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Giardia in Dogs

What Is Giardia in Dogs?

Giardia is a tiny single-celled parasite that can be found in dogs’ intestines, as well as in other animals like cats and humans. It can lead to serious gastrointestinal problems in infected animals.

The transmission of Giardia in dogs typically occurs through exposure to fecally-contaminated water, food, or soil. There’s a risk of humans contracting Giardia from infected dogs, so it’s crucial to maintain strict hygiene practices when tending to a pet with Giardia. This includes thorough handwashing and disinfecting all areas accessible to the infected dog in your home.

Symptoms and Types

Giardia in dogs manifests primarily through watery diarrhea, which is a prominent symptom of the disease. Apart from diarrhea, dogs with Giardia may exhibit vomiting, increased foul-smelling gas, reduced appetite, decreased energy levels, and frequent defecation urges.

It’s important to acknowledge that dogs, as well as other animals, may carry Giardia in their intestines without showing any symptoms, a condition known as subclinical infection. Since routine testing for Giardia is not standard practice for healthy dogs, the prevalence of asymptomatic cases remains uncertain.

The potential for apparently healthy dogs to harbor Giardia underscores the significance of maintaining proper hygiene practices around animal feces, highlighting its importance beyond mere discomfort with handling waste.

Causes

Giardia in dogs is widespread across the United States and globally. The presence of Giardia cysts, which are protective outer shells enabling the parasite to survive outside a host, is a prerequisite for infection.

Dogs contract Giardia by consuming food or water containing these cysts or by directly ingesting infected feces. It’s important to note that fecal ingestion doesn’t necessarily entail consuming feces from the ground. Dogs can also ingest feces when sniffing other dogs’ rear ends, which is a common form of canine greeting, and then licking their nose.

Contaminated soil and plants serve as additional sources of infection for dogs. Furthermore, dogs may become infected by hunting and killing prey that is contaminated with Giardia.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians diagnose Giardia in dogs by first gathering a comprehensive history and conducting a physical examination to assess the dog’s overall health and hydration status, as well as to check for signs of intestinal discomfort, gas, and potential exposure to Giardia.

To identify evidence of Giardia infection, known as Giardiasis, veterinarians typically recommend the following tests:

  • Fecal examination for routine intestinal parasites (many veterinarians may also send a fecal sample to a laboratory for further analysis).
  • Testing for parvovirus to rule out this potentially fatal yet preventable virus as a potential cause of symptoms.
  • Performing a rapid, in-house “snap test” or microscopic evaluation.

Treatment

Effective and affordable medications are readily available for treating Giardia in dogs. Multiple rounds of treatment may be necessary, as complete elimination of the disease from your home and preventing reinfection can be challenging. However, in many cases, a single treatment round is sufficient to clear the infection.

Additional medications may be recommended based on the severity of the infection and your dog’s overall condition.

Dehydrated dogs and puppies can benefit from subcutaneous fluid therapy (fluids injected under the skin), electrolyte administration, and injectable vitamins. In cases of moderate to severe dehydration, hospitalization for intravenous fluid therapy may be necessary.

Living and Management

Dogs that have recovered from a Giardia infection do not develop immunity against future infections, and they remain susceptible to reinfection.

To prevent reinfection, it’s crucial to thoroughly disinfect all areas accessible to your dog. Effective methods include using ammonia, diluted bleach solution, or steam cleaning to eliminate Giardia cysts. Prompt removal and disposal of your dog’s feces, whether indoors or outdoors, are essential.

Giardia poses a persistent challenge due to its ability to survive in the environment for extended periods under suitable conditions. Contaminated soil and indoor surfaces can remain infectious for months, highlighting the importance of rigorous cleaning and avoidance of contaminated areas whenever possible. If you have other pets at home, inform your veterinarian to discuss whether preventive medications should be administered to them.

Regular follow-up appointments with the vet are necessary due to Giardia’s highly contagious nature. Multiple negative tests are required before considering the infection eradicated. If there are infants or immunocompromised individuals in the household, additional negative Giardia tests may be necessary to ensure complete eradication of the parasite.

Here are some additional tips for managing and preventing Giardia:

  • Conduct stool checks and Giardia testing before introducing a new pet to your household.
  • Use a monthly heartworm preventative that also targets gastrointestinal parasites.
  • Keep outdoor sandboxes covered when not in use.
  • Maintain regular vet checkups and opt for fecal parasite testing.
  • Prevent your dog from hunting and consuming rodents and other small animals whenever possible.

Giardia in Dogs FAQs

How contagious is Giardia in dogs?

Giardia is highly contagious among dogs. Due to its persistence in the environment and the lack of immunity dogs develop after infection, reinfection with the parasite is a continuous risk.

Can dogs with Giardia go to dog daycare?

Dogs diagnosed with or suspected of having Giardiasis should refrain from attending daycare. This precaution not only protects other dogs from potential infection but also reduces the risk of reinfection for the affected dog, as Giardia spreads easily in daycare and dog park settings.

Is Giardia hard to get rid of in dogs?

While most cases of Giardia in dogs can be effectively treated with proper medication, environmental decontamination and retesting are essential to ensure complete elimination of the parasite. Strict adherence to all aspects of treatment is necessary as Giardia can be challenging to eradicate entirely.

Standard treatments for Giardia in dogs include oral antibiotics like metronidazole and fenbendazole.

How long does it take for Giardia to go away in dogs?

Giardia will persist until effectively treated and removed from the environment, confirmed by multiple negative tests indicating the resolution of the disease. Comprehensive decontamination of indoor and outdoor spaces is crucial to prevent reinfection, typically requiring a couple of weeks of treatment and strict environmental management to clear the infection.

Does Giardia cause loss of appetite in dogs?

While diarrhea is the most common sign of Giardia infection in dogs, vomiting and loss of appetite can also occur as symptoms of the illness.

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