Giardia is a parasitic infection that can affect dogs as well as cats and humans. Here, our Houston County vets discuss Giardia in dogs including how it is transmitted, and treatment.
Giardiasis is an intestinal parasitic infection that can occur in animals as well as humans. This infection is caused by the Giardia parasite, of which there are 8 different genotypes 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 your dog may not show any symptoms but there is a chance that there may be symptoms that could make your dog very uncomfortable. The most common symptom is diarrhea. While not typically a concern for dogs that are of adult age and perfectly healthy, the infection could be detrimental to the health of senior dogs or puppies, as well as those experiencing immune system disorders.
Signs of Giardia in Dogs
If you witness any of the symptoms below in your dog it is always recommended to book an appointment and have your dog seen by a vet. Many of the signs below can occur with a wide variety of conditions but owners can be on the lookout for several symptoms of Giardia, including:
- Failure to gain weight
- Weight loss
- Poor coat appearance
When a dog is experiencing a parasitic infection it can commonly cause diarrhea and weight loss, inhibiting their ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea might be continual or intermittent, especially in puppies. The disease must be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible as it could lead to severe weight loss and potentially be fatal.
Causes of Giardia
The Giardia parasite prefers to thrive in the intestines of mammals, birds, and amphibians and as mentioned above, has different subspecies. all species have the same lifecycle and method of transmission regardless of which animal they choose to infect.
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 most common way that your dog may contract Giardia is by drinking water or eating grass or other substances that have been contaminated with an infected dog's feces. dogs are notorious for eating and chewing on everything possible. 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.
It is also possible for your dog to be a carrier of the parasite even without showing any symptoms, allowing them to potentially and unexpectedly transmit the infection to others. 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 Humans Be Infected?
While there is little risk involved when it comes to dog-to-human transmission, it is still a possibility. In order to avoid this you should be sure to wash your hands after handling your dog's poop to reduce this low risk.
for humans to become infected they need to drink water that has been contaminated with the parasite. 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 it is important to thoroughly wash all foods and your hands before consuming them.
Treating Giardia in Dogs
The first thing that you should do if you notice that your dog is suffering from diarrhea or other similar symptoms is to call your vet. 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.
Unfortunately, Giardia is a parasitic infection that causes extremely uncomfortable symptoms in your pets and is unable to be prevented by conventional parasite prevention medications. However, there are ways that you can be sure to keep your dog safe from contracting the infection. 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.
If you must handle poop after taking your dog out it is important to dispose of it quickly and thoroughly wash your hands once you return home. You should also 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 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.