Interesting fact: In North America, Giardia is the most common intestinal parasite in humans.
OK, maybe you, my pet owner audience, doesn’t find that particularly interesting. However, when you stop to consider that our pets may be carriers of this nasty little bug, I bet your ears perk up a little! Lets get the down and dirty on Giardia and what we can do to decrease the risk to ourselves, our family members and our pets.
Recently, we’ve stepped up our fecal sample testing to include a Giardia ELISA (fancy speak for: finds tiny amounts of Giardia that a routine fecal may miss). A nationwide study found that in 15.6% of dogs and 10.3% of cats with intestinal disease, the cause was Giardia. This doesn’t even take into account the number of animals who are shedding Giardia but not showing any symptoms of the disease (primarily diarrhea). The reason this data isn’t reported is because up until recently, special Giardia testing hasn’t been included in a routine fecal test.
By now, I’m sure I’ve lost a good portion of my audience, many probably dozing at the computer and wondering why I’m boring you with facts and figures and studies (sorry!). I’ll cut to the chase. One (or more) of the types of Giardia that dogs carry (and again, may carry and shed without you ever knowing) is directly contagious to humans. Humans who are infected with Giardia most commonly have diarrhea, abdominal pain, mild fever and excessive gas. We’re lucky, at least, that the cats particular type of Giardia isn’t communicable to humans. I think this information should inspire pet owners to action in a number of ways…
Poop is gross. Obviously we, as adults, know that, but children aren’t always so discerning (Why just yesterday my 19 month old son walked over with a piece of poop in each hand and calmly informed me, “poop, mama”). We need to make sure we know where those hands have been and wash appropriately!
The new step-up in testing will help parents of hairy 4 legged kids and the 2 legged variety (they can be pretty hairy too) exercise more appropriate caution. In homes with children, we recommend one round of treatment for a positive dog, even without any symptoms.
Additionally, when an animal (dog or cat) who has previously tested positive for Giardia gets a little diarrhea, we can target treatment with a little more education, knowing they carry the bug.
Finally, I want to encourage my pet owners: don’t freak out when I call to tell you that your perfectly healthy dog or cat came up positive for Giardia. Many animals carry the bug and it can be extremely difficult to clear completely, even with many rounds of the appropriate medication. As long as you exercise a little caution when dealing with feces (which I hope you did before reading this blog), this information is merely that, information. It may help us keep your pet healthy down the line, but there is no reason to panic.
And as always, feel free to contact your friendly veterinarian for more information on testing and treatment. I’ve included the links for the studies referenced above for any readers who need help getting to sleep (kidding!).