What is Coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis is a common disease which is known to be highly contagious. Animals affected by this disease include dogs, but cats can also become infected. Following infection, fatalities may occur although some treatments can prove to be effective when returning the animal back to good health.


Coccidiosis is caused internal parasites known as Coccidia. These protozoans are microscopic parasites which can infect the intestines of dogs and cats, while also travelling through the blood. There are many types of coccidian, including Isospora canis. This affects mainly dogs while isospora felis is commonly found in cats. I. Ohioensis is also another type which affects dogs.

Young puppies and kittens are more susceptible to the severe symptoms following an infection of this parasite. Adult dogs have a much stronger immune system and generally may not show any symptoms at all. Stressed or immuno-compromised dogs are also at a greater risk. Transmission of this contagious disease results from the ingestion of contaminated materials, which are usually faeces. 

Symptoms of Coccidiosis

The symptoms of coccidiosis vary for different dogs depending on their differing degrees of immunity. Some dogs are asymptomatic and shed the disease as oocysts in their faeces. Others may experience diarrhoea with signs of blood. Sudden death may be an occurrence. The disease is very rarely zoonotic and these particular species do not affect humans. Zoonotic is a word which means that a disease is transferrable to humans.

Transmission of Coccidiosis

The transmission of the coccidian parasites occurs once contaminated faeces have been ingested by an unaffected animal. Generally, infected mothers are able to pass on the disease in this way. This is because they may themselves have ingested the parasite or its oocysts and not become infected. Following this, they may shed the oocysts via defecation, at which point the faeces may come into contact with the puppies, thus leading to the infection of the puppy.  Contaminated foods, including the ingestion of infected rodents, and water may also pass on the disease.

In areas where animals are kept in close proximity of each other, the parasite is able to spread surprisingly rapidly. Kennels may become susceptible to a sudden outbreak for all their dogs which is clearly a cause for concern for owners. Homes with puppies often find that the puppies become infected at the same time. The more stressed the animal, the more likely the transmission. 

It must be noted that this particular parasite is able to replicate extremely quickly, thus contributing to its spread. Oocysts are able to survive for very long periods of time outside of the host, thus allowing for its eradication to be virtually impossible. The parasites are resistant to many disinfectants and are not destroyed following freezing.

Signs and Symptoms of a Coocidia Infection

Adult dogs which have acquired the necessary immunity are able to ingest the parasite and show no signs or symptoms of infection. This allows them to become carriers. However, in cases where signs and symptoms are present, diarrhoea is often initially observed. This diarrhoea may show signs of blood or mucous, the amount of which all depend on the severity of the infection. The infected dog may strain to pass faeces but this may prove ineffective.

These symptoms usually follow a period of stress in the animal’s life. Vomiting can occur as well as a loss of appetite. The results therefore include severe dehydration. When the nervous system comes under attack, the dog may convulse or show signs of muscular tremors. In the most advanced stages of infection, fatalities may result.

Treatment of Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is a treatable disease. Sulpha medications are used to prevent further replication of the parasite in the infected dog, thus allowing the animal to get rid of the parasite using its own developing immune system. In the case of a secondary bacterial infection having occurred or being likely to occur, antibiotics are often administered. The resultant adverse health implications such as dehydration are also addressed and so treatment is also given symptomatically. This may include replacing lost fluids intravenously. 

In situations where an outbreak has occurred in establishments such as boarding kennels, treatment is required for all the dogs. Infected animals should be isolated from other, unaffected animals to prevent the further spread of the parasitic disease. It must be noted that recovery is a slow process for infected dogs and puppies. Treatment can last as long as three weeks for certain medications.

Prevention of Coccidiosis

The prevention of this disease reduces the risks of the large costs involved with having to deal and treat with an outbreak of coccidiosis. Methods of prevention include providing the animals with high levels of hygiene and isolating infected animals.

Faeces should be cleaned up immediately and kept away from food or water to prevent contamination. Possibly infected areas should be adequately cleaned using ammonia solutions, steam cleaning or kept in boiling water for a period of time. Infected faeces need to be incinerated. Infected animals are the main sources of infection as they shed the virus through their faeces. Cleanliness involves isolating these animals as well as any materials they come into contact with, such as food bowls, bedding and water bowls.  Infected animals should be shampooed to wash off any faeces that are on their coat.

When buying new animals, they should be isolated from any other animals to prevent possible transmission. On the other hand, healthy dogs should not be introduced into an infected area for the time it takes for the eradication of the disease in that area. The animal’s condition in both cases should be regularly checked.

Diagnosis of Coccidiosis

Initially the disease is diagnosed by observing the clinical signs presented by the infected animal. Following this, the history of the animal, its parents and the area is learnt. The next step is to take a number of faecal samples from the dog and detect the presence of the parasite’s oocysts with a microscope.

Prognosis of Coccidiosis

Following treatment the prognosis can be good, especially if the animal has a good immune system. However, in severe cases fatalities are a result of infection.


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