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Coccidia in Puppies

Sick Puppy

While you may have heard about dangerous diseases such as parvo and distemper, you may not have heard about another possible threat to your puppy's health called coccidia, or coccidiosis, that can be deadly.

Coccidia is caused by several different intestinal parasites and can affect many animals including dogs, cats and even birds, though it tends to adversely affect some species more than others. While there is a preventative vaccine for poultry, there isn't one for dogs. Fortunately, this disease can be treated and easily prevented.

Common Symptoms of Coccidia

While coccidia can happen to any dog at any age, it is most noticeable puppies between four and 12 weeks old. Older dogs often show few or no symptoms at all, and the infection often resolves itself on its own.
The primary symptom of a coccidia infection is mild diarrhea that gradually gets worse and contains blood and mucus. Puppies will often appear lethargic and appear to not be growing. They may also have a lack of appetite and look like they're losing weight. In the final stages, puppies begin vomiting and become dehydrated.

Causes of Coccidia:

Coccidia is primarily spread through exposure to infected feces. Dogs kept in crowded and unsanitary conditions can easily pick up the parasite. Occasionally, it can spread from the mother to the puppies and then quickly spread to other dogs in the same kennel or household.
If your puppy is facing a stressful situation, such as being weaned or moved into a new home, then their immune system may be less resistant to infection.

Diagnosis of Coccidia

While the symptoms of coccidia can also be a sign of other health problems, an infection is easy to diagnose. A vet can take a recent fecal sample examine it under a microscope.
For more common types of the protozoa, a zinc sulfate solution is used to make it easier to find the eggs or those in their early form. However, some veterinarians may also want a blood test to check for less common parasites as well as to rule out other health issues.

Coccidia Treatments

Some cases of coccidia require little or no treatment and only need simple monitoring to make sure your puppy stays hydrated and gets proper nutrition. However, when coccidia is severe, the most common treatment is with a course of antibiotics given over several days.
Your puppy may also need additional fluids if he is dehydrated. More severe infections may require treatment to be repeated multiple times until there is no longer any sign of the parasite.

Prevention

The main way to prevent coccidia is to keep your puppy's environment clean. Remove fecal material as soon as possible, and don't let your puppy sniff or touch feces. These parasites have a long life outside of their host but can be killed by freezing or hot temperatures.
Many disinfectants are ineffective against the parasite, so wash bedding and dishes in extremely hot water. If you are a breeder, have your dog checked for infection before breeding or before the puppies are born. Though humans are unlikely to catch coccidia from puppies, you should still wash your hands often when handling and cleaning up after sick puppies to reduce the chance of spreading the infection.
While many animals can be infected with coccidia, most will show little or no symptoms, especially for mature animals. However, puppies can have serious problems with the parasite, so early detection and prevention are important.

If you suspect your puppy has coccidia or your puppy is appearing unwell, Erickson Veterinary Hospital in Chico can give him or her a thorough check to determine the exact cause, so your puppy will continue to thrive and give you years of enjoyment and companionship.