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Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is a parasite that can cause Giardiasis in dogs, cats, and humans. Our Queens veterinarians 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. This infection is caused by the Giardia parasite, which comes in eight distinct genotypes denoted by the letters A through H.

Dogs are most frequently infected with types C and D, while cats are most frequently infected with type F. Types A and B apply to humans.

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

If you're wondering "what happens if giardia is left untreated in my dog?" the answer, in the most severe cases, is death from weight loss, malnourishment, and dehydration.

What are the symptoms of Giardia in dogs?

If your dog is exhibiting concerning signs of illness, your best course of action is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, as many of the signs listed below are indicative of a variety of conditions. Having said that, owners should be aware of several Giardia symptoms in dogs, including the following:

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

Diarrhea and weight loss are frequently caused by the parasite interfering with a dog's internal systems, impairing its ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea can be persistent or intermittent, especially in puppies. If the disease is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can lead to severe weight loss and even death.

How are dogs infected with Giardia?

As mentioned previously, this single-celled parasite lives in the intestines of mammals, birds, and amphibians and has several subspecies. While each subspecies is specific to a particular group of animals, they all share a common life cycle and mode of transmission.

Giardia's lifecycle is divided into two stages. In the small intestine, mature parasites (trophozoites) multiply and develop into cysts. Cysts are then infectious and are shed via an infected animal's feces. They can survive in the environment as cysts for weeks before being consumed by another animal. They are then transformed into trophozoites and the life cycle is repeated.

Dogs can contract Giardia by drinking contaminated water or eating grass or other feces-contaminated foods. Any veteran pet owner is well aware that our dogs explore the world with their mouths. This makes it very easy to pick up the parasite in an environment by drinking from a puddle, eating another animal's poop, or chewing on a stick.

Even if they don't show signs of infection, our four-legged companions can spread the parasite. As you might expect, this is concerning, particularly if you have multiple pets. While transmission between dogs and cats is unlikely, transmission within dogs is a major concern. If one of your pets has been diagnosed with Giardia, speak with your veterinarian about precautions to take with the remaining pets.

Can dogs pass Giardia to people?

You may be wondering, "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, not from pets. Giardiasis is also known as "Beaver Fever" in humans. Consider purchasing a water filter if the source of your drinking water is known to contain the parasite, and avoid drinking contaminated water, especially while traveling. This parasite can also live in soil and on food, so thoroughly wash all produce before eating and thoroughly clean your hands after handling dirt.

How is Giardia treated?

If you notice your dog has diarrhea or other symptoms, contact your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will almost certainly run several diagnostic tests to see if your dog has Giardia. Based on the results and severity of your dog's case, a treatment plan can be developed to meet his or her specific needs.

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

As previously stated, Giardia is a very unpleasant parasite that cannot be prevented by the tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives that your dog receives on a regular basis from his 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 provide your dog with clean, fresh water so that he does not drink from infected puddles. If you live in a Giardia-infested area, boil your dog's water (then let it cool before serving it) or invest in a filter that has been proven to remove Giardia.

Along with washing your hands after handling dog poop and promptly disposing of it, you should notify your veterinarian if you have any other animals in the house, even if they exhibit no symptoms. Your veterinarian may want to begin treating your other animals as well, as giardiasis is frequently asymptomatic and other pets may still be spreading the disease.

Bathe all household animals regularly to remove cysts from the hair coat. Additionally, you should disinfect your pets' environment (crates, beds, etc.) and daily clean their water and food bowls.

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 exhibiting giardiasis symptoms? To schedule an appointment and ensure your dog's protection, contact Queens Animal Hospital.

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