Coccidiosis is the Name of the Disease
Coccidia is the name of the parasitic, protozoa organism that causes the problem ... mostly in very young pets
Diarrhea, Nausea, and GI Irritation lasting weeks are the main Symptoms
Young pups and kittens, like most other infant and young mammals are prone to getting diarrhea. There are a bunch of possible causes;
3. intestinal worms like round, tape, hook and whip worms
4. food poisoning
6. eating of irritating non-food items such as sticks, & dirt
7. change of food or water
8. food too rich
9. food intolerances (such as the fairly common intolerance to cow's milk)
10. toxic or bad milk if still nursing
11. anxiety and stress
12. metabolic reasons such as a poorly functioning liver pancreas
13. medications ( amoxicillin suspension being used for a sinus infection for example)
14. too much television
Okay, maybe not that last one. But here's one more:
There are zillions of different types of protozoa out there in nature...little microscopic, simple creatures that we more complex mammals inhale and ingest without knowing on a regular basis. They are way, way, down there on the food chain. They apparently do us very little harm as far as we know. Who knows though, maybe they're the cause of true love and stuff like that.
I am getting way, way, off track again. Back to Coccidia:
Coccidia just happens to be one of the few protozoan organisms that sometimes causes trouble in pets. (and a lot of problems in chicks, piglets, calves, and other baby livestock.) Most dogs and cats develop mature, effective immune systems by about 4 months of age, and if exposed to coccidia, the organism will probably establish itself in the rich mucosa cells of the intestine causing mild irritation and diarrhea for a day or two, but because of the immune system keeping it at bay, the organism won't multiple into high numbers and the symptoms won't last long.
What this means from a practical stand point is that older pets will probably have no or very minor symptoms if exposed to coccidia... but they will then be carriers of the organism and spread it around the environment where it might affect animals that are more susceptible. Young puppies and kittens tend to be very susceptible.
Luckily, we humans are not usually affected by the strains of coccidia that dogs and cats carry. (the different strains of coccidia tend to be species specific)
Puppys and kittens are under 4 months of age, have weak, immature immune systems, so the oppertunistic little buggers (I'm talking about the coccidia now) can establish colonies in the intestinal mucosa causing disease. I've listed the most common symptoms below. (Sometimes older pets get coccidiosis too, if their immune system is poorly developed for genetic reasons, or weak from poor nutrition or parasitism, or suppressed by steroids and other medications.)
-Long term diarrhea which will lead to dehydration and weakness
-Inflammation and damage of the intestinal wall which then allows toxins and bowel bacteria to enter the general circulation
-Cramps, nausea, and the discomfort and anxiety of gut pain
-Further suppression of the immune system due to the dehydration and weakness leading to chills, pneumonia, etc
Most young puppies and kittens who get coccidia successfully fight off the disease either on their own or with conservative treatment...but not always...get your baby pets into a vet if diarrhea persists for more than 2-3 days or sooner if they stop eating, and aren't bright, alert, and playful.
A couple more introductory comments:
Usually the diarrhea associated with coccidia is a custard yellow or tannish pudding in color and consistancy...but not always.
Usually the disease is a serious problem only in the very young...but not always. In situations where the immune system is under stress or suppressed (such as in pregnancy, field trials, shows, in the presence of other diseases, other parasites, malnutrition, etc), coccidia can cause serious intestinal inflammation along with all the sequelae.
Usually we can quickly diagnois the problem using our veterinary skill and knowledge (and a good microscope)...but not always. The little eggs (technically they're called oocysts) that we can identify under the microscope aren't always there, even if the disease is present. You have to be lucky enough to catch the problem in the right phase of their life cycle.
If we are unable to identify the organism under the microscope, we often make the diagnoisis anyway based on our experience. We have to be a little careful, though, not to confuse the symptoms with a similar disease caused by another organism...this time an amoeba...call Giardia. The symptoms are very similar but the treatment is different. Giardia can be very difficult to diagnose. Click here to go to our page about amoebic dysentery caused by Giardia. (it's largely because of this organism that you shouldn't drink water from a creek, stream, or river without purifying it first)
Usually we can quickly get the problem under control using inexpensive medications...but not always. Problems include strains of coccida that have become resistant to our medications, kittens and puppies that are just too weak to fight the disease, and frequently because our diagnosis is incomplete; a lot of times babies are bombarded with multiple germs and parasites. Germs and parasites are like a gang of street thugs, they like to prey on the weak and helpless.
Treatment usually consists of using one of the potentiated sulfur based antibiotics. For tough cases I'm having success using a horse medication called Marquis.
In addition we also use one or more of the following types of medications:
Something to stop the diarrhea such as loperamide, kaopectate, pepto, paragoric, bella donna alkaloids, herbals, oragano oils, etc.
Some vets like to recommend general immune boosters such as vitamins, interferon, anti-oxidants, etc
Anti-microbials such as metronidazole or antibiotics.
And, of course, IV Fluids and aggressive supportive care if weak, or dehydrated.
Preventing the spread to other pups and kittens with good
hygiene and cleaning to minimize fecal contamination is important.
Okay, that's the basics. I think there's more information about coccidia and how I treat this disease on our Parasite Page
Here's more information if you like details and specifics:
The species or type of coccidia that commonly cause problems in dogs is called Isospora. There are 4 different sub-species of isospora that affect dogs. I. canis I. ohioensis (named after the State) I. neorivolta, and I. burrowsi.
Isospora is also the most common species to affect cats but the sub-species tend to be I. felis and I. rivolta
Here's their life cycle:
Isospora spp. have developmental stages both within the host animal and outside. The developmental stages within the dog give rise to a microscopic egg (called an oocyst), which is passed in the feces.
Depending on the environmental temperature, moisture, and available oxygen, the oocyst develops within three to five days to form a sporulated oocyst capable of infecting other dogs.
(At this stage, the oocyst contains two sporocysts, each with four bodies (called sporozoites))
When the pet eats the microscoptic oocyst (not on purpose) each sporozoite is capable of penetrating an intestinal cell inside the pet.
Once successfully inside an intestinal cell, they are fruitful and multiply.
Each offspring in turn may enter other intestinal cells. This cycle may be repeated several times. Unfortunately for the pet, this process causes alot of damage to the intestinal mucosa lining the GI tract.
Eventually, the work of multiplying by dividing stops and sex cells are produced. The male fertilizes the female to produce an oocyst that ruptures from the intestinal cells and is passed in the feces, which then contaminates the ground. After developing for a few days, these oocysts become capable of infesting the next unlucky victim. Thousands of oocysts may be passed in the feces of an infected animal.
Simply finding oocysts in the feces of a dog does not necessarily indicate the presence of coccidiosis. Many oocysts may pass in the feces, even in dogs that appear clinically normal. However, dogs passing large numbers of oocysts should be treated to reduce environmental contamination.
Coccidiosis often results from overcrowded, dirty living conditions. Drinking water and feed should be protected from fecal contamination.
Infected animals should be isolated from the rest and treated. Removing dogs from contaminated areas interrupts the life cycle of the parasite and helps control the disease.