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Giardia In Cats And Dogs

Giardia is a topic that almost everyone dreads among cat and dog owners. No wonder, because these small and common gastrointestinal parasites can also be transmitted to us humans and the animals can also quickly infect each other so that everyone has such an infestation.

Giardia is primarily caused by severe diarrhea in dogs and cats. Since statistically every fourth dog and every sixth cat is infected with Giardia and the infection rate in puppies and young animals is up to 70 percent, we would like to provide more detailed information on the subject of Giardia in this article.

What are the causes of this, what can be done about it, and what else do you, as the owner of affected animals, have to pay attention to in order to get rid of the annoying parasites once and for all.

What is Giardia?

Giardia are microscopic, single-celled parasites that can cause vomiting and severe diarrhea in animals and can therefore be very dangerous, especially in the long term. The unicellular parasites are the most common gastrointestinal parasites in dogs. Statistics show that 10-20 percent of all dogs suffering from diarrhea have been infected by these parasites. But Giardia does not only occur in dogs or cats.

Giardia is one of the so-called zoonoses. This means that it is an infectious disease that can be transmitted reciprocally between animals and humans. People with a weak immune system or small children are particularly susceptible to being infected by the animals.

However, the transmission rate is particularly low in healthy adults who also have a certain level of hygiene. Giardia spreads quickly due to the high risk of infection. For example, if you have several animals at home, it is very likely that several animals will be affected. For this reason, all animals are always treated at the same time. So it’s no wonder that Giardia can be very dangerous, especially in animal shelters, animal boarding houses or other places where several animals live in one place.

The cause of Giardia

Infection with these parasites occurs orally every time. In plain language, this means that the disease is transmitted through the mouth. When swallowed, the Giardia end up in the small intestine and cause damage here. It can attach itself to the cells of the host’s intestinal lining with a kind of suction cup, damaging the intestinal wall.

This damage is visible in many affected animals by blood in the stool, so it is one of many different symptoms. As soon as favorable conditions exist, Giardia multiply rapidly. At the same time, a kind of resistant capsule forms, a so-called cyst. Millions of these are then excreted by the animal in the faeces and can thus find and infest other hosts in order to spread there again.

The giardia are capable of surviving in a cyst for about a week in the feces of the affected animal, plus up to several weeks in the soil or cold water. This fact also makes them so dangerous. However, if the environment is slightly damp and cool, it is even possible that they can survive for several months and thus infect a new host.

Humans and animals can now be infected in different ways, with transmission always being oral. This is what happens quickly when animals drink from infected drinking or feeding bowls, swim in infected water and contact with infected grass when it is licked off can quickly become dangerous. In addition, it happens quickly when animals play with each other or lick each other, as cats, for example, love to do to each other.

Symptoms of Giardia

The symptoms are very similar in all living beings, although they can be seen quickly and clearly, especially in animals with a weak immune system. With healthy and strong animals it can even be that you don’t notice any signs at all and the animals also have no symptoms. It can even happen that these animals are only carriers, so that they are infectious despite no symptoms being present and can therefore infect other animals.

One of the most obvious symptoms is diarrhea in affected animals. This is often severe and recurring diarrhea, which may even be accompanied by blood or mucus excretion. As already mentioned, the blood and mucus come through the damaged intestinal wall.

Animals that are already suffering from gastrointestinal problems tend to get even worse. Of course, this also includes the vomiting of food or liquid. Furthermore, other complaints can also be stimulated and thus aggravated. In general, dogs naturally feel tired. You are more tired than usual and pain is not uncommon.

How is an infestation of Giardia detected?

As soon as your dog or cat suffers from stomach and intestinal problems over a longer period of time and suffers from severe diarrhea or vomiting, a veterinarian should of course always be consulted. Once there is a suspicion that the dog or cat has Giardia, several tests are carried out. As the owner, you usually have to provide stool samples from the animals, which sometimes even have to be collected over several days.

The stool samples are now assessed for smell, consistency and colour. Furthermore, this is of course also examined with regard to parasites or other possible causes of this diarrhea. Doctors have different ways to clearly demonstrate such an infection. The most common test is known as the ELISA antigen test. Unfortunately, a negative test does not always necessarily mean that the animal really does not have Giardia infection, so it is sometimes necessary to do this test again a few days later.

Giardia infestation – what happens now?

