Coccidia in Dogs Explained

Coccidia are protozoans living in your dog's intestinal tracts. Most dogs have a certain immunity to its effects; however, puppies, stressed dogs and those with their immune systems suppressed may sometimes display symptoms of coccidiosis.

Coccidia Explained

The coccidia protozoa are not native to a dog's internal environment. Puppies are often introduced to it through their mothers' infected feces that contain cysts of the protozoa. They may also be introduced to it in other ways, as coccidia are highly contagious, and can even spread from puppies to kittens and vice versa. Even carriers such as cockroaches and mice, if eaten, can transmit the parasite.

Though dogs gradually work up immunity to the parasite as they grow, puppies can be susceptible to coccidiosis, the condition that occurs when the coccidia in a dog's digestive tract cause an infection.

Symptoms of Coccidia

The first and classic sign of coccidiosis is diarrhea. Depending on the severity of the infection, the diarrhea may be mild or severe. It may include blood or mucus, in very severe cases, and be accompanied by a foul odor. Many times, however, coccidiosis may cause only loose stool, and this should be regarded as suspect anyway. The infection can increase in severity if left untreated while the parasite multiplies in the intestinal tract.

Severe cases may see a loss of appetite. In very severe cases, vomiting may occur. Accompanied with diarrhea, this can cause severe dehydration, and some dogs may die from the infection. Most cases, however, are mild, and most of the dogs that have died from coccidiosis were also infected with another virus or bacteria simultaneously.

Treatment & Prevention

Coccidiosis is a very treatable dog infection. The two main drugs most effective are sulfadimethoxine (Albon) and trimethoprimsulfadiazine (Tribrissen). These drugs actually do not kill the coccidia; they merely prevent reproduction capabilities. Recovery from coccidiosis is slow, and a complete recovery occurs only once the presence of a stable immune response is established. The average time is approximately two weeks.

Preventing coccidiosis is as simple as keeping dog feces out of your environment. Not only may dogs transmit it directly from another dog's droppings, but flies, cockroaches, ticks and fleas may also contribute to its spread. Additionally, coccidiosis is not simply a dog disease, and other animals may contract it. Insect and rodent control is advised.

To be safe, you should keep a clean water dish at all times, and clean any surfaces exposed to saliva or feces. As coccidia are protozoa, and not bacteria, most disinfectants are useless against it. Instead, you should clean items using boiling water, or an ammonia solution. It's important to note that coccidia can withstand freezing temperatures, and morning frost will not kill the parasite on outdoor droppings.

Most dogs are exposed to coccidia, and its resulting infection is not uncommon. Your dog or puppy will develop immunity to it in his life, and any infection in a healthy dog is usually unheard of by the adult years.