HELP!  My puppy has Coccidia/Giardia!
by Dr. Jeannie Thomason

I often am contacted by new puppy families who are at their wit’s end and empty wallet asking for help for their puppy who has been diagnosed by a veterinarian with either coccidia, giardia or both.

Coccidia and Giardia are both small protozoans (one-celled organisms, NOT worms) that live in the intestinal tracts of dogs and cats. They cause symptoms most commonly in puppies and kittens less than six months of age that have been vaccinated and on a processed food/kibble diet but can also affect adult animals whose immune systems are suppressed, as well as in animals who are stressed in other ways (e.g.; poor nutrition, change in ownership and/or environment, parasite overload, in a dis-eased state, etc.).

In dogs (and cats), most coccidia are of the genus called Isospora. Isospora canis and I. ohioensis. Regardless of which species is present, it is generally referred to as the disease, coccidiosis. As the puppy matures it tends to develop a natural immunity to the effects of coccidia if the immune system is kept strong. As an adult it may carry coccidia in its intestines, shed the cysts in the feces, but experience no ill effects what so ever. As puppies get past 10 to 12 weeks of age they usually develop a natural immunity to coccidia and do not show symptoms if exposed again.

How is coccidia transmitted?
Puppies are not necessarily born with the coccidia organisms in its intestine. However, once born, the puppy or kitten is frequently exposed to its mother’s feces and if the mother is shedding the infective cysts in her feces then the young ones  will likely ingest them and coccidia will develop in their intestines. Since young puppies and kittens less than six months of age, do not have mature immune systems yet themselves, they have no natural immunity to coccidia and the organisms reproduce in and parasitize the young animal’s intestines. This may or may not cause severe effects. From exposure to the coccidia in feces to the onset of the symptoms of infection, incubation is about 13 days.

What are the symptoms of coccidiosis?
The primary sign of a puppy suffering with coccidiosis is diarrhea. The diarrhea may be mild to severe depending on the level of infection. Blood and mucous may be present, especially in advanced cases. Severely affected animals may also vomit, lose their appetite, become dehydrated, and in some instances, may even die from the disease.

Most infected puppies are in the four to twelve week age group and have been stressed in some way such as going to a new home, being vaccinated or just a car trip for a veterinary visit. The possibility of coccidiosis should always be considered when a chronic loose stool or diarrhea is encountered from this age group. A microscopic fecal exam by a veterinarian will detect the cysts confirming a diagnosis.

What are the risks?
Although many cases are mild it is not uncommon to see severe, bloody diarrhea result in dehydration and even death. This is most common in animals who are under a lot of stress, are ill or infected with other parasites, bacteria, or viruses. Coccidiosis can be highly contagious, especially among young puppies.

Like Coccidiosis, dogs become infected by ingesting the giardia cysts. There are many things still unknown about this parasite. Experts do not agree on how many species of Giardia there are and which ones affect which animals. Veterinarians do not even agree on how common Giardia infections are and when they should be treated. Generally, it is believed that infection with Giardia is common but disease is rare.

Once a Giardia cyst is ingested by a dog, it makes its way to the dog’s small intestine, where it opens up and releases the active form of the parasite which attaches itself to the intestinal wall and begins to reproduce by cell division. Then it will encyst itself once again and is then passed outside via the dog’s feces.

If the puppy does not have a strong immune system, it will not be able to fight off the infection and will fall victim to the parasites. As in all cases of infestations or infections, the severity of the illness and its symptoms depends on the overall health of the host.

Dogs with strong immune systems will not show any symptoms of Giardia infestations however, If they do, symptoms usually show up after 7-10 days of ingestion.

Again, puppies or dogs who are more likely to show signs and symptoms are usually fairly recently vaccinated, wormed and/or stressed and/or who have a large load of intestinal parasites such as worms, and those who have compromised immune systems.

I can not say this enough, stress plays a major role in the development of coccidiosis and giardia. It is not uncommon for a seemly healthy puppy to arrive at its new home only to develop diarrhea several days later leading to the diagnosis of coccidia.

The symptoms are commonly associated with these parasites are:

acute or chronic diarrhea
nausea and vomiting
weight loss
abnormal stools (pale, greasy-looking, bad odor, bloody).

Conventional “Treatment”
Both Giardia and Coccidia are treated similarly in allopathic/conventional veterinary medicine – Albon, Ditrim, Bactrovet, Flagyl or Marquis – these medicines however are toxic chemicals that do not always kill the coccidian or giardia and often several rounds of dosing is encouraged. In the meantime, they do kill most if not all the healthy, friendly flora in the gut while weakening and further compromising the immune system which again, is the main cause of an infestation of these protozoa in the first place! You see, conventional medications for Giardia and/or Coccidia infections in dogs have many adverse side-effects.

  • Sulfa crystals may appear in your puppy’s urine.
  • KCS or dry eye
  • anemia
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • joint inflammation
  • kidney damage
  • skin rash

The Holistic or Naturopathic Approach

It is far better to do all you can to prevent your puppy from having any symptoms of either of these parasites.  If your puppy should still present with symptoms, you may want to seek natural alternative remedies and fortunately, there are quite a few remedies that can be used safely and effectively.

Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE)
GSE is used by many as a natural remedy that aids in the elimination of  Giardia and Coccidia in dogs.

Herbs that contain the active alkaloid constituent berberine, such as Goldenseal and Oregon grape.

Essential Oils

Essential oils contain known active ingredients, including phenols, aldehydes, terpenes, and oxides, and carvacrol, which have a direct effect in raising the body’s electrical frequencies. One of their key modes of action is targeted against microbial membranes and cell walls, which are then disrupted by the higher frequiencies being generated.

Oregano and Thyme have been researched and used by many for their especially high levels of carcacol.  

Some Herbs that are useful include licorice and cleavers.

For diarrhea caused by Giardia or Coccidia, the herb slippery elm is effective.

Other Supplements

If the puppy is put on to a raw diet of meat, organs, glands and bone from a grass-fed, organically raised animal, there may be no need for any additional supplements as a raw diet as close to whole prey as possible contains all the following naturally.

Natural supplements for  a puppy with giardia or coccidia are:

Probiotics – to restore the balance of microflora in the dog’s intestinal tract
Digestive Enzymes – to aid proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
L-Glutamine – to help protect the stomach and intestinal lining and also may prevent the formation of stomach ulcers.

The natural product – Kocci Free from Ambertech is a formula that contains natural herbs and spices that have properties against microbes and parasites.

Another natural remedy is: Only Natural Pet GI Support for Dogs and Cats

This formula contains the herbs licorice, slippery elm, and alfalfa, as well as supplements such as digestive enzymes, probiotics, L-Glutamine, and more. It gives advanced gastrointestinal support to dogs suffering from digestive problems that may be caused by Giardia, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, and so on.



The information contained on this web site is intended as educational information only. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or replace your veterinarian.

Please use your good judgement. Thank you 🙂

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