Overview of Feline Giardia Infection
Giardia is a protozoan parasite found all over the world. It infects humans, many domestic animals and birds. Giardia lives in the intestinal tract and infection may be asymptomatic or can result in gastrointestinal symptoms.
Below is an overview of giardia infections in cats followed by in-depth information on the diagnosis, treatment and home care for this disease.
Giardia infections (called Giardiasis) show no gender or breed predilection but are most common in young cats and in cats under close confinement, such as those in kennels, animal shelters and pet stores.
Most cases of Giardia infection in humans arise from person-to-person contact or from contaminated water, but animals do harbor strains of Giardia that are infectious to humans and animal-to-human transmission theoretically is possible.
What to Watch For
Cats may display any or all of the following symptoms:
Diagnosis of Giardia in Cats
Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent recommendations. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize Giardiasis and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:
Treatment of Giardia in Cats
Treatment for pets with Giardia infection may include one or more of the following drugs:
Home Care and Prevention
Administer as directed all medications prescribed by your veterinarian. All of the prescribed medication should be given to insure elimination of the infection. A high-fiber diet may improve stool consistency in pets with diarrhea associated with Giardia infection.
Decontamination of the environment is an important part of preventing infection. In multiple-cat households and in situations in which animals are under close confinement (e.g. kennels, animal shelters, pet stores), proper sanitation is crucial to prevent cross-contamination from one animal to another. All fecal material must be removed from cages, runs and yards. Kennels must be cleaned with appropriate disinfectants and totally dried before allowing pets access to them.
All animals should be treated with appropriate medication before being introduced into a multiple-animal environment.
Bathing animals before introducing them into an uncontaminated environment allows for removal of feces and infective cysts from the hair coat.
In-Depth Information on Giardia in Cats
The protozoan parasite Giardia occurs in two forms. The active (motile) form that lives and multiplies in the intestinal tract is called a “trophozoite.” It can be recognized under the microscope by its characteristic appearance, which looks somewhat like a monkey face with two eyes and a nose. The trophozoite only lives in the intestine and cannot survive in the environment for any significant length of time. The other form is called a cyst and is the infective form of the parasite. Each cyst contains two completely formed trophozoites inside of it. Cysts can remain viable in the environment for many months and can cause infection if conditions are cool and moist.
Cats are infected by ingesting cysts in the environment. Most infections arise from contaminated water, such as puddles, streams, lakes, shallow wells and water contaminated by feces.
Giardia causes disease by damaging the small intestine, which leads to maldigestion (inability to break down nutrients properly) and malabsorption (inability to properly absorb digested nutrients). Giardia also increases intestinal motility, thus decreasing the amount of time the intestine can digest and absorb nutrients. Increased intestinal motility may be manifested by flatulence (excessive gas production) and diarrhea.
The most common symptom of Giardia infection is diarrhea but there are many other causes of diarrhea. Some examples include:
Veterinary Care In-Depth of Giardia in Cats
Below is in-depth information about the diagnosis and treatment of Giardia in Cats.
Diagnostic tests are needed to identify giardiasis and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:
Several drugs have been used to treat Giardia infections in pets. Anti-parasitic drugs are the most important part of treatment, but additional measures such as adding fiber to the diet can improve stool consistency and hasten your pet’s recovery. Specific treatments include:
Home Care of Giardia in Cats
Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Administer any medications prescribed by your veterinarian and notify your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet.
Follow-up Care for Cats with Giardia
Follow dietary changes recommended by your veterinarian such as increasing the fiber content of the diet. Follow specific recommendations for controlling the disease such as decontaminating the environment, keeping your pet’s hair coat clean and avoiding reinfection by preventing your pet from drinking from puddles, lakes, streams and other sources of stagnant water.
After finishing treatment, submit a fresh fecal sample to your veterinarian to confirm effective treatment. If, after several days of treatment, no improvement is noted, return your pet to your veterinarian for re-evaluation.
The spread of Giardia from animals to humans is a controversial topic. There is little evidence of human infection arising from dogs. Cases of giardiasis in people usually are caused by person-to-person contact or by drinking contaminated water. Until this controversy is resolved, all infected animals should be treated regardless of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms. The best way to detect infection is to have your veterinarian check a fecal sample from your pet at least twice a year.