Coccidia in Dogs

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Coccidia in dogs, also known as coccidiosis, is an intestinal disease caused by single-cell protozoa (a parasite) called coccidia. These organisms infect the intestinal tract of their host and can cause mild to moderate symptoms, such as diarrhea.

In dogs, the most common type of coccidia is Isospora, though several other species groups exist. Coccidiosis occurs more commonly in young and immunosuppressed dogs and is rarely fatal, but owners should take diarrhea in dogs seriously, as it could be a sign of a more severe condition.

Signs & Symptoms of Coccidia in Dogs

Visible signs and symptoms of coccidia in dogs may include:

  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration

Some cases of coccidia are asymptomatic, which means that the dog may not show any signs or symptoms but can still spread the disease, making him a “silent carrier.” Other infected dogs may show some or all of the above symptoms. Diarrhea is a common symptom in young or immunosuppressed dogs. This can lead to dehydration—especially in puppies and small dogs—and weight loss can occur as a result of intestinal malabsorption and diarrhea.

The symptoms of coccidia in dogs are also common symptoms of other diseases. Some of these diseases are serious, like parvovirus and giardia, and some can be life-threatening, if not treated.

How Did My Dog Get Coccidia?

Dogs usually contract coccidia orally, by ingesting fecal matter. Fecal material can contaminate food and water sources, introducing the protozoa to canine hosts.

Common causes:

  • Contaminated food
  • Contaminated water
  • Contaminated body tissue

Infected animals shed the protozoa intermittently through their feces, which can contaminate surfaces and substances. Once a dog is infected, the protozoa take up residence in the intestinal tract, where they then proceed to multiply and repeat the cycle.

Most cases of coccidia in dogs occur when they consume contaminated food or water. Coccidia is resistant to most disinfectants and can survive in the environment for a long time. Overcrowding can lead to increased risks of coccidia, as infected fecal matter can contaminate food and water bowls. Dogs may also contract coccidia by consuming tissue from infected animals.

Diagnosing Coccidia in Dogs

Coccidia in dogs is diagnosed through microscopic examination: an infection will reveal the coccidia organism in fecal samples. However, because the protozoa are shed intermittently, your veterinarian may examine multiple fecal samples before making a diagnosis.

Diarrhea, weight loss, and dehydration are common symptoms of many diseases. Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your dog’s symptoms, especially if coccidia does not immediately show under microscopic imaging.

In asymptomatic cases, your veterinarian may discover a coccidia infection during a routine wellness exam.

Treating Your Dog for Coccidia

Coccidia is a treatable condition. The most common medication used to treat coccidia in dogs is sulfadimethoxine, although some veterinarians prefer to use a different type of medication called ponazuril. In cases of dehydration, supportive care like subcutaneous or intravenous fluids may be necessary to restore your dog to full health.

After completing treatment, a recheck fecal examination should be performed to make sure that the coccidia has been fully eliminated. Some dogs may require a second round of treatment to obtain a complete cure.

Is There a Cure for Coccidia?

Coccidia can be cured with appropriate medications like sulfadimethoxine or ponazuril. Proper sanitation is also necessary to eliminate the infection from the surrounding environment. While resistant to most disinfectants, steam will destroy coccidia. Talk to your veterinarian about the best sanitation practices for your home.

Is Coccidia Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?

Coccidia is contagious between dogs. Fortunately, the protozoa are host-specific, so while cats can become infected with certain subspecies of Isospora, your dog cannot pass the disease to cats in the household. Similarly, the disease is not contagious for humans.

What Is the Cost of Treating Coccidia?

You can expect to pay for the office visit, diagnostics, and the medications needed to treat your dog for coccidia. The total cost can vary depending on how quickly coccidia is diagnosed and whether your dog requires further treatment methods, like intravenous fluids.

Recovery and Management of Coccidia

Managing coccidia requires owners to comply with their veterinarian’s instructions regarding medications and sanitation. Picking up feces, sanitizing dishes and dog runs, and avoiding raw meat will help prevent reinfection by coccidia.

The prognosis for a dog with coccidia is good. However, coccidiosis is usually associated with stress, immunosuppression, or other infectious agents. The underlying condition may cause additional problems or complications that will require further management.

Preventing Coccidia

Coccidia is a preventable. Picking up after your dog and avoiding areas where other owners fail to clean up dog feces will lower the risk of your dog contracting intestinal parasites like coccidia. Since overcrowding heightens the risk of infection, look for boarding facilities and dog daycare facilities that follow proper hygiene procedures.

Annual fecal examinations are recommended for all dogs, even if their stool appears normal. Puppies and dogs recently adopted from shelters or rescues should also have a fecal examination as soon as you bring them home.

Is There a Vaccine for Coccidia?

There is no vaccine for coccidia. Common monthly preventative medications do not treat coccidia.

Summary

Coccidia in dogs typically causes mild to moderate symptoms, such as diarrhea. While treatable with medication, Coccidia can be prevented with good sanitation practices. Promptly removing fecal matter and sanitizing food and water bowls, dog runs, and kennels will help prevent coccidia in dogs.

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