Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease that affects the intestinal tract of animals. The disease can affect a wide variety of animals including, but not limited to, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, cats, and dogs. It is fairly common in kittens and puppies.
This condition is caused by protozoans called coccidia. There are many species of coccidia, and each is infective in different animals. The species of coccidia that most frequently affect dogs are Isospora canis and I. ohioensis. I. rivolta and I. felis are the usual species present in domestic cats.
The primary symptom of the disease is diarrhea. A cat or dog with coccidiosis may experience mild to severe diarrhea and blood and mucous may be evident. In severe cases, affected animals may experience vomiting, appetite loss, and dehydration, and may die.
Transmitted through contact with the feces of an infected animal, coccidiosis is most severe in very young or medically weak animals. In fact, the disease most frequently affects puppies and kittens less than six months old. Adult animals can be carriers of coccidia and infect other animals through cysts shed in the feces, yet exhibit no symptoms. However, adult animals with suppressed immune systems are susceptible to the disease.
Puppies and kittens are not infected with coccidia at birth. Normally, a kitten or puppy comes into contact with its mother's feces soon after birth. If the mother has coccidia cysts in her feces, the juvenile animal is likely to ingest them, allowing the coccidia to enter and multiply at a rapid rate.
Typically, the time period from exposure to coccidia cysts to the onset of coccidiosis is just 13 days. Therefore, most puppies and kittens with the condition are at least two weeks old. Though most puppies and kittens are infected by their mothers, many contract the highly contagious disease from other animals in shelters, animal hospitals, and breeding facilities.
Stress plays an important role in this condition. Often, a puppy or kitten will carry coccidia with no obvious symptoms, only to begin exhibiting signs of the disease when faced with stressful situations. A change in ownership is an example of the type of stress that may provoke a case of coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis is treatable using medication. Common medications used to treat the disease include sulfadimethoxine, amprolium, and trimethoprim-sulfadiazine. These drugs do not heal the disease. Instead, they work to impair the ability of coccidia to reproduce, allowing the animal's immune system to develop and eliminate the protozoans. Typically, medication treatment lasts five days or more.
Good sanitation habits can help to prevent the spread of coccidia. It is important to prevent the contamination of food and water by fecal matter. As insects and rodents can spread coccidia from place to place, effective pest control is essential as well.