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Health & Wellness

Giardia in dogs: what it is and how to treat it

It’s more common than you’d think

Giardia, a type of intestinal infection that impacts dogs, is not easy to remedy. Just ask Dr. Amanda Healey, DVM, a veterinarian at Village Animal Clinic in Carol Stream, Illinois — once your dog is exposed, it's important to get on top of the treatment process.

Try not to stress too much, though. Dr. Healey is explaining everything about giardia, so you know just what your pup needs to feel better.

What is giardia in dogs

Giardia is an intestinal infection caused by a microscopic organism called a protozoan parasite. Puppies, senior dogs and other canines with compromised immune systems are more prone to symptoms and infection, but healthy dogs can get sick, too. 

How do dogs get giardia

Giardia cysts have a hard outer shell that allows them to live outside a host for up to a month, making the infection very contagious and difficult to get rid of.

“Dogs can become exposed to giardia by ingesting giardia cysts from fecal-contaminated water, food or soil or by grooming themselves,” says Dr. Healey. 

Symptoms of giardia in dogs

Since some giardia-infected dogs don’t always show symptoms, it can be challenging to detect. But pups that are experiencing signs of infection can experience:

  • Diarrhea
  • Gas  
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal discomfort

Your dog’s feces could also signal a giardia infection — be sure to monitor their stool for these potential health indicators: 

  • Soft or watery stool
  • Stool with a green tinge 
  • Bloody stool
  • Excess mucus in their stool

It’s important to note that even if your dog doesn’t show symptoms of giardia, the infection can still spread to other pets — if exposure is detected in any way, it’s essential to take precautions and call your vet right away. And by taking precautions, that means hand washing after handling affected pets or their items, cleaning and disinfecting areas where the affected pet spends time, discarding pet waste right away and cleaning and disinfecting toys, bedding, water and food bowls.

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Treatment options for dogs with giardia 

If you suspect your dog has giardia, you should always contact your vet. 

There are no proven natural remedies or cures for giardia — but sometimes, in rarer cases, the infection can resolve itself without treatment within 1 to 2 weeks. But, that doesn't mean your pet doesn't have to see a vet.

According to Dr. Healey, your vet may recommend treating your dog's giardia with medications such as fenbendazole or metronidazole — they can be used together or separately depending on the severity of your pet's symptoms. A professional can provide you with direct instructions based on your dog's specific case.

Feeding your dog a bland and easily digestible diet can help the intestine heal from giardia. Work with your vet to find ingredients, like boiled chicken and rice, that are still nutritious and tasty for your pup. Go over proper serving sizes, too, as smaller portions several times a day are much easier on a sensitive tummy.

How to prevent your dog from becoming infected or re-infected with giardia

In general, it can be very difficult to prevent a giardia infection because they can persist in the environment for long periods. There is no vaccination available for giardia and there are no monthly preventives like with other gastrointestinal parasites.

If your dog has or recently had giardia, make sure to pick up their poop right away and clean their backside with a wet paper towel to avoid re-infection. Daily baths can help prevent giardia cysts from re-infecting your dog, too.

Treating outdoor surfaces with a mixture of one part bleach in 32 parts of water can effectively kill the giardia cyst. You can disinfect indoor surfaces with the same mix, or those areas can be steam cleaned. Just make sure your dog doesn’t consume any part of this mixture.

Not allowing your dog to drink from puddles or standing water, eating dirt or other animal feces is also effective. 

Photo by Jesse Schoff on Unsplash

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