What is giardia?
Giardia is a one-celled parasite, a protozoa, which affects the small intestine of dogs and cats. They can be found in contaminated water and feces and once they reach the animal’s body, they release tiny trophozoits that continue to multiply.
Giardiasis, the infection with giardia, is not easily identified because giardia can remail inactive inside the dog’s intestine for years, and after it activates it takes a long time to detect it.
It is diagnosed through analysis of feces.
Because giardia often goes undiagnosed and it is hard to identify, it is not easy to estimate how common it really is. It is believed that it is more common in areas with poor hygiene and in neglected dogs.
This disease is very easily spread so every dog owner is advised to follow a certain hygiene routine, like washing their hands after handling dog’s feces and monitoring the food and water the dog is consuming.
Symptoms of giardia in dogs
The most common symptom of giardia is diarrhea, which is logical since it resides in the intestine. This makes it difficult to diagnose because diarrhea can be the symptom of many diseases and it can also mean that the dog just ate something its stomach could not hold. The other early symptom of giardia is vomiting.
Other abnormalities, like increased white cell count and anemia may be symptoms of giardiasis as well.
As the disease progresses, the dog’s stool may become gray and fatty. Giardia also causes absorption problems in the intestine, meaning that the dog is not getting all the necessary nutrients. The dog will probably show no loss of appetite, but its weight may decrease and other signs of malnutrition may appear.
Sings of this disease can persist for days and weeks, and it may cause malnutrition, weight loss, lethargy, dehydration and death, especially in weak, vulnerable dogs, and in puppies.
In order to diagnose giardiasis definitively it is necessary to perform frequent counts of giardia cysts in the feces over and extended period of time. This, however, is time-consuming and rather expensive.
If the owner suspects his or her dog might have giardiasis, based on the above mentioned symptoms, it is recommended to see a veterinarian. He or she may prescribe metronidazole, a medication used to treat this disease.
This should be done as soon as possible because if the disease progresses it may significantly debilitate the dog. In some cases the treatment is prescribed basing on the symptoms alone, because it can be difficult and expensive to perform sufficient feces analysis.