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Giardia in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments

Written and published by Tails 'N' Tummies

Sometimes, the simple act of taking your dog for a walk can be a real pain. Not only do you have to be cognizant of other animals and people that you may come into contact with, but you also have to be aware of your dog’s surroundings at all times.

After all, you never know what sort of hidden dangers await in nature that can harm your pup or make him sick. Giardia is one of those dangers that, while not uncommon, can make your pup feel pretty crummy unless treated efficiently.

There are many effective ways to treat Giardia in dogs, so don't despair if your pup contracts it. With proper treatment, your dog can make a full recovery. Keep reading for more information on Giardia in dogs.

What is Giardia?

Dogs are susceptible to a variety of viral infections and parasites, one of which is Giardia. If your pet is infected with Giardia, he may display symptoms of an upset tummy, such as diarrhea or vomiting. If you think your dog may have come into contact with this highly contagious parasite, it is important to get them checked out by a veterinarian.

Giardia is a protozoan (single-celled) microscopic parasite that can inhabit the intestines of dogs, cats, and even humans. Once ingested, either through contaminated food, water, or fecal matter, these pesky parasites attach themselves to the lining of the intestines. They then feed off of nutrients from the food your dog eats to stay alive.

Once a Giardia parasite gains access to the intestines, it begins to set up camp and multiply at an impressive speed. Mature Giardia parasites eventually transform into cysts, which begins the infectious stage. It is at this point that Giardia will begin to shed into your pet’s stool and travel. In cyst form, Giardia can live for several weeks in an environment with no life source.

To put it simply, the spread of Giardia goes like this:

Step 1: Your pet consumes infected fecal matter either directly or via particles in a shared water supply. He now has Giardia.

Step 2: Giardia takes up residence in your pet’s intestines and quickly begins to multiply. The newly bred parasites stick around to continue breeding, while the older parasites transform into cysts.

Step 3: Mature Giardia, now in cyst form, catches a ride out of the body in your dog’s stool.

Step 4: Your neighbor’s dog consumes something containing particles of your pet’s stool and he, too, now has Giardia.

This cycle continues on and on again until something or someone (like you, a responsible pet owner) interrupts it.

Giardia Symptoms in Dogs

  • Diarrhea
  • Loose stool
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain on abdominal palpation

Giardia is one of the more common parasitic infections. While any dog can contract Giardia, it tends to target adolescent dogs and puppies more aggressively due to their vulnerable immune system.

Prevention of Giardiasis is important, as it is a highly contagious disease that can be easily spread to other dogs and even humans. Good hygiene practices, such as washing your hands after contact with infected animals and their stool, are essential in preventing the spread of this aggravating infection.

Preventing Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is a serious concern for many dog owners because this parasite can be passed to humans (and your other pets). Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do at home to prevent the spread.

1. Make sure that your dog has access to clean water. If you are concerned about Giardia in your local water supply, you can give your dog bottled water or filter the water before placing it in the bowl.

2. Avoid taking your dog to areas where Giardia is known to be present such as dog parks, daycare facilities, or boarding kennels. If you take your dog out for a walk or hike, be sure to prevent him from drinking out of a public or natural water supply, including lakes, rivers, pools, and fountains.

3. Talk to your veterinarian about Giardia prevention if you are planning to travel with your dog, especially if you are visiting a new or unknown area.

4. Be sure to pick up and properly dispose of your pet’s stool (even if he’s not ill). Disregarded fecal matter is, without a doubt, the main source of contraction and reinfection when it comes to Giardia.

By taking some simple precautions, you can help to prevent Giardia in your own dog and keep your family safe from this harmful parasite.

Treatment of Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is a common intestinal parasite that can infect both dogs and humans. While Giardiasis is usually not serious, it is important to treat it efficiently to prevent your pup from having an upset tummy. The good news? Giardia is easily treatable with oral medication.

Medicaton for Giardia

The most common treatment for Giardia is an oral medication prescribed by your veterinarian. To diagnose, your vet may first recommend a fecal screening. This is a common diagnostic test that allows your vet to visualize the parasite on a microscopic level. Not only will this test confirm the presence of the parasite itself, but it may also give your vet an idea of the degree of infestation. Some dogs require multiple rounds of treatment to fully rid the body of infection.

