Thursday, March 10, 2016


by Adam Jablonski

Gary, Cinder, and Storm came from an outdoor colony that was part of a new Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) project. While at the vet these kittens showed signs of digestive distress. That distress (i.e. diarrhea) could also be smelled and fecal analysis showed they’d picked up the protozoan pathogen Giardia, which causes symptoms colloquially referred to by humans as “beaver fever.


Giardia causes diarrhea in cats that appears frothy or with excess mucous, and with a particularly foul smell.[i] Vomiting and weight loss may also occur. Giardia causes GI tract issues in humans too, and is one of the reasons outdoor adventurers are advised to filter or boil drinking water from outdoor sources like lakes and streams (this is where the term “beaver fever” comes from.) The risk of contracting Giardia from your pet is low however, as the type that most commonly infects cats is not the type that most often infects humans.[ii] Vets use an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test to confirm the presence of Giardia in a fecal sample.


Cats in close proximity can reinfect each other with Giardia.
Clearing a Giardia infection can be tricky since the cysts, which are shed in the feces of infected animals, are able to survive in the environment for extended periods of time. Cysts can even survive on the fur of a cat, so vigilant cleaning of your cat and her environment are essential to preventing reinfection. Daily scooping of the litterbox is recommended. If you have a multi-cat household, it’s a good idea to isolate the infected cat so that Giardia is not spread among cats through mutual grooming or sharing of food, water, bedding, and litter boxes.

Make sure you’re not only cleaning but disinfecting as well. Some household cleaning products can be used to disinfect, and the CDC says that a simple mixture of ¾ cup bleach in one gallon of water will also do the trick.[iii] Steam cleaning is an effective option too.[iv] Be sure to closely follow all manufacturer instructions when using cleaners or disinfectants and check that they are safe for use in homes with pets. If you’re unsure about what product to use, ask your vet for a recommendation.


Your vet will prescribe the appropriate medication, such as metronidazole or fenbendazole (brand name Panacur), and length of treatment for your cat, keeping in mind that some drugs for Giardia should not be used for pregnant cats. Tell your vet if you have more than one companion animal too, as she may choose to treat them all as a precaution.

In general, antibiotics are given for about one week and followed by another fecal analysis. [v] (Dehydration is always a risk for cats experiencing diarrhea, especially kittens, so make sure your cat always has access to clean, fresh water.) If the infection remains, another round of antibiotics may be advised. If a follow-up fecal exam tests negative for Giardia, but diarrhea persists, ask your vet whether other parasites, such as Salmonella or Cryptosporidium could be the cause.

Gary, Cinder, and Storm all look great and are behaving normally. They eat and drink with enthusiasm (of course, kittens do EVERYTHING with enthusiasm) and will eventually be free of Giardia with treatment and vigilant attention to cleanliness. They’re friendly and affectionate ways will make each of them a wonderful companion to a future adopter.


[i] "Parasitic Diarrhea (Giardiasis) in Cats.” petMD. petMD, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
[ii] "Parasites - Giardia." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 July 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
[iii]Giardia & Pets.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 July 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
[iv] "Overview of Giardiasis." The Merck Veterinary Manual. Merck, Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
[v] Lila Miller; Kate Hurley. "15: Bacterial and protozoal Gastrointestinal Disease". Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters. Ames, IA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 231-232.

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