So you’ve been to the vet and they told you that your pet has Giardia. This is common in young animals and places where animals congregate. It is also endemic to my home state of Utah and the rest of the world as well. We see it frequently in the hospital, prescribe the common meds and send you on your way.
But… You are home now with a sick pet full of giardia. What are you supposed to do?!
First off, welcome to the staff. You are now an honorary Vet Tech. That’s right, home care is just as important as vet care in cases like giardia because giardia is a tough little beast.
Giardia trophozoites in the small intestine cause all the symptoms that make giardia miserable, but they are quite fragile and are easily killed by medicines and don’t survive long in the environment.
Now… The cyst stage of giardia is the real beast. They can survive months in cold water, just waiting to be sipped up by any human or animal passing by. They can survive well in soil as well to be tracked about and licked off from fur. In the right environment it can last months, because that is the only way it can survive and reproduce. Giardia is a parasite. The chance of a cyst re-infecting your pet is high. I’ve had clients that had to survive rounds and rounds of anti-giardia meds before their pet was cleared and healthy again. The better you follow your doctor’s orders and care for your pet, the shorter the reinfection phase is likely to be.
But your vet probably already told you this. You might be confused now, scared or more than a little confused. Maybe you weren’t even listening very well because you were so worried and stressed. Did you hear the doc right? What if you forgot something important? What are you going to do?!?
Step #1: Focus on your pet
Find a quiet, out of the way place, to settle your pet in. An area you can close off is preferred. Choose a place with easy to clean floors like a washroom or a bathroom and settle them on easy to launder bedding. You will be doing a lot of cleaning so make it easy on yourself and keep it contained.
Clean your pet as good as you can. Baby wipes work well to get them clean without getting them wet and cold. Get them comfortable then wash your hands. Offer water, always, but don’t worry about food just now, especially if they are vomiting. Just make them comfortable and leave them to rest.
They are basically in quarantine. Do not let them play with other animals if you can help it. If you can’t, treat those animals for giardia as well.
Step #2: Breathe
Wash your hands and then sit down with a nice cup of tea, or your chosen calming drink, and just breathe a moment. Stress helps no one. Your pet needs you to be calm and focused.
Step #3: Make a Plan
Wash your hands. If your vet sent you home with any literature, set it in front of you with any medications prescribed. Read, understand and then decide how you are going to follow the doctor’s orders and when you are going to give the medications. Vet Techs use charts to know who needs what and when. I made a quick chart for River and Cooper to give you an idea what a plan looks like so you have an idea of what you need to plan.
Do you need a chart? No. Not at all. But I attached one just in case it would be helpful to you. It’s just an Excel spreadsheet so you can change it any way you want. The point is to make sure you understand what the meds are and decide when you are going to give them.
Try to make it the same time every day. That’s easier for you to remember and increases efficacy of the medications. Twice a day medications? 6am and 6pm or 8am and 8pm, something that works well for your schedule. Three times a day meds can be rough unless you work from home but you can work out an approximation if needed, just keep it as close to every 8 hours as you can manage. Once a day meds are easiest to plan but if you have two or three once a day medications like the example, give them at different times of the day. Why? The Panacur is a dewormer. It is busy killing all the badness in the gut, which is sure to destroy balance. Proviable is a probiotic, working to return balance. Give them time to do their jobs so they don’t interfere with each other.
Chart or no, you’re going to have to watch your pet’s elimination from now until they are clear. Their urination should not change or possibly increase a little. Any time your pet is vomiting or has diarrhea, dehydration is a risk. Keep water available, and make sure they are peeing. The lighter the pee is in color and the more frequent, the better the hydration. Darker and less frequent urine? Encourage more drinking or consult your vet’s office.
Their feces sometimes get really bad right after a vet visit from stress and change but should get firmer and firmer as the medications start working and your pet starts to feel better. Feces may even stop all together for a few days as the intestines sort themselves back out again. As long as everything is the same or better, a few days without feces is just fine but consult your vet’s office if you are concerned.
Step #4: Enact Your Plan
You made a plan, stick to it unless it is going horribly. Plans don’t always work out. Be flexible with yourself but stay as diligent as you can to doctor’s orders. It will save time and money to do it right the first time.
