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How to protect your dog from Giardia

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Giardia may be harmless or it may cause illness in humans, and it can cause serious health problems for your dog. Find out what Giardia is, how it can infect your dog, and what you can do to treat it.

Giardia in dogs (known as Giardiasis) can be really nasty – with diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy all common among infected canines. But with a bit of vigilance and common sense, you can cut down the chances of infection and keep your dog fit and healthy.

Despite being present and sometimes harmless in the human gut, Giardia can cause real problems for your dog. Giardia, a protozoan or single-celled parasite, is contracted through contaminated water and lives in your dog’s intestine. Left untreated, it’s capable of causing diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy.

An infected dog will pass microscopic cysts through its poo, released by infected cells of the small intestine rupturing. These cysts can live for months in water, increasing the chances of other animals being infected. Because Giardia can be transmitted to humans, it is possible for you to be infected too, but the majority of people get their infections from other humans instead of their animals.

Giardia is a very common cause of diarrhoea amongst dogs, especially in puppies and dogs that have spent any time in a shared kennel – but it can be detected and treated relatively easily. Your vet will carry out a faecal sample to determine its presence then prescribe a course of medication, before arranging follow-up tests to make sure the infection has gone. Your vet will also recommend that you bathe your pet regularly and disinfect its water and food bowls, as well as its toys, to eliminate any remaining Giardia cysts that can reinfect your dog (or infect other animals)

There’s plenty you can do to cut down the chances of your dog becoming infected with Giardia:

  • Make sure your dog has clean, safe drinking water at all times
  • Do not allow your dog to drink communal water in public places
  • Pick up and dispose of your dog’s poo immediately to prevent the spread of the parasite, taking care to wash your hands afterwards.

Some dogs may become reinfected with Giardia after being treated because their environment remains contaminated. If this happens, you need to be extra vigilant about where your dog drinks and consider disinfecting potential sources. If possible, don’t allow your dog to defecate on surfaces that can’t be disinfected, such as grass and soil. If you have another dog or a cat, consider getting them tested for Giardia in case they are carriers and a potential source of infection. Finally, be mindful when your dog is socialising with other dogs in parks, kennels or grooming facilities, particularly where there are water sources present.

Did you know…
Actor and author David Walliams contracted giardiasis while swimming the length of the River Thames for charity.

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