Giardia in dogs
Giardia in dogs is a widespread problem that many dog owners have to face sooner or later. At first, for no apparent reason, the dog will repeatedly discharge soft, sometimes slimy faeces. With constant feeding, the faeces will often be firm for days, only to suddenly become soft again. Due to the residual appearance of the symptoms, one could easily suspect that the dog has received a wrong treat or may have picked up something outside. The giardia parasite often remains undetected until they have multiplied profusely, then the symptoms may occur on a daily basis.
In this guide we would like to explain what Giardia is, what symptoms Giardia can cause in dogs and what options you have to support your dog through feeding, if it is affected by Giardia.
What is Giardia and how do they harm dogs?
Giardia (Giardia intestinalis) are single celled parasite/organisms (protozoa) that attach themselves to the mucous membrane of the small intestine in mammals and primarily feed on starch. Dogs become infected when they swallow Giardia cysts. The Giardia multiply in the intestine. In this way, their number can double within a short period of time. Not every Giardia infestation causes externally recognizable problems. However, if the intestinal mucous membrane is already irritated/weakened or the Giardia take over, digestive complaints such as diarrhoea, vomiting, flatulence and cramps can appear. This can quickly become a serious hazard for puppies and young dogs. Should this happen, dog owners should take action and fight the Giardia.
Diseased dogs excrete giardia cysts in the faeces – this is a possible source of infection for dogs. If a healthy dog has contact with a sick dog or a recently sick dog e.g., when sniffing its fur or abdomen, it can become infected with Giardia. Giardia cysts are also very robust, they can survive for several months in a normal environment and continue to be a source of infection for other dogs.
Naturavetal Information: Giardia and the immune system
Experts assume that many dogs come into contact with Giardia on a daily basis. Animals that have a weak immune system (e.g., those taking certain medications, are constantly stressed, suffer from allergies or intolerances, and those who do not tolerate their food well) or whose immune system is still developing, such as puppies and young dogs are more likely to be susceptible than immune dogs.
A strong immune system is very important in order to aid the digestive system in defending itself against Giardia and also in regeneration after a Giardia infestation.
You can find out more about this subject in our advisory article “Strengthening the dog’s immune system naturally”.
Giardia in dogs - possible sources of infection
Giardia can survive for several months in normal environmental conditions. The sources of infection are diverse. An infected dog can spread the cysts from almost anywhere on their body during daily grooming – the mouth, fur and anus are possible sources of infection and reinfection. The faeces of an infected dog are another major source of infection, even if the stool can no longer be recognised, other dogs can still become infected while sniffing, as much as when eating the faeces.
Giardia cysts can collect in puddles, pools and any sources of water. Dogs that drink from these sources can become infected.
Common symptoms of giardiosis in dogs
Depending on the strength of the immune system of the infected dog or how bad the Giardia infestation is, different symptoms can show up in different forms. Mostly the symptoms appear as digestive problems.
- recurring, mucus-covered, soft droppings every day
- Faeces consistently soft or mushy
- regular diarrhoea (sometimes bloody)
- strong smelly faeces
Additional symptoms can then occur:
- dehydration due to the loss of water in the case of prolonged diarrhoea and the associated nutrient deficits
- dry, shaggy and dull coat
- weight loss
Giardia in dogs: what should be considered?
Giardia are very stubborn single celled organisms that can cause problems, particularly for puppies and young dogs, as well as dogs with weak immune systems and senior dogs. Not only dogs are affected but cats and even humans can also be affected. The pathogen therefore not only migrates from animal to animal, but also from animal to human and from human to animal (zoonosis). Having a dog and a cat does not necessarily mean that both of them will be affected should one of them have Giardia.
Naturavetal tip - diagnosing Giardia
If the animal shows any of the symptoms described above, you should clarify whether there is a Giardia infestation. To do this, collect faecal samples over at least 3 days (collective faecal sample) and have them examined in a laboratory. Many veterinarians can check faeces samples for Giardia in their practice.
