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Giardia in Cats: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Giardia is a group of protozoan parasites (identified by the letters A through H) that can infect humans, dogs, and cats, causing symptoms like diarrhea and stomach upset. Today, our Pleasant Hill veterinarians share how to tell if your cat has Giardia, as well as what you can do to help resolve symptoms and prevent infection in family members and other pets.

What Is the Cat Giardia Parasite

Giardia duodenalis is a protozoan parasite that can infect many different mammals, including cats, dogs, and people. There are a number of different strains of Giardia that are categorized by letters from A - H. Cats are typically infected with assemblage F, whereas people are generally susceptible to assemblages A and B. That said, while rare, it is possible for cats to harbor strains A and B. So if you're wondering "can you get giardia from your cat?" the answer is yes, but it is rare. It is very unlikely your dog will infect your cat with giardia, however, as their two strains are quite different.

The condition is most often seen in kittens and cats that are suffering from poor health due to other underlying conditions. 

Giardia can be challenging for pet parents to deal with since treatment isn't always effective and reinfection will often occur.

How is giardia spread?

The fecal-oral route is used to transmit all giardia strains. The giardia parasites are present in an infected cat's stool, and when other animals (or people) come into contact with the infected stool, the parasite enters the new host's body through ingestion or inhalation. This can occur through direct contact with contaminated stool, inhalation of soil that has come into contact with contaminated stool, or ingestion of contaminated water.

Can you get giardia from your cat?

Giardia infections are common in people however drinking contaminated water is the most common way for people to catch giardia. 

While it is possible for cats to harbor the A  strain of giardia (dogs can harbor the B strain) that people are susceptible to, the spread of giardiasis from cats to people is not very common.

Wearing gloves while changing cat litter, washing your hands thoroughly after handling your cat, and disinfecting items that come into contact with your cat are all recommended precautions. (This includes the litter box, water bowls, bedding, and toys, among other things). If their cat has been diagnosed with giardia, people with compromised immune systems should be extra cautious about disinfecting.

Disinfect surfaces that your cat comes in contact with using a solution of chlorine bleach at a dilution of 1:16 or 1:32.

What are the signs of giardia in cats?

Giardia parasites cause intestinal damage in cats, resulting in the sudden onset of foul-smelling diarrhea. Although not all cats infected with Giardia show symptoms, if your cat has giardiasis, you may notice the following:

  • Cat's stool is soft to watery and may have a greenish tinge or contain blood.
  • Excess mucus in the feces may be apparent.
  • Vomiting may occur in some cases.
  • Lethargy in some cases.
  • Symptoms of giardiasis listed above may persist for several weeks resulting in weight loss.

It is not uncommon for diarrhea related to giardiasis may be intermittent. Fevers are not typically associated with giardia infections in cats.

What is the treatment for cat giardia?

Giardia in cats is difficult to eradicate, and it may take several treatments or a combination of treatments to completely eradicate the parasite. Because some giardia strains are resistant to medication, eliminating the disease can be difficult. As a result, multiple drugs or multiple therapy attempts may be required.

Fenbendazole and metronidazole are the most commonly prescribed treatments for giardia in cats.

  • Fenbendazole may reduce clinical signs and shedding of the parasite. This treatment is administered to the infected cat orally for 3 to 5 days and is safe for pregnant cats.
  • Metronidazole is a medication that appears to be more effective at treating giardia in cats than dogs. Treatment is given for 5 to 7 days and is not safe for pregnant cats.

In certain cases, the two medications can be given in combination to fight giardiasis.

Your vet may also prescribe a highly digestible diet until your cat's stool hardens. Prolonged bouts of vomiting and diarrhea can quickly result in dehydration so it's important to ensure that your cat remains well hydrated.

How long will my cat have giardia?

It generally takes between 3 to 5 days for the parasites to be cleared from the stool once antibiotic treatment begins, and 5 to 7 days for symptoms to resolve.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat experiencing the symptoms of giardia? Contact us today to book an appointment for your feline friend. Our vets are experienced in treating many parasitic conditions in pets.

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Diablo View Veterinary Medical Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced veterinarians are passionate about the health of Pleasant Hill companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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