Pet Summer Hiking Series – Part Four


Trophozoite Photo by CDC/ Janice Haney Carr

Giardia?  What the heck is that?  If you’re an outdoor enthusiast and hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, you know what Giardia is; maybe you’ve been a victim and reservoir host.  Giardia is not a bacteria, worm or virus.  This nasty, little bug is a protozoan parasite known as Giardia intestinalis (also known as Giardia lamblia), and is responsible for gut-wrenching (literally) abdominal cramping and diarrhea.

Not only can humans get Giardiasis, many animals including dogs, cats, sheep, birds, cattle, and beavers are affected too.  There are two forms of Giardia: the trophozoite (feeding animal) and the cyst. Generally,cysts are ingested and then activated by stomach acid to become the trophozoites that feed on mucus secreted by the small intestine causing diarrhea.

Usually, inexperienced hikers, dying of thirst are ill-prepared for the heat of the Reno-Tahoe area naively drink from lakes, creeks or rivers flowing down the mountain side. They subscribe to the myth that moving, frigid water is safe; they take a few sips to quench his or her thirst thinking it won’t cause any harm. WRONG!!

Giardia hibernates in the cyst form through the winter, waiting for the perfect conditions.  Thawing snow is provides the right vehicle for Giardia to move downstream and straight into water sources.

(Here’s Ruby’s imitation of Giardia moving in the thawing snow.)

If your dog drinks water from a dirty source in the Sierra, they are at risk of becoming infected with Giardia.  This protozoa completes its life cycle after it’s ingested and excreted in your pets’ bowel movement.  If infected, your dog or cat can carry the cysts on its fur transferring it to you just from petting them.  Occasionally it can be transmitted from their drinking water too!  I practice good hygiene, but realistically, I don’t wash my hands every time I pet my dogs, feed them or water them.

The other way it’s typically transmitted from your pet to you –  Big, fat, wet kisses!  Even though it takes about ten Giardia cysts to cause giardiasis, it can happen. Before you know it….you’re sliding it to first and you feel the sudden burst…I’m sure you can finish that childhood favorite on your own.

Tips from the Tech

  • Carry enough water for you and your pet to stay hydrated during summer walks and hikes.
  • Avoid drinking from unknown water sources.
  • Prevent pets from drinking from streams, lakes and puddles.
  • Be conscious of your pets’ bowel movements.
    • I see several clients each day that cannot tell me his or her pets’ bowel movement history. It’s important to know if your pet is having diarrhea.  There are many things that cause diarrhea; this leads to dehydration. This may lead to hospitalization, if your pet needs intravenous fluids to correct fluid loss.
  • If your pet starts having foul-smelling diarrhea, or you see an unexplained gradual weight loss, bring them to your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
    • Diagnosis involves performing a fecal examination, so be prepared to collect one.

If your pet has been diagnosed with Giardia:

  • Follow your veterinarian’s instructions thoroughly.
  • Practice good hygiene – wash hands after loving on you pet.
  • Bathe your pet regularly – monthly to biweekly with a moisturizing soap free pet shampoo.
  • Clean water and food bowls daily.
  • Provide fresh water daily.

Giardia is pretty gross!  Providing your pet with fresh water and observing your pets potty habits can help them (and you) avoid a outbreak.  My Pet Summer Hiking Series is almost complete, but I’ll keep blogging and promoting wellness for your pets at home!  Be sure to follow me, Aubrie, and learn more of my tips from the tech.


Author: Aubrie Ricketts

Experienced Licensed Veterinary Technician, Executive Master of Business Administration - University of Nevada, Reno. I love marketing and promoting preventative medicine and pet wellness. I have a dedicated passion for veterinary anesthesia and pain management.

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