Giardia in Dogs

Giardiasis is a parasitic infection that can cause uncomfortable and potentially serious symptoms in dogs, especially when very young or old. Our East Setauket vets discuss Giardia in dogs, how dogs contract this parasite, and what can be done to prevent infection.

What is Giardia in Dogs?

Giardia is contracted by dogs when they ingest feces-contaminated soil, food, and water. This parasite can cause an infection which leads to severe diarrhea.

While a healthy, adult dog may only experience diarrhea, dogs with weaker immune systems, such as puppies and senior dogs, may be at risk of serious complications. There is also a risk that dogs may become reinfected even with treatment which makes following veterinary instructions important as well as monitoring your pet and their environment.

Symptoms of Giardia in Dogs

Many of the common symptoms of Giardia are also signs of other illnesses. Because of this, you should contact your vet and schedule an examination with any signs that may appear. However, owners should be on the lookout for several Giardia symptoms in their dogs, including:

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

Diarrhea and weight loss often happen when the parasite disrupts a dog's internal systems, inhibiting its ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea might be continual or intermittent, especially in puppies. If you're wondering what happens if Giardia is left untreated in dogs, the answer is severe weight loss and possibly even death.

How do dogs contract 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 contract Giardia by ingesting water, soil, or food that has been contaminated with infected feces. 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 while asymptomatic, your dog will be able to spread the parasite to other pets and even people. As you might expect, this is concerning, especially if you have more than one pet. While the parasite is unlikely to spread between dogs and cats, transmission from dog to dog is a major concern. If one of your pets has Giardia, consult your veterinarian about the precautions you should take with your other pets.

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 transmission in humans is most commonly transmitted through drinking water, not through pets. Giardiasis is also known as "Beaver Fever" in humans. If your water source is known to contain the parasite, consider purchasing a water filter, and avoid drinking contaminated water, especially while traveling. This parasite can also be found in soil and on food, so wash all produce before eating it and thoroughly wash your hands after working with dirt.

What are the treatment options for Giardia in dogs?

If you've noticed your dog is suffering from diarrhea or other symptoms, call your vet right away. Your vet will likely perform several diagnostic tests to find out whether your dog has Giardia. Depending on the results and the severity of your dog's case, a treatment plan tailored to your dog's needs can be developed. 

How can I prevent Giardia in dogs?

Giardia is a highly unpleasant parasite that cannot be prevented with the tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives that your dog would normally receive from a veterinarian. There are, however, precautions you can take to keep your dog from contracting Giardia. One of the most important items on the list is to always provide your dog with clean, fresh water to reduce the risk of them drinking from infected puddles (this will also benefit your dog's overall health). If you live in an area where Giardia is present, boil your dog's water (then let it cool before giving it to your dog) or purchase a filter that has been proven 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.

Are you concerned that your dog is showing the signs of giardiasis infection? Contact Setauket Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment and ensure your dog is protected.