When picking up your dog’s waste from the yard, you may not think much about what could be lurking in that pile. From various bacterial populations to a host of intestinal worms, your pet’s feces may hold many pathogens and parasites. Giardia is a common parasite that affects anywhere between 10% and 30% of the canine population. Read our Midtown Veterinary Hospital team’s guide to learn about Giardia, how your pooch can pick up this parasite, and how you can help prevent them from contracting it.

What is Giardia in dogs?

As a single-celled protozoal parasite, Giardia is incredibly tiny and impossible to see with the naked eye. A multitude of Giardia strains can infect a wide range of animals, including dogs, cats, wildlife, livestock, and people. Typically, each Giardia strain infects only a few species and does not easily spread to other hosts. For example, the Giardia strain your dog contracts is unlikely to affect you. 

How do dogs get Giardia?

Giardia has two forms: the cyst form and the trophozoite form. When an animal sheds the cysts in their feces, they are infectious. However, the trophozoite form is the life stage causing the active infection. Your dog can pick up Giardia cysts from any of these sources:

  • Contaminated water — Your dog can ingest Giardia cysts by drinking contaminated water from a stagnant puddle or pond.
  • Contaminated environments — Giardia cysts are exceptionally hardy and can linger in the environment for months. If your dog digs or rolls in contaminated soil, is housed in an unsanitary kennel at a boarding facility, or walks across a grimy pet store floor, they can contract giardiasis.
  • Infected dogs — If your dog comes in contact with an infected dog via grooming, greeting, or playing, they can easily ingest Giardia cysts. 

What are Giardia signs in dogs?

Giardia is a tricky parasite, as the pest does not always cause a dog’s illness signs. Many infected dogs can be asymptomatic, or they can develop intermittent diarrhea that appears to resolve on its own, only to return. Giardia-infected feces are particularly foul-smelling, and often appear pale and greasy. Stool is rarely formed and may contain mucus. Dogs with giardiasis can also develop:

  • Excessive gas
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Lethargy
  • Rough hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting

How is Giardia diagnosed in dogs?

When our Midtown Veterinary Hospital team suspects an intestinal parasite is causing your dog’s diarrhea, we will typically perform a fecal exam. We will use a microscope to evaluate a small fecal sample for parasite eggs or Giardia cysts. However, your dog will not shed Giardia cysts every time they defecate, so the first fecal exam may not reveal the parasite’s presence. Fortunately, to achieve a more accurate result, our team can perform another test that detects proteins the Giardia parasite produces.

How is Giardia treated in dogs?

Although Giardia may be an incidental finding on your dog’s annual fecal exam, they likely won’t need treatment. However, if your dog is exhibiting Giardia signs, our team will recommend deworming products, antidiarrheal medication, a bland diet, and probiotics. 

How can I prevent my dog from contracting Giardia?

Although Giardia is an intestinal parasite, it is a unique organism that your dog’s heartworm prevention cannot deter. Depending on your dog’s preventive product, a combination of roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms may be eliminated from their body, but Giardia lingers. To prevent your furry pal from contracting Giardia, follow these tips:

  • Picking up waste immediately — Because Giardia cysts are infectious the moment they leave your dog’s intestinal tract, you need to dispose of their feces immediately.
  • Practicing excellent hygiene — After picking up your dog’s stool, wash your hands thoroughly to avoid contaminating surfaces and items within your home. Ensure you and your dog have not accidentally stepped in feces, because this can reinfect your pet.
  • Avoiding Giardia-contaminated areas — If your dog has been diagnosed with giardiasis and has always used one corner of your yard as their toilet, block off the area to prevent reinfection.
  • Bathing your dog regularly — If your canine companion has giardiasis, bathe them regularly during the course of their treatment to rinse away infectious cysts and help prevent reinfection.
  • Offering your dog fresh water — If your dog has clean, fresh water to drink, they will be less tempted to drink from contaminated sources.
  • Scheduling regular wellness exams — The best way to prevent your dog from contracting a serious parasitic infection is through regular wellness care. During your pup’s annual wellness visit, our team can closely monitor their health and check for hidden diseases.

If the odor from your dog’s stool is particularly horrendous, and their once-formed logs have turned into a pale pile of greasy feces, a veterinary exam is in order. Schedule your dog’s appointment with our Midtown Veterinary Hospital team, and remember to bring a fresh stool sample with you.