PET HEALTH

Giardia in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatments, and Prevention 

Four Minutes
Mar 26, 2024

Giardia is a common parasite among dogs. While your pooch is out and about living their best life, they could be coming into contact with this parasite every day.

The good news is Giardia isn’t life-threatening, but it could cause a slew of issues for your pup. Learn more about what Giardia is, how your dog can get it, and treatment options if your furry friend contracts it.

What Is Giardia?

Giardia is a microscopic, parasitic germ that lives on surfaces in your home or in contaminated soil, food, or water.1 Forms of Giardia can live in the environment for months without detection before they find a host.2 Infections from these parasites cause a unique disease, called giardiasis, when a potential host swallows the parasite.1 Giardia can take on two forms: trophozoites — found in the intestines of infected animals — and cysts, which are expelled in feces.2 Dogs with giardiasis typically experience diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms.3

How Is Giardia Spread in Dogs?

Typically, Giardia in dogs is contracted by swallowing an infected animal’s feces, even in trace amounts.3,4 However, there are other ways your dog may come in contact with the parasite aside from directly consuming feces:3

  • Drinking or eating from contaminated food and water bowls
  • Eating or playing in contaminated soil
  • Drinking contaminated standing water
  • Licking its fur following contact with a contaminated surface

Infected dogs can also leave the parasite behind in crates and on blankets or toys after grooming themselves.3 If your pup is sharing bedding or toys with an infected dog, their exposure to the parasite will increase. While dogs can get giardiasis anywhere, it’s more common in urban areas and cities with higher populations or in crowded animal environments, such as pet stores and kennels.5

Giardia Symptoms in Dogs

Most dogs experience some form of gastrointestinal upset when infected with this parasite. The most common symptoms of Giardia in dogs include:6,4

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss or trouble gaining weight
  • Vomiting
  • Dull coat
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Greasy, foul-smelling stool

Call your veterinarian if your dog is experiencing symptoms, like diarrhea and vomiting. While many of these symptoms look like other issues, your vet can run a fecal test to narrow down the cause.

Diagnosing Giardiasis in Dogs

To get rid of giardiasis, you’ll need vet intervention. Diagnosing a dog with giardiasis will typically consist of your vet examining a single fecal sample.2 You can bring this to the vet, or they may be able to collect it in the office.

Finding the tiny cysts shed by the parasite can be challenging because they’re shed inconsistently. Your vet may need to conduct a second test to look for Giardia-specific antigens in the stool to confirm the diagnosis.2 While some tests can be performed at a clinic, others will need to be sent to a specialized lab.5

A MetLife Pet Policy May Help Cover Giardia Costs

See What's Covered

Treating Giardiasis in Dogs

If your dog is diagnosed with giardiasis, treatment for Giardia may include prescription medication and an adjusted diet to treat the parasite and help manage symptoms.2,5

Dogs with parasitic infections — like Giardia — are commonly prescribed metronidazole, a generic drug to treat bacterial and protozoal infections, or Fenbendazole, a deworming medication.2,5 Follow your prescription instructions carefully to ensure the infection is treated properly. You may have to repeat tests to make sure the Giardia has left your dog’s system.2

Most dogs make a full recovery from Giardia once medications are started, but it’s important to clean all surfaces and fabrics to ensure it doesn’t return.2

What should I feed a dog with Giardia?

A diet that supports digestive health may also be prescribed to help treat your dog’s diarrhea.2 A giardiasis diet should be focused on keeping your dog comfortable. Your vet may recommend a 12 – 24  hour fast to give your dog’s gastrointestinal tract a break from digestion. Afterward, you may want to put your dog on a bland diet with foods like:7

  • Probiotics
  • Plain yogurt
  • White rice
  • Pureed pumpkin
  • Formulated dog food for sensitive stomachs
  • Potatoes without the skin

How To Prevent Giardia in Dogs

There are a few things you can do to prevent your dog from being infected with Giardia. But unfortunately, there are no preventative medications available. The most important thing is to be mindful of what your dog is sniffing, eating, and drinking when you’re out and about — especially if you live in a city. Don’t let your dog drink standing water at a dog park or in a space where other animals may be wandering. In your yard, you can fill in any holes so water can’t accumulate into drinkable puddles, getting rid of any temptation.3

