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Giardia in dogs - Canine giardiasis

Giardia in dogs - Canine giardiasis

Health & Safety

Giardiasis is an unpleasant parasitic infection that is most commonly found in humans, and has a much higher occurrence rate in countries with poor sanitation and limited fresh water facilities. However, the giardia parasite, which causes giardiasis, is also present within the UK, and is equally capable of affecting dogs and other animals as well as people. It is highly contagious, easily transmitted from pet to pet, and can lead to a debilitating bout of diarrhoea and digestive upset that can prove serious in young animals and those with a compromised immune system.

It is important that all dog owners are aware of the signs and symptoms of infestation with the giardia parasite in their dogs, plus what to do if your dog becomes ill with giardiasis. Read on for some more information on giardia in dogs, plus some tips on how to deal with giardiasis infection.

What is giardiasis?

Giardiasis is sometimes referred to as parasitic diarrhoea, as the presence of the giardia parasite in large quantities within the body often leads to intense sickness and scouring, or diarrhoea. Giardiasis not only affects dogs, but can also be transmitted to other household pets such as cats, and people as well.

It is the cysts, or young offspring of the parasites, that are the infectious element of the condition, which once ingested, settle in the intestine of the dog, causing diarrhoea that is often accompanied with cramping, pain and general digestive upset.

How is giardiasis transmitted between dogs?

In order for a dog to contract giardiasis, they must ingest the infected cysts (juvenile parasites), and these are carried within the faeces of affected dogs. This is the most common means of infection with the parasite in terms of transmission from animal to animal, but giardia itself is actually a waterborne parasite, meaning that it is also possible to contract it from infected water. Stagnant, unhealthy ponds and pools and any water that is exposed to sewage discharge or faeces may potentially carry the parasite too.

In order to pass the parasite from dog to dog, it is not always necessary for a dog to come into contact with affected faeces. Contact with ground that has been exposed to the parasite in stools, even if the stools have been cleaned up, may cause infection, as may any other secondary means of transmission with any object or area that has been exposed to the parasite itself.

Living in close quarters with other dogs, such as in a boarding kennels or shelter can lead to the rapid spread of the condition if the various dogs come into contact with each other a lot, or share the same facilities without adequate interim cleaning and disinfecting.

What kind of dogs can catch giardia or giardiasis?

Any dog can contract giardiasis from contact with faecal material infected with the giardia parasite, and the bug does have a high incidence rate within pets exposed to it. A dog that is robustly healthy, well nourished and with a strong immune system stands the best chance of avoiding infestation with the giardia parasite, and also of quickly fighting off giardiasis with only minor sickness.

Young dogs and puppies whose immune systems have not fully developed, elderly dogs and any dogs with a compromised immune system are the most likely to fall victim to sickness with giardiasis, and also find it harder to fight off the infection once it has been contracted.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Giardiasis is something that many dogs may contract over the course of their lifetimes. As the infection is often short-lived and sometimes not particularly serious, it is entirely possible that a dog that was feeling under the weather, had diarrhoea for a couple of days, and then recovered on their own, successfully fought off the parasite without ever receiving a formal diagnosis.

Giardiasis is more symptomatic in younger dogs than older ones, and younger dogs and puppies may appear to become sicker faster than older dogs. Giardiasis development may be either acute (sudden in onset) chronic (ongoing or recurrent) transient (short-lived and temporary) or intermittent (the symptoms seem to come and go over a period of several days).

The most obvious symptom of giardiasis in dogs is the presence of diarrhoea, which is often frequent and excessive, may contain a lot of mucous, and will often smell incredibly foul (much more so than the normal aroma of dog droppings)! It may also lead to soft, unformed greasy stools as well as diarrhoea, and can also cause pain, cramps, general stomach upset and of course, unhappiness in the affected dog.

As the giardia parasite is found and transmitted within affected faeces, your vet will ask for a stool sample for examination in order to make a formal diagnosis of giardia infection in your dog.

Treatment and prognosis

The treatment of dogs with giardiasis can often be undertaken at home on an outpatient basis, and unless your dog is particularly at risk due to their age or other health problems, or becomes very sick with the condition, your vet will not normally admit them for inpatient treatment unless requested.

Medications will usually be prescribed to kill the parasites within the body, and your vet will likely also recommend bathing your dog and thoroughly disinfecting any bedding and other objects that they have come into contact with to prevent re-infection or spreading the condition further after recovery.

Ongoing or recurrent giardiasis can be very debilitating for your dog, and so your vet will generally take a second stool sample after apparent recovery to check for the presence of the parasite again. As with any digestive upset in the dog, it is important to avoid dehydration, and ensure that your dog drinks enough water throughout their illness. If your dog is becoming dehydrated, your vet may then admit them as an inpatient to administer IV fluid therapy.

Generally, the prognosis for recovery from giardiasis is very good, and most dogs go on to make a full recovery from the condition. However, special care and attention should be paid to young dogs, elderly dogs, and those with a compromised immune system, as they may have problems fighting off the parasite on their own.