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If Your Dog Enjoys The Lake, Look For Signs Of Parasites

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - We've all heard about the dog days of summer, when lake water starts to look like only your dog would swim in it.

But it turns out there is a real threat to swimming dogs that is invisible.

The Giardia parasite can be swallowed by dogs while they are swimming and playing in the water. If your dog has diarrhea after being in a lake or a river, visit your vet right away.

Four-and-a-half-year-old Max has loved the water since he was a puppy. Fetching his ball from Como Lake is always on Max's to-do list. His owner, Cassandra Carlson, says he never gets sick from swimming.

"I guess I'm just not too concerned at this point, just because he swam all his life and he has never had anything happen to him from doing so," Carlson said.

But veterinarian Dr. Heidi Mittelsteadt says Giardia cases are frequent during the summer months.

"All throughout summer we see dogs with Giardia," Dr. Mittelsteadt said. "I had two German Shepard puppies here this morning with it."

Giardia can be transmitted from dog to dog through licking, but the most common source is water.

"They do ingest lake water, river water. Like I said, drinking out of puddles in the woods - that can also be a source of infection," she said.

But some dogs can be infected with Giardia and not show any symptoms. A dog should still be screened every year to cut down the transmission of the parasite.

"I think the best thing is for you to bring in a stool sample if your dog is symptomatic: has diarrhea, decreased appetite, anything like that," she said. "Bring in a sample on your yearly exam so we can screen for it."

The treatment for the parasite is quite effective, so swimming is not out of the question - as long as you pay attention to your pet.

"But I'm also a big quality-of-life person, so I let my dogs swim in lakes," she said.

Dr. Mittelsteadt also says it's very unlikely a dog can get Giardia from a clean water source, like a shared water bowl at a dog park.

But she stresses that annual checkups are crucial.

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