Giardia is a parasite that can cause Giardiasis in dogs, cats, and humans. In this article, our veterinarians at Mooresville explain what Giardia is, how it spreads, and the different treatments available for it.
What is Giardia in Dogs?
Giardiasis is an intestinal infection that can affect both humans and animals. It is caused by the Giardia parasite, which has eight different genotypes labeled A through H.
Types C and D are the most common infecting viruses in dogs, while F is the most common infecting virus in cats. Types A and B apply to humans.
Although Giardia in dogs may not always lead to issues, it can cause very unpleasant symptoms when it does. The most common symptom is diarrhea. Puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to giardiasis.
What are the Symptoms of Giardia in Dogs?
If your dog is showing concerning signs of sickness, the best course of action is to arrange an appointment with your veterinarian. Many of the symptoms listed below are typical of various conditions. Nevertheless, owners should keep an eye out for various Giardia symptoms, such as:
- Failure to gain weight
- Weight loss
- Poor coat appearance
Dogs can experience diarrhea and weight loss when a parasite disrupts their internal systems, which makes it difficult for them to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. This condition can occur frequently or sporadically, particularly in puppies. If you're curious about what could happen if Giardia goes untreated in dogs, it can lead to significant weight loss and, in some cases, even death.
How are dogs infected with Giardia?
As previously stated, this single-celled parasite lives in the intestines of mammals, birds, and amphibians and has several subspecies. While each subspecies focuses on a different group of animals, they all share the same lifecycle and transmission mode.
Giardia has two distinct stages in its lifecycle. The first stage involves mature parasites, known as trophozoites, multiplying and creating cysts in the small intestine. These cysts are then shed through the feces of an infected animal and can remain in the environment for several weeks. When another animal ingests the cysts, they transform into trophozoites, and the parasite's lifecycle starts over again.
As a pet owner, you may know that dogs can contract Giardia by consuming contaminated water, grass, or feces. Dogs naturally tend to explore their surroundings using their mouths, making them susceptible to picking up the parasite. They can ingest it by drinking from a puddle, consuming the feces of another animal, or even chewing on a stick. Keeping a close eye on your furry friend and ensuring they have access to clean water and safe food sources is essential.
Even if they do not show signs of infection, our four-legged companions can spread the parasite. As you might expect, this is concerning, especially if you have more than one pet. While the parasite is unlikely to spread between dogs and cats, transmission from dog to dog is a major concern. If one of your pets has Giardia, consult your veterinarian about the precautions you should take with your other pets.
Can dogs pass Giardia to people?
Although it is possible for humans to contract Giardia from dogs, the risk is relatively low. If you are concerned about whether you can get Giardia from your dog licking you, the answer is yes, but the risk is low. To minimize this risk, it is recommended that you wash your hands thoroughly after handling your dog's feces.
When it comes to the transmission of Giardia in humans, drinking contaminated water is the most common way it is spread, rather than through pets. Humans may develop Giardiasis, also known as "Beaver Fever," as a result. To prevent infection, it is wise to use a water filter if your water source is known to contain the parasite and avoid drinking potentially contaminated water, particularly when traveling. Furthermore, the parasite can also be present in soil and food, so it is important to thoroughly wash your hands after working with dirt and wash all produce before consuming it.
How is Giardia treated?
If you've noticed your dog suffers from diarrhea or other symptoms, call your vet immediately. 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.
How can I prevent my dog from getting re-infected with Giardia, or making my other pets sick, during treatment?
To prevent your dog from getting Giardia, a harmful parasite that can't be prevented with a regular tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives, there are a few steps you can take. One important measure is to always ensure that your dog has access to clean and fresh water, which can reduce the chances of them drinking from contaminated puddles. This is also beneficial for their overall well-being. If you live in an area where Giardia is prevalent, you can boil your dog's water and let it cool before giving it to them or use a filter that has been proven to eliminate Giardia cysts.
To prevent the spread of giardiasis, it's important to wash your hands thoroughly after dealing with dog feces and dispose of it immediately. Even if your other pets don't show any symptoms, it's best to inform your veterinarian about the situation. Since giardiasis can be asymptomatic, other pets may be carriers of the illness. Your vet may recommend treating them as well to prevent further spread.
Bathing all household animals regularly is recommended to remove cysts from the hair coat. You should also disinfect your pets' surroundings (crates, beds, etc.) and wash their water and food bowls daily.It is recommended to wait for a few days after all pets in the household have finished their medication before cleaning.
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.