If the giardia has been confirmed by the veterinarian, it is important that the affected animal is treated immediately. Unfortunately, such treatment is not always easy, since this infection is one of the most stubborn diseases. It is important to know that all animals, if several live in a household, must be treated at the same time. The animals are now given a remedy that would also be used in the event of a worm infestation. The active ingredients are usually fenbendazole or metronidazole. This is an active ingredient that requires a prescription, which of course is only available from the veterinarian. In addition, the drug must be administered again after two weeks in many cases.

In this case, some veterinarians take the opportunity to alternate between the two drugs. This is how both active ingredients work and the chances of healing are greater overall. Some vets are now advising owners to feed them an easily digestible food that is also high in energy for about a month. In this way, the stomach and intestines are stressed as little as possible so that they can recover. If you are not particularly familiar with this, you can seek advice directly from the veterinarian. Some doctors even have special food for this situation in practice, which those affected can buy directly on site in order to prepare the next meal accordingly. Another important point at this time is hygiene.

The hygiene measures in the event of a Giardia infestation

As already mentioned, hygiene now plays a very important role in getting rid of the Giardia infestation as quickly as possible and avoiding reinfection from the start. In the following, we will explain exactly what these hygiene measures should look like:

Disinfect the environment

A very important point in hygiene is the disinfection of the environment. This includes, for example, that the excrements are removed directly from the animals so that other animals do not come into contact with them in the first place. Furthermore, it is of course also very important to clean the environment. Smooth surfaces can be cleaned with a cleaner that contains ammonia. The carpets as well as different fabric furniture or the animal’s basket, the scratching post, blankets and toys must also be cleaned thoroughly. Various steam cleaners are ideal for this.

Alternatively, the different items can also be washed at high temperatures, although not all products are suitable for this and may break. The feeding and drinking bowls must also be cleaned with boiling water, preferably several times a day. In addition, you must not forget to disinfect the car after transporting the pet, because pathogens can also be found here. The cleaning of the surroundings, such as the carpet or the floor in the living room, should be done daily at this point. This is the only way you can be sure that all Giardia have been removed.

Wash the pet

For many dog ​​owners it is a nightmare, but this step is also essential. The pet must now be washed with a special shampoo. It is best to wash the animal on the last day of treatment. While it is quite easy with dogs, regardless of whether the animal likes it or not, such a bath is of course very difficult for cats. For this reason, many veterinarians advise only washing the rear of cats. Cysts can still be hidden in the fur of the animals, which can of course be licked up and thus trigger the next infection. For long-haired animals, trimming the hair around the anus short can help. This is also the best way to ensure hygiene there.

The litter box should also be cleaned every day with hot water and dried well, since Giardia can survive in water and damp environments for a long time. In addition, faeces and urine should always be removed immediately. And one’s own hygiene should not be forgotten under any circumstances, because we humans can also become infected with these parasites and then pass them on. For this reason, it is very important that you always wash your hands thoroughly after you have been in contact with the animal. As soon as there are children in the household, even more caution is required. The safest thing here is for the children to avoid the animals during the treatment period, because the risk of transmission is too great, especially for the very young. Due to the high risk of infection, please also treat the animals in your household that are not yet showing any symptoms, because this is the only way you can be sure of getting rid of all Giardia.

Hygiene measures at a glance:

  • Please always remove the droppings immediately and dispose of them in sealed bags;
  • Wash the animals thoroughly with a special shampoo, both at the beginning and at the end of the treatment, which is available from the treating veterinarian;
  • Shorten fur in the anal area to have better control of hygiene;
  • Cleaning the litter box daily with hot water. Then dry well. Remove cat feces and urine immediately if possible;
  • Clean food bowls and water bowls daily with boiling water and dry thoroughly;
  • Always provide the animals with fresh water;
  • Wash blankets, pillows, and all sleeping places of the animals in the washing machine at least 65°;
  • At the beginning and at the end of the treatment, clean all toys with boiling water, which also applies to the cat scratching posts;
  • Also treat the solid floors with steam jet cleaners, preferably at a temperature of at least 60 degrees.


Once you have a Giardia infestation in your home, it is never easy to get rid of it. In addition, your own animals can hardly be protected from parasites. It is therefore important to get rid of such an infection quickly and to ensure that the entire household is and remains free of Giardia. In addition to the treatment, hygiene measures are particularly important for me and should never be underestimated or taken lightly. If you have such symptoms, please always go to a vet you trust and have your dog or cat checked thoroughly so that you can quickly get to the bottom of the cause so that treatment can be carried out promptly.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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