How to Treat Giardia in Dogs or Puppies

By Jane Meggitt

If you're dealing with a giardia infection, it helps to understand what giardia isn't as well as what it is. It's not a virus, bacteria or worm, the usual culprits behind canine diarrhea. It's a one-celled parasite. Giardia can cause a lot of intestinal troubles. Treating giardia in dogs or puppies requires a course of medication in conjunction with ridding the animal and premises of the giardia cysts.

Giardiasis in Dogs

Dogs and cats can come down with giardiasis after exposure to the parasite Giardia intestinalis -- and people are also affected. After a pet consumes a cyst, the giardia develops into the feeding version of the parasite in the intestinal tract. Often, giardia poses no problem for the health of adult canines with strong immune systems, but puppies, geriatric dogs or those with compromised immune systems are at risk of harm. Your veterinarian can diagnose giardiasis by testing a fecal sample through an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA test.

Giardiasis Symptoms

Giardiasis' primary symptom is diarrhea with especially bad-smelling feces. The stools produced by a dog suffering from giardisis are generally pale, fatty and mucousy. If your dog's feces are watery or they contain significant amounts of blood, he's probably experiencing a different intestinal disorder. Some dogs with giardiasis might stop eating or lose weight. Vomiting might occur, and the dog might appear lethargic. Many dogs harboring giardia are asymptomatic, but they shed the cysts in their feces, potentially contaminating other animals.

Giardia Medication

The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends treating giardia in dogs by administering the dewormer fenbendazole -- marketed under the brand name Panacur -- for five days. An alternative is administering fenbendazole along with metronidazole -- an antibiotic marketed under the brand name Flagyl -- for five days. The two drugs in combination do a better job of getting rid of cysts. Your vet will conduct fecal tests after the five-day period to see if cysts still exist. If that's the case, the dog might need an additional 10-day period of drug treatment.

Bathing Your Dog

Giardia cysts can stick to your dog's fur. That means he can easily become infected by licking himself. So, in addition to drug treatment, your dog requires a good bath. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate shampoo. Besides bathing Fido, disinfect areas your dog frequents in and around your home with bleach to kill off any cysts. Wash your pet's bedding in bleach or purchase new bedding.