Giardiasis in Ferrets
An intestinal infection, giardiasis is caused by the protozoan parasite Giardia. Contamination can occur from direct or indirect contact with the infected cysts, which are shed in another animal's feces. This can cause the ferret to have difficulty absorbing nutrients from food or lead to diarrhea. In addition to affecting ferrets, giardiasis is seen in dogs, cats, and humans.
Symptoms and Types
The signs and symptoms of giardiasis will vary. Some ferrets will not have any outward signs (especially if the infection is mild), others will become debilitated. If a ferret has another concurrent and chronic disease, such as Helicobacter, the ferret may become lethargic and suffer from diarrhea, anorexia (an unwillingness to eat), or vomiting episodes. Moreover, some ferrets may have stools that appear grainy, suggesting they are not properly absorbing the foods they eat.
One of the most common causes of the parasitic infection is the ingestion of infected fecal material, as the cysts are shed in animal feces. The most common cause of transmission, however, is actually waterborne, as the parasite prefers the cool and moist environment. Dogs and cats may also infect ferrets by sharing water bowls with ferrets.
To diagnose giardiasis, a veterinarian will want to rule out or diagnose other causes for symptoms or malabsorption such as lymphoma or inflammatory bowel disease. Diagnostic tests may include diagnosis of cysts or removal of cysts from the colon or intestine. Fecal tests, meanwhile, may confirm the presence of Giardia organisms.
Treatment is typically done on an outpatient basis unless the ferret has become sick and weak. Prescription drugs along with bathing are combined to reduce the likelihood of repeat infection and to remove the parasite from the ferret's body. Repeat fecal exams are often required to confirm that the infection has been removed, as an ongoing (chronic) infection can be debilitating for the animal.
Living and Management
It is important to observe for signs of dehydration, especially in younger animals. Administering the prescribed medication and taking the ferret back in for examination are also important in a successful recovery.