Dogs, humans, and cats can become infected with the Giardia parasite (Giardiasis). Today, our Turlock vets talk about Giardia and how it affects dogs.
Giardia in Dogs
Giardiasis is an infection of the intestines that can occur in both people and animals. This infection is caused by the Giardia parasite, of which there are 8 different genotypes labeled A through H.
Types C and D are most common in dogs, while F is seen more often in cats. For humans, it's types A and B.
While Giardia doesn't always cause issues in dogs, when problems do arise they are extremely unpleasant, diarrhea being the most common symptom. Giardiasis is particularly dangerous for puppies, dogs with compromised immune systems, and senior dogs.
Signs & Symptoms of Giardia Infections in Dogs
If your dog is displaying worrying symptoms of illness, your best bet is to book an appointment with your vet, since many of the signs below are common to a number of conditions. That said, owners can monitor for several Giardia symptoms, including:
- Poor coat appearance
- Weight loss
- Failure to gain weight
Diarrhea and weight loss often occur when the parasite disrupts a dog's internal systems, inhibiting their ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea could be either continual or intermittent, especially in puppies. If the disease isn't diagnosed and treated it could lead to severe weight loss and even death.
How Dogs Get Infected with Giardia
This single-celled parasite lives in the intestines of mammals, birds, and amphibians and as mentioned above, has different subspecies. While each subspecies targets a specific group of animals, all have the same lifecycle and method of transmission.
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.
Dogs can contract Giardia by drinking water or eating grass or other substances that have been contaminated with feces. Any seasoned pet owners know our dogs explore the world using their mouths. 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.
Our four-legged companions can also spread the parasite, even if they do not show signs of infection. 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 about the precautions you should take with your other pets.
Can Dogs Spread Giardia to People?
Thankfully, the risk of humans getting Giardia from dogs is fairly low, but it can happen. Make sure you wash your hands after handling your dog's poop to lower this low risk.
In humans, giardia transmission often occurs via drinking water, not from pets. 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 wash all produce before eating and wash your hands after working with dirt.
Treating Giardia in Dogs
If you see your dog suffering from diarrhea or other symptoms, call your vet right away. Your vet will probably conduct several diagnostic tests to determine if 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.
How To Prevent Giardia Reinfection & Keep Other Pets From Getting Sick
As stated earlier, Giardia is a highly unpleasant parasite that can't be prevented with the tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives your dog would regularly receive from a vet. However, there are steps you can take to prevent your dog from contracting Giardia. One of the most important items on the list is to make sure your pup has access to clean, fresh water at all times to limit their risk of 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.
In addition to washing your hands after handling dog poop and quickly disposing of it, you should inform your vet if you have other animals in your home, even if they are not showing any symptoms. Your vet might 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 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.