Coccidia is a single-celled protozoan that infects your dog's gastrointestinal tract, resulting in the condition known as coccidiosis. Most dogs are infected with coccidia when they consume immature protozoa in grass or soil. Once dogs are infected, the parasites invade the intestinal tract and begin to wreak havoc.
Signs of Coccidia
The most common clinical sign is diarrhea, but there are some dogs who don't show any signs at all. In other words, they are asymptomatic.
This condition is most harmful to puppies, senior dogs, or those who are immunocompromised. Situations where your dog is overly anxious or experiencing something new can also make them more susceptible to infection. In these dogs, clinical signs may include:
Your veterinarian will request a stool sample, whether you're bringing your pet in for their annual visit or they are displaying symptoms. The stool sample must be no more than 24 hours old. The freshest sample you can obtain is recommended for the most accurate results.
A test called the fecal flotation test is used to diagnose coccidiosis. Under a microscope, the veterinarian searches for oocysts, or immature coccidia, in this test. They might also suggest a blood test to check for less prevalent coccidia species. The four species types include:
- Isospora canis
- I. neorivolta
- I. ohioensis
- I. burrowsi
Since this type of organism isn't found in every stool sample, your veterinarian may request multiple samples before clearing your dog of infection.
Treatment varies depending on the severity of the infection. In most cases, veterinarians suggest an antibiotic called sulfadimethoxine. In severe cases, dogs may become dehydrated from diarrhea and may require IV fluids and observation. Metronidazole can help cure coccidia-related diarrhea, but it does not eliminate coccidia from the body.
You must complete the entire dose your veterinarian prescribes even if your dog appears to be recovering. Otherwise, your dog may experience side effects to the medication. If you do notice side effects, discuss them with your veterinarian and evaluate the other potential courses of treatment.
If your dog or puppy has coccidia, provide the prescriptions indicated by your veterinarian and avoid taking your dog places where there are a lot of other dogs, such as dog parks, boarding centers, or public places. Avoid walks around the block with your dog, as well. You don't want your dog to be reinfected or transmit the infection to another dog.
If you have more than one dog in the household, the other dogs should be treated whether they are showing symptoms or not. They must also be tested for infection, and you must take measure to prevent infection, both for their protection, and to prevent your dog who is in treatment from being reinfected.
Removing Fecal Matter Inside and Out
Reinfection is extremely common, so disinfecting your home is necessary. Coccidia can survive for months outdoors or indoors and still remain highly infectious. Because immature coccidia are so hardy, most cleaning agents are not sufficient to kill these organisms. Using 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water is recommended to clean most surfaces.
Removing fecal matter from your lawn is also important to prevent reinfection. Diatomaceous earth is a natural, powder-like substance you can throw on your lawn to kill and prevent infection from these organisms. It's relatively inexpensive and works by drying out organisms with microscopic, glass-like shards.
When to Call a Veterinarian
Coccidia and other related infections are the reason most veterinarians recommend an annual checkup with a stool sample. Some dogs show no symptoms at all, so they could be infected without you being aware until your annual appointment.
If your dog does begin displaying any symptoms, it's better to be safe than sorry and make an appointment with your veterinarian. If you do suspect your dog may be infected, stay away from areas with other dogs until they are cleared.
If you have a dog who is more susceptible to infection, avoiding high-traffic areas is also recommended in that case. Dogs who have cancer, for example, should be limited in where they go to prevent additional strain on their body.
Preventing Coccidia is the Main Goal
Naturally, as with any condition, preventative measures are advised. It is immensely helpful to clean up after your dog, sanitize their dishes, and prevent them from swallowing contaminated food and water, which many people tend to leave outside, especially in public places. With careful attention to prevention, sanitation, and treatment, your dog is likely to recover in no time.