Giardiasis, also known as Giardia is an intestinal infection caused by a protozoan parasite Giardia intestinalis. This parasite is highly adaptable to different temperatures and can survive for months in environment. Giardia is one of the most common contagious protozoan parasites because of its global distribution. It is also known as Giardia Lamblia and is often referred to as “Travellers Diarrhea” or “Beaver Fever” in humans.
Giardia affects a variety of animals including wold animals, domestic, farm and companion animals. Other protozoan parasites which cause intestinal diseases are Coccidia, Cryptosporidia and Toxoplasma.
Giardia is a single celled, pear shaped organism which has two distinctive forms. The trophozoite form – by appearance resembles a monkey face with two round eyes, a nose and tentacles, lives in the intestine. The cyst form is the infectious form of parasite which contains two trophozoites inside it.
Transmission happens by
› drinking contaminated water from ponds, rivers, swimming pools and lakes
› by ingesting stale, spoiled food
› from hot, humid and damp environments where the bacteria thrives.
Once ingested, giardia quickly colonizes the digestive system. It then starts damaging the gastrointestinal tract especially the small intestine. The effect of a compromised digestion leads to Mal-absorption – body’s inability to absorb nutrients, Mal-digestion – body’s inability to digest nutrients, which causes bouts of diarrhea, flatulence (gas or farts), and other gastrointestinal illnesses. The parasite is then shed in feces of an infected animal.
The infection is so common that all cats will have giardiasis at-least once in their lifetime.
Giardiasis is a ZOONOTIC disease, which means humans can easily get infected.
Giardiasis is caused by a protozoan parasite Giardia intestinalis. The primary mode of disease transmission in by drinking contaminated water and ingesting rotten food.
Clinical Signs & Symptoms
Once giardia enters the body, it colonizes the digestive system. The incubation period for Giardiasis is 7 to 10 days.
Common symptoms seen are:
› Flatulence (Gas or farts)
› Gastroenteritis (Vomiting and Diarrhea)
› Diarrhea (Loose stools)
› Weight loss
Diagnosing Giardia can be tricky as it mimics symptoms of other known diseases such as Protozoan diseases (Coccidia, Cryptosporidia and Toxoplasma), Bacterial diseases (Salmonella poisoning, Campylobacter, E.coli etc.), Maldigestion, Malabsorption, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Drug reactions, Dietary changes, Metabolic disorders etc.
Veterinarians will require a complete history of your cat which includes medical history, vaccination records, existing health concerns, current and previous medications, onset of symptoms, diet and exercise routine and any information which can help in establishing a correct diagnosis. Diagnosis is done with a combination of tests. These include routine lab examinations and special tests which can detect the presence of the parasite. They are:
› Physical examination
› Fecal Examination
› ELISA test (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay)
› Zinc Sulfate Concentration Test – a fecal sample is mixed with this solution and within a few minutes cysts will float on top, these can be collected and identified under a microscope.
Treatment focuses on removing the parasite from the body, suppressing the effects of damages done to the small intestine and recovery. Treatment consists of
› Anti-parasitic medications
› Antibiotic medications
› Drugs to treat secondary illnesses and diseases
› De-worming drugs
› Dietary changes (fiber rich diet)
Giardia has a global presence. It is so common that all pets will have giardiasis at-least once in their lifetime.
Giardiasis cannot be prevented, this is a mild self timing infection and treatments are always successful.
› Restricting your pets away from contaminated water sources
› Keeping your pets away from feces of other animals – in parks, walking areas, playgrounds, catteries, boarding homes, kennels
› Not letting your pets scavenge from garbage bins, eating spoiled food, leftovers
› Not letting your pet wander in the open
Home care should aim at improving the condition. Treatments can take a few days up-to a week. Most pets show signs of recovery within 3 to 5 days. If you observe any behavioral changes, or if the condition does not improve, please contact your veterinarian.
› A well planned, fiber rich nutritious diet is necessary in such conditions. Routine and regular checkups to access the progress, further tests may be advised.
› It is mandatory to provide a stress-free environment for your dog. Keep water and food bowls within reach. Avoid physical activity. Keep your cats away from any noise and commotions.
› You have to administer and monitor all prescribed medicine as directed by your veterinarian.
› Do NOT travel with your cat.
› Do NOT allow your cat to roam freely. This works two ways, firstly if the pet is infected, it greatly reduces the chances of risk of exposure to other pets and humans and secondly in-case of a healthy pet, it reduces the chances of contracting the infection. Do not allow your pet to go through garbage bins, water sources, fecal infected areas.
› Use of environmental disinfectants is recommended. Prompt disposal of any and all materials after use is suggested.
› There is high probability this infection can re-occur. Seek veterinarian advise post recovery on ways to prevent this.
› Humans, especially children, pregnant women and ones handling infected pets need to exercise caution. Wear gloves when dealing with a pet, cleaning the litter boxes, disposing any and all contaminated materials, garbage disposals etc. A thorough wash of hands is advised. Practice hygiene.