Giardia in Dogs

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Whoever said “curiosity killed the cat” was certainly not a dog owner. If you own a dog, you understand their desire to get into anything they can reach while throwing caution to the wind, but there are some dangers out there invisible to the eye (and the canine eye), specifically, giardia in dogs.

What is a Parasite?

A parasite is a single-celled organism that infects a host, surviving on the nutrients the host consumes.  A parasite does not always cause fatalities, since it relies on the host for survival, but there have been cases of fatal infection.

Giardia-at-Large

Giardia has been reported as contaminating up to 39% of some environments around the world. This number varies depending on where you go, but it is still a grand number in medical terms. There aren’t many countries where you will not find giardia, including the United States. Giardia is one of the most common parasites found in North America.

Should your dog come into contact, the giardia cyst will lodge itself in the intestinal tract where it is most likely to find a large amount of sustenance. Once this less-than-attractive parasite takes up residence in your dog’s digestive system, it multiplies through a process known as “binary fission”. This is a fancy medical term for “splitting in two”.  These split organisms then become their own single-celled giardia parasites, and the process repeats itself until it is interrupted by treatment. Giardia in dogs can last for days, weeks or even years if no treatment is prescribed.

Contagious

Canine giardia is a highly contagious parasite that passes itself through the dog’s feces and waits for another host to come along to infect. These sneaky bugs can pass from dog to human; although, in human form we more commonly know it as “beaver fever”, and this passage from pooch to person is quite rare.

Wild animals can have extremely high incidents of giardia. Beavers and muskrats can have an infection rate of 16-95%, and this can be easily transmitted to your curious pup.

Depending on the environment, giardia can survive anywhere from a few days up to several months without a host, surviving longest in water. The only way to be sure that giardia isn’t present in any environment is to disinfect the whole area with proper tools, such as a disinfectant spray. Extreme heat, cold and dry conditions also stop the invader from spreading further.

On Puppy Mills and Kennels

Pets for sale in pet stores are commonly obtained from puppy mills. Along with many other reasons these dogs should not be supported by purchasing. Giardia in dogs from puppy mills is very common, since giardia thrives in environments where the parasite can be easily passed from animal to animal.

You can also find a high instance of giardia in dog kennels. When considering a kennel, some have private accommodations that can prevent this sort of parasite from spreading. Kennel owners should have an action plan in place to ensure that all contaminations are handled in a pro-active manner. If you aren’t sure, ask.

Giardia in Puppies, the Elderly and Vaccinations

Studies have shown that giardia is found most commonly in puppies. Up to 50% of puppies at any given time can be infected with giardia, making them the most at-risk population. With an immune system that is still developing, the infection can easily defend itself and multiply in your puppy’s digestive system.

Before you run out to vaccinate your brand new fluff-ball, you should be aware that this vaccination does not prevent the giardia infection, but prevents the likelihood of the parasite being spread further. This doesn’t necessarily mean the vaccination is not effective, it just means that your dog still has a chance of contraction.

Aging dogs can also have an increased risk of contracting giardia. As they age, their metabolism slows down and their bodies don’t work as well as they used to. With an immune system that can’t fight off infections the way it used to, giardia has an easier time pushing through a dog’s defenses and setting up camp.

The Silent Parasite

Animals don’t always show signs of the disease and as a result can go a long time without having any symptoms at all. If your dog has contracted giardia and not shown any symptoms, there is still the possibility of passing it on to another animal.

Further Reading

By learning about the signs, symptoms and the available treatment options, giardia has less of a chance to infect your dog’s system. Give your dog the best chance for health and read on about giardia in dogs.