Giardia at Animal Shelter

Cleanup operations are ongoing at the Del Norte Animal Control Shelter following an outbreak of the parasite giardia. Photo by David Hayes.

The Del Norte Animal Control Shelter has cancelled its upcoming Second Saturday adoption event because of a lingering outbreak of giardia.

Justin Riggs of Del Norte Director of Animal Control said the intestinal parasite appeared in several dogs in December and spread throughout the kennel’s remaining population.

“Frankly, we’re lucky it doesn’t happen more,” Riggs said.

He said the shelter, at 2650 Washington Blvd., is required to house every stray dog the animal control agency picks up. “If it’s sick, we can’t always tell until it’s been here a few days, and the parasite has had a chance to spread,” Riggs said.

He added that he can’t pinpoint precisely which dog brought in the parasite. The kennel’s staff has put all of the dogs, whether or not they’ve exhibited symptoms of giardia, on a course of medication.

“At this point, it almost doesn’t matter when or who it started with,” Riggs said.

Giardia and coccidia are tiny, single-celled parasites that cause primarily digestive issues. Dogs become infected by:

— Being in contact with infected feces from another dog or cat

— Rolling and playing in contaminated soil

— Licking its body after contact with a contaminated surface (such as a dirty litter box, dog cage or crate)

— Drinking water from a contaminated creek, pond or other body of water.

Common signs and symptoms of a giardia infection (in both humans and pets) are diarrhea, gas, abdominal discomfort, nausea and vomiting. However, it’s possible to be infected and show no outward symptoms.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of a giardia infection jumping from dogs to humans is slight, as the type that infects humans usually is not the same as the one that infects dogs and cats.

Regardless, the dogs are off limits to the public at the county shelter until the animals all have gone through a full course of antibiotics and the facility has undergone a thorough cleaning.

Riggs said the parasite appeared in December, but the facility’s deep clean has yet to be completed. “Cleaning isn’t completed in a day. It’s taking over 100 staff hours.

“There’s a lot of cleaning the grounds, and the staff is following a 20-point decontamination program,” he said.

The problem with giardia, Riggs said, is it doesn’t naturally dissipate. Another problem is finding enough medication for the shelter’s entire population.

“Nobody here has an allotment to treat all the dogs. And local vets don’t carry large quantities,” he said. “Making bulk orders takes time. But the vets have been really helpful getting our orders.”

As for local residents’ pets at home, Riggs said, “First, it’s really important to keep pets up to date on vaccinations, as giardia is far from the only diseases in the community.

“Don’t let them drink from standing water on or off property, out in town, in parks. Also, don’t let them eat anything they find. It may be soiled by other dogs. And don’t let them into areas contaminated with feces.”

The animal shelter continues to conduct pet licensing, but will not be showing dogs for adoption for the next several weeks, Riggs said. Staff can show some animals by appointment only, but only if they’ve confirmed the animals have completed treatment.

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