What Every Puppy Owner Needs to Know About Coccidiosis in Puppies

Coccidiosis is an intestinal tract infection caused by a single-celled organism called coccidia, which can affect dogs of all ages. It is a common parasitic infection in dogs and can lead to severe symptoms if left untreated. As a dog owner, it is crucial to be aware of coccidiosis’s signs, causes, and treatments to keep your furry friend healthy and free from complications.

Coccidia spends part of their life cycle in the lining cells of the intestine and causes damage to these cells, leading to a cycle of infection in neighboring cells. Although many infected dogs do not show any clinical signs, puppies and debilitated adult dogs are particularly susceptible to severe watery diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal distress, and vomiting.

What causes coccidiosis in Puppies?

It is essential to note that puppies are highly susceptible to coccidiosis and can become infected through the ingestion of immature coccidia or oocysts. Since puppies’ immune systems are not fully developed, they may not be able to fight off the infection effectively. Moreover, they may not have the same level of hygiene as adult dogs, leading to increased exposure to contaminated soil and fecal matter. Puppies may also contract coccidia through direct contact with infected dogs or indirectly through contaminated objects or surfaces. Thus, it is crucial to keep puppies in clean environments and monitor them for any signs of coccidiosis, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or lethargy. If any symptoms are observed, it is crucial to seek veterinary care promptly to prevent the infection from worsening and causing more severe complications.

What are the clinical signs of Coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis in dogs can manifest in various ways, with diarrhea being the most common clinical sign. However, it is worth noting that many infected dogs do not show any clinical signs. When coccidia oocysts are detected in the stool of a dog without diarrhea, they are generally considered to be a transient, insignificant finding.

In contrast, in puppies and debilitated adult dogs, coccidiosis can lead to severe clinical signs, including severe watery diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal distress, and vomiting. In severe cases, coccidiosis can be fatal. Puppies, in particular, are highly susceptible to the infection, as their immune systems are not fully developed, and they may not have the same level of hygiene as adult dogs, leading to increased exposure to contaminated soil and fecal matter.

Diagnosis of Coccidiosis in Dogs

Veterinarians typically diagnose coccidiosis through a fecal flotation test, where a small sample of the dog’s stool is examined under a microscope to detect the presence of coccidia oocysts. Blood tests can also be used to diagnose some of the less common coccidial parasites. It is crucial to have a definitive diagnosis to rule out other causes of diarrhea and ensure appropriate treatment.

If coccidiosis is suspected, it is crucial to bring your dog to a veterinarian promptly for diagnosis and treatment. Early treatment can help prevent the infection from causing severe complications, such as dehydration or weight loss, and reduce the risk of transmission to other dogs.

Treatment and Prevention of Coccidiosis in Dogs

If your dog is diagnosed with coccidiosis, your veterinarian may prescribe a sulfa-type antibiotic, such as sulfadimethoxine (Albon®), for prolonged treatment. In severe infections, repeated treatments may be necessary. However, if the diarrhea is severe and your dog is dehydrated, additional medications and treatments, such as IV fluids, may be required. If the sulfa-type antibiotic is not effective at clearing the infection, other treatments are available, including sulfa antibiotics combined with another drug, such as amprolium (Albac/Amprol Hi-E [+ Bacitracin, + Ethopabate]), or off-label use of ponazuril (Marquis®) or toltrazuril (Baycox®). Your veterinarian will discuss these treatment options with you, depending on your dog’s individual needs and the severity of the infection.

Preventing the spread of coccidiosis in dogs is crucial, as reinfection of susceptible dogs is common. To prevent the spread of coccidia, it is essential to disinfect the environment regularly. However, coccidia oocysts are highly resistant to environmental conditions and disinfectants, making disinfection challenging. One effective method is to use diluted chlorine bleach, with one cup (250 ml) of bleach mixed in one gallon (3.8 L) of water, to disinfect surfaces and premises. However, it is essential to test clean a small area of any affected materials, as bleach can damage many surfaces. Steam cleaning may also be used to destroy oocysts, and it is crucial to remove any feces from the environment as quickly as possible to prevent reinfection. By taking these measures, you can help keep your dog healthy and prevent the spread of coccidiosis.