What is Giardia in dogs?

Giardia is a protozoa, or a small, single-celled creature that infests the digestive systems of dogs. It concentrates in the intestines, sticking to the walls and floating around in the goop. In most dogs infested with giardia, it causes a disease called Giardiasis. Some dogs, however, don't show any negative effects at all from the infestation.


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What are the symptoms of canine Giardia?

In dogs that have symptoms, they will show general digestive problems. These include diarrhea, blood in the dog's stool, weight loss and lack of appetite, and generally seeming like the dog is doing poorly. The feces of the dog can also start to look and smell abnormal. It may look white or light colored.

How do dogs get it?

It is transmitted between animals that already have it. It can be transmitted either because animals are living in very close quarters with each other or through food and water. Contaminated water is the biggest cause - often dogs will get the parasites by drinking standing water that has been infested with them. If you take your dog hiking or wandering around near any rivers, creeks, or lakes, it is a bad idea to let them wander off, and you should always bring clean water with you for the dog to drink.

In the home environment, giardia leave the animals through their feces, so your dog could get it by using the restroom in a park, yard, or other area where a contaminated dog has been. Dogs can easily get it on their paws and then ingest it. Dogs in kennels can be at risk if one of the dogs has it, as it is very easy to transmit in that environment. Likewise, breeders face a big risk of an outbreak among their animals.

What is the treatment for dogs?

The drugs used to treat it in dogs include Metronidazole, Quinacrine, and Furazolidone. Your vet will decide on one and will also do several fecal tests to make sure that this is the cause of the dog's symptoms - many other diseases can cause the same vague symptoms and you need to be sure. Generally dogs recover well from it, but puppies are more at risk because a puppy does not have a well-developed immune system. Similarly, dogs that have had other medical issues that result in suppressed immune systems are more at risk. The biggest concern is dehydration as a consequence of the diarrhea, so you need to make sure your dog is drinking plenty of water. If the dog does not seem to be drinking, the vet may want to put them on an IV to keep its fluid levels high.

Can humans get it?

It is not certain. People can definitely get some kinds of giardia, but no one is sure right now whether the kinds that infect dogs can infect people and other species. The traditional view was that it was transmissible from dogs to people, but many scientists now believe that people are getting a different kind of Giardia. Traveler's Diarrhea and Montezuma's Revenge are the most famous forms of this parasite that affect people.

It's probably best to assume you can get it from your dog and take precautions against that happening. This means you should clean up any feces without contacting it if you can. Mix a little bleach into some water to clean any surfaces you think might be infected. Keep the dog off the counters or anywhere you prepare food. If you have AIDS or another disease that affects your immune system, then you need to be especially cautious, because you are at risk of serious illness from it. 

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