You may have never heard of Giardia, but you are probably familiar with a little stomach issue called diarrhea. Well, Giardia is an intestinal parasite that can cause a lot of discomfort for your pet, giving them the runs. We don’t need to explain to you how uncomfortable diarrhea is. What we do want to tell you about are the causes, symptoms and tips to prevent your pet from getting Giardia.
How Can Your Pet Get Giardia?
Giardia parasites can be found across the US, in any state at any time of year. However, it’s easier to contract it during outdoor activities, on trips or while at a pet kennel.
When the Giardia parasite is ingested, it feeds off the animal’s intestines and then sheds a hard, contagious cyst along with the animal’s feces. If your pet eats, sniffs, or drinks contaminated water, dirt or other object, they have a good chance of contracting the parasite.
Giardia cysts prefer and can survive for up to 7 weeks in cool, moist environments. In water, they can live for up to 3 months. This makes contaminated water the biggest culprit when it comes to the spread of the parasite.
"I might be drinking water contaminated with Giardia parasites... You really should stop me!"
Is My Dog At Risk?
Young puppies, mature dogs, and dogs with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of developing serious Giardia infections. Meanwhile, healthy adult dogs may come in contact with Giardia and not experience an infection or show any symptoms of being ill.
Plus, according to PetMD, “up to 50 percent of young puppies will develop this intestinal infection. And up to 100 percent of dogs housed in kennels will develop it due to the massive exposure..”
Puppies are at special risk for Giardia and they often have the most severe symptoms.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Giardia?
When an animal is infected with Giardia they may develop Giardiasis, an intestinal infection that causes uncomfortable symptoms such as:
- Decreased energy levels
- Weight loss
- Premature death, in severe cases
PetMD warns that your pet’s diarrhea will present itself as “soft, frothy, greasy, and with a strong, awful odor or excessive mucus.”
It can be hard to tell if Giardia is responsible for your pet’s bout of diarrhea. The infection can cause symptoms that are everything from harsh and sudden, to mildly intermittent or chronic. Also, many dogs infected with Giardia show none of these symptoms and thus it can be very difficult to diagnose.
How Is Giardia Diagnosed?
If you suspect a Giardia infection, speak with your vet right away about having your pet tested. You’ll need to collect a stool sample to bring for testing. Your vet will want to rule out other causes such as digestive issues or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). If your pet has a confirmed infection, your vet will discuss an effective treatment plan that combines prescription drugs and regular bathing to get rid of the infection and prevent possible reintroduction.
As mentioned above, many pets won't show any symptoms. Even if your dog does not show any signs of an infection, you should have them tested for parasites once a year. This will help ward off the spread of parasites and possible Giardiasis in your pet.
Whether your pet shows symptoms of Giardia or not, you should take them for an annual check-up.
How Can You Treat Giardia in Dogs?
According to the VCA Animal Hospital, vets commonly prescribe an antibiotic called metronidazole for treatment. Your dog will need to take that for five to seven days. Your vet may also prescribe fenbendazole, an anti-parasitic prescription drug that works well when used with metronidazole.
In addition to medical treatment, you will need to thoroughly clean your pet’s living areas and all toys, bedding, food bowls, etc. with a diluted bleach and water mixture for disinfection. For a full list of CDC recommendation on cleaning your home during a Giardia outbreak click here.
Last, but certainly not least, you will need to make sure there’s lots of cool, fresh water around because your pet’s body will be very dehydrated from the diarrhea and medication.
Is Your Pet’s Giardia Contagious?
According to the CDC, it’s very rare for Giardia to pass from animal to human. While humans can contract Giardia and see similar symptoms as their pets, they usually suffer from different species of parasites.
This said, it is still advisable to practice extra hygiene if your pet has Giardia. That includes immediately cleaning up feces and using disinfectants for your pet’s items. If anyone in your household is suffering from immune deficiency, they should to take special precautions to avoid contracting the parasite.
"I might be a little bit contagious, but if you take special precautions, you can still hang out with me!"
What Can You Do to Protect Your Pet from Giardia?
Prevention is always the best treatment for any ailment. Here are some tips on how you can protect your pet from Giardia.
Tip 1. Always give your pet safe, clean, cool drinking water, especially during walks and outdoor activities.
Tip 2. Don't let your dog drink out of the community water bowl at pet-friendly places such as restaurants, parks, and pet stores.
Tip 3. Maneuver your dog around other animals’ feces when outside and keep your dog away from your cat’s litterbox.
Tip 4. Prevent Gairdia outbreaks by always bringing your disposable gloves or a waste bag to grab your dog’s feces.
Tip 5. Try not to leave your dog in large kennels or crowded dog day care facilities where the probability of spreading Giardia is very high.
Tip 6. Prevent a Giardia outbreak in your home with extra hygiene, like routinely washing your dog’s paws and everything they come in contact with.
Tip 7. Take your dog for an annual check-up and have the vet test your pet’s stool sample for parasites at least once a year.
"I am being extremely hygienic so that I don't get Giardia. Are you???"
If you’ve ever had diarrhea, you know how unpleasant it can be. For your dog, it’s no different, plus you’ll also be suffering the clean-up consequences. The best way is to prevent Giardia with extra cautious hygiene and always providing clean drinking water for you pet. But in case you do suspect that your pet has the parasites, get swift and professional treatment. After all, a healthy pet is a happy pet!
- "Giardia in Pets," Pets & Parasites
- "The Facts You Need To Know About Giardia In Dogs," AKC American Kennel Club
- "Be on Guard Against Giardia," Vet Street