Coccidia in puppies can cause severe health problems if left untreated. However, with good sanitation practices and regular veterinary care, it can be prevented or caught early so your puppy can get back to good health.
What Is Coccidia?
Coccidia is a common protozoal (single-celled) parasite that can cause coccidiosis. Multiple types of coccidia exist, but the one that most commonly infects puppies is Isospora (also called Cystoisospora).
The parasite colonizes the lining of the intestine, sometimes leading to illness. Young puppies are the most vulnerable. Many adult dogs infected with coccidiosis never show obvious signs of being ill.
Different protozoal parasites, like Giardia, as well as other diseases can make puppies and adult dogs exhibit symptoms similar to those seen with coccidiosis. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose the difference.
Symptoms of Coccidiosis in Puppies
Certain puppies are at the highest risk for coccidiosis. This includes those who are stressed by other illnesses. Puppies living in an unsanitary environment or in the crowded conditions of pet stores and shelters are also very vulnerable.
The earliest sign is typically mild diarrhea, which may become more severe and/or contain blood. Anorexia, vomiting, weight loss, and dehydration can follow. In extreme cases, puppies may die, especially if left untreated.
Diagnosis is made by finding coccidia oocysts (tiny eggs) during a microscopic examination of a stool sample.
Causes of Coccidiosis
Puppies contract coccidia by swallowing infective oocysts that have been deposited in the environment via feces or by ingesting an infected animal such as a rodent. Oocysts can remain viable in the soil for long periods of time, so it's quite possible for a dog to be treated for coccidia and then return to their contaminated environment where they once again become infected.
Puppies are usually prescribed an anti-parasitic medication such as sulfadimethoxine to help eliminate coccidia, but prolonged treatment may be necessary. Other medications are also available. Severe cases may demand hospitalization to counter dehydration with fluid therapy and for other treatments.
How to Prevent Coccidiosis
Sanitation is the single most important prevention tool for coccidiosis. Environmental control is vital, particularly in kennels or other environments where large numbers of dogs are housed. Remove feces promptly from the yard or kennel.
Coccidia is resistant to some common disinfectants, but diluted chlorine bleach is usually effective. Be sure to disinfect runs, cages, and food bowls every day to destroy infective organisms.
Coccidia Parasites in Humans
While there are some species of coccidia that can spread to humans, Isospora is not known to cause any human health problems.