PORTLAND - Local veterinarians are seeing an unusual spike in the number of dogs getting Giardia, an infection that can easily be passed to people.

Southwest Portland veterinarian Libbi Hawkins said most years, she sees only a few animals with Giardia, but just in the past two months, she s treated dozens of cases.

I don't think I ve ever seen so many cases of Giardia as we ve had this year, said Hawkins.

In March, Portland Parks and Recreation temporarily shut down the off leash area at Gabriel Park after a number of dogs came down with the dangerous infection.

Giardia is a parasite that lives in standing water or mud. Once ingested, it infects the intestines and it can easily be passed to humans.

They can definitely get dehydrated, not want to eat, and that can be debilitating to patients, explained Hawkins.

Hawkins believes the parasite is so pervasive this year because of the mild, wet winter we had. The lack of a good freeze allowed the parasites to flourish.

It s a worry for dog owners and parents.

It certainly is. I have three small children who frequent the park, play in the mud, splash in the puddles, said Ryan Eldridge.

I certainly don t let her drink out of standing water around , said dog owner Martha Shilling.

Hawkins says the best way to protect your pets and children is to make sure they don t drink or play in standing water, creeks, or even muddy areas. And make sure to wash your hands and your children s hands after playing with dogs.

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