I recently had several discussions with our breeder partners concerning giardiasis in kennels and catteries. I must admit that Giardias, which are microscopic intestinal parasites responsible for this disease, are one of the most complicated pathogens to deal with in a breeding unit. Why? Three main reasons for that: 1st/ Giardia cysts shed by infected dogs & cats are resistant in the outside environment (from days to months) 2nd/ these cysts are highly infective and 3rd/ there is unfortunately no medical treatment that is yet 100% efficient…
So here are what I consider essential things to know on this disease:
– Remember the epidemiology: Giardias are EXTREMELY frequent in dogs and cats, approximately 10% of dogs, 30-50% of puppies and up to 100% of breeding kennels host this parasite! And in cats, approximately the same scenario should be expected! Most of these individuals will however carry the parasites, but will be asymptomatic.
– Know when to suspect it: Giardias are digestive parasites, acute diarrhea tends to occur in puppies and kittens, especially at weaning. In some individuals, the diarrhea tends to sometimes become chronic. The feces are usually pale, malodorous and kind of yellowish because of the lipid malabsorption induced by the parasite. In affected breeding kennels, coprophagia is frequently reported. Something also to keep in mind: zone strains of Giarda are zoonotic, same kind of clinical symptoms can therefore be reported in human beings!
– The treatment is specific: the usual deworming protocols will NOT be effective against Giardia and some strains tend to become resistant to some of the proposed treatments… A clear diagnosis is therefore required each time you are dealing with diarrhea in kittens and puppies. Good news, we have efficient diagnostic tools today and in animal collectivities: ask your veterinarian about these diagnostic techniques!
– Giardia cysts are resistant in the environment and are highly infective (I said that before I know, but this is crucial to keep in mind!): the environment MUST be treated properly. Be aware that sometimes, as soon as you end the medical treatment the animal will get reinfected by cysts in the environment. Especially in kittens/puppies, clinical signs will then reappear! Appropriate cleaning and disinfecting have to be performed (see this post for more details) and specific disinfectants need to be use (I would typically recommend quaternary ammoniums or bleach). Supersteamed water can also be used to rupture the Giardia cysts. Giardiasis can also be a water-borne disease if drinking water was contaminated by feces: cleanliness of the waterbowls should not be neglected!
– Passive carriage of the cysts can occur through the animal’s coat so bathing these animals with a good shampoo and then with some disinfectant like quats/bleach or chlorhexidine is recommended. Affected animals should be isolated from the rest of the individuals in a place that is easy to clean and disinfect to be sure that the disease will not spread quickly among the animal community.