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Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is a parasite that can cause Giardiasis in dogs, cats, and humans. Our Ocala vets define Giardia, how it spreads, and how it is treated in this post.

What is Giardia in dogs?

Giardiasis is an intestine infection that can affect both humans and animals. The Giardia parasite, of which there are eight different genotypes labeled A through H, causes this infection.

Types C and D are the most common infecting viruses in dogs, while F is the most common infecting virus in cats. Types A and B apply to humans.

While Giardia in dogs does not always cause problems, when it does, the consequences are highly unpleasant. Diarrhea is the most prevalent symptom. Giardiasis is particularly dangerous in puppies, dogs with compromised immune systems, and senior dogs.

What are the symptoms of Giardia in dogs?

If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of illness, your best bet is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, as many of the signs listed below are common to multiple conditions. However, owners should be aware of a number of giardia symptoms in dogs, such as:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting
  • Failure to gain weight 
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration 
  • Poor coat appearance 

Diarrhea and weight loss are common symptoms of parasitic infection because the parasite disrupts a dog's internal systems, impairing its ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea can be continuous or intermittent, particularly in puppies. Severe weight loss and even death can occur if the disease is not diagnosed and treated.

How are dogs infected with Giardia?

As previously stated, this single-celled parasite lives in the intestines of mammals, birds, and amphibians and has several subspecies. While each subspecies focuses on a different group of animals, they all share the same lifecycle and mode of transmission.

Giardia has two stages in its lifecycle. Mature parasites (trophozoites) multiply and form cysts in the small intestine. Cysts become infective and are shed through the feces of an infected animal. They can survive in the environment as cysts for weeks before being ingested by another animal. They are then transformed into trophozoites and the lifecycle is repeated.

Dogs can get Giardia by drinking contaminated water or eating grass or other feces-contaminated foods. Any experienced pet owner knows that our dogs explore the world with their mouths. This makes the parasite easy to pick up in the environment by doing anything from drinking from a puddle to eating the poop of another animal or chewing on a stick.

Even if they do not exhibit symptoms of infection, our four-legged friends can spread the parasite. As you might expect, this is concerning, especially if you have multiple pets. While the parasite is unlikely to spread between dogs and cats, transmission from dog to dog is a serious concern. If one of your pets has Giardia, talk to your veterinarian about what precautions you should take with your other pets.

What happens if giardia is left untreated in dogs? Well, it may cause severe, watery diarrhea that can be fatal. This is especially true for puppies and older dogs.

Can I get Giardia from my dog licking me?

Fortunately, the risk of humans contracting Giardia from dogs is relatively low, but it can happen. Make sure to wash your hands after handling your dog's poop to reduce this low risk. 

Giardia is most commonly transmitted to humans through drinking water, rather than through pets. Giardiasis is also referred to as "Beaver Fever" in humans. If your water source is known to have the parasite, consider purchasing a water filter and avoiding drinking contaminated water, especially while traveling. This parasite can also be found in soil and on food, so wash all produce before eating and thoroughly wash your hands after working in the dirt.

How is Giardia treated?

If you notice your dog is suffering from diarrhea or other symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately. They will most likely run several diagnostic tests to determine whether your dog has Giardia. Depending on the results and severity of your dog's case, a treatment plan tailored to his or her needs can be developed.

How can I prevent my dog from getting re-infected with Giardia, or making my other pets sick, during treatment?

Giardia is an extremely unpleasant parasite that cannot be prevented by the tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives that your dog would normally receive from a veterinarian. There are, however, steps you can take to prevent your dog from contracting Giardia. 

One of the most important items on the list is to always give your dog clean, fresh water to reduce the possibility of them drinking from infected puddles. If you live in an area where Giardia is present, boil your dog's water (then let it cool before giving it to him) or buy a filter that has been shown to remove Giardia cysts.

In addition to washing your hands after handling dog poop and disposing of it promptly, you should notify your veterinarian if you have other animals in the house, even if they are not showing any symptoms. Because giardiasis is often asymptomatic, and other pets may be spreading the illness, your veterinarian may advise you to start treating them as well.

Bathing all household animals regularly is recommended to remove cysts from the hair coat. You should also disinfect your pets' surroundings (crates, beds, etc.) and wash their water and food bowls daily.

Cleaning should take place until at least a few days after all pets in the household have completed their medication. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog displaying signs of giardiasis? Contact Paddock Park Animal Care Center to schedule an appointment and ensure your dog is protected. 

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