You do your best to protect your canine companion from all potential dangers. Of course, health threats are ubiquitous, lurking everywhere. One such threat is Giardia, an intestinal parasite that can result in severe and foul-smelling gastrointestinal (GI) upset. To help prevent your pet from contracting this organism, read our Dietz Family Pet Hospital team’s answers to your frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Giardia and avoid a situation that just plain stinks. 

Question: How do dogs contract Giardia?

Answer: Giardia is a microscopic parasite that infects the intestines, leading to giardiasis, an infection that causes pets to experience diarrhea. The parasite is infective in its cyst stage, and an affected animal sheds Giardia cysts in their feces. Dogs can contract Giardia through close contact with contaminated water, soil, or food. The most common way dogs contract this organism is by drinking water from puddles, rivers, or streams that have been contaminated by infected animals’ feces. A dog can also contract Giardia in the following ways:

  • Licking their paws after walking through infective feces 
  • Digging in contaminated dirt
  • Eating contaminated grass
  • Eating infected small animals
  • Sniffing an infected dog’s hind end

Q: Can people contract Giardia from dogs?

A: While you can contract giardiasis, the specific Giardia strains that commonly infect dogs are not usually the same ones that infect people. However, to minimize your Giardia risk, practice good hygiene by washing your hands after cleaning up after your dog, and keep your pet’s toys and bowls clean to prevent any cross contamination.

Q: Can one pet transmit Giardia to other pets?

A: Yes. Giardia spreads easily among pets, especially those living in the same household. If you have a dog who becomes infected, other pets can contract the parasite through licking, playing, sharing food and water, and simply walking in the same areas. If you have a pet with giardiasis, keep them away from other pets, disinfect all your pets’ environments, and talk with our Dietz Family Pet Hospital team about taking preventive measures for all your pets. 

Q: Which dogs are most at risk for GIardia?

A: Any dog can contract Giardia, but because of the parasite’s highly contagious nature, a dog who frequently visits dog parks, kennels, or environments in which they interact with other dogs has a high infection risk. Furthermore, young puppies, older dogs, and dogs with compromised immune systems are more likely to become severely ill from a giardiasis infection.

Q: What are Giardia signs in dogs?

A: Giardiasis typically develops suddenly, causing particularly foul-smelling, greasy diarrhea that can also be pale and contain mucous. Additional Giardia signs may include

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Frequent urge to defecate
  • Abdominal cramping and pain

Q: Can a dog have Giardia but show no signs?

A: Yes. Some dogs display no giardiasis infection signs. A healthy adult dog with a strong immune system may effectively fight off the infection. In addition, if a dog ingests few Giardia organisms (i.e., cysts), they may develop only a mild infection and exhibit subtle signs. However, asymptomatic dogs can still shed Giardia cysts in their feces, posing a risk to other animals.

Q: How is Giardia diagnosed in dogs?

A: If your pet is experiencing chronic diarrhea or other digestive issues, our Dietz Family Pet Hospital team will thoroughly evaluate your pet from nose to tail, looking for abnormalities. To confirm that your dog has Giardia, we may perform any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Blood work — Our team may recommend a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile to rule out other conditions and assess your pet’s hydration status and overall health.
  • Parvovirus test — Depending on your dog’s age and vaccination status, we may recommend a parvovirus test.
  • Fecal test — Giardia is a tricky parasite to find, as an infected pet does not always shed cysts. Two or three fecal exams may be needed to detect Giardia. 
  • Antigen test — We may also recommend an antigen test to check for proteins the parasite produces. 

Q: How is Giardia treated in dogs?

A: Giardiasis treatment’s goal is to stop the diarrhea and resolve other signs. Our team may prescribe medication to kill the parasite, a special diet, or supplements to help your dog’s intestines heal after the Giardia is resolved. Treatment usually lasts five to seven days, depending on the severity of a dog’s infection. After treatment, we recommend a follow-up fecal exam to ensure that the parasite has been completely eliminated. An asymptomatic pet who tests positive on a routine screening test may not require treatment. 

Giardia is lurking everywhere and is almost impossible to avoid. Annual wellness visits and parasite testing are the best ways to protect your pet from infection and prevent disease transmission. Schedule your pet’s wellness visit with our Dietz Family Pet Hospital team to ensure your dog is healthy and parasite-free.