Guarding against giardia

Not many diseases can be transmitted from pets to humans, but there are some exceptions and one that can affect both pets (mainly dogs) and humans is caused by a parasite called giardia.

Giardia is a one-cell parasite that affects the intestine and decreases the ability to digest food, thus causing severe intestinal-related symptoms such as:

  • severe diarrhea, often accompanied by a mucus, jelly-like material
  • excess gas
  • stomach or abdominal cramps
  • upset stomach
  • nausea

In severe cases, dehydration and nutritional loss may need immediate treatment.

Giardia infection spreads through the feces. The most common source for infection in both humans and pets is contaminated water in lakes, rivers or puddles.

The transmission from pets to humans has not been proven, but due to the fact that the parasite can affect many types of mammals, including people, it is assumed that the transmission between pets to humans can occur and safety measurements should be taken.  

Giardia infection is diagnosed by a fecal test in which the parasite or its eggs can be seen under the microscope.

A more modern and reliable lab test is now available, and can be done easily and cost effectively in most veterinary clinics. In this test, a sample is taken directly from the rectum by a special Q-tip, and the presence of the parasite is checked by a chemical reaction test that yields better objective results.

The treatment of giardia infection consists of specific antibiotic medication.

The diagnosis is easy and the treatment is straightforward. Catching the infection in timely manner can spare grief for both you and your furry friend.


Giardia is found in contaminated water, especially in stand still water such as ponds and puddles. Giardia may also be found on the surface of the ground, in the soil, and in undercooked foods.

  • Maintaining proper hygiene should protect you and your dog.
  • Avoid letting your dog drink water in the wilderness.
  • Make sure to always wash your hands thoroughly after picking up or cleaning your dog’s feces.
  • Boiling water for one minute should be sufficient in killing giardia parasites.
  • Avoid eating or offering undercooked food to your dog.


Down and dirty on diarrhea

Curiosity and gluttony along with a sensitive digestive system make dogs and cats prone to suffer from diarrhea.

In my experience, diarrhea is the No. 1 reason for contacting a vet.

All pet owners have been in this situation before, the animal has diarrhea, now what do you do? Is it worth while taking it to a vet or do I wait a day or two. 

I hope this will shed some light over this dilemma.

Diarrhea is characterized by changes in the stool consistency — runny stool — and the stool’s colour.

Diarrhea can be caused by a disease of the small intestine, large intestine or other organs outside the intestinal tract, the liver for an example.

There are few differences between the diarrhea that is originated from the small and the large intestine. Small intestinal and large intestinal diarrhea have different causes, require different tests to diagnose and are treated differently.

Your vet will ask you instructive questions in order to understand, better locate the pet’s problem, and to plan for specific tests to determine the cause of the diarrhea.  
A pet with diarrhea originated from the small intestine will topically defecate three to four times a day with a large amount of stool in each time.

With large bowel diarrhea there is usually increase in the frequency of the defecation with small amount of stool in each time. If there is blood in the stool it will appear as black discoloration of the stool in case of small intestine diarrhea and red in large intestine diarrhea.

There are numerous reasons for diarrhea. Amongst the hundreds of causes for diarrhea  there are viral, bacterial or fungal infections, Food allergies, intestinal parasites, tumors, diseases of the pancreas, liver or Kidneys and many many other reasons.

The most common reason for diarrhea is probably dietary indiscretion, meaning the pet got into garbage or other rotten food. Some pets are have a very sensitive digestive system and just a change in the pet’s diet can elicit diarrhea.  

When the pet has diarrhea it is not absorbing the nutrients from the diet properly which leads to weight loss and electrolytes imbalance that can have severe consequences if left untreated. Diarrhea may also lead to dehydration and occasionally severe blood loss.

If your pet is normally healthy and has a normal body condition (not too thin or fat) suddenly shows diarrhea, without any other signs of sickness such as lethargy, lack of appetite, etc, you may try attempting treating it before rushing into the vets.

