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How do Dogs Get Coccidia?

Coccidia oocysts of a cat under microscope

Coccidia oocysts of a cat under microscope

What are Coccidia?

You may be aware of several types of intestinal parasites your dog may have because you may have seen them in their stool (yet, you won't always see them), but there are other pesky critters that live inside your dog and protozoans are some of them. Coccidia is a protozoan that is microscopic, but yet it may wreak havoc when your puppy or dog is infested with them. And don't think just because your dog has been put on a dewormer that he is necessarily safe; coccidia are not worms, and as such, they can care less about deworming medications.

Coccidia are single celled organisms (protozoa) that thrive in the dog's intestine. Once there, they may cause watery diarrhea that as it progresses may contain mucous and can be bloody. Severely affected pups may vomit, lose their appetite, have abdominal pain, become lethargic, dehydrated, and some may even die. The acute phase lasts about 10 days. The most severely affected puppies are usually in the 4 to 12 week age explains veterinarian Race Foster. Adult dogs don't seem to suffer from coccidia infestation much, but young puppies can get quickly dehydrated and may lead to death. The most common species of coccdia found in dogs belong to the Isospora canis and I. ohioensis species. Some puppies may be infected with Cryptosporidium parvum.

How on Earth did my Dog Get Coccidia?

Coccidia are found on soil where feces are found. Oocysts are passed in the stool and once out, under the right temperature and humidity conditions, they mature and are ready to be infective to any host that swallows them. Dogs pick up coccidia by walking in contaminated areas and then lick their paws and swallow the oocysts. Puppies often get coccidia because their mother dogs sheds oocysts in her feces and puppies haven't developed yet a good immune system. Another way dogs get infected is by eating mice who have swallowed mature oocysts. Also, remember that cockroaches and flies can transport coccidia from one place to another. Incubation: generally, it takes an average of 13 days (10 to 14 days) from the day of exposure for the symptoms to take place. This means most puppies will get symptoms when they are at least 2 weeks or older. If you recently adopted a puppy and he has been in your home for less than 10 to 14 days, it means he got infested in his prior home.

What dogs are mostly affected?

Coccidia infestations are very common in young puppies (under six months of age) housed in crowded facilities such as shelters, rescues and kennels. In these facilities, it can spread quickly among puppies. It is estimated that about 10 percent of dogs in shelters have coccidia. Their presence isn't necessarily an indication of poor sanitary conditions as these microscopic protozoans are quite common and can be present even in the cleanest environments. However, the chances for coccidia to thrive are higher when feces aren't removed promptly, water and food bowls get in contact with feces, affected dogs aren't isolated and no insect or rodent measures are taken. Coccidia eggs are extremely hardy and aren't susceptible to common disinfectants like bleach or quaternary ammonium products. A recent product made by Antec International and known as Oo-cide, seems promising.

Luckily, as puppies grow, they tend to build a natural immunity to coccidia and are less susceptible to its effects. Although mature dogs may shed oocysts every now and then in their stools, they hardly cause any symptoms in these older dogs. Cases where dogs are infected but show no symptoms are known as sub-clinical infections. In adult dogs, symptoms appear mostly in dogs with a suppressed immune system due to underlying illness or stress. Indeed, while puppies may get easily infected, coccidia affects mostly the young; therefore, in most cases, a new infected puppy brought into the home doesn't infect the resident adult animal according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.

How are dogs diagnosed with coccidia?

Luckily, coccidia can be often easily detected if you bring a stool sample to your vet. All puppies and dogs should undergo a yearly fecal test to rule out parasites and protozoans. At times, in small infestations or too early in the diarrhea stage, the stool sample may come back negative, but may later come positive after running another test time later.

How is coccidia treated?

Treatment consists of administering sulfa-based antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed drugs are sulfadimethoxine (Albon) and trimethoprim-sulfadiazine (Tribrissen). In some cases, amprolium (Corid) may be used. These medications are given between one and three weeks and don't really kill coccidia; rather, they inhibit their ability to reproduce. In the meanwhile, with the coccidia population reduced, the dog has time to develop its immune system and start fighting these pesky protozoans. Severe cases require hospitalization and the administration of IV fluids.

Is coccidia transmitted to humans/other pets?

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The type of coccidia infecting dogs fortunately is for the most part not infective to people. However, there may be chances that Cryptosporidium parvum may be passed to people, especially those with compromised immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While there are many types of coccidia in the world, luckily they are for the most part species-specific meaning that if you have chicken with coccidia, they shouldn't be a threat to your dog. Same goes with isosporas canis, this type of coccidia infecting dogs, doesn't appear to infect cats and isospora felis of cats doesn't appear to infect dogs.

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Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 26, 2014:

They are scary, also because our dogs cannot talk and tell us what is wrong with them! Luckily as dogs age, the chances for getting this appear to be lower 9it's more common in puppies), and fortunately it can be treated. Thanks for stopping by!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on January 26, 2014:

Dog illnesses are very, very scary to me. This is the first time I heard of coccidia. I think I have to maintain cleanliness in the part of my garden where the dogs do their thing. Thanks for the useful information in this article.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 25, 2014:

Thank you Eiddwen, and thanks for the vote's up!

Eiddwen from Wales on January 25, 2014:

Interesting and useful to many dog owners.

Voted up.


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