What Is Coccidia In Puppies?

A sick Beagle puppy lying down.

If you have a new puppy, there’s a lot to be worried about.

Intestinal parasites like coccidia can be very dangerous to your puppy. Thankfully, there are things that you can do to protect your puppy from infection.

What is coccidia in puppies? Coccidia is an infection of the intestinal tract caused by a species of single-celled parasites that can affect both adult dogs and puppies. Adult dogs usually aren’t symptomatic, but puppies experience digestive upset, vomiting, dehydration, and may even die.

Here is everything you need to know about what coccidia is, how to protect your puppy from getting the parasite, and what your veterinarian will need to do if your puppy is diagnosed with coccidiosis.

What Is Coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis is an infection of the intestinal tract caused by a single-celled organism called coccidia.

There are a number of different species within the family group Coccidia, at least four of which can infect dogs and puppies.

Coccidia are parasites that spend a significant part of their life cycle in a dog’s intestine.

They damage the cells there, but usually, you won’t be able to tell your dog is infected.

These infections without clinical signs are called subclinical infections. 

Which Coccidia Affect Puppies?

Puppies may get any of the types of coccidia that infect dogs, such as Isospora canis, but they seem particularly prone to being infected by Cryptosporidium parvum

How Do Puppies Get Coccidia?

Puppies usually get these parasites by swallowing feces or soil that is contaminated with feces.

Immature coccidia, called oocycsts, are shed in the feces of infected dogs for the purpose of reinfecting other dogs to propogate the species. 

They are evolved to live in the environment for some time until they can find a new host.

They can survive all kinds of environmental conditions, and under the right moist, warm conditions they can become infective. 

When a dog eats the contaminated source, the oocysts produce sporozoites that invade your dog’s intestinal lining and begin the cycle all over again.

Dogs can also get the parasite by eating a mouse that is infected with it.

What Are the Symptoms of Coccidiosis?

Most healthy adult dogs won’t show any signs of being infected.

This may seem like a good thing, but in fact, it means that this parasite can exist and shed within a population without being noticed.

However, in puppies, symptoms can be quite severe. 

Older dogs or dogs that have a physically weakened condition for other reasons may also be more susceptible.

Here are some symptoms that you might see in a puppy or another susceptible dog infected with coccidia. 

  • Severe and ongoing watery diarrhea.
  • Dehydration.
  • Abdominal distress and pain.
  • Vomiting.
  • Death may occur in severe cases or if untreated.

How Is Coccidiosis Diagnosed?

A fecal flotation test can help your veterinarian look for oocysts under the microscope.

Your veterinarian will need to look closely and screen specifically for the oocysts since they are much smaller than intestinal worm eggs. 

If your dog came up clear on a fecal flotation but is showing signs indicative of coccidiosis, it may be wise to ask your veterinarian to perform another screening looking specifically for the oocysts.

Some types of coccidia don’t show in a fecal test at all. Infection with these parasites can be determined with a blood test.

How Is Coccidiosis Treated?

When your veterinarian has determined that your dog is infected with coccidia parasites, he or she will prescribe two primary measures to help your dog to recover:

  • Antibiotics. Sulfadimethoxine will typically be given for 5 to 25 days, depending on the infection’s severity and the dog’s age. Severe infections may require repeated treatment.
  • Fluids. Since diarrhea tends to be quite severe in puppies resulting in dehydration, your veterinarian may put your puppy on an IV drip to rehydrate them.

Avoiding Reinfection

Treating your puppy isn’t the only thing that matters. You also need to make sure that your puppy is not reinfected.

Because the oocysts of coccidia are so resistant to environmental destruction, you need to treat the area thoroughly to feel confident that your dog won’t be infected again. 

Clean all feces from the area as thoroughly as possible. Steam cleaning can be used to destroy oocysts  anywhere that you can’t use bleach.

Everywhere else, a mix of 1 cup of chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water is sufficient to clean surfaces.

It is best to keep your puppy off of grass for at least a few weeks to allow the parasite to die off.

If you believe that your dog has been infected in a public area that you cannot clean, it is important to talk to whoever’s in charge of that area about sterilizing it.

Can I Catch Coccidia From My Puppy?

Most types of Coccidia don’t infect people. However, some of the less common types may.

Cryptosporidium is one type that can be transmitted to people, as well as to dogs and cats. It has even been found in some public water supplies.

Just as in dogs, an infection with coccidia is unlikely to show clinical effects in a healthy adult human.

However, it may have health risks for the very young, the very old, or anyone who is immunosuppressed.

Be sure that you carefully dispose of dog feces and wash hands thoroughly after handling your puppy.

How to Prevent Your Puppy from Getting Coccidia

The best way to deal with Coccidia is to keep your puppy from getting it in the first place.

Puppies can’t be vaccinated against this parasite, but regular fecal floats will help your veterinarian to detect it before it begins to have negative clinical effects on your puppy.

Here are some other things to keep in mind to help prevent your puppy from getting this or other parasites.

Regular Fecal Floats

No matter what else you do, it is essential that you have your veterinarian check your puppy’s feces regularly for coccidia and other parasites.

Remember that oocysts are smaller and harder to identify than some other parasites, so ask your veterinarian specifically to screen for them, especially if you believe that this parasite may be in your area.

Don’t Allow Your Puppy Around Strange Dogs

It can be very frustrating to find places for your puppy to relieve himself and go for walks that aren’t frequented by other dogs.

However, the only way to be sure that your puppy will not ingest soil or feces from an infected dog is to be sure that he isn’t on the ground where other dogs have gone. 

To enable your puppy to socialize and see new things safely, consider carrying your puppy, pushing him in a stroller (we love this one), or using a bike trailer rather than allowing him to walk in public.

Another option is to go to a dog park or daycare facility that screens all dogs that attend for intestinal parasites, including Coccidia. 

Clean Up Feces Quickly and Regularly

If your puppy shares a home with other canines, even if they have been screened for intestinal parasites, never allow feces to remain in the space.

It is natural for puppies to be curious about everything and put it in their mouths. You cannot expect your puppy to totally avoid feces in the environment.

Watch your dogs and remove feces as soon as they go to protect your puppy from potential parasites that might be in the feces. 

Doggy poop bags definitely come in handy for this, but if you prefer a more hands-free approach, a pooper scooper, like this one by Petmate, is really the way to go.

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Be sure to pick it up thoroughly since the dirt around it can also become infected. Ideally, puppies won’t share potty spaces with adult dogs.

You can consider fencing off a part of your yard for this purpose if you aren’t completely confident that adult dogs are safe.

Choose a Responsible Breeder

It won’t matter what you do to protect your puppy from parasites if the breeder did not consider it. Puppies born of mothers that have parasites are very likely also to get the parasites. 

Puppies kept in environments with other dogs that aren’t given fecal floats regularly have an extremely high probability of getting an intestinal parasite.

It can be tempting to save a puppy from a bad situation.

However, if you know of a puppy that has medical problems as a result of his housing and breeding, it’s best to talk to a rescue organization rather than taking it on yourself.

Last update on 2020-10-23 at 14:30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API