It becomes problematic if your dog has a Giardia infestation but does not show any symptoms – unfortunately, this is frequently the case. The dog or its immune system is able to cope with the infestation. Nevertheless, it is a spreader and thus a potential source of infection for other animals. Sometimes dogs that have had giardiosis are carriers of giardia for life.
If you have multiple dogs, of which one is repeatedly diagnosed with Giardia and being treated while the other appears to be healthy, you should get the other dogs examined as well. One of them could be the carrier, even if they do not show any symptoms, it will infect the other dog again and again. The same applies if your own dog is repeatedly infected with Giardia after meeting other dog owners who are friends with you in the open – here, too, another dog could be the carrier, and not show any symptoms.
However, this may not be the case, as already described, puddles and pools from which the dog regularly drinks from, can also prove to be places of repeated infection.
My dog has Giardia - what now?
In general, it is advised that dogs should not come into contact with their own species whilst infected with Giardia. However, this may cause a dilemma. Since it is often puppies and young dogs that are affected, you end up intervening in an extremely important socialisation phase of their life by isolating them and depriving the young dog of life-shaping experiences. The loneliness caused by the isolation can put a lot of psychological stress on puppies and dogs of all ages and dog owners can also suffer from it too.
Naturavetal Information: Giardiosis in dogs - dealing with everyday life
It is wonderful when you can take your dog for a walk and let him off the leash when allowed. However, if you meet a dog on a leash, you should recall your dog back to you out of politeness and first clarify with the other dog owner whether contact between the two dogs is allowed. “My dog is harmless” is the wrong attitude. Too often, even the best-behaved dog can no longer be recalled as soon as it has recognised another dog (conspecific). Even if they just want to greet or to play – if the other dog is on a leash, there is usually a reason. The other dog could have problems dealing with other dogs, it could also have an illness that could infect your own dog. And what options does the oncoming dog owner have? Even if the owner knows that his dog is sick, he cannot keep him exclusively indoors for days or weeks. Not everyone has a large garden, and it becomes problematic to pick up a 15kg dog and retreat, when an unleashed dog charges towards you.
Supportive hygiene measures for dogs with Giardia
Supportive feeding for dogs with Giardia
If Giardia is present, ideally avoid feeding them grains or other high-carbohydrate ingredients. All dry foods require a proportion of carbohydrates, such as starch – it acts as a binding agent in its production. Dry food should generally be avoided during this time.
It is best to feed gently cooked meats such as our pure meat cans or meat rolls with a vegetable side dish such as our Canis Plus® Top-Fit-Mix flakes with a supplement of oil and calcium, for example our Canis Extra Salmon Oil, Canis Extra Organic Hemp Oil, Canis Extra Organic eggshell powder or Canis Extra Algae Lime. You should avoid ingredients such as bananas, sweet pears, pasta, rice, potatoes and anything that contains a lot of starch or fructose. Generally, it is better to feed only a small amount of fruit during this time.
To begin with, the meat content should be set a little higher than the recommended 70%. It should be noted, however, that meat proportions between 80 and 90% are not suitable for permanent feeding This high meat content period should be fed for a minimum of 2 weeks. This must be reduced again towards 70% after a maximum of 4 weeks. Within the first 2 to 4 weeks, you can add Canis Extra Tausendgrun Organic Green Herbs for BARF so that the dog is supplied with sufficient nutrients via the herbs that would otherwise be provided by the vegetable portion.
Since the risk of reinfection of Giardia is very high, it is necessary to stick to an adapted feeding regime for a while. Avoid dry food for at least 6 to 8 weeks and to start with a comprehensive intestinal rehabilitation programme.
If the symptoms disappear, the meat content of the daily feed may be returned to around 70%. Our Canis Plus® complete menus are available as a practical alternative to putting together meals. These are ideal as they provide a variety of grain-free meals. However, please stick to 2 to 3 different sources of meat, because the dog’s body should focus on defending itself against the Giardia and not have to contend with, or be irritated by constantly changing varieties.