Clean crates and bowls regularly with soapy water, and keep surfaces — like countertops and floors — in your home clean as well.3 If you know a pet in your home has giardiasis, try your best to limit contact between healthy and sick animals. The parasites will take advantage of close contact. Promptly clean up and dispose of feces, and make sure to regularly bathe the infected animal to eliminate any cysts from their fur.5

Consider Pet Insurance for Parasites

Giardia is a parasitic infection that can cause major discomfort for your pup. The good news is Giardia is manageable, and treatment is available at most vet clinics. If you’re worried about how to pay for the medication and follow-up care, consider signing up for dog insurance from MetLife Pet.

You may be able to get reimbursed for the cost of your vet visit, medications, and even prescription foods. For instance, after Poppy, a Pomeranian from Wisconsin, needed prescription medication to treat her Giardia, a MetLife Pet policy reimbursed her parents 100% of their $262 prescription bill.8

This is just one example of how MetLife Pet Insurance has helped pet parents save on the cost of medical care. Learn how MetLife Pet can help you. Get started today with a free quote from MetLife Pet Insurance.

Giardia in Dogs FAQs

Can humans get Giardia from dogs?

It’s unlikely that you’ll catch Giardia from your dog.2 Giardia is host-specific, meaning different types of Giardia parasites infect different animals.2 While your dog may become infected by another dog in the home, you don’t have to worry about contracting Giardia from your dog or vice versa.

How contagious is giardiasis in dogs?

Giardia is very contagious among dogs and can spread easily through contact with infected feces or items contaminated by feces. Even if your dog doesn't display any signs of infection, they can still pass on the parasite once it’s in their system.4 Also, dogs don’t build immunity to Giardia after being infected, so they can catch it again.9

How long does it take for Giardia to go away in dogs?

Medications are typically prescribed for 3 – 10 days to treat Giardia.5 With prescription medication, Giardia in your dog should clear up within a few weeks, as long as they don’t get reinfected.9

Can Giardia go away on its own in dogs?

Cases may vary, but for the most part, medication prescribed by a vet will be needed to treat the parasite.9 There are no over-the-counter (OTC) medications available for Giardia or proven home remedies.3

Is there a seasonal connection with giardiasis?

While Giardia can be present year-round, there may be a greater risk of your dog contracting the disease in the winter, since Giardia can survive longer in cold water than at warmer temperatures during the summer or fall months.3 That said, some studies have found a higher prevalence of Giardia in dogs during the rainy season compared to the drier winter season.10

Help Your Pet Feel Better

 Dr. Hunter Finn

Dr. Hunter Finn has been paid by MetLife to discuss the importance of choosing pet insurance. He is an integrative veterinary expert first, and social media star second. He  owns Pet Method in McKinney, Texas, where he cares for pets while prioritizing their emotional well-being. When he’s not at his clinic, he’s starring in viral videos on TikTok (2 million followers) and Instagram (500K followers) — where he’s been known to snuggle puppies and conquer the latest dance trends. 

**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “Parasites - Giardia,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

2 “Giardia: Infection, treatment and prevention,” Cornell.edu, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/health-info/giardia-infection-treatment-and-prevention

3 “Giardia and Pets,” CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/prevention-control-pets.html 

4 “Giardia in Dogs and Giardiasis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment,” American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/giardia-in-dogs-giardiasis/ 

5 “Giardia in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/giardia-in-dogs

6 “Illness and Symptoms (of Giardia),” CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/illness.html 

7 “Dog Diarrhea Survival Guide,” American Kennel Club

8 All claims paid amounts are based on MetLife Pet internal claims data from October 2022. Story altered for illustrative purposes.

9 “Giardia in Dogs,” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_multi_giardiasis

10 “Seasonal distributions and other risk factors for Giardia duodenalis and Cryptosporidium spp. infections in dogs and cats in Chiang Mai, Thailand,” National Library of Medicine

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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