Most people associate giardia with backwoods hiking trips and unboiled streamwater. Oregon, always politically correct, rejects this stereotype. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we embrace the scourge of fecal-contaminated water in our backyards, playgrounds and, of course, dog parks! And while most of us may be familiar with the name, and many of us with the symptoms, it’s important to have a little more information when venturing into our shared public spaces.
Giardia is a parasite that is shed in fecal matter (read: poop). Thus, the parasite can end up pretty much anywhere an infected animal eliminates, and can live for weeks in a hospitable environment (read: right here where we live). The parasite can then be ingested by another animal in many ways, such as drinking from puddles, eating mud, chewing on a stick or ball that’s been in the puddles/mud, eating grass, or pretty much anything else a dog does with its mouth. Seem like a losing battle? It probably is.
But no need to panic, giardia is easily treated and there are steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk. For one, puppies, older dogs, and dogs with compromised immune systems should be restricted to areas that are drier and less contaminated with other dogs’ waste; private yards, clean indoor play spaces, etc. For heartier pooches, or those that give you little choice (my Jack Russell would fall into this category), there are a few suggestions that might help: 1) Try to find parks or other spaces that don’t have standing water; 2) Provide clean water to your dog in a readily-available place (so they are less likely to resort to drinking from puddles); 3) thoroughly clean paws and other lickable areas of your dog’s coat when returning home; and 4) If your dog is a hunger-scavenger, provide a snack or meal before leaving the house to reduce the chances the pup will eat grass, mud, or other questionable items. And always check with a vet if your dog regularly eats mud and other non-food substances, as this could be a sign of nutritional deficiencies or other health problems.
So, what about when your dog has gulped down half a puddle, munched on a few muddy sticks, rolled in the puddle, and licked it all off her coat? Symptoms to watch for are diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and weight loss. In particular, the diarrhea might be frothy, mucousy, greasy, and have a foul odor (I mean, fouler odor). And these symptoms can come and go, so if you’re seeing them crop up, even with non-symptomatic periods in between, go see your vet.
The most important thing to remember: the world has a lot of gross things in it, and it’s always a balancing act between your dog’s need for exercise, social time, and mental stimulation, and your responsibility to keep the pup safe. We do what we can to help you balance that, but if ever in doubt, call your vet, your trainer, and your life coach. And, if you want the science-ier info about giardia, visit: http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/be-on-guard-against-giardia.
-The Power Skill Training team