Give medications as prescribed and charted and begin feeding again. You will want to offer small-frequent meals of your pet’s regular food unless your vet recommended Hills i/d or something similar. Usually a gradual change to a new diet is recommended, but when sick, always offer what the vet prescribes. Diets like i/d were made to be easy to digest and gentle on the stomach. As your pet gets better, gradually return them to their normal food and eating schedule.
Wash your hands and keep an eye on your pet as the days progress.
Yup. Clean. A lot. And wash your hands again. Giardia can spread to you and your children. It’s not likely but trust me, you do not want to know what Giardia is like. Take up any human health question with your regular doctor. Your vet will not be able to give you advice on humans.
If your pet is contained, go through the rest of the house to clean and disinfect any areas your pet has been. Consider it spring cleaning time.
Heat, bleach and ammonia are your new allies.
Wash all bedding (or anything your pet sat or slept on) in hot water with bleach or ammonia if possible and make sure they get a full run through the hot dryer, as hot as the fabric can take. Giardia hates heat. Cook it out.
Steam clean floors and carpets. Carpets and other fabrics could use ammonia to help kill the giardia cysts. Bleach is best for tile, counters and other hard surfaces.
Don’t forget to clean your clothes and your shoes. Giardia loves to hang out on shoes and get tracked about the house. This is one of the ways our in-door only pets contract giardia in the first place.
Note: Giardia cysts love to hide under filth to keep safe. If there is dirt or feces on the ground you just disinfected, you have cleaned the filth really well and left the cysts under it to survive for a second assault on your pet. Clean the area well and then disinfect it.
Clean and keep things clean. Wash your hands.
If you have a dog:
1 part chlorine bleach to 32 parts water will clean up any patios or driveways where your dog has hung out. Clean all feces out of the yard, water well then wash your hands. If you live in a hot environment, keeping your dog off the grass a few weeks will kill the cysts in the grass. It will take longer in cold environments. Giardia likes the cold.
*Disinfectants will not work on plants and will probably kill them. The outdoor world is just too dirty to disinfect. Time and sun exposure are your best bets.
You will want to leash your dog for all walks so you can keep them on cement to make clean up easier. Pick up all feces fast, bag it and dispose of it and then bleach the spot with diluted bleach. Clean your pet’s butt and paws with baby wipes then make sure to wash your hands.
If you have a cat:
Litter box duty just became really important. Glove up and dump that litter box. Clean the box well with soap and water, then disinfect with a light bleach solution for ten minutes. Rinse well and then refill with fresh litter once it has dried. Scoop as often as possible, bag the feces and dispose of quickly. Wipe any messes on the side of the box off with baby wipes and then wash your hands.
You might even want to move a garbage can closer for ease of disposal. Baby wipes will work on cat butts and paws too, if they will stand it. Keep them clean. Wash your hands.
No matter what type of pet you have, as soon as your pet starts feeling better:
Wash them too. Keep them clean with baby wipes. Change beds out often with clean ones and wash their bowls in the dishwasher at least daily.
Step #6: Monitoring
Once the medication is complete and the symptoms are all gone, do one more deep clean and disinfect of the quarantine zone, bathe your pet and then return to your normal schedule, though you will still want to walk your dog on a leash to make clean up easier and wipe their bottom and paws when complete. Your pet is still in quarantine, just a more relaxed version of it. No dog parks. No kenneling unless it is a hospital kennel that knows how to deal with giardia.
*If your pet is not back to normal after medications are complete or the diarrhea persists, contact your vet’s office for advice.
Step #7: Recheck
Three to four weeks after your medication is complete and all symptoms are gone, take a fecal sample into your veterinarian for a recheck.
If it’s clear = congratulations! You beat it. Back to business as usual.
If it’s not clear = start the process over, probably with new medications and a new schedule. Time and patience will win out unless there are other health factors of concern. Keep in contact with your vet, follow their directions and keep your house clean. We all feel for you. This is no easy thing but you can do it. Your pet needs you.
*Healthy pets are harder to quarantine. If they are still shedding cysts but feel fine, it may be an exercise in futility to keep them contained. Just do your best to maintain good cleaning and hygiene habits. Use disinfecting wipes and sprays regularly. Clean feces up as soon as possible and wash your hands often.