If your dog’s digestive system has been acting strange, there could be many reasons.
One possibility to consider is that he may have giardia, or giardiasis.
In case you’re unfamiliar with giardia … it’s a parasite. That means it feeds off other living organisms (like dogs) to survive. Once inside your dog, giardia calls your pet’s intestines home and creates an infection.
This leads to weakening of your dog’s small intestine. It starts to have trouble absorbing water, electrolytes, and nutrients. This can cause malabsorptive diarrhea … leading to difficulty in gaining weight or keeping it on.
Your vet may want to prescribe medication for treatment. But drugs can cause avoidable and unnecessary side effects. So, you may be wondering: “Can dogs recover from giardia without medication?”
The answer is yes.
Here’s what you need to know about giardia in dogs …
- How your pup can become a host for this microscopic parasite.
- How you can test your dog for giardia.
- Why you should avoid treating your dog with prescription medications.
- Four natural remedies you can use instead.
What Is Giardia?
Giardia is a very common protozoal parasite that dogs can catch.
Giardia has two forms:
- A trophozoite that lives in the gut of infected animals
- A cystic stage that’s shed in feces
The cyst form can survive several months in the environment … especially in water or damp conditions.
If your dog swallows the cyst, it enters his intestines. Once there, it transforms to the trophozoite form and feeds from your dog’s intestinal wall.
Some trophozoites transform into the cystic form. After about 5 to 12 days, your dog may pass infectious cysts in his stool.
There are several reasons why dogs are so susceptible. Your dog could pick up giardia from …
- Contacting the infected stool of another animal
- Rolling or playing in contaminated soil
- Licking himself after contacting a contaminated surface, like a kennel
- Drinking contaminated water
According to the CDC, giardia survives longer in cold temperatures. Take the following two scenarios for example:
- In water temperatures below 50º F, it can live for 1 to 3 months.
- Meanwhile, in water temps that are 98.6º F or higher, it survives less than 4 days.
In fact, it’s quite common for dogs to get giardia in the spring. As the snow melts, it can contain fecal residues that carry the giardia protozoa. If your dog drinks from the melted snow puddles … she could pick up giardia.
How long does it take for giardia to go away in dogs? The answer to that is … it depends on its environment. Giardia is a difficult parasite to get rid of because it’s easy for your dog’s environment to stay contaminated.
If you don’t take extra measures to deep clean your dog’s space, she may need longer treatment.
How to Find out If Your Dog Has Giardia
Giardia isn’t an easy parasite to detect … so it can live unnoticed inside your dog for a while.
If you suspect your dog has giardia, there are signs you can watch for. Keep an eye on your dog’s stool for these symptoms …
- Unusually soft
- Oddly or poorly formed
- Pale-colored or greenish
- Extra-foul smelling
- Contains mucus
- Appears fatty
- Blood in stool
Your dog may have recurring, intermittent diarrhea. Some dogs may develop vomiting. If the infection lasts a few weeks, your dog may lose weight.
If your think your dog might have giardia, contact your holistic vet. You can bring a stool sample to get tested. Collect a sample using the following four-step process recommended by canine herbalist Rita Hogan.
- You’ll need a fresh stool sample … nothing older than a day. So first, bring your dog outside and let him take care of his business.
- The sample doesn’t have to be big. Collect one that’s the size of about 2 or 3 sugar cubes. Use a poop bag to collect a pinch.
- For storage, place it in an old pill bottle that’s prewashed. If you don’t have this, any small plastic container will do.
- Label the container with your dog’s name along with your last name. This prevents any confusion at your vet’s office.
- If you can’t give your vet the sample right away, store it in your fridge, not freezer.
Can Your Dog Give You Giardia?
Technically, giardia is a zoonotic disease … meaning different species can get it. So if your dog tests positive for giardia, can you catch it from him?
Fortunately, research says it’s not that easy for giardia to transfer between species. Even the CDC says the risk is small … because dogs and people get different types of giardia.
If your dog has giardia, just take reasonable precautions, like …
- Washing your hands regularly (especially after poop pick-up!)
- Cleaning your dog’s bedding, toys, food and water bowls
- Cleaning household surfaces
- If you garden, wearing gloves to avoid contact with infected poop
- Keeping your environment dry (giardia likes damp conditions)
Why You Shouldn’t Treat Giardia in Dogs With Medication
There are three drugs vets commonly prescribe to get rid of giardia.
- Fenbendazole (Panacur)
- Metronidazole (Flagyl)
Sometimes they may even prescribe a combination of two of these medications.
But none of these three drugs is FDA-approved for animals.
