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Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is a parasite that can cause Giardiasis in dogs, cats, and humans. Our Port Jefferson 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.

Giardia does not always cause problems in dogs, but when it does, the symptoms are very unpleasant. Among the most common symptoms is diarrhea. Particularly susceptible to giardiasis are 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 symptoms listed below are common to a variety of conditions. Nevertheless, owners should be on the lookout for the following Giardia symptoms:

  • 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 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 canine and feline companions may transmit the parasite. As expected, this is a cause for concern, particularly if you have multiple pets. While the parasite is unlikely to spread between dogs and cats, dog-to-dog transmission is a significant concern. Consult your veterinarian regarding the precautions you should take with your other pets if one of your animals has Giardia.

Can dogs pass Giardia to people?

Fortunately, the risk of humans contracting Giardia from dogs is relatively low, but it can happen. So if you're wondering "Can I get Giardia from my dog licking me?" the answer is yes, but the risk is low. Make sure to wash your hands after handling your dog's poop to reduce this low risk. 

Giardia is most frequently spread to people through drinking water, not through pets. Giardiasis is also referred to as "Beaver Fever" in people. If the parasite is present in your water supply, you should think about getting a water filter and stay away from contaminated water, especially while traveling. You should wash all produce before eating it and thoroughly wash your hands after handling dirt because this parasite can also be found in soil and on food.

How is Giardia treated?

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

Giardia is a very unpleasant parasite that can't be prevented by the tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives that your dog would typically get from the vet. However, there are steps you can take to avoid giving your dog giardia. Having clean, fresh water available at all times will help reduce the likelihood that your dog will drink from infected puddles and will also be good for their general health. This is one of the most crucial items on the list. If Giardia is prevalent where you live, boil your dog's water (and let it cool before giving it to your dog) or invest in a filter that has been shown to get rid of 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 Jefferson Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment and ensure your dog is protected.

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