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Monday, February 28, 2011

Giardia--The Parasite Your Vet May Not Be Looking For

First of all, I want to apologize for another "parasite blog." I'm really not all that preoccupied with small creatures that invade our pets (and sometimes us). It's just that I received a report last week summarizing the number and types of parasites found from our patients' fecal tests over the past two months. The report was furnished by our outside lab service (Antech Diagnostics). I was stunned to see that 17% of the patients were infected with Giardia. That's almost one out of every five. Statistics from all St. Louis-area practices showed a slightly lower infection rate of 14%.

There are a couple of things that make these numbers highly significant. First of all, Giardia is one of those parasites that is contagious to people. Giardiasis is typically mild in humans with diarrhea as the primary symptom. Additionally, getting Giardia from a family pet is uncommon, with only a few documented cases. Having said that, Giardia infections in immune-compromised persons (people with AIDS, chemotherapy patients, very old or young people) can cause devastating, even life-threatening illness. The other significant thing to note is that most veterinarians do not routinely test for Giardia.

Giardia can sometimes be detected on routine fecal floats done by most veterinarians, but more often than not, the fecal float will not detect the parasite, even if it's done properly. The most accurate way to find Giardia is by performing a specific test (called an ELISA) to look for it.

At our hospital, we strongly urge Giardia testing on all new pets. We offer the test as an optional service to all pets on an annual basis. Many veterinarians do not recommend Giardia testing on asymptomatic pets. This is probably because they think it isn't very common (wrong!), or that their fecal flotation tests will detect it (less than 50% of the time!) In light of the report I received, we might start pushing pet owners to test for this parasite every year. We have a link on our hospital website with more information on Giardiasis: http://www.horseshoepets.com/giardia.html

Monday, February 7, 2011

Killed By Our Own Pets?

One of my favorite people sent me an article from aolnews.com, titled "Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie in Your Bed Can Kill You" . The article quotes the chief veterinarian from the California Department of Health as well as a veterinary professor at UC-Davis. They are both experts on zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people.

The article is factual and well-written, but seems maybe a little distorted in terms of the fears that it may raise in people about their relationships with their pets. It is true that there is a growing concern among DVMs about zoonotic diseases, and at my practice it is policy for the doctors to discuss with pet owners ways to reduce the risks of zoonotic infections. I will describe for you my recommendations for you to enjoy a cuddle-y relationship with your pets without being afraid of catching something.

Be aware that the most common zoonotic pathogens (at least in the Midwest) are intestinal parasites (roundworms, hookworms, and giardia are the ones we see). These parasites produce eggs which are passed out in the pet's feces. The eggs then get in the soil and are picked up by people if they get some of the "contaminated" dirt on their fingers, then put their fingers in their mouth. To reduce your risk: 1.Pick up your pets' feces daily to reduce the risk of eggs getting in the soil 2.Practice good hygiene - no fingers in mouths, wash hands before eating 3.Keep your pets on heartworm/parasite control products every month. I recommend Sentinel for dogs and Revolution for cats 4.All new pets should have a fecal float and giardia test done before being brought home 5.All pets should have fecal floats +/- giardia tests done at least once a year 6.Puppies and kittens should be dewormed multiple times before they reach 16 weeks of age.

Dogs who live near rural areas where there are raccoons, opossums, deer, livestock, or even rodents; or who are at risk for drinking or swimming in any standing water, should be vaccinated for leptospirosis. All pets should be vaccinated for Rabies.

Do not let your pet lick your face or any open sores on you. Control potential flea infestations with monthly flea-control products (again, I recommend Sentinel and Revolution). Pregnant women should not clean litter boxes, and litter boxes should be scooped out daily.

Special precautions should be taken by immune-compromised people living with pets. This would include HIV-positive individuals, people on chemotherapy, people receiving dialysis treatments, the very old and infirmed, and infants. These special precautions should be discussed with the veterinarian and also the attending physician. Not to "toot my own horn," but I find that in the majority of situations, the veterinarian is more knowledgeable than the physician regarding zoonoses.

This sounds like a long list of precautions, but most of them are simple and inexpensive. I know how much I enjoy snuggling up to my dogs and cats, and I do so with confidence knowing my risk of "catching something" is virtually nil.