Giardia is a nasty little critter that can derail a kitten pretty quickly. Kittens are susceptible to opportunistic microorganisms such as giardia because their immune systems are not fully charged. Keeping kittens safe from this little monster germ is important if you want to raise a happy, healthy kitten.
What is THAT?
Giardia are protozoa. They're not a bacteria or virus, also not a worm. They're single-celled little creepy dudes that look a lot like jellyfish under a microscope. The scientific name for giardia is Giardia intestinalis or Giardia lamblia. Giardia are zoonotic parasites, meaning they can be passed from an animal to a human. Giardia are responsible for causing a great deal of disruption inn the digestive system.
How Did My Kitten Get It?
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Kittens can get all kinds of nasty little infections and infestations from their mother through nursing, but giardia are most commonly ingested after the kitten is weaned. The mother cat, and other kittens in the litter, shed giardia cysts in the environment where kittens are living, nursing and eliminating. When the kitten comes in contact with a contaminated area, she can become the next host victim of the dreaded jellyfish-lookalike fiend. Also, drinking water or eating food after a contaminated cat can result in ingestion of the parasite.
What Should I Look For?
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Giardia produces a disgustingly smelly and foul diarrhea in so much volume that you won't believe it came out of your precious, tiny, angelic ball of fluff -- you might be tempted to call an exorcist instead of a vet. Onset is usually quite sudden. The fecal matter sometimes appears yellow or greenish, may contain mucus or be foamy or watery. There may be traces of blood. The kitten may lose his appetite and can lose weight. Be very careful when scooping the litterbox or wiping your kitten's fuzzy little behind, or you will become sick as well. Keep the area clean and always wash food and water dishes often in hot, soapy water. Use rubber gloves when handling litter box contents.
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Kittens become weakened by the diarrhea caused by giardia, making them susceptible to more serious diseases. Giardia wouldn't necessarily threaten the life of a healthy adult cat, but in kittens and immunocompromised adult cats it can be devastating. Have your vet check your kitten out as soon as you suspect giardia. Diagnosing the problem will involve not only the clinical signs, but three separate fecal readings on different days since giardia is shed intermittently. Your vet will most likely prescribe a very bitter-tasting antibiotic containing metronidazole, sold under the trade name Flagyl. Your kitten will do well on this medication provided you can trick him into eating it or are brave enough to attempt pilling him. However, be aware that he may carry the cyst and could break out again at any time.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.