Naturavetal Tip - Special feeding for Giardia
Feeding the dog real feta (sheep’s cheese made from sheep’s milk) has proven itself to be beneficial, if fed at the beginning of the diet. The enzymes in sheep’s cheese can support the body in defending itself against Giardia. For the first two days, it is definitely recommended to replace 50% of the actual meat content with sheep’s cheese and to add the supplement Canis Extra Tausendgrün Organic Herbs and Canis Extra Healthy Bowel. Following this, start with the adapted feeding of 80 to 90% meat, 10 to 20% vegetables or Canis Plus® Top-Fit-Mix flakes with an oil and calcium source. Canis Extra Healthy Bowel is supplemented for a total of 10 days. You can also add some sheep’s cheese to this type of feeding. For this purpose, depending on the size of the dog, one teaspoon to one tablespoon of feta is mixed into the food every day. After a few days, take a break and repeat the process again. Sheep cheese can be part of the diet for a dog infected with Giardia for a few weeks.
Healthy Gut - especially important for dogs with giardia
It is very important to rebuild the structure of the dog’s gut, especially if the dog has been on chemical medication for Giardia. Depending on how badly the dog was affected by the Giardia, there are also various options for building up the intestinal flora – please let our team of experts advise you on this and take a look at our advice article on the subject of intestinal rehabilitation.
In every case, the intestinal flora should always be supported after the use of medication. Our Canis Extra Petflora is suitable for this. The fermentation with lactic acid bacteria (lactobacilli) produces a purely natural lactic acid (pH 3.0). This improves the bioavailability of nutrients and active ingredients and supports the natural gastrointestinal function. When the intestinal flora is in balance again, Giardia and other parasites will find it more difficult to settle in the intestinal mucosa. Only a healthy intestine with a strong immune system can defend itself against re-infection with Giardia.
As described, you should stick to wet feeding for at least 2 months. If the control test for Giardia turns out negative and the dog looks fit, you can switch back to our Canis Plus® dry food, if desired.
My dog has Giardia - the search for the culprit
When your dog catches Giardia, the question that comes to mind, is from where. Other dogs may then quickly come under suspicion.
As a dog owner, you should keep in mind that sources of infection lurk everywhere outside – every puddle, every pond, every pile of excrement or every place where there was once a heap, these can be sources of Giardia just as much as any other dog. Even so, don’t stay at home with your dog or completely isolate them from the outside world.
Strict isolation of one’s own dog can bring on other difficulties for the owner and the dog, which can also influence the course of the disease. If the dog suffers a lot from being separated from its usual pack members or other dogs, the resulting stress can further weaken it and its immune system, making the Giardia easier to multiply. On the other hand, contact with conspecifics can strengthen the immune system, keeps the dog engaged and occupied and contribute to a good mood.
Puppies and young dogs with Giardia
It is unfortunate that mostly puppies and young dogs are often affected by Giardia. Their immune system is still in the development phase, so Giardia generally have an easier time. Added to that, there are possible wormer cures and the basic immunisation phase with various vaccines also ensures that the immune system is constantly challenged.
It is very often the case that puppies show the initial symptoms such as recurring diarrhoea if they have recently been with their breeder (days to a few weeks). To blame the breeder for this is in most cases inappropriate. A combination of different factors causes the problem to arise.
- Shortly before delivery, puppies are usually vaccinated and dewormed.
- For the puppy, the new home usually means separation from its mother and siblings as well as from everything that is familiar in its short life (known people, surroundings, familiar smells).
- It also means that the puppy comes into a completely new environment and will have to find its way around and familiarise itself.
All of these factors will affect the immune system. If the puppy then has contact with giardia cysts, which in principle can lurk everywhere unnoticed, giardiosis can quickly develop.
The feeding can then also be optimized as described above. Since young dogs in particular have a special need in their growth phase, we recommend that you contact our team of experts to discuss individual feeding plans for your puppy.