A Dog Owner’s Guide to Giardia

Diarrhea in dogs is unpleasant for everyone involved, but when Giardia causes the diarrhea, the problem can intensify. This sneaky parasite does not always cause clinical signs, but can potentially infect your entire household without warning. Learn how your pooch may pick up a Giardia infection, and how you can protect them from a repeat infection.

Question: What is Giardia in dogs?

Answer: Giardia is a single-celled parasite that can cause serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems for your dog. The parasite can infect any mammal, although the various strains tend to infect only certain species. Some dogs may not show infection signs, but younger dogs and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to struggle with diarrhea.

Q: How can my dog contract a Giardia infection?

A: Dogs develop giardiasis by ingesting Giardia cysts. A handful of cysts can result in infection, so dogs can easily contract this parasite. Common scenarios where dogs contract Giardia include:

  • Contact with infective feces from another animal
  • Digging in contaminated soil
  • Drinking from contaminated water bodies
  • Licking paws or fur after contact with a contaminated surface

Q: What signs will I see if my dog has Giardia?

A: Giardiasis is known for developing suddenly and causing particularly foul-smelling, greasy diarrhea that can also be pale and contain mucous. In some cases, clinical signs can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Frequent urge to defecate
  • Abdominal cramping and pain

Q: Will my veterinarian be able to tell if my dog has Giardia?

A: Giardia is a tricky parasite to find, as infected pets are not always shedding cysts. Two or three fecal exams may be needed to spot Giardia, or an antigen test to check for proteins the parasite produces may be necessary.

Q: Do my other household pets need to be checked for Giardia?

A: If one of your dogs has been diagnosed with giardiasis, your other dogs should also be examined. While Giardia infections typically stay within species, they can jump from dog to cat and vice versa.

Q: How can I treat my dog’s Giardia infection?

A: No medication specifically labeled for giardiasis treatment is available, but a deworming and antibiotic combination is generally effective. Probiotics and a prescription diet that support GI health are also beneficial in managing your dog’s diarrhea until the parasite is eradicated.

Q: How can I prevent my dog from getting Giardia again?

A: Reinfection can occur with virtually no effort, because your dog can pick up Giardia cysts each time they defecate. Your dog contaminates the ground everywhere they defecate, and the resilient Giardia cysts can stay there for months. Implement these tips to prevent reinfection:

  • Keep it contained — Minimizing the spread of Giardia cysts in your home and yard will help prevent reinfection. While you treat your dog, ensure they eliminate in only one spot in the yard, and try to restrict their movement inside your home. Ideally, protect furniture with easy-to-wash covers, or encourage your dog to stay on their bed. Block access to other rooms, so you don’t have to keep disinfecting your entire home.
  • Keep it clean Giardia cysts are susceptible to ammonia, diluted bleach solutions, and steam cleaning, so include regularly disinfecting all areas your dog inhabits as routine household chores, until treatment is complete. In addition, bathe your dog at the beginning and end of treatment to remove cysts from their fur.
  • Keep it fresh — Your dog will most likely be reinfected with Giardia if they head to dirty water again. Keep your pet away from ponds, creeks, lakes, and other water bodies to prevent reinfection, and allow them to drink only fresh water you provide.

Q: Can I get Giardia from my dog?

A: While people can develop giardiasis, they typically do not contract the infection from their pets. Multiple Giardia strains infect different species, so the strain that infects your dog is usually not the type that infects people. However, that does not mean you are safe from infection, so always practice good hygiene when taking care of your infected dog. Disinfect areas or supplies your dog uses regularly (e.g., bowls, toys, bedding) and wash your hands thoroughly after touching your pet, their supplies, or their feces. If you develop symptoms similar to your dog’s clinical signs, speak with your primary care veterinarian.

Fully eradicating Giardia in dogs can be challenging, but early diagnosis and treatment offer the most success in minimizing or eliminating parasite numbers. If your four-legged friend develops particularly malodorous, greasy diarrhea out of the blue, schedule an appointment with our Ambleside Animal Hospital team right away.