Coccidia in Dogs – Understand Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery by Experts
Coccidia in dogs is probably not one of the best experiences for animal lovers. The unicellular parasites nest in the intestine. However, they are not to be confused with worms.
What are coccidia?
Coccidia are unicellular parasites belonging to the protozone genus. They nest in the cells of their host’s intestinal wall and completely hollow them out. Coccidia are also characterized by the fact that they reproduce asexually through splitting at a frantic pace . Large parts of the intestinal mucosa are destroyed within a short time. Puppies and young dogs in particular are at risk due to their still weak immune system, and in most adults, infestation has less serious consequences. Coccidia belong to the so-called protozoa, which are single-celled organisms. They occur worldwide and are taken orally. In the gastrointestinal tract, the parasites lead to sometimes severe diarrhea , especially in puppies and young dogs . So far, three types of dog are known, all of which belong to the genus Isospora.
Coccidiosis is a worldwide disease that can affect not only the dog but also other mammals (cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, etc.), birds, reptiles and humans. The causative agents of the disease, the coccidia, are microscopic protozoa that live as parasites in the small and large intestine of their host animal. They attack the cells of the intestinal mucosa, where they parasitize and multiply.
Coccidia are host-specific, meaning that they only affect one species. The pathogen is transmitted via a dirt infection. If one dog’s feces contains the infectious oocysts, another can become infected.
The disease with coccidia is called coccidiosis. It is associated with diarrhea, but is also largely harmless. However, caution should be exercised in young animals, as the infection can affect the development of the puppy.
A veterinarian recognizes coccidiosis from the faecal analysis. However, you must point out directly that the faeces should be examined for coccidia. This test is not included in the standard analysis. To ensure that the analysis is correct, you should bring stool samples from different days.
How does my dog get infected?
The infection is usually caused by contact with the feces of infected dogs. It is sufficient that the fur nose only sniffs at the excretions, but sometimes dogs even eat the droppings of others. Larger breeds and packs are particularly affected. If the dog eats animals infested in the wild, such as infected rodents or birds, an infection can also take place. The parasite is also transmitted via the saliva of the animals.
Related – Giardia in Dogs
What are the symptoms?
In adult, healthy dogs, infestation is often completely symptom-free . However, he may have taken in the parasites, excreted them through the faeces, and infected other animals. A massive infestation as well as an infestation in puppies leads to (in bad cases bloody) diarrhea in different degrees. It can be mushy, thin and even watery . In this case, weight loss, weakness and dehydration soon occur. Recurring diarrhea with no apparent cause is often due to coccidia.
The salient feature of coccidial infection is diarrhea. The severity of the diarrhea can vary. they can extend over long periods of time. The consistency varies from thin-mushy to watery-bloody diarrhea. In addition, emaciation can occur due to the ingestion of nutrients. Some four-legged friends show reduced appetite due to the strain.
In young animals, the effects of coccidiosis can be severe. If the symptoms are not treated, developmental disorders can occur. In extreme cases, unrecognized diseases can even lead to the dog’s death. However, these cases are extremely rare.
Due to the inexperienced immune system in puppies and young dogs, these age groups show a more pronounced clinic than adult dogs. The latter usually only get sick if their immune system is weakened by other underlying diseases. Since the coccidia affect the gastrointestinal tract, there are mainly intestinal complaints and other non-specific symptoms:
- Diarrhea: This can vary greatly in its course and consistency. The droppings can be thin to watery and sometimes contain blood
- General symptoms: fatigue, reduced appetite, fever and dehydration (water loss), sometimes dangerous electrolyte imbalance
- Lack of nutrients: delayed development and emaciation
- Particularly severe diarrhea can lead to death in puppies due to the low energy stores
How to treat coccidiosis
If a healthy, adult dog is attacked, it usually copes with the defense alone. A visit to the veterinarian and drug treatment are then not necessary. The situation is different for puppies and young dogs. The immune system of young animals is often not yet strong enough to ward off parasites. The diarrhea in the puppy then becomes more fluid every day. It threatens weight loss and dehydration . The young animal is also very weak. A visit to the veterinarian is therefore highly recommended for puppies . The veterinarian then does a parasitological fecal examination and then prescribes appropriate medication. After a few days, the little one should feel better.
If dogs show recurrent diarrhea due to an infestation with Isospora species, this should be treated. As a rule, the treatment of coccidia in dogs is carried out with the help of medication. On the one hand, these act specifically against the parasites and on the other hand they support the immune system to alleviate the symptoms:
- Specific drugs against coccidia: sulfonamides (known to be resistant), toltrazuril
- Dietary measures: light food, sufficient water intake
- Stabilization of the circulation: infusions with liquid, electrolytes and sugar (glucose)
- Bacterial secondary infections can possibly be prevented by antibiotics
In order to further reduce the infection pressure, it is advisable to follow hygiene measures:
- Treatment of all contact animals (even without clinical signs)
- Removal of faeces and regular cleaning of faeces (e.g. using high-pressure cleaners and boiling water)
- Water and food bowls should be cleaned daily and then heat-treated at over 65 ° C to kill sporulating oocysts
- Be careful when bartending : Raw meat should be heated to at least 70 ° C before feeding or frozen at -20 ° C for 4-5 days
- Contaminated surfaces, toys and other objects can also be heat treated or treated with effective disinfectants (eg cresols)
Coccidia in dogs: what is the prognosis?
If the dog’s coccidiosis is recognized early and treated effectively, the prognosis is good in most cases. Nevertheless, strong courses, especially in puppies, can lead to developmental disorders and even death.
How can I protect my dog from coccidia?
In order to protect dogs from an infection with coccidia early, the following prophylactic measures are advisable:
- Compliance with regular hygiene measures
- Strict feed hygiene (especially when bartending)
- Regular fecal examinations (3 times a year)
After the illness: hygiene is even more important
Hygiene is the be-all and end-all in the fight against coccidia. All textiles with which the dog came into contact must be added to the washing machine and boiled. Temperatures above 55 ° C kill the bacteria. A steam cleaner is useful for other utensils.
Can coccidia be transmitted from dogs to humans?
There are many subspecies of coccidia. The good news is: Not all of them are transferable to humans. The bad news is: Most of them, unfortunately. As a rule, the transmission takes place via lubricating contact, droplet infection or simply via skin and textiles. If dogs and cats lick their fur and their owners caress them, infection is very likely. However: Most of the time, the owners notice only slight irritation in the digestive system. Diarrhea is also possible. The human organism usually copes with an infection quite well – provided it was healthy beforehand. Most of the time, you can count on the fact that coccidia poses no danger to humans.
The intestinal mucosa is attacked by the parasites. It is therefore advisable to adjust the diet so that the mucous membrane can recover. In addition, after treatment with antibiotics, the intestinal flora should be carefully built up.
Choose lean meat or curd as a source of protein to feed your dog. Add lots of vegetables and fruits to the feed. Apple, fennel, carrots and potatoes are particularly suitable. Use high-quality vegetable oil to supply high-quality fatty acids. Make sure to use the oil sparingly.
To strengthen the organism, you should give herbs such as oregano, turmeric and ginger. Other suitable supplements are:
- Healing earth
- Moor potions
- Effective microorganisms
- Barley grass
Our recommendation: prevention – as far as possible!
Hygiene is the best way to prevent dog coccidia. This is particularly important in multi-dog ownership . Fur noses that enjoy plenty of exercise in the forest and meadows are also susceptible. They come into contact particularly often with other hosts and their faeces. Regular boiling of the dog blankets, dog beds and other popular textiles is helpful. This is the best way to prevent transmission.