Giardia is a parasite that can infect dogs, cats, and humans, and cause a condition called Giardiasis. Here, our Riverside vets explain what Giardia is, the symptoms of this parasite, how it spreads, and how it should be treated.
What is giardia in dogs?
Giardiasis is an intestinal infection caused by the Giardia parasite.
In dogs, types C and D or Giardiasis are most common, 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 extremely unpleasant. Diarrhea is the most common symptom. Giardiasis is especially dangerous in puppies, dogs with weakened immune systems, and senior dogs.
What are the symptoms of giardia in dogs?
Giardiasis has a few symptoms, including:
- Failure to gain weight
- Weight loss
- 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.
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.
Dogs can also spread Giardia asymptomatically, so even if your dog is not displaying signs of sickness but you suspect they came into contact with Giardia or another parasite, bring them to your veterinarian right away. Left untreated, Giardia can lead to painful, watery diarrhea and even death.
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.
How is Giardia treated?
If you've noticed any of the symptoms of Giardia in your dog, contact your vet right away! Your veterinarian will likely perform a few diagnostic tests and determine if your dog's condition should be treated surgically or medicinally.
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 and it cannot be treated with parasite preventatives that your dog would normally receive from a veterinarian (such as for heartworm). However, there are precautions dog owners can take to protect their pups from this parasite.
Very importantly, always provide your dog fresh water to reduce the risk of them drinking from infected puddles. If you live in an area where Giardia is present, boil your dog's water and let it fully cool before giving to your dog, or purchase a filter that has been proven to remove Giardia cysts.
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.