Mud season is upon us so we wanted to give you some information on a pesky microscopic protozoa that lurks in the mud and standing water - Giardia.
Giardia can live for months in standing water and mud. Prolonged freezing temperatures will kill most or all Giardia but as soon as temperatures warm up in spring, Giardia survival rates will increase. You can understand how warmer weather, muddy dog runs and dog parks and dogs congregating en masse day in and day out, some of them silent carriers of Giardia, creates perfect breeding grounds for the protozoa. There is simply no way around it. It will always be present in city dog parks, dog runs and here at camp. Dogs can ingest the Giardia cyst by drinking infected water, eating mud or feces or just stepping in it then licking their paw.
Once the Giardia enters the dogs body, several things can happen:
1. The dog's immune system will eliminate the protozoan from the body on its own. Puppies in general will not have an immune system strong enough to do this but are more likely to develop active Giardia.
2. The protozoa enters the dog's small intestine and starts to reproduce Giardia cysts that can then infect other dogs/cats/humans.
3. The dog might or might not show symptoms of infection. The dog can become a silent carrier, infecting other dogs, not showing any symptoms OR the dog can become ill, be taken to the veterinarian, diagnosed and treated for Giardia. Note that having once been infected with Giardia does not guard against future infections.
A dog suffering from active Giardia might have diarrhea (smelly and mucusy stool) vomiting, dull coat and weight loss. Many dogs though, will test positive for Giardia but never show any of the above symptoms. Also, some dogs can be infected and not show symptoms for years but a sudden stress on the immune system can bring out the active disease. In general, the incubation period for Giardia is 7 days to 3 weeks (showing symptoms or not.)
If your dog has been diagnosed with Giardia, follow your veterinarian's instructions. Giardia is commonly treated with Panacure or Metronidazole. Wash bed linens and dog bed covers and use Clorox/bleach based products on surfaces to kill the microscopic protozoa. Wash your hands. Giardia can spread to humans BUT note that Eva herself has been working in vet's offices, ran a doggy daycare and dog camp and done tons and tons of dog rescue crawling around in dirty shelter pens for years and she has never contracted the disease. Of course wash your hands after handling dog feces!
The good thing is that, in general, Giardia is easy to treat (although some dogs can get stubborn cases), especially if the dog is healthy with a strong immune system and well cared for. Typically, Giardia is NOT not detrimental to the dog's health. It can however become annoying and expensive to keep treating your dog for Giardia AND some dogs seem to be more susceptible than others. It is of course a very different story with the dogs we rescue in Southern shelters. Being they are many times malnourished and stressed, Giardia can inflict real health concerns and sometimes even death in small, sickly puppies. Very sad!
So what does Giardia mean at dog camp and how do we handle it ?
We will never be able to hinder dogs with Giardia to attend camp. We will not ask every client to do a Giardia test before coming to camp. It is not practical for any dog owner to bring their dog to the veterinarian for a fecal test every time they are about to board their dog at our dog camp or another boarding facility. Further, there will always be false negative tests as the swimming protozoa itself and the cyst containing the "egg" is not always present in every fecal sample depending on the protozoa life cycle.
Here at camp, we disinfect all indoor surfaces and wash all dog bed covers and mutt mats on a daily basis and we pick up poop all day long. We can not however, eradicate every puddle of water on 56 Acres or disinfect nature, which will invariably contain Giardia at times since city dogs is our lifeblood most likely bring in Giardia to camp now and then. Due to severe winters on our mountain, Giardia is not a problem year around at camp. It is a different story in where freezing temperatures can stay away for weeks even during the winter months. However, as the temperatures continue to warm up in the Endless Mountains it will become activate at camp just as in the city and we will see cases increase.
What we do appreciate is when our clients tell us their dog has been diagnosed with Giardia so we can keep track of how common it is throughout the season. Communications and sharing of information is always best way to keep parasites at bay!