The Giardia parasite in dogs can cause the infection of Giardiasis which primarily causes diarrhea. Our New Ulm vets explain what Giardia is, how it is transmitted, and how to treat it.
What is dog Giardia?
The Giardia parasite causes an infection called Giardiasis that affects the intestines and is able to occur in both people and animals. There are 8 different genotypes of Giardia labeled A through H.
Types C and D most commonly infect dogs, while F is the most common culprit in cats. For humans, it's types A and B.
When infected with Giardia, dogs may not always experience symptoms. If they do, however, the most common symptom is diarrhea. While this isn't as much of a concern for dogs that are healthy it can be detrimental to dogs that are older or have compromised immune systems.
What are the signs of Giardia infection?
If you notice any of the following signs associated with a Giardia infection we recommend booking an appointment with your vet. Many of the signs below are common to a number of conditions but pet owners can be on the lookout for several symptoms of Giardia, including:
- Failure to gain weight
- Weight loss
- Poor coat appearance
The Giardia parasite infects the intestines of animals potentially causing diarrhea and weight loss, inhibiting their ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea might be continual or intermittent, especially in puppies. If the disease is not diagnosed and treated, severe weight loss and even death can occur.
How are dogs infected with Giardia?
Giardia is a single-celled parasite that lives within the intestines of mammals, birds and amphibians and as mentioned above, has different subspecies. While nearly everything is the same among subspecies the main difference is that each subspecies has a different target animal.
There are two stages of Giardia's lifecycle. Mature parasites (trophozoites) live in the small intestine, multiply and become cysts. Cysts are then infective and shed via feces from an infected animal. They can survive for weeks in the environment as cysts until being ingested by another animal. They then transform into trophozoites and repeat the lifecycle.
The main mode of transmission between dogs occurs when a dog eats grass or drinks water that is infected with the parasite. Any seasoned pet owners know our dogs explore the world using their mouths. This makes the parasite easy to pick up in an environment by doing anything from drinking from a puddle, eating another animal's poop or chewing on a stick.
Our four-legged companions can also spread the parasite, even if they do not show signs of infection. As you can imagine, this is concerning, especially if you live with more than one pet. While the parasite is unlikely to be transmitted between dogs and cats, transmission from dog to dog is very much a concern. If one of your pets is diagnosed with Giardia, ask your vet which precautions you should take with your other pets.
Can dogs pass Giardia to people?
It is highly unlikely that your dog will transmit the infection to you should be sure to wash your hands after handling your dog's poop to reduce this low risk.
In humans, giardia transmission commonly occurs via drinking water, not from pets. Giardiasis in people is known as "Beaver Fever." Consider buying a water filter if your water source is known to contain the parasite, and avoid drinking contaminated water especially while traveling. This parasite can also be present in soil and on food, so wash all produce before eating and wash your hands after working with dirt.
How do you treat Giardia?
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 to keep my dog as well as my other pets safe during treatment?
Giardia is a parasite that can cause very uncomfortable conditions in dogs. The routine vaccinations that your dog receives from your vet do not protect against this infection. 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 ensure your dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times to cut the risk of them drinking from infected puddles (this will also contribute to your dog's overall health). If you need to, boil your dog's water (then let it cool before offering it to your dog) or purchase a filter that has been proven to remove Giardia cysts if you live in a place where Giardia is present.
Along with washing your hands after handling dog poop and quickly disposing of it, you should inform your vet if you have other animals in the house, even if they are not showing any symptoms. Your vet may want to start your other animals on medication as giardiasis is often asymptomatic and other pets could still be spreading the illness.
All household animals should be bathed regularly to remove cysts from the hair coat. You should also be sure to disinfect your pets' environment (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.