Giardia is among one of the most common intestinal parasites that cause disease to the dog's intestine. Giardia is a parasite that causes disease of the intestines in dogs and cats and we see many cases here in Kitchener. Giardia in dogs is especially concerning as it is a zoonotic parasite. This means the parasite can travel and infect people as well. Giardia has many effects on the body, including diarrhea, anorexia, weight loss, and vomiting. The giardia organism can be found in soil, food, or water sources, especially if contaminated with feces. If your dog or cat ingests giardia from one of those sources, they will most likely show signs of diarrhea within 24 hours. In order to protect your pet from this horrible disease, it’s important to know what you can do to prevent them from getting it. Here are some helpful tips that will help you avoid Giardia in dogs.

What is the Giardia Parasite?

Giardia is not a virus, worm, or bacteria. It is a protozoan parasite (single-celled parasite) that infects the small intestine is found worldwide and has prevalence rates of up to 15% in dogs and cats. It is also a zoonotic parasite which means the infection can be passed to humans and vice versa. Human infection in young children seems to be the most at risk. Transmission can be either direct or indirect from fecal contamination such as food and water. The giardia cysts are passed in the feces and are environmentally resistant and can persist for months.

Giardia parasite seen under the microscope
Giardia SNAP test for dogs
The test we use to diagnose Giardia in pets

How Do Dogs Get Giardia?

Dogs can get Giardia from exposure to contaminated sources, which is one of the easiest ways for them to contract it. As the parasite can persist in the environment for extended periods of time, it is common for puppies from a breeding facility to have giardia due to the crowded conditions. Soil, and water sources such as standing water sources, rivers, and lakes are common sources of infection. Recently, dog parks have been noted as potential sources. Direct infection may also occur if your dog ingests feces. Young dogs with healthy immune systems and a low burden may not develop clinical symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms of Giardia in Dogs?

Watery diarrhea is the most common symptom. Other signs of Giardia in dogs include anorexia, weight loss, vomiting, and flatulence. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to weeks. It is also important to note that dogs and cats are asymptomatic and are carriers of the parasite. These dogs can act as sources of infection to other dogs.

How is Giardia Diagnosed in Dogs?

Giardia can be diagnosed quickly by providing your veterinarian with a fecal sample (stool sample). Your veterinarian will then examine the sample either under the microscope (fecal test) or through an antigen test (Giardia SNAP Test) which is more accurate than fecal microscopic analysis. Both tests provide results quickly and are cost-effective. Giardia can be misdiagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, therefore is always a good idea to start with ruling out giardia as a possible cause of your dogs' symptoms.

How is Giardia Treated in Dogs?

The primary goal of treatment is to eliminate the clinical signs. Elimination of giardia infection can be difficult because of the resistance to some strains of giardia. Multiple drugs or multiple attempts at therapy may be necessary for effective treatment and cure. There are two common medications your veterinarian can use to treat your dog, metronidazole and fenbendazole, and depending on clinical symptoms, one or both may be used.

Strategies For Prevention of Giardia in Dogs

Environmental disinfection with diluted chlorine bleach is very important as the presence of giardia can persist in the environment for extended periods of time. Hygiene is imperative when working with infected dogs or feces. Gloves and washing hands should be done often, too- wearing gloves and washing your hands will help prevent the spread of any diseases to yourself or others. If you are working with animal feces, disposing of them quickly and properly is important; otherwise, contact can happen very easily! It's also essential to give infected animals a thorough washing since the giardia parasite can remain in regions where their fur has been exposed. It is also a good idea to make sure all food sources for animals are kept clean as well so they don't contract infections from contaminants found there. Pet owners should make sure to practice good hygiene and disinfection practices, even their food and water bowls.

Giardia is a type of parasitic infection that is found in drinking water and the feces of infected wild and domestic animals. When dogs drink water contaminated with Giardia cysts, their intestines become infected. Dogs can get Giardia from playing in or swimming in streams or lakes. Giardia is very common in areas with poor sanitation and inadequate water treatment systems. It is possible for dogs to be infected with Giardia without exhibiting any symptoms. The parasite can live in the intestines for many weeks or even months before symptoms are noticed. The best prevention strategy is to avoid getting your dog wet and to keep your dog away from areas where animals are commonly found. The CDC has a good post about Giardia and pets so please check that out as well. Also, please feel free to contact us if you think your dog may have giardia.