Giardia is a microscopic protozoan intestinal parasite that can infect dogs. The scientific name of giardia in dogs is Giardia intestinalis. This single-celled parasite can wreak havoc on your dog’s gastrointestinal tract and can cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. There are many different species of giardia that can infect dogs, wildlife, cats, and people.
Dogs most commonly get giardia from other dogs. Giardia is spread to your dog when they get fecal material with giardia organisms into their mouth. This can happen if they play with a dog with giardia, or they walk in an area where a dog with giardia has defecated. Your dog might lick their paws later and become infected. Your dog can also become infected if they drink water from a contaminated water source including creeks, lakes, ponds, or puddles.
The transmission of giardia from dog to a human does not occur commonly. Most humans are infected by other humans or contaminated water sources. There is a small risk that giardia could be passed from pets to people especially in individuals that are immunocompromised. If your dog has been diagnosed with giardia, it is important to practice good hygiene like frequent hand washing and disinfecting. If you are concerned you may have gotten giardia from your dog, I recommend speaking with your doctor.
The most common giardia symptoms in dogs include vomiting and diarrhea. Because Giardia is an intestinal parasite, it mainly causes intestinal symptoms. Unfortunately, vomiting and diarrhea are both nonspecific symptoms that can be associated with many different illnesses or the ingestion of toxic substances. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your pet’s symptoms are caused by giardia.
According to the AKC, the most common giardia symptoms in dogs include:
If you suspect your pet has giardia, I recommend scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. For your appointment, I recommend bringing your pet’s stool sample in a ziplock bag so your veterinarian can examine and test it. Sometimes, your veterinarian may diagnose giardia based on history and physical exam. To get a definitive diagnosis, giardiasis can usually be diagnosed by running a fecal examination on your pet’s stool sample. Giardia organisms can sometimes be seen on microscopic evaluation of your dog’s stool sample. Also, there are special laboratory tests that your veterinarian may wish to perform to check for giardia. If your dog has been vomiting, your veterinarian may wish to perform x-rays of your dog to rule out other common medical conditions.
Once your veterinarian diagnoses giardia in your dog, they will recommend treatment with an oral medication. The most common oral medication to treat giardia is called Panacur (fenbendazole). This medication is used once daily for 5 days. Your veterinarian may also prescribe metronidazole. This medication also treats giardia and may be effective at decreasing diarrhea symptoms. Your veterinarian may recommend bathing your dog to clean off any giardia organisms. Bedding should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat. For easy to wash pet bedding, check out this cozy calming pet bed.
If giardia is left untreated, your dog may lose weight and continue to have intestinal symptoms. Your dog is at risk for developing dehydration if the vomiting and diarrhea continue. Very young and very old animals are at high risk for developing complications secondary to giardia.
Once treatment is initiated, your pet should see some relief of their symptoms within 24 to 48 hours. If their symptoms are not improving, you should let your veterinarian know. Within 1 to 2 weeks, your dog will likely be fully recovered from their giardia infection as long as they don’t become reinfected.
The CDC states that giardia can live for about a week at 70 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures and up to 7 weeks in 30 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. They suggest that it is important to pick up any stool in the yard so your dog does not get reinfected with the organism. Always wear gloves when picking up stool in the yard and wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning up the yard. As soon as your dog has a bowel movement, it is a good idea to go ahead and pick up the stool (wearing gloves) and dispose of it promptly.
Giardia organisms are immediately infective meaning that as soon as your dog has a bowel movement, there are giardia organisms in the stool that can infect other animals. This means if your dog eats their own stool or licks stool off of their paws, they could become reinfected. It may be a good idea to keep your dog away from the infected area of your yard for about a month after your dog has been diagnosed and treated with giardia to prevent reinfection.
There are a few things that you can do to reduce your dog’s risk of developing giardia. Dr. Brett Wasik, a veterinary internal medicine specialist, states that you should not allow your dog to drink water from ponds, puddles, rivers, or lakes. These water sources could contain giardia organisms that may infect your dog. In areas where there is high dog traffic, like dog parks, there may be a higher risk that your dog might develop giardia. If you avoid these places, this could help reduce your dog’s risk of giardia. Last, it is important to promptly pick up any of your dog’s stool. This will help keep your yard clean and reduce the risk of reinfection with giardia!
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