Metronidazole is, perhaps, the most common veterinary drug prescribed for the treatment of Giardia. While effective at ridding the body of parasites, Metronidazole is an antibiotic which means that it is extremely important to finish the entire course of medication, even if your dog's symptoms improve.

If your pet does, in fact, need a round of antibiotics to combat Giardia, it is important to restore his gut health afterwards. One of the most effective ways to do this is to start your pet on a probiotic such as ours.

Home Remedies

While the symptomatic severity of Giardia may vary, the parasite itself cannot be killed without the use of medication. However, there are many effective home remedies that can help relieve your pet’s symptoms and heal his aching tummy. Below are some of the most popular home remedies.

Chicken and Rice

If you find yourself wondering what to feed a dog with Giardia, consider something bland. The good ol’ chicken and rice diet is a staple among pet owners and has been used for decades to cure an upset stomach. A bland diet such as this can help entice your pet to eat while simultaneously firming up loose stools caused by Giardia.

Probiotics

Probiotics can be used to maximize your pet’s gut health and prevent the recurrence of diarrhea caused by Giardia. Probiotics can be added to your pup’s diet in supplement form or by adding one of these great food items to their bowl:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Goat's milk
  • Cheese
  • Turmeric

Smaller, More Frequent Feedings

As your pup recovers from Giardia, it may be wise to split his daily meals into smaller, more frequent feedings. This can help reduce strain on the intestines and prevent accidents or increased urgency.

Ridding Your Home or Yard of Giardia

Since Giardia is spread through your pet’s fecal material, it is imperative to thoroughly clean any parts of your home or yard that may have been contaminated. A great first step is to pick up your dog’s stool quickly after each bowel movement. If your pup has runny stool or diarrhea, be sure to thoroughly rinse away the stool using a garden hose. While this won’t rid the area of Giardia entirely, it can help to dilute the potency, which will reduce contamination.

If your pup has an accident in the house, be sure to thoroughly cleanse the affected surface with diluted bleach. I your carpet or upholstery won’t tolerate bleach, scrub aggressively with a gentler pet-friendly cleaning solution.

It is also important to clean your pup’s rear when he finishes a bowel movement. Young puppies, especially, do not posture appropriately and may have fecal residue on their rear ends or tail. When cleaning the area with their tongues (as dogs do), they will reinfect themselves all over again - an unnecessary headache for everyone involved. To prevent this, simply cleanse your pup’s rear with a baby wipe or other gentle cloth. Dispose of the wipe, and wash your hands thoroughly.

Keep in mind that Giardia can easily be spread to humans. To avoid this, use extra precautions when playing or cuddling with your pup until he is fully cleared of the infection. To be on the safe side, prevent your pup from “kissing” you with his tongue, and do not allow him on your furniture until fully treated.

Frequently Asked Questions About Giardia in Dogs

"Can humans get Giardia from dogs?"

The short answer to this one is: YES.

Giardia can be contracted by mammals, birds, amphibians, and humans. It is, perhaps, one of the most contagious parasitic infections and can easily be transferred from dog to owner. To prevent this, practice good hygiene and take extra precautions when playing and cuddling with your pup.

"How long does Giardia in dogs last?"

Giardia can live in your dog’s body for 1-2 weeks or more, even while being treated. If your dog is exposed to Giardia on a consistent basis and continuously reinfected, it can last for many weeks or even months. If you are concerned that your pet may have come into contact with Giardia, it is imperative to act quickly and contact your veterinarian for medication as soon as possible.

"Is Giardia contagious to other animals?"

Giardia is highly contagious and can easily be spread to multiple animals within a single household (including birds and amphibians). It is, for this reason, that many veterinarians recommend treating every pet in your home when even one comes up positive for Giardia. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to this persistent parasitic infection.

"How serious is Giardia in dogs?"

Giardia is very common and will not harm your pet if treated quickly and thoroughly. However, if left untreated for several days or weeks, Giardia may cause your pet to become seriously ill. If your pet is having diarrhea because of Giardiasis, he can easily become dehydrated and require hospitalization with fluid therapy. To prevent more serious secondary issues, Giardia should be treated as soon as possible.

To Sum it All Up

Giardia is an aggravating parasite that can be very difficult to get rid of. If your dog contracts it, make sure you stay on top of treatment and keep them away from other animals until they are cleared. Thankfully, Giardia is not usually dangerous if caught early and treated properly.

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