Giardia-The Common Puppy Parasite

Giardia is a common intestinal parasite that affects both humans and pets, including our canine friends. If you’re worried about your new puppy being infected by Giardia, have no fear. We’ve laid out all you need to know about Giardia, answering some common questions and debunking misconceptions about the ailment.

What is Giardia?
Giardia is not a virus, bacterium or worm, but instead is a single-cell parasite that frequently infects the intestines of puppies. Some dogs with the parasite do not show any symptoms unless they develop Giardiasis, the disease that can result in severe diarrhea. While Giardia is rarely serious,  it can cause uncomfortable symptoms in dogs such as diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and overall poor condition. While these symptoms are concerning for any dog owner, PuppySpot Veterinary Consultant Dr. Brandon Sinn says “this is not a scary illness as dogs and cats can get this and recover relatively easily and lead normal lives.”

How do dogs get infected with Giardia?
Dogs become infected with Giardia by drinking water contaminated by the virus or by ingesting infected feces. According to Dr. Sinn, “Giardia is directly transferable, meaning dogs need only to come in contact with contaminated feces and ingest it to be infected themselves.” Additionally, “human infection of Giardia from a dog or cat has not been conclusively demonstrated in North America,” says Dr. Sinn. Therefore, an individual is not likely to contract Giardia from an infected pet, but you should be mindful of washing your hands after coming in contact with Giardia-contaminated feces or water.

How can I prevent Giardia?
You can prevent your dog from getting Giardia by being vigilant in places where dogs meet, like daycares or dog parks. Watch to make sure your dog does not drink water or eat soil where feces is nearby. For optimal safety, your dog should only drink clean water from a water bowl. If your dog is already infected, can prevent it from spreading to other dogs by immediately disposing of your dog’s feces using gloves or a scooper, washing hands, and avoiding contact of the feces to your skin.

What is the treatment for Giardia?
Dogs with Giardia will likely be prescribed an antibiotic such as Metronidazole in conjunction with baths to eliminate all Giardia cysts from skin and coat. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Counsel (CAPC), the combination of Metronidazole and another anti-parasitic drug, Fenbendazole, can be used for five days to effectively wipe out the parasite. Follow-up fecal exams may be required to confirm that the parasite has been eliminated. If your puppy is severely dehydrated, your veterinarian may recommend additional treatments.

While Giardia is an irritating parasite that can cause discomfort in your dog, the prognosis for dogs with the infection is very good with treatment. Regular maintenance of your dog’s hygiene can also help curb the spread of the parasite, and in general, every dog owner can benefit from giving their dogs regular pup-keep.