You should follow these tactics:

  • Stop feeding it for 24 hours to rest the digestive system.
  • It is crucial to encourage your pet to drink and stay hydrated. 
  • Make sure your pet has constant access to fresh water; many dogs may also like to fool around with ice cubes, this is another way to get fluids into them. Cats really like running water, so allowing them to drink straight from a tap might do the trick. 
  • After 24 hours providing the diarrhea has subsided, you can offer the animal a small amount of easy-to-digest food such as rice with chicken flesh (without the bones, skin, salt or any other spices) or commercial food carried by veterinarians that is designed for animals with digestive problems.
  • In the first day, you should offer the food in small amounts every three to four hours.
  • Gradually over the next two to three days, if the animal tolerates the food well and the stool is forming back to normal consistency, decrease the frequency of the feeding and increase the amount of food in each feeding.
  • When the pet is back to normal do not switch to its normal diet abruptly, it is better to mix over few days to prevent recurrence of the diarrhea.

Having said that, be cautious. Not every case should be treated at home without the professional help of a vet. If there is no improvement in the pet’s condition after the fasting and the change of diet. Or in cases that the diarrhea is also accompanied by other sickness symptoms such as lethargy, fever, vomiting, weight loss or any other concerning condition.

If the stool or vomit contain blood, it would probably be better idea to go and see your veterinarian right away.

Cat owners be aware; overweight cats are not allowed to be fasted. Depriving food from fat cats even for a short period of time can potentially cause severe liver damage.

Diarrhea may be just a simple and transient condition that may be simply treated at home with a diet change, but often diarrhea is a symptom of a much more severe condition that requires medical treatment.

If left untreated prolonged diarrhea can lead to severe consequences

New puppies and kitties

I have been asked lately about caring for newborn animals.

Animals have very strong instincts when it comes to caring for their newborn offspring.

However, both mother and babies need nurturing environment in order to thrive. Unfortunately, in some cases, the mother either rejects the babies or dies, so the burden of caring for the newborns falls entirely on the owner.

Here is a very brief overview of the basic care for puppies and kittens.  

The most common reasons for newborn puppies/kittens loss are low body temperature and lack of energy.

Newborns can't regulate their body temperature. It is important to make sure the house temperature is warm enough, and that the area that the mother and litter are placed in is well padded, without exposure to the bare floor.

Most mothers do all the work of taking care of their offspring themselves. Sometimes, although rarely, the mother might ignore one or more of her offspring.

I find that this situation may arise from a cesarean section, in which the dog is put under anesthesia and wakes up to a new reality of being a mother. Not going through the process of delivery may delay bonding between the mother and her babies.  

In those cases, you may notice that one or more of the babies are not being fed properly.

First, encourage the baby to feed from the mother by placing it close to the nipple. If for any reason natural nursing is impossible or not sufficient for the baby’s demands, you can supplement the nutrition by special puppies and kittens milk replacement formulas carried in veterinarian clinics. 

A special bottle designed for puppies/kittens is also available and it it the best method to feed the babies efficiently (versus a syringe).

  • It is important to tip the bottle at an angle that will prevent air gulping.
  • When you feed, let the baby suck the milk from the bottle on its own.
  • Do not squeeze the milk into its mouth, which might lead to milk aspiration into the lungs.
  • Puppies and kittens eat frequently; newborns should be fed approximately every two hours.

Puppies and kittens are dependent on their mother for urination and defecation. The mother licks the back area, which stimulates urination and defecation.

  • In the absence of the mother, you should use a cotton ball, wet it with lukewarm water and rub the baby’s back area to mimic the mother’s action.
  • When the baby reaches three weeks of age, they normally able to function on their own.

When the babies are older and are able to control the elimination on their own, it's time for “house training."

Cats are easy; all you need is a litter box. You should place the kitten in the litter box and hold its front paws while mimicking the motion of digging in the litter. Usually once is enough and the kitten will know where to go when it's time to go.

With dogs, the situation is more complicated; dogs should be “house trained."

House training a dog can be challenging. I strongly recommend consulting an animal trainer about how to  train your dog to obey and follow basic orders, including house training if needed.

