Giardia is a parasite that can infect dogs, cats and humans with the Giardiasis. Today, our Brighton vets tell you more about Giardia, how it spreads, and how it is treated.
What Is Giardia?
Giardiasis is an infection of the intestines that can occur in dogs, cats, humans, other mammals and animals. This infection is caused by the Giardia parasite, of which there are 8 different genotypes labeled A – H.
Types C and D most commonly infect dogs, while F is the most common culprit in cats. For humans, types A and B affect us the most.
While Giardia in dogs does not always cause problems, when issues do occur they are highly unpleasant, with the most common symptom being diarrhea. Giardiasis is particularly dangerous for puppies, dogs with compromised immune systems and senior dogs.
Symptoms Of Giardia
If your dog is showing worrying symptoms of illness, it's always best to schedule an appointment with your vet, as many of the signs below are shared by a number of conditions. That said, owners can be on the lookout for several symptoms of Giardia, including:
- Inability to gain weight
- Weight loss
- Poor coat appearance
Diarrhea and weight loss often happen when the parasite disrupts a dog's internal systems, limiting their ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients. Diarrhea might be continual or intermittent, especially in puppies. If the condition is not diagnosed and treated, affected dogs can experience severe weight loss and even fatal consequences.
How Are Dogs Infected With Giardia?
This single-celled parasite lives in the intestines of mammals, birds and amphibians, each with different subspecies. While each subspecies targets a specific group of animals, all have the same lifecycle and method of transmission.
Giardia's lifecycle is divided into two stages. Mature parasites (trophozoites) inhabit the small intestine, multiply and become cysts. Cysts are then infective and shed via feces from an infected animal. They can survive for weeks in the environment as cysts until being ingested by another animal. They then transform into trophozoites and repeat the lifecycle.
Dogs can be infected by Giardia from drinking water or eating grass or other substances contaminated with feces. Any experienced pet owners know our dogs explore the world using their mouths. This makes the parasite easy to pick up in an environment by doing anything from drinking from a puddle, eating another animal's poop or chewing on a stick.
Our four-legged companions can also spread the parasite, even if they do not show signs of infection. As you can imagine, this is concerning, especially if you live with more than one pet. While the parasite is unlikely to be transmitted between dogs and cats, transmission from dog to dog is very much a concern. If one of your pets is diagnosed with Giardia, ask your vet which precautions you should take with your other pets.
Can Giardia Be Passed To Humans?
Fortunately, the risk of humans contracting Giardia from dogs is relatively low, but it can happen. Make sure to wash your hands after handling your dog's feces to reduce this risk even further.
In humans, giardia transmission commonly occurs via contaminated drinking water, not from animals. Giardiasis in people is known as "Beaver Fever." Consider buying a water filter if your water source is known to contain the parasite, and avoid drinking contaminated water especially while traveling. This parasite can also inhabit soil and food surfaces, so wash all produce before eating and wash your hands after working with dirt.
Treatment Of Giardia In Dogs
If you've seen that your pet is suffering from diarrhea or other symptoms, call your vet right away. Your vet will likely perform several diagnostic tests to determine 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.
Preventing Re-infection During Treatment
Giardia is an unpleasant parasite that can't be prevented with the tick, flea and heartworm preventatives your dog would regularly receive from a vet. However, there are steps you can take to prevent your dog from contracting Giardia.
One of the most important things to do is to ensure your dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times to decrease their temptation to drink from infected puddles (this will also contribute to your dog's overall health). If necessary, boil your dog's water (allow it to cool down entirely before offering it to your dog) or purchase a filter that has been proven to remove Giardia cysts if you live in a place where Giardia is present.
Along with washing your hands after handling dog poop and quickly disposing of it, you should inform your vet if you have other animals in the house, even if they are not showing any symptoms. Your vet may want to start your other animals on medication as giardiasis is often asymptomatic and other pets could still be spreading the illness.
Household pets need to be routinely bathed regularly to remove cysts from the hair coat. Also be sure to disinfect your pets' environment (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.