How to Spot, Treat and Prevent Giardia in Dogs

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dog drinking water sign of bever fever and needing giardia treatmentGiardia in dogs is not fun! It’s safe to say that having a sick dog or cat is one of the hardest things that a pet parent has to face. Sometimes the worst thing is just the not knowing what your dog or cat has contracted, and how you can make them feel better.

One common infection that can strike down our beloved furry pals is Giardia aka Beaver Fever. It is an unpleasant experience for both the animals and their owners. But we’ve covered everything you need to know, all in one place!

What is Giardia aka Beaver Fever?

Giardia infection or giardiasis is also known as beaver fever. It is an intestinal tract infection caused by the giardia parasite that affects mammals such as humans, dogs, and cats.

When animals unknowingly ingest the giardia parasite’s larvae, also called cysts, the result is Giardiasis. These larvae or cysts often live in waterborne sources.

The parasite is also spread through ingestion of fecal matter. Giardiasis affects the small intestine and often diarrhea is a major symptom of the infection. This is because the giardia parasite effectively takes over the intestinal wall, leading to an inability of the small intestine to function.

The Life Cycle of the Giardia Parasite

Giardia is a protozoan parasite and has a life cycle that makes it very good (and sneaky) at passing on to other hosts.

The giardia parasite starts is life as a cyst, a one-celled organism, which is able to survive in harsh conditions, such as cold water for several months at a time.

Cysts contaminate items such as food, water or body parts and pass into a host digestive system orally.

The host is then infected, develops giardiasis and passes the giardia parasite on through their feces. Cysts and trophozoites transfer through the feces, but only the hardy cysts survive.

The cysts spread from the feces to other host animals once again, and so the cycle continues.

Causes of Giardia Infection in Dogs

Unfortunately, there are many sources of giardia infection for dogs! The main source of giardiasis in dogs is contaminated water. Letting your dog drink from random water sources is a bad idea, as there are often microscopic parasites contained within it which can give your pup giardia or other infections.

Another gross but possible cause of giardia in dogs is if your dog ingests the feces of other infected animals, along with giardia cyst organisms. We know – super yuck, but ultimately, possible! Which dog doesn’t just love eating some cow or horse poop?

Pets can also contract giardia from rolling in and playing in infected soil or licking their bodies after they coming into in contact with an infected source.

thirsty dog as one of the symptoms of giardia in dogs

Is Giardia in Puppies More Serious?

Because puppies have a more delicate immune system they are almost always at higher risk with any infection or disease.

Puppies have a much harder time fighting off the symptoms of giardiasis, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss with giardia cysts running rampant in their tummies.

Puppies are also a bit more prone to getting more involved in feces, so are more likely to become infected. It can be harder for puppies to recover from a bout of giardia, so if you notice the symptoms listed below in your cutie pup, you need to consult with your vet immediately.

Know the Giardia Symptoms! 8 Symptoms of Giardia in Dogs!

Giardiasis symptoms in dogs can sometimes be vague and difficult to tie to the giardia infection in particular. Some of the classic symptoms of giardia in dogs are:

  • Diarrhea (This can be mild or explosive. We hope for your sake it is mild!)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Gas
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Foul smelling stool

Because some of these clinical signs can cross over into other illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease, the best way to rule out other problems in your doggo is to have a vet analyze the feces of your dog in a fecal sample.

Remember, Giardia is highly contagious! Separate your dogs from other dogs and cats if you think they have the parasite!

Not Just Dog Parasites! Giardia in Humans is Very Common!

Guess what? Giardiasis doesn’t just exist in our lovely dog and cats, but it also occurs in other mammals, including humans!

Giardia in humans is an unpleasant disease and can last for many months with many of the same symptoms, such as diarrhea, as giardiasis in dogs.

You may be wondering where giardia got its other rather hilarious name – beaver fever. In humans, giardiasis often occurs from drinking untreated lake or river water.

In Canada, there have been many reported outbreaks of ‘beaver fever’ from hikers and campers who didn’t boil their drinking water obtained from lakes and rivers. Leaving giardia cysts primed to enter their digestive systems!

How this Parasite is Transmitted Between Humans and Dogs

Because mammals can contract this disease, unfortunately, giardia is easily transferred between humans and dogs.

The chances of transmission from dogs or cats to humans are thankfully quite small. Giardia is transmitted when something comes into contact with feces containing giardia cysts. Infected poop touches an object, a person touches the object, the person then puts their hand in their mouth and there you go!

Watch out for symptoms in infected dogs, such as unusual diarrhea like stool. If you suspect your dog does have giardia, remember it is quite rare to contract it yourself, but there are some measures you can take to further reduce the risk.

How to Avoid Contracting Giardia from Your Dog

  • Ensure you wear gloves while gardening or working with soil around your home, to avoid contact with infected feces or contaminated soil.
  • Clean general household surfaces regularly, ideally with a cleaner with disinfectant properties.
  • Clean and disinfect your pets toys and bedding regularly.
  • Ensure a thorough handwashing procedure is in place in your household.
  • Supervise small children to ensure they are not infecting themselves by playing in the soil, with fecal matter or using the dog’s toys or bedding.

disinfectant for giardia dog treatment

Diagnosing Giardiasis in Dogs!

Giardia cysts colonize the intestinal wall, leading to diarrhea and weight loss that often accompanies giardiasis in dogs.

The best way for your vet to diagnose and create a treatment plan for your pupster is to take some feces from your dog. It’s icky but you need to get a stool sample.

A stool sample will help to tell your vet whether your dog has giardia or not, and what medicine is appropriate.

The ELISA (Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay) is one of the more modern tests for giardia. This test involves a stool flotation procedure. It assesses for giardia cysts and any other parasites that are present in the fecal sample.

Treatment Plans for this Infection

Treatment for giardia in dogs depends on the animals infected and assessment of a vet, However, Fenbendazole and Metronidazole are the most popular drugs to cure your pet.

Either Fenbendazole or Metronidazole or a combination of the two (especially in cats that don’t show improvement with other treatment) will cure your poor pooch over a course of three to ten days.

The treatment may include other medication such as Panacur and rehydration therapy if your canine pal is severely dehydrated. As always, your vet will know what the best treatment is for your dear doggo! Don’t trust Dr Google with your pup’s life!

6 Ways to Prevent Giardia!

  1. Ensure you seek treatment immediately for your doggo, if you suspect giardia.
  2. If your dog has ongoing diarrhea, don’t just write it off as something bad that they ate! Take them to the vet for testing so that it doesn’t spread to other pets or your human family members.
  3. Never let your dog drink from untreated outdoor water sources, including lakes and rivers! Giardia parasites love stagnant water.
  4. If your dog has giardia, remember that hygiene is key! Wiping, washing and disinfecting surfaces, hands, and objects and keeping them free of Giardia cysts is the best way to prevent reinfection in your pooch.
  5. An easy disinfection solution to use at home if your dog has giardia is chlorine bleach. Use bleach at 1:32 or 1:16 dilutions, or 1-2 cups in a gallon of water (60-120 ml/L).
  6. If you think your dog may have contracted giardia – don’t panic. With vet treatment and readily available medication, giardia is a treatable infection and is curable with no long-term effects afterward!

Common Questions on Giardia in Dogs

How do dogs get giardia?

Can giardia pass from dogs to humans?

Do I need to take my dog to the vet if it has diarrhea?

What medication can treat giardia?

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