Everything to know about Coccidia in dogs
Is your little pooch passing watery stools lately? Merely having watery diarrhea is not something to fret about. However, if you are noticing other symptoms such as weight loss, weakness, and abdominal discomfort, then you need to consider rushing to your vet right away. Your pooch could be showing signs of coccidiosis.
What is Coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis results due to a single-celled organism called Coccidia. The condition results in an intestinal tract infection due to swallowing oocysts that are nothing but immature Coccidia. These are found in dog feces and from soil contaminated with the feces. The oocysts are quite resistant to a variety of environmental conditions and can survive on the ground for a long time.
Oocysts sporulate and become infective under the right conditions of humidity and temperature. If your beloved pooch ingests sporulated oocysts, the infective cells will release sporozoites that can invade the intestinal lining cells and trigger the infection. Your dog can also become infected with this microbe indirectly by eating a mouse that is infected with Coccidia.
These microscopic parasites spend a major part of their lifecycle in the cells lining the intestine. Despite the damage happening to these cells, no detectable clinical signs are noticed during the initial phase of the infection. The microbial cells multiply rapidly in the region and cause rupturing of the cells.
Coccidia can cause massive damage to the intestine of an infected dog. Watery stools accompanied by diarrhea and weight loss can prove to be life-threatening in certain cases. Coccidiosis can result in severe complications in puppies because of their underdeveloped immune system. This is the reason why it is essential to follow good sanitation practices and take your beloved pup for a regular checkup at a qualified vet. You can prevent this condition altogether if you train your pup well (Miller, 2008).
Several species of Coccidia can infect the intestinal tract of cats and dogs. However, the species appear to be host-specific. For instance, Toxoplasma and Isospora are commonly found in cats whereas Sarcocystis and Hammondia usually infect dogs. The most common Coccidia species is Isospora and can infect other mammals as well.
How can a dog get infected with Coccidia?
Wondering how Coccidiosis spreads in dogs? The feces of infected dogs consist of oocysts (immature Coccidia). These are resistant to a variety of environmental conditions and can survive for a long time on the ground. Under the right humidity and temperature, these sporulate and become infective. If another dog ingests these sporulated oocysts, the infective microbes will invade the intestinal lining cells by releasing sporozoites thereby triggering a cycle of infection. Dogs can also get infected indirectly by eating a mouse that has already been infected with Coccidia.
Symptoms of Coccidiosis
Not sure if your pet has Coccidiosis or not. Although a thorough examination from a qualified pet can confirm the condition, here are some symptoms that you need to watch out for. Coccidia could be present in the intestine of your pet and remain asymptomatic for a long time. However, once the symptoms start showing up, it becomes evident that your canine companion is on the verge of becoming severely ill if action is not taken at the right time.
Here are the common signs that you should not ignore.
- Weakness and lethargy
- Explosive diarrhea
- Watery diarrhea with mucus
- Tenderness and abdominal discomfort
- Weight loss
- Little or no appetite
You need to remember that certain puppies are at the highest risk for coccidiosis. This includes the ones who already are battling other illnesses. Pups living in an unhygienic environment or in crowded pet stores or shelters are at the highest risk of contracting coccidiosis.
The earliest sign you will notice in your pet is mild diarrhea which can get severe with time if not treated right away. Dehydration, anorexia, anemia, and weight loss can also follow once the initial signs start showing. The condition can prove to be fatal in extreme cases if the pet is left untreated.
How coccidiosis is diagnosed?
Coccidiosis is diagnosed by performing a microscopic examination of the sample of the stool of an infected dog. As the oocysts are much smaller than the eggs found in intestinal worms, the analysis of fecal matter has to be done with special techniques. In less common cases of the parasite, the diagnosis can be done even with a blood test.
Your veterinarian will perform the diagnosis based on the clinical signs seen in your dog and based on the information you provide. The vet team may ask you the following questions to confirm the condition such as
- Is there blood in the stool of your pet?
- Is diarrhea becoming worse?
- Is your dog vomiting?
- What signs have you been noticing in your pet?
- How good is his appetite?
After conducting a physical examination, your vet will test the sample of the stool. It is best to provide the freshest sample for evaluation. A fecal flotation test is done where the fecal matter is mixed with a solution which causes the immature parasites to float to the surface. The organisms are then placed on a glass slide and tested under a microscope. The less common kinds of Coccidia can also be diagnosed with a simple blood test.
Treatment of coccidiosis
If you have two or more dogs, then all the canine members in your house will have to be tested for coccidiosis even if one is diagnosed with it. Even if your other dogs are asymptomatic, you will have to follow a course of action for preventing the further spread of the disease or recurrence.
If your pet is extremely ill from severe diarrhea or dehydration, then you will have to admit them to the hospital so that they receive constant monitoring from the experts. If the case of diarrhea is mild, then they can be treated at home with medications. Your vet may prescribe a few oral medications, antibiotics, or an antidiarrheal drug for the infected pet and for the other furry members of your house.
