Coccidia is a protozoa, or one-celled organism that causes an infection within the cells of the intestines. They are an intestinal parasite but are not a parasitic worm. They are microscopic and can not be seen with the naked eye.
Many pets may be infected with coccidia but show no symptoms of coccidiosis at all. In other animals coccidia can cause severe diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, poor hair coat and vomiting. Coccidiosis usually affects kittens, puppies and debilitated animals most severely. Treatment is usually encouraged for all animals who are found to have coccidia in order to reduce potential transmission to other animals.
Coccidiosis in dogs and cats occurs when they ingest microscopic eggs that are shed in the stool of already infected animals. Coccidia oocysts can survive in the environment for quite a long period of time. Ingestion of dirt or fecal material through grooming occurs regularly in both dogs and cats. Infection can also occur if your pet eats a rodent that has become infected with coccidia.
Coccidia is diagnosed by identifying the eggs shed in the feces. A small fresh fecal sample should be brought to the clinic where it is mixed with a special solution that encourages parasite eggs to float to the top and adhere to a slide. The slide is then examined under a microscope and the coccidia oocysts are identified by a veterinary technician. The eggs shed in the feces are much smaller than the eggs of intestinal worms and very careful examination of the slide is necessary for a proper diagnosis.
Treatment for coccidiosis consists of an oral liquid antibiotic called Albon. This medication is usually given once daily for 10-20 days. Repeat treatment can be necessary in some cases. Treating your pet’s environment is equally as important as treating your pet since oocysts are able to survive in the environment and reinfect your pet in as little as six hours. Thoroughly cleaning all surfaces in your home with dilute bleach as well as picking up all feces outside will help to minimize the possibility for reinfection.
The most commonly found form of coccidiosis does not affect people. However, several other types of coccidial organisms such as Cryptosporidium and Toxoplasma are zoonotic.