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Retriever Emergency: Rushed to the Vet

Retriever Emergency: Rushed to the Vet

I hate parasites. Especially after I was recently forced to conduct some fairly unorthodox stool-sample retrieval methods on my 3½-year-old German wirehaired pointer, Remy.

Poor Remy had struggled with frequent and violent bouts of diarrhea for a couple of days. This isn’t an exceptionally rare thing for him, particularly after a lengthy spell of hard hunting. Vets have chalked it up as his body’s response to stress and excitement. Within a day or two, Remy almost always returns to his normal, happy self with no required change in daily habits or food.

So after we got back from a stellar duck- and pheasant-hunting trip in South Dakota, his first few diarrhea episodes didn’t trigger any alarms. It wasn’t until a couple days later, and 200 miles from home visiting family, when his feeble struggles to transfer from sitting to standing sent us rushing to the emergency vet late one evening.

The vet tech asked for the lowdown on my sick pooch, so I explained about the hunting trip, his diarrhea, and his sudden lack of strength and motor skills despite a very healthy appetite and frequent trips to the water dish.

“We really need a stool sample,” she said.

“How do you expect me to get that?” I responded.

She gave me a menacing grin, disappeared through a door, then returned with a pair of blue latex gloves and a very high-tech, top-of-the-line piece of vet equipment — a soup ladle.

“See what you can do with this,” she said, dripping with schadenfreude.

Lucky for me, Remy didn’t need much coaxing to produce the goods.

After a short while, the head veterinarian came back into the waiting room with the verdict.

“Well, your dog is just plum-full of parasites,” she proclaimed, rather happily. “He also has a bacterial infection derived from the little devils.”

Remy had giardia, she explained, which he likely picked up from bird-feces-laced water. Given his typical work environment — cattail sloughs, prairie grass and puddles — the prognosis wasn’t exceptionally surprising. What was, however, is that in all his years of hunting and all the time spent splashing through stagnant pond water filled with who knows what, he’s never contracted it before.

Giardia is an exceptionally nasty little bug that is infectious to animals and people. Once inside, not only can it produce diarrhea, but it also hinders a body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. That’s why even though Remy ate heartily and drank frequently, his body still withered.

How do you keep a dog from contracting giardia? If your dogs are like mine and have a propensity to stop at any pond or puddle to take a drink, try to catch them beforehand. Make sure you have fresh water available at all times. I have a handful of twist-top sports drink bottles just for the pups that ride along whenever we’re afield.

Giardia also is common in kennel situations where animals are housed in groups. If you’re visiting a kennel, either bring your own water and food dishes, or ask to have the provided vessels decontaminated before use. A bleach/water solution at a 1:32 ratio is ideal.

Even if your dogs stay hydrated and don’t purposefully drink from giardia-laced water, they can still get sick by doing something as mundane as retrieving a duck from the water. Unless you’re never going to hunt near water again, there’s a good chance your dog will get giardia at some point in its life. Heck, giardia cysts remain viable on the feathers of ducks and geese out of water, too.

Remember, dogs that become afflicted with giardia can become dehydrated and malnourished very quickly. If your dog has consistent diarrhea, and especially if it becomes lethargic or appears unsteady or weak, visit your nearest vet immediately. Not all dogs with giardia experience diarrhea, however, so frequent checkups aren’t a bad idea. Left untreated, a severe giardia infestation can do serious harm to your dog.

It takes between five and 12 days for giardia cysts to appear in feces. A quick test at the vet will uncover the bugs.

My vet recommended a 10-day treatment of meds that took care of the bugs and the infection, as well as switching Remy to a bland diet consisting of cooked white rice, plain nonfat yogurt and poached chicken. He definitely loves those doctor’s orders.

Giardia also can spread from your pet to you. Be diligent with decontaminating anything the dog’s feces might have contacted. Give your pooch regular baths to remove cysts on the fur, and pick up its business immediately. Always, always wash your hands. Don’t be stingy with the soap.

Thankfully, Remy’s giardia came during our deer season opener, so his 10 days of downtime really won’t affect my bird hunting. Even after only a day of treatment, he already had loads more energy.

And I’m happy to have my hunting dog back.

Tyler Shoberg is associate editor of Delta Waterfowl.