my dog from contracting a parasite?

  • Watch out for poop: If you see poop while walking your dog, avoid it. Don’t let him stop to sniff, even if he tries to pull you to it.  A dog can pick up several contagious viruses and unwanted parasite “eggs” just from sniffing.
  • Watch out for fleas: Fleas are common carriers of worm eggs. Dogs can contract worms by ingesting contaminated fleas. 
  • Watch out for water: Most humans contract Giardia by inadvertently drinking contaminated water.  If you take your dog to the river, lake, or hiking where there is water (such as a stream) don’t let your dog drink from the water.  Always bring fresh water for you and your dog to drink.
  • Regular fecal testing: Get a fecal exam done every six months to a year. Make sure they are testing for worms AND giardia. Also, research has found that the results for fecal exams sent out to a lab to be tested are 20% more accurate than fecal exams done in-house by your vet’s office. So make sure your vet sends samples out to be tested.

We want everyone to enjoy their socialization experience, without having to worry about bringing home extra, unwelcome guests.  Please help us in this effort by getting regular fecal exams.