In dogs, coccidiosis can be attributed to four types of coccidia: Isospora canis, Isospora ohioensis, Isospora neorivolta, and Isospora burrowsi. These single-celled parasites invade cell wall lining of the dog's intestine, eventually infecting its intestinal tract. Dogs that are immunocompromised or weak as a result of some underlying health problem are more vulnerable to these parasites, and that explains why the condition is most often diagnosed in puppies and stressed dogs.
A puppy gets exposed to these parasites from the mother's feces. This usually happens when the mother is shedding protozoan cysts in her feces and the puppy ingests the same. Puppies lack a highly developed immune system which can protect them from this protozoan infection. The parasite multiplies in their intestines, thus leading to serious health complications. Older dogs get infected when they come in contact with soil containing coccidia cysts, or when they eat feces or intestines of other infected animals or carriers.
The first sign of coccidiosis in dogs is diarrhea. Its severity will depend on the level of infection. Coccidia can multiply rapidly, leading to a severe infection. In most of the cases, the stools are watery. In case of severe infections though, they may turn blood red and contain mucus. Even stools that have a really foul odor hint at coccidia infection. If you notice loose stools, do not take it lightly and get your pet checked for coccidia.
Other symptoms of this infection include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Seizures in case the infection turns severe
- Dehydration, especially in young puppies
- Abdominal tenderness
The treatment involves the use of two drugs that have high rate of success: sulfadimethoxine and trimethoprim/sulfadiazine. These drugs don't kill the parasites, but instead prevent their reproduction; so the rate at which the animal recovers from the infection is very slow. The dog becomes normal once an equilibrium between the immune system and the organism is reached. The average time of recovery, after proper treatment is followed, is about 2 weeks.
The best way to prevent coccidiosis in dogs is to keep them away from feces. That though, is not the only threat. Even flies, cockroaches, ticks, and fleas act as the carriers of coccidia, thus contributing to the spread of coccidiosis to other healthy dogs. You should avoid taking your pet to crowded places, or keeping him in dirty living conditions. Giving your dog clean water to drink at all times is equally important, as contaminated water may also contain coccidia cysts. A small puppy will gradually develop immunity to coccidia. As for an adult dog, the chances of contracting coccidia infection are very rare.