Coccidia in Cats and Dogs
Reviewed for accuracy on March 16, 2020 by Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
Coccidia is a microscopic parasite that takes up an unwelcome residence in your pet’s intestines. The most common strain that infects pets is known as Isospora. While it is most commonly an issue for puppies and kittens (newborns don’t have a hearty immune system yet), it is possible for mature pets to become infected as well. Once the parasites have entered your pet’s system, they tend to reproduce pretty quickly. This causes damage to your pet’s intestines and, as you might expect, can be very uncomfortable.
Fortunately, coccidia isn’t usually life-threatening, and treatment is available through your pet’s veterinarian. Seeking veterinary care promptly if clinical signs arise is recommended to restore comfort to your furry companion.
Coccidia Causes & Prevention
Your pet can become infected with the coccidia parasite by ingesting anything that is already contaminated. The most common culprits are dirt, water, feces, food, and rodents. The parasite also tends to thrive in overcrowded or unsanitary animal shelters, puppy mills, and breeding kennels. Coccidia can also be transmitted to kittens and puppies from their mothers either while nursing or coming in contact with her infected feces.
Taking preventative measures is important to stop the spread of coccidia. Your pet’s environment should be kept sanitary and their food and water supply should always be fresh. Prevent your pet from eating dirt or feces, change the litter box frequently, prevent your pets from hunting or eating rodents, isolate your pet from others that may be infected, and maintain their overall health with proper nutrition and regular vet visits.
Signs Your Pet Has Coccidia
It can take three to thirteen days for your pet to start showing clinical signs after infection. Common signs that may develop include the following:
- Watery or viscous diarrhea, which may contain blood
- Abdominal discomfort
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
Remember, not all of these clinical signs may be present when your dog or cat has coccidia. The longer the infection is left untreated, the more likely clinical signs will progress in severity.
As mentioned, coccidia isn’t usually life threatening. However, if your cat or dog is immunocompromised or is very young or very old, there is a greater chance of serious complications. This infection can cause dehydration that can be severe due to fluid lost with diarrhea. If you suspect your pet has coccidia, schedule a veterinary visit for testing and appropriate treatment.
Your veterinarian will gather a thorough history, complete a physical examination, and collect a fresh stool sample. The test is quite simple. The fecal matter is mixed with a special solution that causes any parasite eggs to float. The solution is then examined under a microscope to look for coccidia eggs.
If your pet is diagnosed with coccidia, your veterinarian will prescribe a round of antibiotics or another coccidiostat that will eliminate the parasite. After your pet has finished his or her antibiotics, a second fecal test will be done to ensure complete elimination of the parasite. Other medications to help with dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, and discomfort may also be prescribed. In severe cases, your pet may need to be hospitalized for continuous supportive care.
If you have other pets at home, it is important to have them tested for coccidia. This parasite is very resistant and can remain in the environment long-term. Disinfecting the home with bleach is effective in preventing re-infection after treatment.
Can I Get Coccidia From My Pet?
Though coccidia can be transferred easily between pets, it is rarely transferred from pet to human. There are a couple strains of coccidia, known as Toxoplasma or Cryptosporidium that can potentially be transmitted, but those occurrences are rare.