Once the course of medications has been completed, your vet may ask you to schedule an appointment again after two weeks. This is done to check the presence of parasites in the body. Do not discontinue giving medications to your pet even if they seem to be doing better. The course of treatment has to be completed unless it is resulting in some severe side effects. In such a case, you need to discontinue the use of medicines and speak to the vet immediately.
Once you have successfully completed the course of medications, make sure to return to the vet for retesting the stool sample. This test will confirm if Coccidia has been eliminated from the body entirely or not. Also, quarantine your infected dog until you are sure that he has cleared coccidiosis. This is to prevent the spread to other canine members.
Furthermore, you need to give special importance to hygiene. Make sure to clean up the feces in your yard promptly and thoroughly. It is good to maintain hygiene while your pet is recovering from the condition.
How to prevent coccidiosis?
The best thing about coccidiosis is that it can be prevented. By focusing on sanitation while raising your four-legged kids, you can keep them safe. Always pick up after your dog to prevent contamination in the surrounding areas. A majority of intestinal parasite infections are reported in regions where owners fail to clean up after their pets.
If you are traveling and want to leave your furry kids at a boarding facility or a daycare center, then make sure to choose a service that has a reputation for adhering to appropriate hygiene procedures. Carrying out annual fecal examinations can also help you keep the condition in check. If you are adopting dogs and puppies from rescues or shelters, then it is a must to have a fecal examination done as soon as you get them home.
Sanitation is the single most crucial element for controlling coccidiosis. It is also essential to maintain hygiene if you are raising two or more dogs or other animals. The feces have to be removed promptly from the yard or kennel for maintaining high levels of hygiene.
You already know that oocysts are quite resistant to environmental conditions. These are also quite resistant to regular household disinfectants. You need to use diluted bleach for disinfecting the cages and food bowls for preventing the microbes from breeding in your yard. Steam cleaning is yet another viable option for destroying immature oocysts.
If your dog has been diagnosed with the condition, then it becomes important for you to get rid of the traces of microbe from your yard and home. You cannot neglect the situation especially if you have more furry members at home. The greatest challenge with Coccidia is that the microbes are resistant and hard to kill.
Here are some tips that you can follow while cleaning the indoors and outdoors once your dog has turned out to be positive for Coccidiosis.
- Sterilize the food and water bowls in boiling water
- Sterilize all the chew toys and other toys your dog is fond of
- Wash the bedding entirely with bleach or with detergent on a hot cycle
- Steam clean rug areas and carpets
- Use a 1:10 solution of ammonia water for cleaning your dog’s crate and the floors where your dog may have accidentally pooped. You need to leave this strong solution on the surface for about 20 minutes before rinsing the solution. You can also use a 1:16 solution of bleach and water for cleaning.
- You need to make sure to wear gloves at all times while cleaning the poop
- Clean the yard tools and poop scoopers with bleach or ammonia solution after using them to clean up after your dog
- Spray the solution in the areas where the feces of your infected dogs were found. Wash the areas after 30 minutes so that your grass is not harmed in the process.
Following these simple tips mentioned above can help you minimize the chances of infection and reinfection if your pet has already been diagnosed with coccidiosis. Your focus should be on creating a hygienic environment for your dog to recover.
Can Coccidia infect humans?
Worried if you or the other members of your household can contract Coccidia from your infected pet? Fret not, as the most common Coccidia species found in dogs does not have any major effect on humans. However, the less common species of this microbe can prove to be potentially infectious to humans. For instance, the parasite Cryptosporidium can be carried by cats and dogs and can even be transmitted to humans.
Cryptosporidium microbes have been found in public water supply systems in major cities. It poses a great health risk especially in humans where immunity is greatly suppressed. For instance, those who are on immune-suppressing drugs such as the elderly, cancer patients, and AIDS patients need to be really careful. Proper disposal of dog feces and maintaining good hygiene is the key. Isospora which is a common Coccidia parasite seen in cats and dogs is not known to cause any major infection in humans.
Coccidia results in mild to moderate symptoms in dogs such as diarrhea. The condition can be treated with medications and is also preventable. You just need to adhere to good sanitation practices and promptly remove the fecal matter after your dog. Also, focus on sanitizing the kennels and water bowl to prevent the condition. By following simple measures, coccidiosis can be prevented to a major extent.
- Miller, P. (2008). The Power of Positive Dog Training . New Jersey : Wiley Publishing Inc. .
- West Virginia’s News. (2020). Points for Pets: Numerous causes for anemia in dogs. WV News site. https://www.wvnews.com/points-for-pets-numerous-causes-for-anemia-in-dogs/article_3f3ef53f-47e6-549b-a527-52c2e09fae8b.html
- Conboy, Gary. (1998). Canine coccidiosis. The Canadian veterinary journal. La revue vétérinaire canadienne. 39. 443-4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/13525567_Canine_coccidiosis
- Kennedy M., (2001). Coccidiosis in Dogs. Agri-facts: Practical Information for Alberta’s Agriculture Industry. https://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/ba3468a2a8681f69872569d60073fde1/9e47f76453230f3387256a4f006fd422/$FILE/663-32.pdf