Giardia: When Your Dog Gets ‘The Runs’

“The runs,” Montezuma’s revenge,” “The Hershey Squirts,” or just plain old diarrhea. These are all terms as veterinarians we hear several times weekly in practice. It is also interesting that when we and owners describe the severity of fecal consistency, it typically refers to food. “Like soft-serve ice cream or yogurt, it has a mucousy coating on it like raw egg whites or the jelly from a canned ham.” Not very appetizing. While there are many reasons your dog or cat may experience soft stools or diarrhea (far too many to discuss here), let us focus on one cause…Giardia or Giardiasis.

Giardia is the most common intestinal parasite in humans in North America. Therefore, it is not only a concern in regard to our pets, but also to us as well since there is a zoonotic potential. What? Zoonotic is the potential of a disease being spread from animals to man. Maybe you have heard of “Beaver Fever?” or been warned,  “Don’t drink untreated water from streams.” Giardia is one reason not to drink or, for that matter, have your pets drink untreated stream water. Beavers, along with other mammals, can be  reservoir hosts, thus the name.

If you have ever contracted Giardia, you can understand why it is an unwanted guest in your intestinal tract along with your pet’s GI system. When contracted it can cause severe cramping, flatulence and pronounced “explosive” diarrhea. BOOM! No, not that explosive, but you will wish you we not anywhere near when the “event” occurred. In some more severe cases, your pet can experience vomiting and dehydration. Some people need to be hospitalized in the more severe cases.

The good news is that although this can be a fairly common parasite, it is usually easily diagnosed and treated the majority of times. Diagnosis can be by looking microscopically for both cysts and what is referred to as the trophozooite (“adult”) stage of the parasite in a prepared fecal sample from your affected pet. There are also other tests that can be performed called ELISA tests to aid in diagnosis. There are several medications used to treat Giardiasis including metronidizole, albendazole and febendazole. Protocols are different with each drug and your veterinarian will explain how to use the medication as prescribed. Sometimes your pet can be a persistent carrier of Giardia and serial fecal samples may need examination. One more good reason to wash your hands following “cleaning up” after your pet.

While it might be easier for you and your pet to simply bend down and scoop out some of that cool, clear water from the stream to quench your thirst, be cautious. Treat the water if possible by boiling, filtering or other chemical treatments before consuming. Carry some extra bottled water for your pet when going for walks or short hikes. It is far better to enjoy the soft-serve ice cream from the restaurant or local ice cream parlor than to use this description regarding your pet’s feces at the vet’s office.

As a quick tip: SENTRY Anti-Diarrhea Liquid can give fast relief to help calm the stomach due to diarrhea. It is a fast-acting, pleasant-tasting liquid you should consider giving your pet when dealing with this unpleasant situation. While Sentry Anti-Diarrhea liquid may decrease the symptoms of diarrhea it should be noted that it is not a treatment for Giardia.

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