Other things owners should know:

  • Puppies and kittens are ready to be weaned and separated from their mother at eight weeks.
  • Puppies are recommended to receive a series of three vaccines, three to four weeks apart. The optimal timing for the first vaccine is eight weeks of age.
  • Kittens receive a series of two vaccines, four weeks apart. Like puppies, the optimal timing for the first vaccine is eight weeks of age.
  • Rabies vaccine can be given to puppies and kittens older than 12 weeks of age.
  • Puppies and kittens are prone to intestinal worm infestation, hence they should be dewormed more often than adults pets should. Deworming protocols differ, depending on the products used. Your veterinarian will tell you what protocol is recommended for your pet.

Similarly to raising human babies, raising puppies and kittens is very intense and might get confusing and stressful.

Please seek more information about this important topic with your regular veterinarian to ensure the optimal growth and thriving of these youngsters.

Ringworm in pets

Skin issues are one of the most common reasons for taking pets to the vet.

Skin problems is a wide subject and these cases can be complicated and challenging for the vet. Having a skin problem often suggests the existence of an underlying problem in the body, usually not even directly related to the skin itself. 

One of the more straightforward skin diseases is ringworm infection, which is not, as its name suggests, caused by a worm, but by a fungal infection.

The fungi responsible for the infection are known as dermatophytes. 

In animals, the classic ringworm lesions are patchy areas of hair loss and scaliness, usually with very little inflammation or redness. It is not usually itchy. The lesion can be solitary.

A case of of multiple lesions is considered systemic and is called generalized dermatophytosis. 

The disease is highly contagious. The disease transmission occurs through direct or indirect contact with an infected animal. Indirect contact means contracting the disease by touching objects that the infected animal has touched; such as bedding, brushes or grooming equipment, furniture, rugs, etc.

Human can also get infected with ringworm by getting in contact with an animal that carries the fungi.

All animal are susceptible to ringworm infection. Among household pets, the disease is most common in cats. Infected dogs generally have a skin lesion at the site of the infection.

Interestingly though, not all cats that carry the fungi will show signs of skin lesions. Cats can be “silent carriers” and spread the disease without suffering from it. Not every animal or human who touches infected animals or objects will become infected.

The disease development depends on one’s age, immune status, skin condition and grooming habits. All these influence the fungus' ability to grow and infect.

In both animals and humans, young, elderly and those with a compromised immune system for any reason, are most susceptible to the infection.

Despite the fact that the disease is transmissible from pets to humans, this is not a reason to get rid of your pet. Ringworm is a treatable condition in both animals and humans.

The diagnosis for ringworm in animals is fairly simple. In about 30 per cent of the cases, looking on the lesion with a special ultraviolet light (also called wood’s lamp) in a dark room, will show a typical green fluorescence. Ringworm confirmation is done by a culture.

The veterinarian collects a sample of hair and scales from the lesion and places it in a special, small jar known as the culture media. Placing the jar in a dark place and the culture media provide the optimal condition for the fungus to grow and thrive.

This test is very easy to perform. It is affordable, non invasive, and does not require anesthesia or sedation. The only disadvantage of this test is that the results are not given immediately.

It can take for the fungal colonies up to 21 days to develop, even though, from my personal experience, usually within 5-7 days we get a good idea if the result is positive. 

If the lesion is solitary, the infection may be self limiting and may eventually disappear without treatment.  Generalized cases (multiple lesions) require treatment.

The treatment can be done topically in a form of a medicated shampoo. Some cases require systemic treatment by oral medication.

Your veterinarian can guide you through which course of action is best recommended for your pet’s condition.

Gathering information about your pet, and the physical exam findings will also help your veterinarian in assessing whether the condition has developed due to other underlying problem that has weakened your pet’s immune system.

If you recognize in your pet a single or multiple areas of hair loss, with or without crusting and scaling that are usually not itchy, take it to be examined by your vet. 

If your pet was diagnosed with a ringworm infection, thorough cleaning of the house and the dog’s bedding and equipment is also necessary for the elimination and prevention of reinfection.

Also consult your GP about treating the human members of the family.  

More Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles

About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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