They can also can create a mixed bag of side effects.
All these drugs often cause diarrhea and vomiting. And they may have other side effects, such as …
- Fenbendazole: facial swelling, hives, and excess salivation.
- Metronidazole: blood in urine, muscle stiffness, and dilated pupils, neurological issues.
- Albendazole: low energy, lower white blood cell production, and convulsions.
Giardia can take a while to get rid of. And these drugs also carry long-term risks.
- Albendazole can cause bone marrow suppression.
- Metronidazole can cause gastrointestinal illnesses and allergies.
- Albendazole and fenbendazole can exacerbate liver problems
And like most conventional “anti-” medications, these drugs can wreak havoc with your dog’s gut health. Because 80% of your dog’s immune system lives in the gut … that means it can make him more susceptible to illness in the future.
But the good news is … there are natural ways to get rid of giardia in your dog.
4 Natural Remedies for Giardia in Dogs
Now that you know the risks involved with medications, let’s talk about alternatives. Here are 4 natural solutions you can use instead:
#1 Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape is an effective natural antibiotic and liver tonic that can attack parasites.
Oregon grape dosage for dogs: Give 10 drops of tincture per 20 pounds of body weight per day. If you prefer a glycerite (glycerin tincture instead of alcohol), give 25 drops per 20 lbs, as the herb doesn’t extract as well in glycerin.
CAUTIONS: Canine Herbalist Rita Hogan recommends you only use Oregon grape for 7-10 days at a stretch. Don’t give Oregon grape to pregnant females or dogs with liver disease.
Cloves work well against parasites like giardia. The oil in cloves is the key to their effectiveness.
One study found that essential oil of cloves can inhibit the growth of parasites. It also stated the essential oil can kill almost 50% of parasites in a “time-dependent manner.”
Clove dosage for dogs: Give one clove per 10 pounds of body weight once every day. Or, mix a small pinch of clove powder in your dog’s food.
CAUTION: Don’t give more than the recommended dose. Larger doses can be toxic, especially for small dogs.
Garlic is a safe option to help boost your dog’s immune system. Allicin, one of the compounds in garlic, is effective against parasites. You can release it by letting garlic sit for 15 minutes after chopping and peeling.
Garlic dosage for dogs: give garlic according to your dog’s size …
- Small dogs: up to ¼ clove, twice a day
- Medium dogs: ½ clove, twice a day
- Large dogs: up to ¾ clove twice a day
- Giant breeds: up to 1 clove twice a day
CAUTION: Avoid giving garlic to your dog if he’s taking cyclosporine or blood thinners.
The golden-yellow root of this plant that blooms in spring can treat a variety of conditions. Combined with garlic, it’s very effective against parasites like giardia.
Goldenseal dosage for dogs: You can mix goldenseal as a dried powder into your dog’s food. Use 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of your dog’s body weight.
You can also offer it to your dog as a tea, providing ¼ cup per 20 pounds per day. Or, give a tincture, 5 to 10 drops per 20 pounds about 2 to 3 times a day.
This formula is recommended by herbalists Gregory L Tilford and Mary L Wulff.
Herbal Combination for Giardiasis
Combine the following tinctures …
- 2 parts Oregon grape
- 2 parts licorice
- 2 parts cleavers
- 1 part garlic
Note: Low alcohol tinctures are best for this formula. If you can’t find them, dilute regular alcohol tinctures with an equal amount of water. You’ll need to double the dosage if you do this.
Herbal combination dosage for dogs: For low alcohol tincture, give ¼ tsp per 20 lbs of body weight, twice daily. Or … if you diluted regular alcohol tinctures as above, double the dose.
Give the formula about one hour before food. You can give the mixture for up to 10 days.
Tip: If you don’t want to make your own combination, you can also buy herbal combinations specifically formulated to treat giardia and other protozoal parasites.
Tips To Prevent Giardia in Dogs
Being proactive can keep your dog healthy It’s better to prevent your dog from getting giardia in the first place!
One of the most important things you can do is keep your dog’s environment clean. Fecal parasites like giardia are invisible to the naked eye. So … keep your dog’s kennel, food and water bowls, and his favorite toys clean. Be sure to pick up poop in your backyard regularly.
As mentioned earlier, contaminated water is often a major source of giardia. Make sure your dog only drinks water from a clean source. Limit his access to creeks or lakes. (Yes … this is easier said than done. Most dogs love drinking out of the filthiest puddles and ponds they can find.)
Giardia isn’t easy to treat. But with the right solutions, you can successfully get rid of your dog’s giardia.