Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Getting a new puppy can be a lot of fun, until the newness is overshadowed by the not so fun vomiting, diarrhea (and I mean a lot of diarrhea) and you having to clean up after it. The unfortunate reality is that your new puppy could have a wide range of ailments since they are highly susceptible to them and one possibility is Giardia.
Giardia is unique since it is an infection that your puppy or even your older dog can acquire, that is actually a protozoan parasite and not a typical bacterial or fungal infection. Giardia is picked up by your canine companion in the cyst stage where it is then ingested and moves to the gastrointestinal tract. Once it is in the gastrointestinal tract the cysts mature and reproduce, creating more cysts that are then shed in the feces of your dog starting the life cycle all over again for some other poor dog. This little single cell parasite is rather hardy as well and can survive several weeks in the environment as a cyst just looking for chance to infect a new host.
This parasite is, you guessed it spread through feces. The diarrhea from a contaminated dog is the route of transmission and it does an excellent job of spreading Giardia. The soft stool can easily spread the cysts on the ground and contaminate water leading to more dogs being infected.
The symptoms of Giardia can be rather apparent. The most notable sign is diarrhea where your dog has soft stool that can also be mucousy or have a very foul odor. Vomiting, weight loss and nausea can also affect your pet when infected with this parasite. This infection can be picked up by any canine who ingested contaminated water, licks their paws after walking on contaminated ground, or is sniffing ground that has Giardia cysts on it. The dogs that are most susceptible to this disease are canines that have compromised immune systems, this includes young dogs like puppies who are very well knowing for having this disease or dogs that have an immunosuppressive disease.
If you think that your pet is infected or might have been exposed, seek veterinary help as soon as possible. Although this might not seem life threatening it can quickly become dangerous, possibly even life threatening to your pet since the diarrhea can cause severe dehydration. Once at the vet clinic a fecal test will confirm the diagnosis that your pet is positive for Giardia. The fecal test can be done by using a float and looking for the organism on a slide or via a snap test which detects an antigen found in Giardia. The snap test tends to be more accurate than the microscopic method. Treatment is actually rather simple and your pet will likely be given an oral antibiotic like Metronidazole, an anti-parasitic or another dewormer. If you pet is severely dehydrated fluids will also be strongly recommended or an anti-nausea like Cerenia can also be given in conjunction if your pet is not eating or vomiting.
Another essential component of treatment is preventing re-infection. This is done by steaming carpeted surface and bleaching wood floors or grass that could have Giardia cysts on it. The key to killing Giardia is extremely hot temperatures or bleach. Prevention is also key and some dogs can be asymptomatic, which is why it is encouraged to always check a fecal sample of your canine companion each year at the veterinarian during a wellness visit.
Being aware that this protozoan parasite is lurking around is really important and it is important to know the signs so your puppy can be treated early. Then you can enjoy the explosive energy your canine companion has as opposed to explosive diarrhea!