Preliminary studies show promise for a number of home remedies for giardia. When combined with appropriate measures to keep shed giardia cysts from contaminating the dog’s environment, options like coconut oil had similar results as metronidazole.
It’s important to keep in mind that giardia is hard to get rid of whether you use conventional or natural remedies.
Not only is it hard to get rid of, but many times it’s hard to detect. Many dogs suffer symptoms for a long time before the giardia finally shows up in a test at the vet.
Last week, as I was reading about a rescue dog that was struggling with giardia, I started to wonder: Are there natural remedies for giardia in dogs?
Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s find out!
What is Giardia?
Giardia is a microscopic parasite (not a worm, though) that can infect the guts of fish, birds, or mammals. Dogs and puppies tend to contract the organism by drinking from contaminated water or by direct contact with feces from infected animals.
Giardia is most common in puppies and dogs less than a year old. Their immune systems aren’t mature yet so have a harder time fighting it off.
If an adult dog has giardia, many times it’s because they have a weak immune system or are very stressed.
If not detected, untreated giardia can affect intestinal absorption of nutrients and cause malnutrition.
Giardia has two life stages:
As a trophozoite, giardia attaches itself to the lining of the small intestine with a sucker. It feeds and reproduces there.
New trophozoites either attach to the intestinal wall or move into the large intestine. The different pH environment in the large intestine causes the trophozoites to “encyst” (become encapsulated in a protective capsule).
These encapsulated cysts pass out of the body in the feces. The feces can infect new hosts through direct contact with the host or by infecting bodies of water through direct contact or rain washing them into the body of water. Cysts can survive for several months outside of the body.
Once ingested by drinking water or contact with infected feces, the cyst’s protective walls are broken down by stomach acid and the trophozoite emerges, starting the cycle in the new host.
How do Dogs Get Giardia?
The most common way dogs acquire giardia is by drinking from contaminated water sources (puddles, lakes, rivers, swamps – anywhere another infected animal may have been). Eating infected feces is another way they can contract giardia. It’s even possible (but less common) for a dog to get giardia by licking or sniffing infected feces or sniffing soil that is contaminated with cysts.
Symptoms of Giardia in Dogs
Although some dogs do not show symptoms, most dogs infected with giardia will show gastrointestinal symptoms such as:
- Diarrhea (may be chronic or might come and go)
- Stools may be mucousy and foul smelling or greasy looking
- Weight loss
- Refusal to eat
- Grazing excessively on grass (trying to relieve stomach upset and cramping)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in stool is uncommon but does happen in some cases
Some dogs will have acute diarrhea that causes dehydration. In others, the diarrhea will come and go, making it harder to diagnose. Vomiting may only be occasional as well.
How to Test for Giardia
Giardia is very difficult to detect because it is only noticeable in the stool at certain times in its cycle.
A lot of websites state you should just bring in a stool sample to your vet – but I can tell you from experience that this method misses a LOT of giardia cases.
Here are the different methods I read about and their effectiveness (or lack thereof):
- Fecal smear
In-clinic test, looks primarily for trophozoites, less effective at finding cysts.
- Float test
In-clinic test used to find worms. Might find giardia cysts if at the correct time in the cycle, best bet is if it is performed by technicians specifically trained to find giardia this way.
Done at a lab. Generally more reliable than a fecal smear, but can give false negatives or positives.
- ELISA test (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay)
This test is considered the most reliable test. It is sent out to a lab and analyzed for the presence of giardia antigens. It is approximately 90% accurate.
While slightly more expensive than the fecal smear and float tests, it only needs to be done once so is less expensive overall.
Note: Your vet may not call it an ELISA test. An ELISA test is one that uses the ELISA technique to look for the presence of antigens. So, for example, the IDEXX Fecal Dx w/giardia is a test that your vet sends out to a lab which uses ELISA assay testing to look for the presence of giardia antigens.
One website recommended repeating in-house tests up to three times to be sure your dog is negative for giardia, or (preferably) using an assay test (ELISA) that is more reliable. I mention this to illustrate the cost savings and better accuracy of using an ELISA test in the first place.
Now that I know about the ELISA testing technique, I will hands down insist on a test that uses it if I ever take my dog or foster in to be checked for giardia.
Do You Always Need to Treat Giardia?
If a dog has no clinical signs of giardia, you don’t automatically need to treat it – they may recover by themselves if they are healthy and have a strong immune system.
In some cases you will still treat an asymptomatic dog, such as if another dog or family member is immune compromised or ill.
Many dogs will show symptoms, however, and need help getting rid of giardia.
The most common form of treatment is conventional medication. Other people prefer to use home remedies aimed at killing the giardia and restoring intestinal balance using natural products.
