Giardia lamblia is a microscopic parasite that can cause diarrhea and dehydration in cats and kittens.  Parasites do not have a life of their own.  They depend in or on a host to give it nutrients at the expense of its host.  It does nothing but exploit and gives nothing in return.

Giardia is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it tolerant to chlorine disinfection.  For catteries, bedding, floors, walls, and grounds should be cleaned and disinfected with Chlorhexidine disinfectant.

Both stages of the giardia parasite
Both Stages of the Giardia parasite

Infection can happen many ways.

  • When cats come into contact with the feces of an infected cat outdoors or using a common litter box;
  • Cold water wells;
  • Stagnant groundwater;
  • Water bowls not changed on a regular basis

Once a cat is infected with giardia, the parasite lives in the intestines.  Some of the parasites are passed when the cat uses the litter box or uses the great outdoors as a toilet.  Once outside the body Giardia will encyst, i.e. wrap itself in a hard, protective covering.  Depending on conditions, Giardia will be able to survive for weeks to months, waiting for another host.

Symptoms of Giardia in your cat or kitten.

  • Diarrhea;
  • Dehydration;
  • Lethargy;
  • Weight Loss;
  • Vomiting;
  • Gaunt look to the belly;
  • Greasy looking stools;
  • Bitter smell when cat has a bowel movement;

Many of these symptoms can also be from Coccidia, E. Coli, Toxoplasmosis, Salmonella, and just a plain old change in diet.  You will need to explain to your vet any changes that may have brought on these symptoms.

Testing for Giardia

A PCR is probably the best way to determine exactly what is affecting your Savannah Kitten.  Either you or your vet can take a fecal sample and send it off to one of the PCR Labs near you and in very short order you will know exactly what kitty has and your veterinarian will be able to prescribe something to help.

Treatment

Metronidazole is the most common treatment for a giardia infection.  Giardia parasites are tricky and will enclose themselves in cysts to avoid dying.  Yes, Metronidazole will work but will take several treatments a week or so apart to get all the trophozoites.  A bit costlier remedy is Secnidazole.

Secnidazole is a single dose treatment.  Not only is Secnidazole easier to use due to the one dose, it has a higher cure rate than the metronidazole.

Do not use either of the treatments on pregnant cats.  Giardia can pass from mother to infants in utero so a three-day treatment of Fenbendazole for the queen late in the third trimester helps to protect the kittens from the parasite.  Both queen and kittens should have tests and treatment once kittens are around 6 weeks of age.

Giardia treatments listed above are available in the U.S.  If you know of treatments in other countries please submit using our contact page.

LSL

Image courtesy of cat health guide.