With two hunting dogs in the family, I've learned to expect the unexpected.
For instance, when Remy was a pup, his second trip to the lake resulted in his first experience with a rotting fish carcass. I managed to snag his 12-week-old scruff and pinch the tiniest bit of exposed tail from the ground, successfully extruding 18 inches of putrefied fish like a nightcrawler.
My wife and I waited anxiously for the imminent gastrointestinal illness, but Remy remained healthy and energetic.
Fast forward a few years, and the once bouncing pup was now a (mostly) finished dog. That October, I met up with fellow outdoor writers at Full Circle Outfitters in South Dakota, courtesy of Franchi and ATK/Federal. The plan was to hunt puddle ducks in the morning, and pheasants in the afternoon. It was a blast.
A week after the trip, I was visiting family in Minnesota. Remy had some diarrhea leading up to this, which I brushed off as anxiety or stress. But it wasn't long until his upset stomach turned into a full-fledged crap show. He was eating well and drinking frequently, yet his increasing calls to nature brought concern.
Late one evening, Remy shakily tried to stand before crumpling under his own weight. We rushed to the emergency vet, where the diagnosis revealed a particularly nasty culprit: giardia — you know, the same intestinal parasite your Boy Scout leader warned about.
After some research, I discovered Giardia is found worldwide. Muskrats and beavers are North America's most notorious carriers. Because it easily passes in the fecal matter of infected animals, outbreaks in confined locations (kennels, for instance) spread like wildfire.
According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, approximately 16 percent of symptomatic dogs have been found to be infected with giardia. If there is a silver lining, it's that giardia in dogs tends to be mild. Still, early detection and prevention are the best medicine.
The vet explained the incubation period for the water-born cyst was about a week to 12 days, which was odd given Remy hadn't made a water retrieve since before South Dakota. It had been snowing and raining there, though, and Remy was pretty wet after each hunt. He must have caught it from a stagnant puddle.
After researching giardia, I was stunned — not that Remy had contracted the bug, but that he hadn't sooner. Giardia is a parasite that loves waters laced with bird feces (duck ponds). Dogs and humans can get it by consuming the water, and it doesn't take much; a dog licking its fur after a swim, for instance.
Dogs that contract giardia often exhibit excessive diarrhea and, after prolonged exposure, weakness, even despite a healthy appetite and ample fluids. This is because whatever hydration and nutrients the dog doesn't lose from diarrhea is sapped by the burgeoning parasite population.
Not all dogs that get giardia have diarrhea, however, so regular checkups are smart. Undiagnosed giardia can cause serious intestinal complications. Thankfully, a 10-day prescription had Remy feeling stronger in no time.
Although your veteran retriever may have never gotten sick from water work, it's always a good idea to take precautions. Bring clean water for the dog to drink, and discourage it from lapping up puddles or marsh water. If he does contract giardia, be cautious as it can spread to humans. Pick up his stool immediately, and decontaminate anything fecal matter comes in contact with. Giardia cysts can survive out of water for a long time, too, so always wash your hands. Go heavy on the soap.