Coccidia are parasitic single-cell organisms that live within the intestine, and can lead to an infection of the intestinal tract of the dog, known as coccidiosis. The condition can also affect cats, but it is not transmittable to humans.
Coccidiosis or infection with coccidian parasites can lead to a range of digestive upsets in the dog, which normally manifests as diarrhoea. Left unchecked, the condition can prove fatal, particularly in young puppies and dogs with a suppressed immune system. Coccidiosis is often confused with worm infestation, as the action of the parasite is similar and the symptoms often overlap, although coccidia are not actually worms. Coccidiosis is one of a range of parasites that can lead to digestive upsets and health problems in the dog, and so every dog owner should have a basic understanding of how to identify coccidiosis infection, in order to be able to spot any issues that arise and seek veterinary treatment promptly.
Read on to learn more about coccidia in dogs, and coccidiosis infection.
Coccidiosis can affect dogs of any age, and can be transmitted from dog to dog with relative ease. However, young puppies are the most likely candidates for coccidia infection, and the parasite is often passed on from the dam to the puppies by means of contact with the dam’s faeces. The condition most commonly manifests in this case at around eight to twelve weeks of age.
Dogs with a suppressed or compromised immune system, such as elderly dogs or dogs in poor condition or suffering from any other condition or illness are also more likely to contract the infection than healthy adult dogs.
Coccidiosis can be passed from a dam to her puppies, and the infection can also pass from dog to dog by contact with faecal matter. This can include direct contact with faeces, or indirect contact, such as with objects or animals that have minute traces of faeces or faecal bacteria present on the surface of the object or the body.
Living in an environment with other infected animals or coming into contact with other infected animals is the most common cause of the infection in adult dogs, and many dogs are carriers for the coccidia parasite in low numbers without actually becoming affected by coccidiosis infection themselves. As any dog may potentially carry coccidia, all dogs may be prone to developing coccidiosis if they lose condition or otherwise become ill, as this will suppress the immune system and give the parasite a chance to take hold.
Stress in dogs can often lead to the presentation of the condition, as exposure to stress is one of the most common ways in which the immune system of the healthy dog can become compromised.
The most obvious symptom of coccidiosis in dogs is diarrhoea. Understandably, a great many health problems both minor and major can manifest with digestive upset and diarrhoea, and coccidia infection is just one of them, so formal testing by your vet will be required to definitively identify or rule out the presence of the parasite.
The diarrhoea of a dog suffering with coccidia infection is likely to be very runny and mucous-like, and often uncontrollable. During the later stages of infection, there may be blood in the diarrhoea, and the dog will possibly be suffering from dehydration and being in a generally unwell and weakened state.
Your vet will ask for a stool sample to test to identify or rule out the presence of coccidia in your dog, and while the parasite is invisible to the naked eye, it shows up clearly under a microscope, and so inspection is usually performed in-house and relatively swiftly.
Other than in extreme or advanced cases when a dog is severely dehydrated or has lost a significant amount of weight, dogs can usually be treated for coccidiosis at home on an outpatient basis.
Anti-parasitic medications will be prescribed to kill the coccidia parasite, and your vet will need to re-examine your dog and check a second stool sample ten to fourteen days after treatment, to ensure that the parasite has been eradicated.
If the affected dog is very young, otherwise at risk or has become very dehydrated and/or ill with coccidiosis, your vet may need to treat your dog as an inpatient during the initial stages of treatment, in order to administer IV fluid therapy and help them to regain condition.
Coccidiosis is generally quite simple to treat effectively and on an outpatient basis, and most dogs go on to make a full recovery relatively quickly. The chances of a full and fast recovery are greatly increased by seeking prompt treatment at the first signs of an issue, and generally, dogs being treated for coccidia infection will begin to show signs of recovery within just a couple of days.
The condition can be rather more dangerous in younger dogs or other dogs that are not in top health or do not have a strong immune system, and can, in rare cases or if left untreated, prove fatal. Pay particular attention to dogs that have elevated risk factors for illnesses of all types, monitor puppies closely, and do not let young dogs come into contact with strange dogs until they have had all of their vaccinations and have had a chance to begin to develop their own immune systems fully.