Giardia in Dogs – Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Giardia in dogs is highly contagious, and one of the most common parasites in dogs. Dogs get infected very easily, but the disease does not commonly cause critical illness.

This article provides a guide telling you all you need to know about giardia, detecting it, observing symptoms, and how to attend to an infected dog.

What is Giardia?

Giardia in dogs are unicellular parasites, known as Giardia duodenalis, Giardia intestinalis, or Giardia lamblia. The parasite causes giardiasis in dogs, and cats. Chinchillas, and rabbits of all ages are also commonly infected. There are different genotypes existing today, and they do not all affect the same animals. Interestingly, some genotypes can also be transmitted to humans. 

Microscopic view of Giardia
Photo Credit: caglrscytopage

Giardia usually causes diarrhea, fever, vomiting, weight loss, or similar symptoms in dogs. Sometimes, healthy adult dogs could be infected but not exhibit any symptoms.

How does Giardia Develop in dogs ?

Giardia only develops in a host. Dogs get infected with the parasite from their environment as cysts. An animal infected with Giardia excretes the cysts. From there, it spreads into the environment because the cysts can survive outside a host for several weeks. Other dogs then take in the cysts as they move around. They could also be infected by ingesting contaminated water, food, or through direct contact with infected animals.

A dog pooping in the loan
Photo Credit: litterally_poopypuppy

Two stages of giardia

There are two stages in the life cycle of Giardia: Trophozoites and Cysts.

The trophozoites are the parasite’s active state. They attach to the animal’s intestinal wall and form cysts there.

The Cysts are the permanent state of Giardia. They have a protective cover around them and are excreted by the host. Their biological resilience to environmental factors enables them to survive outside the host’s body for several weeks. Under the right conditions, they can live for months after being excreted. 

The infection process involves a dog ingesting cysts; then, it turns into trophozoites in the intestine. A dog could be reinfected where it re-ingests the cysts, and the cycle would start again.

How to Recognize Giardia in dogs?

A common symptom of Giardia is diarrhea. If your dog has repeated diarrhea, you should have him examined by a vet. The examination is carried out using a fecal sample. Ideally you should have collected fecal matter for three days because the giardia is not excreted in all feces. A quick test of the fecal sample by a vet or in a laboratory would reveal whether or not your furry friend is infected. 

A dog can also be infected with Giardia while showing no symptoms. As such it is a good idea if you get your dog checked periodically for giardia. If one animal in a household is confirmed to be infected, other animals should also be tested.

How to Prevent Giardia in dogs?

Giardia is spread through the environment. Although you cannot completely control the environment your dog interacts with, you should, in whatever way you can, prevent an infection in your dog. 

Good hygiene is essential for preventing Giardia in dogs. Since the infection comes through ingestion into the dog’s system, you, as an owner, should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the dog doesn’t ingest the cysts. A crucial step in this is by providing access to fresh, clean water. This to prevent your furry friend from lapping up water from unsafe puddles. 

A dog drinking freshwater from the container.

Also, avoid letting your dog stay in places with large amounts of dog feces. If one of your household animals do get infected, pick up its feces and dispose of it immediately. This will prevent other animals in your house getting infected too. Get the other animals in your household tested for the infection because the condition is highly contagious.

Common Symptoms

When a parasite infects an animal, it typically shows symptoms of the infection. For otherwise healthy adult dogs that might not be the case with Giardia. For puppies, young dogs, and animals with underlying illnesses, they usually show symptoms of the infections when they’re infected.

A dog suffering from Giardia lying on the sofa

The most common symptom of Giardia is diarrhea. It could occur between normal feces, but it’s usually severe. It will sometimes be watery or slimy, and could have mucus and blood under it due to mucous membrane additions.

Dogs could also exhibit symptoms such as;

  • Listlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Slight fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weight loss
  • Vomit
  • Flatulence

In severe cases, the dog could be weakened because of the loss of water caused by the infection.

How Giardia is Treated in dogs

A dog getting the treatment from a vet

Medical Treatment Options

Once tested and confirmed to have been infected with Giardia, the dog is usually given medication containing fenbendazole as an active ingredient. This medication is administered for about a week, and it is also recommended that the medicine is administered again after about two to three weeks. 

The infection can also be treated with antibiotics containing fenbendazole, albendazole, metronidazole, and febantel to be administered twice daily for five days.

Home treatment Remedies

These are some items available at home that you can use to help your dog recover from a Giardia infection:

  • Herbal Buttermilk – add this to your dog’s food. The amount you use is dependent on the size of your dog.
  • Propolis from the beekeeper is also known to help resolve gastrointestinal problems in dogs and build its general immune system.
  • You could also add coconut oil to the dog’s food. A teaspoon is sufficient for smaller dogs and a tablespoon for big dogs.

Aiding the recovery

You can aid your dog’s recovery process by practicing special hygiene measures and improving its diet. Ensure cysts are entirely removed from your dog and prevent reinfection by hosing down surfaces with a steam jet and washing blankets, toys, and cleaning bowls with hot water. You should also wash the dog’s hair with shampoo with particular attention to the anus area to remove any traces of giardia from its fur. Ensure that hair in the anal region is kept short for hairy dogs.

You should get rid of the dog’s feces immediately and change litter boxes and disinfect toilets daily to prevent flies from transmitting giardia from manure to animals. Because of flies’ ability to ship pathogens, protect food and water bowls from them. 

You could also help regularize your dog’s gastrointestinal tract by changing its diet to contain easily digestible food and providing a sufficient supply of fluids and electrolytes. A low carbohydrate diet also helps because the parasites primarily feed on carbohydrates in the intestine.

Frequently Asked Questions about Giardia in Dogs

Although some dogs may not show any signs of infection, the typical symptom of giardia in dogs is diarrhea. Dogs could also exhibit symptoms like weight loss, loss of appetite, and similar problems. Where your dog exhibits these symptoms, test a fecal sample at a vet or a laboratory to confirm if it’s giardia.

Giardia is a zoonosis. Thus it can be transmitted between humans and animals. Like for dogs, it is not likely to be critically dangerous in humans. However, for children and adults with previous ailments, it could be hazardous.

If your dog has been confirmed to have Giardia, administer the prescribed medication to it. Also, ensure all items it uses are washed in hot water, bathe it regularly with shampoo, keep hair in the anal region short and throw away feces immediately. Also, ensure its diet is made up of easily digestible and low-carb food. If you have any other household animals, also get them tested for Giardia.

Adding herbal buttermilk, propolis from the beekeeper, and coconut oil to your dog’s diet helps aid the recovery process. Also, keep the dog’s environment hygienic and get rid of feces immediately to prevent reinfection. Feeding your dog with easily digestible and low carbohydrates food also aids recovery and normalizes your furry friend’s gastrointestinal tract.

Final Thoughts on Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is one of the most common parasites in dogs, but you can protect your furry friend from becoming one of its victims by ensuring your dog’s hygiene is at its best and keeping to the tips mentioned in this article. If your dog is already infected with giardia, get the infection treated and remove all traces of giardia from your household, so none of your pets has to suffer such fate again.