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Coccidia in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Undetected Parasites

By January 03, 2014 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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A Dog Laying Down

What is coccidia? Tiny parasites that are easily transmittable to your dog, but also avoidable if you're armed with the right information. Find out everything you need to know about this parasite here, and how you can keep your dog safe and healthy.

If your dog has diarrhea the cause could be coccidia, a potentially dangerous parasite. Find out what coccidia in dogs is, what it can do, and how to keep your dog safe.

WHAT ARE COCCIDIA?

Coccidia are tiny parasites that can cause a disease called coccidiosis in puppies or in sick or stressed-out dogs. Dogs can carry the parasite without showing symptoms. Symptoms most often appear when some other issue compromises the immune system.

The primary symptom of coccidiosis is watery stool with mucus or blood, especially in puppies or in already weakened adult dogs. Dogs can die from severe cases of coccidiosis, though many recover with treatment.

CAN OTHER PETS AND PEOPLE CATCH COCCIDIA FROM THE DOG?

No, probably not.

There are many different kinds of coccidia that live in many different animals, including humans, but most coccidia are host-specific. In other words coccidia that can live in dogs cannot usually live anywhere else. There are some exceptions.  

Humans can catch Cryptosporidium, an incurable form of coccidia, from either dogs or cats. Whether cats can catch any forms of coccidia from dogs is unclear. However, cats are likely to spread forms of coccidia to both dogs and humans. Toxoplasma is the most common example.

HOW MIGHT MY DOG GET COCCIDIA?

Dogs, like humans, can catch coccidia from contact with dog or cat feces, contaminated soil, or contaminated food.

Some forms of coccidia are carried by rodents, and dogs can get sick by eating them.

Contact with feces need not be direct, since the spores are microscopic, almost impossible to kill, and easy to track all over the place. That being said, many dogs enjoy direct contact with feces and will happily seek it out.

Puppies frequently get coccidia from their mothers, via direct or indirect contact with infected feces. Seemingly healthy puppies often come down with coccidiosis right after they go home with new humans; these puppies were already infected but just didn’t show symptoms until the stress of moving made them sick.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MY DOG FROM COCCIDIA?

Your dog actually probably has at least one form of coccidia already. Most dogs do, and most show no symptoms. You can give coccidia-free dogs a better chance of staying that way by keeping them away from dog and cat feces, rodents, and potentially contaminated water.

  • Clean Up After Your Dog: Coccidia eggs need at least several hours to sporulate and become infectious, so if you clean up dog and cat feces quickly, you dramatically reduce the likelihood of infection. Yet another excellent reason to be responsible about cleaning up after your dog! Once spores form, they are almost impossible to kill.
  • Protect Puppies & New Dogs: If your pup is pregnant, get her tested for coccidia before she gives birth so you can protect her puppies. If you have multiple dogs, it’s also a good idea to test newcomers to the group, especially if the new dog comes from a shelter or some other location with a large number of dogs.

TESTING FOR COCCIDIA

Standard fecal tests check for worm eggs. The much smaller coccidia egg may slip through undetected. You need to request a fecal test specifically for coccidia, though even then false negatives aren’t uncommon. There are also blood tests that may be helpful.

WHAT CAN I DO IF MY DOG HAS SYMPTOMATIC COCCIDIA?

Any puppy with diarrhea, or an older dog with persistent diarrhea or diarrhea mixed with mucus or blood, should go to the vet.

If the vet diagnoses coccidiosis, your dog will probably be treated with sulfa-based antibiotics, though other drugs are also available. Your pup will probably also need treatment for dehydration.

Whatever underlying problem weakened your dog to the point where the coccidiosis flared up also has to be diagnosed and addressed. Any other dogs your sick pup has had regular contact with may need to be treated as well.

You’ll need to disinfect your dogs’ living area so that they don’t get re-infected after treatment. Ask your vet to recommend a safe disinfectant that is effective against coccidia spores and not harmful to dogs.

WHAT IS THE PROGNOSIS FOR DOGS AFFECTED BY COCCIDIA?

The majority of dogs who become symptomatic will recover fully through the administration of the proper antibiotics. It takes a long time for the parasite to be completely eliminated, so a long, slow course of meds will help a dog’s body to rebuild its own resistance to the organism.

More on Parasites

Parasites and Worms Dogs and Cats Can Get
Top 5 Facts About Roundworm Infections
Can People Get Heartworms?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Coccidia at a glance

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  • 1Coccidia are a group of microscopic parasites that cause coccidiosis.
  • 2Watery stool with mucus or blood, fever, and, in some dogs, neurological problems, can all indicate coccidia.
  • 3The parasite is treatable, but is hard to detect.
  • 4Coccidia are highly contagious, and difficult to completely prevent.
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