Puppies can easily contract coccidia.

5 Surprising Causes of Coccidia in Dogs

by: Dr. Muhammad Usman, DVM

Dogs have a powerful sense of smell and love putting things in their mouths. Unfortunately, this can get a dog into serious trouble. Toxic plants, broken toys, and contaminated water are just a few examples of things that can cause problems for your dog.

Sometimes it’s the things you can’t see – like the oocyst spores (microscopic eggs) of the coccidia parasite – that cause the most problems.

There are at least 5 ways your dog could develop coccidiosis and it’s important to know what they are so that you can help your dog avoid contracting this parasitic infection.

What is Coccidia in Dogs?

Coccidia in dogs is caused by a single-celled, microscopic parasite the lives within the intestinal lining of animals. Puppies are not born with coccidiosis, but they can easily pick it up through common environmental causes.

Supporting a puppy’s immune system is one way of ensuring he/she has the necessary antibodies to fight and possibly prevent the infection. Pay particular attention to puppies who have recently been separated from their mothers. The stress reaction of the transition lowers their immune function and leaves them vulnerable.

How do Dogs Get Coccidia Infections?

Dogs become infected after ingesting the infective spores of coccidia (sporulated oocysts) from the environment.  Busy dogs often come into contact with the feces of other animals, but they can also get the parasitic infection from contaminated drinking water, eating grass, plants, or ingesting soil infected with the protozoa.

There are at least four different types of coccidia infections. Isospora Canis and I. Ohioensis are the two most likely culprits found in dogs.

Coccidia in dogs is surprisingly easy to contract.

How is Coccidia Diagnosed in Dogs?

Veterinarians will examine the feces/stool for the presence of oocysts using a “fecal flotation test”. The reason is because the oocysts are a lot smaller than the actual eggs and require a specific solution to suspend the organism for easier viewing.

The dog may require multiple samples to get an accurate diagnosis due to the intermittent shedding of the organism through the bowels.

If you suspect your dog has a coccidia infection, try to get a fresh stool sample to bring to the veterinary clinic for testing.

How To Prevent Your Dog From Becoming Infected with Coccidia

The best way to prevent the spread of the coccidia parasite is to ensure daily cleaning and removal of stool. Thoroughly clean areas like kennels and cages and any other solid surfaces using diluted chlorine bleach (1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon water).

Be sure to keep animals away from the area while cleaning and protect your skin (gloves) and eyes against the harsh cleaning agent. Rinse well so that there is no trace of bleach left on the surface.

Maintaining good hygiene around feeding areas while keeping kennels and cages clean is your best defence against the coccidial parasite.

5 Surprising Causes of Coccidia in Dogs

Dogs become infected after ingesting the infective spores of coccidia (sporulated oocysts) from the environment.  Busy dogs often come into contact with the feces of other animals, but they can also get the parasitic infection from contaminated drinking water, eating grass, plants, or ingesting soil infected with the protozoa.

The best way to deal with coccidia is to avoid the parasite in the first place. Dogs can also be infected through:

Mice

Rodents are known vectors for a variety of disease. Dogs can contract coccidia from eating the carcass of dead rodents.

Keep mice away from your property and out of your home by keeping food (compost) in sealed containers and garbage in animal-proof containers when left outside.

Set traps instead of using poisonous compounds for your pet’s safety.

Fleas

Dogs can acquire a coccidia infection if they swallow infected fleas. Fleas can cause a variety of complications in dogs including skin infections and tapeworm.

Contaminated Soil

Unfortunately, not everyone picks up after their dogs. Stool can carry any number of disease or parasites that contaminate the soil. That contaminated soil can end up on your dog’s paws, on your shoes, your dog’s ball, etc.

It doesn’t take much, at that point, for your dog to contract the parasitic infection. Dogs can easily pick up the parasite from parks, kennels, doggy daycares, etc.

Stress

Stress in young dogs disables the body’s natural immune defences. When defences are down, the body is susceptible to illness and isn’t able to fight things like parasitic infections.

Ticks

Ticks are vectors for a number of serious illnesses. Unfortunately, they can also harbour infectious parasites that are transmitted through tick bites or, in the case of coccidia, from the dog swallowing a tick.

How Are Coccidia Infections Treated?

Veterinarians will treat signs of dehydration through intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy.

Anti-parasitic medications designed to prevent coccidia from multiplying may also be used. In addition, a veterinarian may choose to add an antibiotic to the treatment plan.

What are the Signs of Coccidia in Dogs?

Dogs with Coccidial infections may show the following symptoms:

  1. Mucous or blood containing diarrhea
  2. Dehydration
  3. Weight loss

Other clinical signs include:

  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Discomfort associated with the abdomen

Some infected dogs will show no clinical signs because their immune systems are able to control the number of coccidia. Unfortunately, puppies with undeveloped immune function or dogs with underlying health conditions may suffere more severe symptoms.

If you feel your dog is sick, immediately consult a veterinarian.

Diagnosing a dog with Coccidia

Veterinarians will examine the feces/stool for the presence of oocysts using a “fecal flotation test”. The reason is because the oocysts are a lot smaller than the actual eggs and require a specific solution to suspend the organism for easier viewing.

He/she may require multiple samples to get an accurate diagnosis due to the intermittent shedding of the organism through the bowels.

In case you observe any abnormal signs that resemble coccidian in dogs, you should immediately go for a detailed veterinary examination of your pet. Only a professional can help your furry friend cope out of the disease with ease.

Some dogs don’t show any signs at all, while some show severe diarrhea. A severe infection could be life-threatening due to weight loss and dehydration.

Puppies are more at risk of coccidia infection because of their immature immune systems.
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The Take Away

Puppies are more likely to contract Coccidia because of their immature immune systems. If your puppy is experiencing any signs of vomiting or diarrhea be sure to get him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Vomiting and diarrhea can quickly become life-threatening in a puppy due to the risk of dehydration. Only a licensed veterinarian is qualified to diagnose your dog.

Carefully watch new puppies, especially if they have recently been separated from their mother. The stress of the new environment can lower immune function, leaving the puppy more vulnerable to a variety of viruses and parasitic infections like coccidia.

Although it’s mostly puppies that are diagnosed with this parasite, it’s possible for older or immune-compromised dogs to succumb.

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SOURCES:

Merck Veterinarian Manual

AKC.org

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