Coccidia are small single-celled organisms that infect dogs, most often those in kennels, pet stores or wherever many dogs live together.
How Our Pets Get Coccidia
Adult coccidian in an infected animal will pass tiny egg-like organisms called “oocysts” through the stool. These oocysts are accidentally eaten by your dog or cat usually by ingestion of undercooked meat. Cats are excellent hunters, but they don't cook the rodents they kill before eating them, so this is a VERY common method of transmission.
The oocysts break open in the intestine and release new organisms, which move to the intestinal wall. There these new organisms multiply rapidly and become either new oocysts to be passed out again with the stool or they return to another cell and multiply. Your infected pet is both increasing the number of internal coccidian organisms and contaminating the environment at the same time.
Signs of Coccidia Infection
When they reproduce, coccidian destroy your pet’s intestinal cells. Some can move to the liver and brain and destroy cells there.
Signs include diarrhea (may be bloody), vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, listlessness, dehydration and weight loss. Some animals show no outward signs of infection. As with all intestinal worm infections, puppies and kittens are most at risk.
To minimize the risk of coccidian infections:
- Clean up stools and litterpans daily, since it takes one or two days for feces to become infectious.
- Consult with your veterinarian. Although no preventives exist, your veterinarian can prescribe medicines that kill coccidia.
- Sanitize your dog’s kennel or pen. If this is not practical, change the kennel site.
- Prevent your dog from eating prey if possible. If you’re a hunter, don’t feed your dog prey scraps unless fully cooked.