Giardia is prevalent in Washington, and can wreak havoc on your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) system. Our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team often treats Giardia cases, and we provide information about this parasite, including tips on how you can help prevent your four-legged family member from contracting this infectious disease.

What is Giardia?

Giardia is a single-celled microscopic parasitic organism that causes intestinal infection in humans and animals. The parasite exists worldwide, and is often found in natural bodies of water, public water supplies, swimming pools, whirlpools, and wells. 

How do pets contract Giardia?

Pets exposed to infected feces, soil, or water can contract Giardia. A Giardia trophozoite, which is the disease-causing life-cycle stage, attaches to an infected animal’s intestinal wall to feed. These organisms reproduce by dividing, and some become hard cysts. After being infected, a dog sheds these cysts in their stool in 5 to 12 days, and a cat sheds the cysts in their stool in 5 to 16 days. The cysts can live in the environment for several months, especially in water and damp areas. If your pet eats or sniffs the cysts from contaminated soil or water, or eats a small infected mammal, they can contract infection. 

What are Giardia signs in pets?

When trophozoites attach themselves to a pet’s intestinal wall, they can cause damage, leading to acute, foul-smelling diarrhea. Other signs include weight loss, greenish-tinged feces that may contain blood, lethargy, decreased appetite, and vomiting. Healthy pets who are infected may be asymptomatic carriers and never exhibit signs. Pets who have an immature or a compromised immune system are at the highest risk for developing serious illness associated with Giardia.

How is Giardia diagnosed in pets?

Your pet’s history and clinical signs may lead our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team to suspect Giardia. To confirm a Giardia diagnosis, we may perform any of the following diagnostics:

  • Physical examination — We thoroughly evaluate your pet from nose to tail, looking for abnormalities.
  • Blood work — We may recommend a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile to rule out other conditions and assess your pet’s hydration status and overall health.
  • Parvovirus test — Depending on your pet’s age and vaccination status, we may recommend a parvovirus test.
  • Fecal test — By testing your pet’s feces, our team can identify the parasite. Regular fecal parasite testing methods can’t detect Giardia. However, if we believe your pet has Giardia, our team will perform an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test kit, which makes diagnosis easy. 

How is Giardia treated in pets?

If we definitively diagnose your pet as having Giardia, our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team will develop a tailored treatment plan based on your pet’s specific condition. Your pet’s Giardia treatments may include:

  • Medications — We may prescribe an antibiotic, antiparasitic, or a combination of these drugs. Treatment is usually necessary for 3 to 10 days
  • Fluids — If your pet’s condition causes dehydration, our team will administer intravenous or subcutaneous fluids to replace these deficits. 
  • Diet — We may recommend a low-residue, highly digestible diet to help address your pet’s diarrhea.
  • Bathing — To remove cysts from your pet’s coat and prevent infection transmission, you should bathe them often.
  • Disinfection — Frequently disinfect potentially contaminated items, such as toys, water and food bowls, pet bedding, floors, crates, linens, towels, and litter boxes, until a few days after you have administered your pet’s last medication dose.
  • Retest — To ensure your pet’s infection has cleared, our team recommends you have your pet retested two to four weeks after treatment. 

Can my pet transmit Giardia to my family and me?

Pets can potentially pass Giardia to humans, causing them to experience diarrhea. However, most humans contract the infection from drinking contaminated water. If your pet is diagnosed with Giardia, you should wear gloves when handling their feces, wash your hands frequently, keep your pet clean, and disinfect your environment regularly to help prevent disease spread. Children and immunocompromised people, including those with AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy, have the highest Giardia infection risk.

How can I protect my pet from contracting a Giardia infection?

A Giardia infection can damage your pet’s intestinal wall, and can be life-threatening if your furry pal is immunocompromised. To reduce your pet’s Giardia infection risk, follow these tips:

  • Ensure your pet always has access to clean, fresh water.
  • Use a filter that removes Giardia cysts from water.
  • Take bottled water and a portable water bowl when you go on outings, and frequently offer your pet drinks from this clean water source.
  • Don’t allow your pet to drink from natural water sources or random water bowls left on the sidewalk.
  • Don’t let your pet sniff other animals’ feces.
  • Prevent your pet from eating small mammals.
  • Dispose of your pet’s feces appropriately to promote a healthier environment.

Giardia is a concerning disease, but you can take steps to decrease your pet’s risk. If your pet has diarrhea, contact our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team so we can determine if Giardia is contributing to the problem, and devise an appropriate treatment regimen to resolve the issue.