Giardia Health Information for Small Breed Dogs
Giardia Lamblia and Its Health Concerns
What is Giardia?
Giardia is a microscopic parasite (more specifically a flagellated protozoan parasite) that lives and reproduces in the small intestine. This giardia lamblia causes giardiasis in your chihuahua or dog and mainly effects puppies under 1 yr old. Giardia is infectious to both humans and pets all over the world. The parasite moves around its host using whip like structures called flagella. This parasite attaches to the epithelium (animal tissue) using an adhesive disc on the belly of the parasite. The trophozites absorb their nutrients mainly feeding off glucose from the lumen (small intestine). If the parasite is viewed under a microscope, split and stained, the organism will resemble a “smiley face” with two nuclei forming the eyes and the median bodies forming the mouth.
Note:Giardia will not only infect your chihuahua or canine, it will also infect cats, birds, and mammals such as cows, beavers, deer, sheep. Did you know that adult dogs can carry Giardia but not exhibit any symptoms? 78% of dogs are asymptomatic (show no signs) according to the US national Library of Medicine.
What are the symptoms of Giardia ?
Not all Giardia infections are symptomatic and you or your chihuahua could be unknowingly be carriers of the parasite. Dogs most susceptible to infection include those with weakened immune systems as a result of stress or due to young age. Giardia can cause problems with normal intestinal absorption of vitamins and other nutrients such as glucose. If your chihuahua has Giardia, the likely hood that your chihuahua puppy may go hypoglycemic is increased. If left untreated for a long period of time, your dog may pass away. The positive news is that Giardia is treatable. Some signs that your chihuahua may have giardia include:
- blood in stools
- sudden weight loss
- pale, greasy, mucusy stools that are poorly formed and watery
- excessive gas
- bloated belly
If you notice these symptoms, it is best to consult your Veterinarian as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
The Giradia parasite is very common amongst puppies and can easily be spread from one litter mate to the next. Giardia can infect your dog if they ingest the dormant cysts of the Giardia parasite. These cysts are shed from the infected animal in fecal matter which may contaminate water, kennels, or even food supply if not changed regularly. The Giardia parasite thrives in warm humid environments such as poop, plants, soil and sewage and is easily spread from one dog to the next especially if in close quarters with one another. The cyst can live up to 2 months outside the host on surfaces, cracks or crevices, even dog toys. They can even survive in cold water! This is why contamination from wells and water systems especially ponds, and storm drains is very high. The hard shell formed around the cyst is so strong, chemicals used to treat water like chlorine are not effective in killing the cyst.
Note: If your chihuahua puppy is infected, it can take from 5 – 12 days in dogs for the Giardia to be identified in the stool.
Treating Giardia in chihuahuas & puppies
Giardia is commonly found in 30% of the dog population under 1 year old and most commonly in kennels. Your adult chihuahua can carry the Giardia parasite but it is most infectious in puppies. If your puppy or puppies are infected, isolate the infected puppy and treat accordingly as recommended by your veterinarian. The most effective treatment of Giardia is with Panacur (aka Fenbendazole a broad spectrum dewormer that is proven to be more reliable and safer for your chihuahua ) and / or Flagyl (aka Metronidazole ) which is the classical method of Giardia treatment. Studies have shown that it is affective in only 67% of cases*. Your entire pack or kennel should be treated as a preventative regardless if they are infected or not. The home, crate and kennel where the infected puppy spends time should be sterilized using a bleach solution ( 1 part bleach – 32 parts water ) to prevent re contamination. Also exercise good hygiene and wash your puppy thoroughly during treatment to avoid and cysts that may be present on your chihuahua. It is possible for the puppy to get reinfected multiple times even after treatment.
Note: Your back yard or run will still be infected with the Giardia parasite up to month after you have diagnosed your chihuahua to be infected as the cysts can survive in the environment for long periods of time. To prevent reinfection, quarantine the area for 20 days. Do not take your dog to the dog park if infected and be sure to clean up all poops at home and on walks thoroughly!
Currently, there is no vaccination against treating Giardia. A past vaccination was available to reduce the shedding cysts in an infected dog, but it was discontinued in 2009. The best treatment is prevention!