Can Dogs Live with Giardia?

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Introduction

Giardia is an intestinal parasite found all around the world. Not only is it the most common intestinal parasite found in humans, but it can also affect our canine companions. 

This nasty, little single-celled parasite causes foul-smelling diarrhea and vomiting in some cases, and contracting giardiasis (the intestinal infection caused by giardia) can be a thoroughly unpleasant experience for your pet.

However, giardia infection is relatively easy to treat and, with a thorough approach, can be eliminated from your home. Let's take a closer look at exactly what giardia is, how it can harm your pet, and what treatment and prevention of this pesky parasite involves.

Signs and Symptoms of Giardia in Dogs

Giardia are microscopic parasites that, once ingested by your pooch, will attach themselves to the dog's intestinal wall. In many cases, this causes the acute onset of some particularly-foul-smelling diarrhea. Yep, it sounds gross and it most certainly is.

Stools of a dog with giardiasis could be soft or watery, may have a slight green tinge, and in some cases may also contain blood. Some owners will also notice excess mucus in their dog's feces.

Depending on the dog and the severity of the infection, some animals may also experience vomiting and ongoing diarrhea can cause dehydration. As a result, if these symptoms hang around for a few weeks or more, chances are you'll notice your pet gradually losing weight as the infection continues to use up the nutrients they need for normal health.

However, it's worth pointing out that your dog's diarrhea may be intermittent rather than sudden, or it could be chronic in nature.
Now that we've got the nastiness out of the way, let's follow it with some good news: giardiasis is rarely fatal, and some dogs carrying the parasite may not show any symptoms. It can, however, be life-threatening to animals with immature or compromised immune systems, and should always be promptly seen to by a veterinarian.

Body Language

Take a closer look at your pet's body language for any clues or indicators that they could be suffering from giardia infection, such as:
  • Weakness
  • Dropped Ears
  • Sleepiness

Other Signs

Other signs you may notice include:
  • Diarrhea, often foul-smelling
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Gradual weight loss

The Science of Giardia

Giardia is a single-celled parasite that likes to make its home in the intestinal tracts of mammals, birds, and amphibians. There are seven different genotypes of giardia, listed as A through to G, and types C and D are the ones that most commonly affect dogs.

Giardia have what is known as a direct life cycle, which is composed of two stages. The mature parasites are known as trophozoites and occupy the small intestine. There, they multiply and become cysts, which are then shed in the feces of an infected animal. 

These cysts are capable of surviving in the environment for several months, especially in water or damp areas, until they're ingested by a new host and turn into trophozoites. The time it takes from an animal ingesting cysts to passing cysts in their own feces is around 5 to 12 days.

There are several ways that a dog can become infected with giardia, such as:

  • Drinking water contaminated by infected feces; for example, drinking from a puddle
  • Eating contaminated food
  • Licking contaminated fur
  • Eating contaminated feces
  • Eating anything else contaminated with giardia, such as grass or a stick

Once the parasite is in your dog's system, it won't take long before they can start spreading it in their feces, even if they're not showing any symptoms. This is of particular concern to owners with multiple pets, and effective treatment of both the infected animal and their environment is crucial to stop the spread of giardia.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Giardia Infection

If your dog has diarrhea, get them checked out by your vet without delay. He or she will conduct an examination and a variety of tests to rule out any other potential medical causes and diagnose giardia. The trophozoite and cyst forms of giardia may be detected by examining the dog's feces, while your vet may also take a stool sample for analysis.
The drugs that are usually used to treat giardisis are fenbendazole and metronidazole. They're typically given for a period of 3 to 10 days, and are sometimes given in combination if required.

Supportive treatment to alleviate the symptoms of giardia infection may also be recommended, including drugs to combat dehydration and severe diarrhea. Your dog may also need to be fed a special diet to help reduce the risk of loose stools, and follow-up treatment may be required depending on the severity of the infection. Your veterinarian will also want to re-rest your animal for giardiasis within 2 to 4 weeks of treatment being completed to ensure that it has been successful. 

Happily, the prognosis for dogs with giardisis is typically quite good, and most animals will experience a full recovery. However, older animals and those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of complications, and death can sometimes occur.

But if your dog is in good general health and you get their symptoms checked out by a vet sooner rather than later, your four-legged friend will be well placed to overcome the discomfort and unpleasantness caused by this nasty little parasite.

How to Prevent Giardia in Dogs:

  • While it's not possible to control every single aspect of your pet's environment and interactions, there are a few simple things you can do to reduce the risk of giardia infection.
  • Make sure your pet always has access to an ample supply of fresh, clean water.
  • If giardia is present in tap water where you live, boil all your dog's water first or purchase a filter that has been proven to remove the parasite.
  • Stay on top of general hygiene tasks and clean up after your dog as soon as possible.
  • Avoid taking your pet to places where they're likely to come into contact with large amounts of dog feces.

Giardia Safety Tips:

  • Giardia can potentially be passed from dogs to humans, so make sure to disinfect your dog's environment and practice good personal hygiene to prevent accidental spread.
  • Disinfect your pet's bowls, toys, and bedding after treatment.
  • Steam clean upholstery and carpets.
  • Wear gloves when gardening or cleaning up after your dog.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog's Giardia Infection!