Training for Good Behaviour.
Puppy feeding for problem bitches with no milk.
A Cause of Diarrhea
Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
Coccidia are small protozoans (one-celled organisms) that live in
the intestinal tracts of dogs and cats. They cause disease
most commonly in puppies and kittens less than six months of age, in
adult animals whose immune system is suppressed, or
in animals who are stressed in other ways (e.g.; change in
ownership, other disease present).
In dogs and cats, most coccidia are of the genus called Isospora.
Isospora canis and I. ohioensis are the species most often
encountered in dogs. Regardless of which species is present, we
generally refer to the disease as coccidiosis. As a puppy ages,
he tends to develop a natural immunity to the effects of coccidia.
As an adult, he may carry coccidia in his intestines, and
shed the cyst in the feces, but experience no ill effects.
How are coccidia transmitted?
A puppy is not born with the coccidia organisms in his intestine.
However, once born, the puppy is frequently exposed to his
mother's feces, and if the mother is shedding the infective cysts in
her feces, then the young animals will likely ingest them
and coccidia will develop within the young animal's intestines.
Since young puppies, usually those less than six months of
age, have no immunity to coccidia, the organisms reproduce in great
numbers and parasitize the young animal's intestines.
Oftentimes, this has severe effects.
From exposure to the coccidia in feces to the onset of the illness
is about 13 days. Most puppies who are ill from coccidia are,
therefore, two weeks of age and older. Although most infections are
the result of spread from the mother, this is not always
the case. Any infected puppy or kitten is contagious to other
puppies or kittens. In breeding facilities, shelters, animal
hospitals, etc., it is wise to isolate those infected from those
that are not.
What are the symptoms of coccidiosis?
The primary sign of an animal 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, die
from the disease.
Most infected puppies encountered by the authors are in the four to
twelve week age group. The possibility of coccidiosis
should always be considered when a loose stool or diarrhea is
encountered in this age group. A microscopic fecal exam by a
veterinarian will detect the cysts confirming a diagnosis.
It should be mentioned that stress plays a role in the development
of coccidiosis. It is not uncommon for a seemingly healthy
puppy to arrive at his new home and develop diarrhea several days
later leading to a diagnosis of coccidia. If the puppy has
been at the new home for less than thirteen days, then he had
coccidia before he arrived. Remember, the incubation period
(from exposure to illness) is about thirteen days. If the puppy has
been with his new owner several weeks, then the exposure
to coccidia most likely occurred after the animal arrived at the new
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 ill or infected with other parasites,
bacteria, or viruses. Coccidiosis is very contagious,
especially among young puppies. Entire kennels may become
contaminated, with puppies of many age groups simultaneously
What is the treatment of coccidiosis?
Fortunately, coccidiosis is treatable. Drugs such as
sulfadimethoxine (Albon®) and trimethoprim-sulfadiazine (Tribrissen®)
have been effective in the treatment and prevention of coccidia.
Because these drugs do not kill the organisms, but rather
inhibit their reproduction capabilities, elimination of coccidia
from the intestine is not rapid. By stopping the ability of the
protozoa to reproduce, time is allowed for the puppy's own immunity
to develop and remove the organisms. Drug treatments
of one to three weeks are usually required.
How is coccidiosis prevented or controlled?
Because coccidia is spread by the feces of carrier animals, it is
very important to practice strict sanitation. All fecal material
should be removed. Housing needs to be such that food and water
cannot become contaminated with feces. Clean water
should be provided at all times. Most disinfectants do not work well
against coccidia; incineration of the feces, and steam
cleaning, immersion in boiling water, or a 10% ammonia solution are
the best methods to kill coccidia. Coccidia can
Cockroaches and flies can mechanically carry coccidia from one place
to another. Mice and other animals can ingest the
coccidia and when killed and eaten by a dog, for instance, can
infect the dog. Therefore, insect and rodent control is very
important in preventing coccidiosis.
The coccidia species of dogs and cats do not infect humans.
Coccidia (Coccidiosis): A Cause of Diarrhea - Page 1 of 2
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