Regardless of the method you choose, make sure you:
- Pick up the dog’s poop the minute they go to the bathroom to keep the cysts out of your yard. If you don’t, it could infect your other pets or reinfect the same dog down the road. Continue this until you know for sure that your dog doesn’t have giardia anymore.
- Periodically shampoo the hair around the dog’s rear end to remove any cysts that are present.
- Bathe the dog on the last day of conventional treatment.
Conventional Treatments for Giardia in Dogs
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close. I’m just sharing my own personal experience and information I have read. If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
Here is a quick description of the most common conventional medications used to treat giardia in dogs:
- Metronidazole (Flagyl)
Metronidazole has been the main drug for treating giardia for many years. The Merck Veterinary Manual states that Metronidazole is ~65% effective in eliminating Giardia from infected dogs but may be associated with “acute development of anorexia and vomiting, which may occasionally progress to pronounced generalized ataxia and vertical positional nystagmus.”
Its long list of possible side effects include lethargy, neurologic disorders, liver damage, blood in urine, effect on blood cells, and anorexia. It is not considered safe for pregnant females.
- Fenbendazole (Panacur, SafeGuard)
Fenbendazole is used to get rid of giardia, as well as a de-wormer. One vet commented that he believes it is more effective against giardia than metronidazole. The only possible side effect listed was vomiting and it is said to be safe for pregnant and lactating dogs.
One article said that its use for giardia is newer and that not all vets use it for that purpose yet.
- There are other drugs listed that are not as common as the above two. One of them, albendazole, causes bone marrow suppression. So be careful and research the drug your vet recommends if you choose to use conventional medication.
It’s common to need to repeat treatment for giardia. In dog rescue, this is the cycle I’ve seen:
In a nutshell:
- Dog gets treated with a conventional medication for giardia
- Stools become firm, dog acts like it feels better
- Medicine finished, dog seems “cured”
- Weeks later, diarrhea starts up again, giardia is back
- Another round of treatment
- Start the cycle again
The reinfection cycle may occur because there is giardia in the environment that isn’t getting cleaned up (not picking up poop, dog licking rear end, re-exposure to pond that giardia came from, etc). You may also have another dog carrying giardia that isn’t showing symptoms, so pick up all dog poop in the household until you’re sure it’s gone.
In can also reoccur because the medication didn’t completely clear the giardia (none are 100%).
6 Home Remedies For Giardia In Dogs
Some dog owners prefer to try home remedies for giardia, and only resort to conventional treatment if the natural remedies don’t work.
I would assume that the efficacy of a home remedy may be influenced by:
- How long the dog has had giardia
- The overall and immune system health of the infected dog
One thing to remember is that many studies on natural substances are carried out in a petri dish – not on dogs. The funding just isn’t there to study them on the dogs themselves.
So, like most natural products, anecdotal evidence needs to be combined with petri-dish evidence and checking with your holistic vet to decide if it is something you want to try.
Although home remedies won’t always be effective, keep in mind: giardia isn’t always cleared by the first round of conventional mediation either. It’s tough to get rid of whether you use conventional meds or home remedies.
The articles I found discussing the use of coconut oil as a natural treatment for giardia in dogs were fascinating. Here is the gist of how it works:
Coconut oil contains lauric acid (technical name is dodecanoic acid). In a study about the effects of saturated fatty acids on Giardia dodecanoic acid killed trophozoites by accumulating within the trophozoites and rupturing their cell membrane.
In plain English—it explodes the giardia trophozoites. If all the trophozoites die, no more cysts!
The study also found that lauric acid possesses an anti-giardial property at a reasonably low concentration.
Unfortunately, there is not much out there about how much coconut oil to give a dog for this. Studies gave lauric acid, not coconut oil.
This study used lauric acid to eliminate giardia from hamsters, and when I did the math to convert the amount they gave the hamsters to dog dose, it seemed like the typical coconut oil dose for dogs had even more lauric acid per body weight than the hamster doses in the study.
So what’s the typical coconut oil dose for dogs? The dose I saw in numerous articles was 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds . . .BUT:
If you give your dog coconut oil you need to work up the dosage gradually to the desired amount to avoid possible diarrhea. Read more about how to give your dog coconut oil in the benefits of coconut oil for dogs.
Some argue that coconut oil is not healthy for dogs, saying it can cause intestinal inflammation and leaky gut. So, as always, talk to your holistic vet about it to get some guidance.
Grapefruit Seed Extract…research your purchase first!!
WARNING: (Do not confuse grapefruit seed extract with grape seed extract, which is derived from whole grape seeds and is toxic to dogs.)
When I started this section, I knew that grapefruit seed extract was one of the top recommended home remedies for giardia in dogs.
I even found studies that demonstrated how effective it was in destroying bacteria and fungi.
But . . . then I found studies that found chemical contamination in some of the grapefruit seed extract brands tested.
