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Treating Dog Giardia

Dog Giardia (called giardiasis)  is a parasite that is commonly found in the feces of infected dogs.  It is believed to cause 15% of the cases of canine diarrhea and vomiting.  Approximately 6% to 11% of all dogs show no symptoms, yet shed the cysts which carry the parasite out of the infected dog's body through the feces.  This occurs primarily in dogs under the age of 3.

causes of giardia in dogs
Dog Giardia is Causes by Trophozoites that are encased in cysts found in feces. The feces is ingested from contaminated waterways and in the environment. Cysts are shed by infected dogs in 3 to 5 days after being infected themselves.
Source: Companion Animal Parasite Council

Causes of Giardia in Dogs

The parasite that causes giardia is found encased in protective cysts. When standing water, lakes and ponds become contaminated, and if a dog drinks the water, the cysts can be ingested. The parasite, called trophozoites leave the cyst and attached to the small intestine where they attach to the enterocytes on the intestine's surface.  

Other causes of giardia in dogs includes contaminated food, objects that are contaminated by cysts, and cysts that get caught in the dogs fur that are then ingested.

After a dog is infected, it will start shedding cysts in the feces in 5 to 7 days.  This presents a risk to other dogs. The cysts can survive in coll water for a few months. They can also survive in the environment, and are a risk anywhere dogs congregate such as kennels, parks, dog runs etc.

Giardia Dog Diagnosis

If a veterinarian suspects dog giardia, he or she will test the feces using a technique called fecal flotation and fecal ELISA.  The vet will be looking for the cysts or the protozoa called trophozoites that cause the condition. Often, testing during a routine checkup will uncover that a dog is shedding cysts, even when showing no symptoms (referred to as being asymptomatic).  Treatment in cases where the dog is asymptomatic is at the option of the veterinarian and owner.

Giardia Symptoms in Dogs

The primary symptom of dog giardia is severe and moderate diarrhea. The diarrhea will appear to contain mucus and be fatty in consistency. Other symptoms can include vomiting, lethargy and weight loss.

Dog Giardia Treatment

Per the guidelines issued by the CAPC (Companion Animal Parasite Council), A veterinarian will treat giardia in dogs with a 3 to 5 day course of either fenbendazole or febantel.   An alternative medication is Metronidazole, but it is considered to be less effective. There could also be side effects if Metronidazole is used.

If the dog diarrhea caused dehydration, then fluid therapy will be needed as well. 

If a dog that is infected lives with other dogs or pets such as cats, then other pets in the home may require treatment. 

Asymptomatic dog giardia is treated with a single dose of medications. 

Dogs that are diagnosed with giardia should be bathed to remove any feces and cysts that might be caught in the coat.

During recovery and after treatment with prescription medications, support homeopathic supplement can be of help including Parasite Dr. to naturally support dogs exposed to parasites and Natural Moves, to provide extra fiber that can help restore digestive health.

Giardia in Dogs Prevention

There is a dog giardia vaccine, although it is only recommended when there is a problem controlling the disease.  It is not a standard part of the dog vaccination schedule.

Any exposed feces, such as in a backyard should be properly disposed of. Disinfectants can be used outdoors or steam to kill the giardia on surfaces.

Giardia Risk to People

Giardia in people is from a different strain than giardia in pets. It is possible for people to pass giardia to pets, although it is rare. There are no proven cases of pet giardia or giardia in dogs spreading to people.

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Giardia Dog, Dog Health Guide

Giardiasis in Dogs and Cats
Diagnosis, treatment and Zoonotic Risk
Susan E. Little, DVM, PhD, Dipl, EVPC

Center for Veterinary Health Sciences
Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USA

Giardia in Dogs, Dog Health Handbook

Companion Animal Parasite Council

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