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Coccidiosis in dogs is caused by tiny single-cell organisms & can be especially dangerous in young puppies.
Coccidia infection is caused by intestinal parasites, but these aren't worms, they're actually tiny, single-cell organisms that are too small to be seen by the naked eye.
This disease is most dangerous to young puppies whose immune systems are weakened either by another type of illness, or stress.
This is why Coccidiosis is often seen in pups who have recently left their momma and siblings and come into a new home.
The stress of all the changes in their lives, perhaps combined with the exposure to other bacteria, parasites or infections, weakens their immune systems and allows the Coccidia organisms to grow, flourish and make the puppy sick.
There are actually several different species of coccidia which are found in dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents and more.
Even humans can get a form of this disease (but luckily the type of coccidia your puppy might get isn't transferable to humans!). The most common species of coccidia in dogs are called Isospora Canis.
Many dogs and puppies have these organisms in their digestive tract, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to get sick. They're basically 'carriers' for this disease but don't show any symptoms because they have strong immune systems which keep the parasites under control.
Your pup might get sick because his immune response takes a nose-dive due to stress, or some other illness, or he might 'catch' Coccidiosis from another infected dog or animal.
The Oocysts (the name given to the tiny, immature Coccidia
organisms) are excreted from an infected animal in his feces, they then are
absorbed into the soil and are hardy enough to live there for extended
periods. If your pup eats either the infected stools or the soil around/under them he gets sick himself.
The incubation period (time between your pup being exposed to the disease and his symptoms appearing) is about 2 weeks. Coccidiosis is most often seen in puppies who are less than 6 months old, and usually within about 3 weeks of a major stressful experience or illness.
It's less common in adults who have already built up immunity to it over time. If an adult dog is infected with coccidia, it's often because he already has a weakened immune system due to another illness or
The Coccidiosis symptom you're most likely to notice first is repeated, watery, smelly diarrhea.
This diarrhea may be mild, moderate or severe depending on what stage the disease is at and occasionally, in some puppies, a few episodes of mild diarrhea may be all that happens as the little guy's immune system overcomes the infection.
But in most cases, the diarrhea will get worse pretty quickly and become watery and often bloody as well. Lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and weight loss will follow. When he's having diarrhea and/or vomiting and not drinking LOTS of water your pup will get dehydrated quickly, and this is dangerous in itself.
These symptoms are almost exactly the same as the symptoms of Parvovirus which is another extremely contagious and dangerous, often fatal, illness and it can be difficult for even an experienced dog owner to tell the difference between them.
But all you need to know is that BOTH these diseases are potentially fatal to your puppy and ANY pup who has repeated watery diarrhea, with or without other serious symptoms, needs to be seen by a veterinarian right away!
Occasionally a Coccidiosis infection can affect your pet's central nervous system and symptoms such as tremors, shaking or even convulsions will show up as well.
Coccidiosis can be diagnosed by your veterinarian by examining a fecal sample from your puppy under a microscope.This is called a 'fecal flotation'.
Early on in the infection it's possible to get a
'negative' result from a fecal sample, simply because there haven't been
enough coccidia protozoa eggs shed as yet. Even at later stages a single fecal sample won't always contain Oocysts.
So, it may take a couple, or even several, more tests, done over a period of a few days, to make an accurate diagnosis. It's also possible for your veterinarian to make a positive diagnosis of coccidiosis by analyzing a blood sample.
Generally the best way is to combine the fecal test results with the observation of other symptoms such as lethargy, weight loss and so on to come to a conclusion.
Once coccidiosis has been diagnosed your vet will probably prescribe a sulfa-based antibiotic such as Albon or Tribissen. These medications don't actually kill the coccidia protozoa, but stop them from breeding and reproducing, eventually removing all organisms over time.
Because of the way they work, these antibiotics may need to be taken for a two weeks or so to be effective, and sometimes
more than one course of treatment is needed. Albon can also sometimes initially be given by injection, then followed up orally.
If your puppy's Coccidiosis is severe, sometimes additional supportive veterinary care is needed, and this might include IV fluids and even hospitalization for a few days.
(Note: sulfa based medications aren't recommended for use on dogs who are pregnant as they can cause birth defects in the puppies.)
There are also some natural dog remedies that can help to soothe your dogs digestive tract and re-balance bacteria and reduce inflammation. Used in conjunction with the treatment prescribed by your vet they can help speed up recovery and get your pup feeling better, faster.
Here are a couple of excellent natural products that you may want to try....
Only Natural Pet Probiotic Blend for Dogs and Cats A gentle formula that helps restore the balance of microbes in your pets' digestive tract. Provides "friendly" bacteria to help minimize inflammatory responses and other GI distress symptoms.
Only Natural Pet GI Support for Dogs and Cats This soothing product aids digestion, and is especially good for dogs suffering from dog food allergies or sensitivities. Helps reduce symptoms that accompany many canine digestive disorders such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and more.
NOTE: Do remember to let your vet know about any natural or over-the-counter products you are giving your dog though. He/she needs to have the complete picture in order to give your puppy the best possible care.
Because coccidiosis in dogs is spread through feces, high standards
of hygiene are very important!
Picking up feces immediately, keeping flies/insects and rodents away (they can also spread this disease on their feet/in their bodies) and cleaning all areas thoroughly are vital.
Coccidia organisms are very hardy, can survive for long periods in the soil, and are difficult to kill - most household cleaners aren't going to be effective.
Cleaning at high temperatures (ie steam cleaning and sterilization with boiling water) is the best option for utensils and toys (ie bowls, chew toys etc.). Wash bedding on the 'HOT' cycle in your washing machine with bleach.
For kennel areas, floors, concrete etc., washing thoroughly with a 10% ammonia solution is the best and most effective way to keep everything sanitary. You can also use a 1:16 solution of bleach:water.
Whichever solution you choose, wash all areas thoroughly and leave to soak in for at least 20 mins before rinsing. Grassy areas or soil/dirt can be very difficult in terms of removing all traces of coccidia protozoa. The best thing to do is to soak the area with either of the above cleaning solutions. However, these surfaces can remain contaminated for up to 2 months or more, so bear that in mind.
Most puppies and dogs who survive this illness develop a certain amount of immunity and will usually not catch the same strain of coccidiosis again. But, this isn't always the case so it's still important to make sure you've sanitized your home/yard very carefully.