It turns out that much like any supplement, you will find varying levels of quality control and testing between brands.
This article by John H. Cardellina of the American Botanical Council lists multiple studies which found that grapefruit seed extracts were contaminated with synthetic antimicrobial and disinfectant compounds.
But — non of the studies listed the exact brands tested.
On the flip side, there were a lot of articles out there where people had used grapefruit seed extract successfully to get rid of giardia—so I knew it had some merit.
One of my readers commented on this article (see comment section below) and shared his story: Tomas used to work for the pharmaceutical industry and became very dishearted by what he witnessed while working there.
He believes that some of the negative grapefruit seed extract studies may be an attempt to discredit a more natural remedy such as grapefruit seed extract to drive people to Big Pharma products. He spent quite a bit of time researching this, including directly contacting one grapefruit seed extract manufacturer (Nutribiotic). and said that after talking to them about their testing processes he has no hesitation to use it—but will only use that specific brand.
Tomas shared a very interesting (and a bit disheartening) quote with me:
(Dr. Marcia Angell, NY Review of Books, January 15, 2009, “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption)
“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”
After reading his insightful comments, I no longer would recommend steering free of grapefruit seed extract, but I would definitely do your homework and contact manufacturers and ask for product testing policies and results before selecting the brand.
Here is the brand Tomas uses:
This Animal Wellness Magazine article recommends using one drop per ten pounds body weight, or one capsule for every ten pounds body weight, three times per day with food. As always, work with your holistic vet to find the exact dosage.
Garlic has performed well in giardia studies. In one study, garlic proved to be an effective anti-giardial by altering the internal and external parts of the trophozoite. I could not find a study that gave the percentage efficacy
Warning: It’s important to note that too much garlic is toxic for dogs. Find a holistic veterinarian in your area to consult about using this for giardia.
Also, you don’t want to give your dog garlic if they are taking blood thinners or cyclosporine.
If you’re going to use garlic, use fresh garlic cloves; garlic powder won’t have the same properties. Chop or press the appropriate amount and let it sit for 10-15 minutes for the beneficial allicin to be released.
Dr. Richard Pitcairn, author of The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, recommends the following daily amounts of fresh garlic for dogs:
10 to 15 pounds – half a clove
20 to 40 pounds – 1 clove
45 to 70 pounds – 2 cloves
75 to 90 pounds – 2 1/2 cloves
100 pounds and over – 3 cloves
Warning: Clove oil can be dangerous for dogs if you give them too much. The oil itself can burn their skin.
Clove oil contains a component called eugenol which has been studied for its anti-giardial properties. One study looked at eugenol’s effect on the trophozoites and their ability to adhere to the intestinal wall. It found that eugenol inhibited the trophozoites adherence within 1 hour and “was able to kill almost 50% of the parasites population in a time dependent manner.”
Given its low (50%) efficacy and risk level, I would avoid clove and choose one of the safer methods.
Pumpkins seeds showed promise in this study which tested three different species of pumpkins’ effectiveness in eliminating Giardia lambelia. Seeds from the pumpkin species Cucurbita maxima D killed 100% in 48 hours, pumpkin seeds of the variety Lagenaria siceraria killed 100% in 72 hours and seeds from Cucurbita pepo L killed 85% in 96 hours. They compared these with Metronidazole (conventional drug) which killed 100% in 96 hours.
Results showed that pumpkin seeds were 85% and 100% effective at eliminating giardia depending on the species of pumpkins used.
One website recommended buying whole pumpkin seeds (unsalted) and grinding them immediately before feeding them to your dog.
The tricky part is buying the correct variety of pumpkin seeds. The study above studied Cucurbita maxima D, Cucurbita pepo L, and Lagenaria siceraria. When I started searching I was able to find 2 “grocery” products that were Cucurbita pepo seeds, but none that were Cucurbita maxima (the most effective).
What I did find was an organic seed company that sold organic, non-GMO certified seeds for planting. If I was going the pumpkin seed route I would probably call The Sustainable Seed Company and ask them if there was any reason not to feed my dog these seeds.
I also found a bulk pack of cucurbita maxima seeds on Amazon. They are non-GMO, but I would strongly encourage that you verify with the seller before buying that the seeds aren’t treated with anything and are safe for human consumption. If the seller won’t tell you, don’t buy them!
That said, I would probably be trying coconut oil first as it’s a cheaper option.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Studies for vinegar’s anti-giardia effects are focused on its effect on the cysts. The best results came from undiluted vinegar (100% cyst death), but I’m assuming once a dog ingests vinegar with a meal it becomes diluted. Diluted vinegar was about 50% effective killing Giardia cysts.
The question I couldn’t find an answer to was, if the vinegar kills the cysts, do the trophozoites attached to the intestinal wall keep living?
