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What is Giardia in Dogs?

Giardiasis is a condition seen in dogs, cats, and humans. Characterized by symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal tract, this condition is caused by the parasite giardia. Today, you will learn how giardia is spread and how pets with giardiasis are typically treated.

What is giardia in dogs?

Giardiasis - often called beaver fever - is an intestine infection that can affect both humans and animals. The giardia parasite, of which there are eight different genotypes labeled A through H, causes this infection.

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.

While giardia in dogs does not always cause problems, when it does, the symptoms are extremely unpleasant. Diarrhea is the most common symptom. Puppies, dogs with compromised immune systems, and senior dogs are especially vulnerable to giardiasis.

What are the symptoms of giardia in dogs?

If your dog is exhibiting worrying signs of illness, your best bet is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, as many of the symptoms listed below are common to a variety of conditions. However, owners should be on the lookout for several giardia symptoms in dogs, including:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting
  • Failure to gain weight 
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration 
  • Poor coat appearance 

Diarrhea and weight loss often happen when the parasite disrupts a dog's internal systems, inhibiting its ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea might be continual or intermittent, especially in puppies. If you're wondering what happens if giardia is left untreated in dogs, the answer is severe weight loss and possibly 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 mode of transmission.

Giardia has two stages in its lifecycle. Mature parasites (trophozoites) multiply and form cysts in the small intestine. Cysts become infective and are shed through the feces of an infected animal. They can survive in the environment as cysts for weeks before being ingested by another animal. They are then transformed into trophozoites and the lifecycle is repeated.

Dogs can get Ggiardia by drinking contaminated water or eating grass or other feces-contaminated foods. Any experienced pet owner knows that our dogs explore the world with their mouths. This makes the parasite easy to pick up in the environment by doing anything from drinking from a puddle to eating the poop of another animal or chewing on a stick.

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 I get giardia from my dog licking me?

Fortunately, the risk of humans contracting Giardia from dogs is relatively low, but it can happen. So if you're wondering whether you can catch giardia from your dog, the answer is yes, but the risk is low. Make sure to wash your hands after handling your dog's poop to reduce this low risk. 

Giardia transmission in humans is most commonly transmitted through drinking water, not through pets. Giardiasis is also known as "Beaver Fever" in humans. If your water source is known to contain the parasite, consider purchasing a water filter, and avoid drinking contaminated water, especially while traveling. This parasite can also be found in soil and on food, so wash all produce before eating it and thoroughly wash your hands after working with dirt.

How is giardia treated?

If you've noticed your dog is suffering from diarrhea or other symptoms, call your vet right away. 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?

Giardia is a highly unpleasant parasite that cannot be prevented with the tick, flea, and heartworm preventatives that your dog would normally receive from a veterinarian. There are, however, precautions you can take to keep your dog from contracting giardia. One of the most important items on the list is to always provide your dog with clean, fresh water to reduce the risk of them drinking from infected puddles (this will also benefit your dog's overall health). If you live in an area where giardia is present, boil your dog's water (then let it cool before giving it to your dog) or purchase a filter that has been proven to remove giardia cysts.

In addition to washing your hands after handling dog poop and disposing of it promptly, you should notify your veterinarian if you have other animals in the house, even if they are not showing any symptoms. Because giardiasis is often asymptomatic, and other pets may be spreading the illness, your veterinarian may advise you to start treating them as well.

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.

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.

Is your dog showing signs of giardiasis? Our experienced Santa Cruz County vets are here to help. Contact Aptos-Creekside Pet Hospital today to book an examination for your furry friend. 

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