Giardiasis, a parasitic intestinal infection, is common in both humans and canines. At any given time, up to 10 percent of dogs in the United States are infected with this parasite. It is important to monitor your dog for symptoms of giardiasis as it can cause multiple health problems and is easily transmitted to other dogs.
What is Giardiasis?
A giardia infection comes from a single-celled parasite that invades a dog’s intestine. When infected, this parasite latches onto the wall of the small intestine and quickly begins to reproduce. Depending on the speed of your dog’s intestinal flow, these Giardia trophozoites can quickly be washed through the intestine and into your dog’s feces. However, given enough time, giardia can travel to the large intestine, infecting this area as well.
Giardiasis is transmitted when dogs ingest a giardia cyst that has been passed by another animal. More often than not this occurs when a dog consumes infected feces or water that has been tainted by infected feces. Giardia is highly contagious as the ingestion of a single cyst can cause infection. This differs from most bacterial infections where infection only occurs after a dog has been exposed to hundreds of organisms. While this disease is more prominent in older dogs, it has been known to develop in young puppies as well.
The most prominent symptom of giardiasis is diarrhea. As the giardia parasite replicates, it builds a wall on the intestine that prohibits food and nutrient absorption. Consequently, while most dogs will not lose their appetite, they may begin to lose weight over time. The feces of an infected animal will be pale with a bad odor. Feces also may appear to be greasy. Take your dog to the veterinarian at the first sign of these symptoms as untreated giardiasis may cause intestinal damage.
The veterinarian will perform a giardiasis test on your dog’s feces to confirm that they have been infected. Most vets will collect stool samples from your dog for up to 72 hours to confirm the presence of the giardia cyst within the dog’s feces. Infected animals have a variety of medical treatment options, though most vets will prescribe an antiparasitic or antibacterial medication. It is important to discuss treatment options with your vet as every dog displays different symptoms and has different medical needs.