That question, in addition to the possible 50% success rate, for me, puts apple cider vinegar in the same category as clove oil.
Giving it along with more effective natural remedies for giardia would be worth consideration since there are numerous health benefits of apple cider vinegar for dogs. The health benefits article also contains information about the correct dosage of apple cider vinegar for your dog.
Can I Use Multiple Home Remedies for Giardia at the Same Time?
Numerous articles talked about combining home remedies for giardia, each article posting their own mix of natural remedies. Some, like coconut oil and pumpkins seeds, are relatively safe.
Others, such as garlic, need to be run by your holistic vet to be sure you give the correct amounts, as too much can be harmful.
I do like the idea of putting together a preventative and giardiacidal mixture to increase the chances that your natural remedy will be effective.
Support Your Dog’s GI Tract
Giardia wreaks havoc on your dog’s intestinal tract. If you use conventional medication it kills all the good bacteria along with the giardia.
This means that regardless of if you use conventional or holistic methods, you need to support and heal your dog’s GI tract.
During and after giardia treatment, you will want to give your dog these natural supplements to help recolonize the good bacteria and aid in proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Probiotics will restore the microflora balance (good bacteria) in the dog’s intestine.
- Digestive Enzymes help your dog properly digest and absorb nutrients from food
- L-Glutamine helps restore the GI tract after gastrointestinal damage. Note: It should not be used in dogs with kidney or liver failure or dogs with seizure disorders.
Dogs Naturally Magazine recommends the following dosage: Small dogs: 500 mg twice daily, medium dogs: 1000 mg twice daily, large dogs: 1500 mg twice daily, giant breeds: 2000 mg twice daily.
Remember to Support Your Dog’s Immune System
If your dog gets giardia, many times it is a sign that their immune system is weak and unhealthy.
As part of any giardia treatment program, you will want to work on strengthening your dog’s immune system.
Even after you get rid of the giardia, continue to build and support the immune system. Building intestinal health is a very slow process but is integral to the overall health of your dog.
Read about how to boost a dog’s immune system naturally; you will be amazed at some of the simple things you can do that will boost your dog’s immune health.
Don’t Forget to Re-Check!!
Regardless of if you choose conventional or home remedies, it’s imperative that you recheck your dog a few weeks after treatment is complete. And use an ELISA antigen test so you don’t have to worry about the test missing the presence of giardia cysts.
As I said above, I’ve seen numerous foster dogs arrive in rescue with giardia, go through treatment, and have symptoms return a few weeks after treatment is complete.
Giardia is just plain hard to get rid of.
Can Dogs Spread Giardia to Humans or Other Dogs?
Practice good hygiene, making sure that you wash your hands before you eat or handle food. Pick up the dog’s feces immediately to minimize potential spread to other pets and people. Hose the area down to dilute the number of organisms in any one spot and let it dry well.
Preventing Giardia in Dogs
Reduce your dog’s chances of contracting giardia (and other parasites) by following these tips:
- Support their immune system with natural immune boosters for dogs.
- Feed a healthy diet. Read about the pros and cons of homemade dog food to see if this is an option you want to explore.
- Reduce your dog’s stress by following a daily routine and providing adequate exercise and attention. If you have a busy schedule, consider investing in a dog walker to give your dog some mid-day exercise.
- When on walks and hikes with your dog, don’t let them drink from lakes and streams. Bring your own water bottle like the ones in this article featuring cool dog hiking gear.
- Don’t let your dog sniff or eat other dogs’ feces; they could come in contact with giardia cysts.
Be Your Dog’s Advocate
I can’t even count how many articles I read in which dog owners were repeatedly told their dog did not have giardia, even with textbook symptoms.
The vets were looking at fecal samples instead of sending the sample to the lab for an antigen test.
Over and over again I read about owners having to insist on treating for giardia, even in the absence of evidence in the feces.
The takeaway for me was this: If your dog (or foster) has two or more of these symptoms, insist on a giardia test that uses the ELISA antigen test:
- Difficulty gaining weight
- Intermittent diarrhea or loose stools
- Refusal to eat due to stomach upset
By doing an accurate giardia test before running up bills looking for other problems, you will 1) potentially save money and 2) know more definitively if giardia is the cause.
As you can see, learning how to treat giardia in dogs naturally involves not only being educated about the treatment options, but about the testing options as well.
Can Dogs Recover From Giardia Without Medication?
The answer is yes . . . maybe. If your dog has a healthy immune system it may fight the giardia off by itself.
Success will depend on many factors: the dog’s immune system health, the length of time they have had giardia, and more.
Did Home Remedies for Giardia Work For You?
If your dog struggled with giardia, tell us what worked and what didn’t so we can learn from your experience. Other readers may see your story and make a more informed decision for their dog.
Until next time-
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