Diarrhea in Cats

Barbara Hinney and her colleagues from the Institute for Parasitology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, screened 298 fecal samples taken from cats across Austria for single-cell intestinal parasites, so called enteric protozoa. A release from the university explains that the samples came from private households, catteries (cat boarding kennels), and animal shelters. Of the 298 cats sampled, 56 tested positive with at least one intestinal parasite.

Multi-cat households often affected

A significantly higher rate of positive samples was registered in households with more than one cat. Households with kittens are also more at risk. “Young animals must first come to terms with the pathogen and are not yet immune, which makes it possible for the pathogen to persist more stubbornly. When the animals excrete the parasite via feces, they infect other cats. This gives households with more than one cat a higher risk of infection,” explains first author Hinney.

Transmission from cats to humans not excluded

Giardia infect small intestines and were the most commonly found parasite with more than 12 per cent positive samples. The parasites are ingested as cysts and reproduce in the small intestine. The cysts are then reintroduced into the environment when excreted with the animal feces. Giardia infections are asymptomatic in many cats. In some cases, however, an infection can result in diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain.

“We mostly found species of Giardia that occur only in cats. There was one species that also exists in humans. The possibility of transmission from cats to humans can therefore not be excluded,” Hinney explains. Persons with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. “Most human Giardia infections occur through human-to-human transmission. Infections are common during trips to warm countries such as India. The infection then often occurs via the drinking water,” says Hinney.

Hygiene in catteries

“Giardia cysts are highly resistant and can be very difficult to get rid of. Recurrent infections are therefore possible even after successful medicinal treatment,” Hinney explains.

It is necessary to maintain certain hygienic standards in order to successfully eliminate Giardia in cats. The cysts of Giardia can survive quite well in moist and warm environments. Hinney therefore recommends washing blankets and towels that the animals have had contact with at temperatures of at least 60 degree Celsius. Drinking bowls and food dishes should be washed regularly with hot water and dried. As Giardia can be transmitted through the water, cat feces should always be disposed with the household waste and not in the toilet.