Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is a parasite that can cause Giardiasis in dogs, cats, and humans. Our Pico Rivera veterinarians 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. This infection is caused by the Giardia parasite, which comes in eight distinct genotypes denoted by the letters A through H.

Dogs are most frequently infected with types C and D, while cats are most frequently infected with type F. Types A and B apply to humans.

While Giardia does not always cause problems in dogs, when it does, the symptoms are extremely unpleasant. Diarrhea is the most common symptom. Giardiasis is especially harmful to puppies, dogs with weakened immune systems, and senior dogs.

If you're wondering "what happens if giardia is left untreated in my dog?" the answer, in the most severe cases, is death from weight loss, malnourishment, and dehydration.

What are the symptoms of Giardia in dogs?

If your dog is exhibiting concerning signs of illness, your best course of action is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, as many of the signs listed below are indicative of a variety of conditions. Having said that, owners should be aware of several Giardia symptoms in dogs, including the following:

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

Diarrhea and weight loss frequently occur as a result of the parasite interfering with a dog's internal systems, impairing the ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea may be persistent or intermittent, particularly in puppies. If the disease is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can result in severe weight loss and even death.

How are dogs infected with Giardia?

As mentioned previously, this single-celled parasite lives in the intestines of mammals, birds, and amphibians and has several subspecies. While each subspecies is specific to a particular group of animals, they all share a common life cycle and mode of transmission.

Giardia's lifecycle is divided into two stages. In the small intestine, mature parasites (trophozoites) multiply and develop into cysts. Cysts are then infectious and are shed via an infected animal's feces. They can survive in the environment as cysts for weeks before being consumed by another animal. They are then transformed into trophozoites and the life cycle is repeated.

Dogs can contract Giardia by drinking contaminated water or eating grass or other feces-contaminated foods. Any veteran pet owner is well aware that our dogs explore the world with their mouths. This makes it very easy to pick up the parasite in an environment by drinking from a puddle, eating another animal's poop, or chewing on a stick.

Even if they do not exhibit symptoms of infection, our four-legged companions can spread the parasite. As you might imagine, this is concerning, even more so if you have multiple pets. While transmission between dogs and cats is improbable, transmission between dogs is a serious concern. If one of your pets is diagnosed with Giardia, consult your veterinarian about precautions to take with the remaining pets.

Can dogs pass Giardia to people?

You may be wondering, "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 is most frequently transmitted to humans via drinking water, not from pets. Giardiasis is also referred to as "Beaver Fever" in humans. Consider purchasing a water filter if the source of your drinking water is known to contain the parasite, and avoid drinking contaminated water, particularly while traveling. This parasite can also live in soil and on food, so wash all produce thoroughly before eating and thoroughly clean your hands after working with dirt.

How is Giardia treated?

If you notice your dog has diarrhea or other symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will almost certainly conduct several diagnostic tests to determine whether your dog has Giardia. A treatment plan tailored to your dog's needs can be developed based on the results and severity of your dog's case.

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

As previously stated, Giardia is a highly unpleasant parasite that cannot be prevented with the tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives that your dog receives on a routine basis from a veterinarian. There are, however, precautions you can take to avoid your dog contracting Giardia. One of the most critical items on the list is to ensure that your dog always has access to clean, fresh water to avoid drinking from infected puddles (this also benefits your dog's overall health). If necessary, boil your dog's water (then allow it to cool before serving it to your dog) or invest in a filter proven to remove Giardia cysts if you live in an area where Giardia is present.

Along with washing your hands after handling dog poop and promptly disposing of it, you should notify your veterinarian if you have any other animals in the house, even if they exhibit no symptoms. Your veterinarian may want to begin treating your other animals as well, as giardiasis is frequently asymptomatic and other pets may still be spreading the disease.

Bathe all household animals regularly to remove cysts from the hair coat. Additionally, you should disinfect your pets' environment (crates, beds, etc.) and daily clean their water and food bowls.

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 exhibiting giardiasis symptoms? To schedule an appointment and ensure your dog's protection, contact Pico Rivera Animal Hospital.