Giardia, also known as Beaver Fever, is a disease seen in a wide variety of animals, including our domestic dogs and cats, and people. This disease is caused by a protozoan parasite entering the gastrointestinal tract from an infected water source. While infection may not cause clinical signs in some individuals, most infected animals suffer from intermittent episodes of mild or very severe diarrhea.
How is Giardia Diagnosed?
Giardia is detected by microscopic and antigen tests on the stool of an animal. Treatment is usually one of three antibiotics, all of which have potential negative side effects as well as a high percentage of treatment failure. Some animals appear to be unable to develop a natural immunity to this parasite, while other individuals are repeatedly infected by repeated exposure to infected water sources without having symptoms. A recent pharmceutical company survey estimates 20 percent of all treated and untreated drinking water throughout North America contains giardia cysts. This does not include sources such as puddles and even damp grass. Seven percent of all dogs randomly tested were positive for giardia and of these 78 percent were non-symptomatic or showed no sign of infection.
The Giardia Vaccination
To protect your dog against giardia, two initial vaccinations, spaced two to four weeks apart, can be given, followed by an annual vaccination. This vaccination appears to provide a greater degree of protection over natural immunity for a longer period of time. This is important, because giardia is notorious for reinfecting animals on a regular basis. A vaccinated animal that tested negative for giardia would not contribute to the pool of cysts in our environment, potentially infecting human hosts.
The giardia vaccination has also been used to try to treat symptomatic animals that do not respond to conventional antibiotic treatments. Since vaccination boosts the immune system in a different way from natural immunity, sometimes this has been effective to clear up the intermittent episodic diarrhea suffered by these animals.
Consult your veterinarian about this new vaccination and if it would be beneficial to you and your pet. There is also a giardia cat vaccination available in the United States. One day people may benefit from our own giardia vaccination, but certainly if our pets are not shedding the parasite around us, the chances of infection decrease.
Article submitted by: © Terri Perrin
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