Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes the illness known as giardiasis. Giardia is contagious. It’s found on contaminated surfaces, in soil, or on food or water that has been contaminated with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals.
What can giardia cysts do to cats?
Giardiasis in cats, while less often recognized than in dogs, is contagious. It is transmitted in cats in the same way it is in dogs: By ingesting the infectious “cysts,” shed by another animal in poop. Giardia cysts are the primary means of transmission from host to host.
What are the signs of giardia in cats?
Not all cats infected with Giardia will become sick, and cats may carry the organism for several years— passing it on to other cats— while never showing clinical signs. The incidence of feline giardiasis is relatively low in North America (about 4%), but it can be a serious problem in catteries, shelters, and some multi-cat households.
The clinical signs of giardia are gastrointestinal and include:
Mucus in the feces
Nausea and vomiting
Signs can persist for some time and can result in weight loss
How is giardia diagnosed and confirmed in cats?
It’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s litterbox. If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, don’t hesitate to bring your cat in to see the vet. Your veterinarian may have a suspicion of giardia based on the diarrhea alone. Cysts may also be seen under a microscope from a freshly collected poop specimen. Since the cysts are spread only intermittently, several different samples may need to be examined to confirm infection. While direct visualization of the parasite is possible, it is not always diagnostic, because the organism is passed intermittently. One test your veterinarian might perform is called the “SNAP” test. It’s very accurate, and often considered alongside direct poop examinations.
How is giardia treated in cats?
Unfortunately, there are no medications currently approved for cats to treat infection. However, symptoms can be treated, and this will make a big difference when it comes to how your cat feels. It can be difficult to clear an animal of infections, but ask your veterinarian what the recommended course of action is to give your cat the highest quality of comfort.
Prevention of giardia in cats
Since there is no available preventive vaccine, the only method of prevention is avoiding exposure. You should keep your cat indoors and away from areas contaminated by the poop of other animals. As with other parasites of the digestive system, prevention of the spread of Giardia centers on testing and treating cats showing signs, and using sanitary measures to reduce or kill the organisms in the environment. If you have reason to believe your space has encountered giardia cysts, here are some tips:
Solutions of quaternary ammonium compounds are effective against Giardia. (Follow all safety instructions when using these products, and keep animals out of the area for several days.)
Infective cysts can stick to your cat’s hair coat. Cats should be shampooed and rinsed well, per veterinary instruction. Especially concentrate on the perianal area.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.