Giardia may be microscopic, but the organism can cause enormous discomfort for pets. Our Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic team takes a close look at this common canine condition that can wreak havoc on your dog’s gastrointestinal (GI) system. Learn six facts you need to know about Giardia. 

#1: Giardia is a zoonotic parasite that affects dogs

Giardiasis is an intestinal tract infection caused by Giardia, a microscopic parasite. Consider Giardia’s two life cycle forms:

  • Trophozoite — The trophozoite form, which is the parasitic stage, lives in the host, feeding from the intestinal wall.
  • Cyst — The trophozoite approaches the colon and can form a cyst that the host passes in their feces. The cyst can survive in the environment and is contagious in this form.

Giardia infects dogs who have ingested the parasite’s cysts, which often lurk in contaminated water, food, or feces. Giardia is a zoonotic parasite, which means the organism can be passed between animals and humans. However, people most frequently become infected by inadvertently drinking contaminated water, not from their affected dog. Regardless, good hygiene practices are a simple way to avoid infection while treating or caring for a pet who has giardiasis. 

#2: Dogs can have Giardia but show no signs

Some dogs infected with Giardia remain asymptomatic, exhibiting no disease signs. However, these pets can transmit the parasite to other animals. A young dog or one who has a weakened immune system is more likely to exhibit infection signs, which can vary in severity depending on the number of Giardia organisms present in the host’s body. A dog with a low-level infection may exhibit no signs, while a dog with a high Giardia load can exhibit the following severe illness signs:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy 
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite

Remember, while asymptomatic dogs may not appear sick, they can still shed Giardia cysts in their feces. Always maintain good hygiene practices and schedule your pooch’s regular veterinary checkups, including parasite testing, to prevent Giardia transmission to other animals or people. 

#3: Giardiasis is highly contagious in pets

Giardia cysts can survive outside a host’s body in the environment and remain infectious for some time, making the disease highly contagious. A dog can contract giardiasis in numerous ways, including:

  • Ingesting infected fecal material
  • Ingesting fecal-contaminated soil or plants
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Sniffing an infected dog’s hind end
  • Rolling on contaminated soil and grooming their fur afterward
  • Eating infected small animals

Anywhere dogs, people, or wildlife congregate or traverse can become an infection hotbed. Your furry pal can contract infectious disease in pet stores, dog parks, ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers.  If one of your dogs has been diagnosed with giardiasis, your other household pets should be tested for the parasite. While Giardia infections typically stay within species, the organism can jump from dog to cat and vice versa.

#4: Giardia can be difficult to diagnose in dogs

Giardia can be challenging to diagnose because many infected dogs remain asymptomatic. To determine whether your pooch has Giardia, our Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic team will perform a fecal exam. However, fecal exam results can be misleading, because a dog only sheds infective cysts intermittently, and they may not be present the first time we test your four-legged friend’s fecal sample.  Because Giardia cysts might not show up in every fecal sample, our team may need to collect multiple stool samples over several days to make an accurate diagnosis.

#5: Giardia treatment for dogs involves a multimodal approach

The most effective way to treat Giardia and prevent reinfection is through a medication and environmental management approach. Your furry pal’s Giardia treatment may include the following:

  • Medication —Our Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic team may prescribe specific antiparasitic drugs to eliminate the Giardia infection. 
  • Hydration — Giardia can cause diarrhea and dehydration, so you must ensure your dog stays well-hydrated, providing them with clean, fresh water.
  • Hygiene — Thoroughly clean and disinfect your dog’s living area, bedding, and food and water bowls to minimize their reinfection risk.

#6: You can reduce your dog’s infection risk 

Giardia is ubiquitous to areas where pets, people, and wildlife traverse. However, you can significantly reduce your dog’s infection risk by following these tips:

  • Schedule regular wellness examinations — Your pet’s annual wellness exam includes a fecal check that can help identify issues such as giardiasis.
  • Bring your own water —Prevent your dog from drinking out of standing water sources, such as ponds, puddles, and communal water dishes at parks, as these may be contaminated with Giardia cysts. Whenever you go on outings with your pooch, bring bottled water and a portable water bowl. 
  • Avoid high-risk areas — Be cautious when your take your dog to areas in which Giardia contamination is high, such as dog parks, crowded kennels, or areas with poor sanitation.
  • Practice good hygiene — Regularly clean up after your dog has defecated, and promptly dispose of their feces. Thoroughly wash your hands after handling your four-legged friend or cleaning up after them. 

Giardiasis is a common treatable parasitic disease. If your dog is experiencing diarrhea or other unexplained intestinal issues, schedule their examination and intestinal parasite screening with our Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic team.