Remember our last blog on coccidia infection in kennels and catteries ( if not, no worries, you can still read it here ) ? Time for us to move on to our Part II where we will essentially discuss the clinical aspects of this disease. Why I believe this is important ? First, because recognizing evocative clinical symptoms is essential in terms of kennel / cattery management. Then, because they can sometimes be misleading : being knowledgeable will help you not fall for some of the most common misconceptions I see in the field !
#1 What does a « classical » coccidia infection look like in puppies and kittens ? The most common clinical sign observed is without a doubt diarrhea (characterized as « sticky and rubbery » and also « mucoid greenish »). In most cases, this is however not a life-threatening disease : despite the diarrhea, the general condition of most animals will remain unaffected.
#2 Unfortunately, it can get worse (especially in breeds predisposed to digestive upset). Other clinical signs include abdominal pain, anorexia and weight loss. In severe cases, bloody diarrhea and anemia may occur.
#3 I often hear that coccidia infection can easily be diagnosed just based on the color and aspect of the stools observed. Mmm, re-read my #2 : that is definitely not true ! Like in cases of parvo, diarrhea associated to coccidia infection can sometimes be stinky and bloody !
#4 Rule of thumb in kennels and catteries therefore : work with your veterinarian and ALWAYS seek a diagnostic of certitude. Remember, clinical aspect of the stools can be evocative, but will never be enough to reach a clear diagnosis. In catteries and kennels, that’s what you need.
Fig 1: Different kind of diarrhea : all could be caused by coccidia, you can’t just tell just based on the aspect of the stools !
#5 Keep in min that, although rare, respiratory and neurologic signs have also been reported in certain animals suffering from coccidia infection.
#6 If you remember our first post, we discussed the fact that there were in fact two kinds of coccidia : some affect newborns while others affect weaning puppies & kittens. Obviously, clinical signs related to coccidia infection are more apparent and eventually more severe in newborns.
#7 One important thing to keep in mind in my opinion as well : presence of coccidia does NOT systematically mean diarrhea. Oocysts can be found in the feces of many clinically normal young dogs and cats.
#8 In fact, up to 38% of dogs and 36% of cats are positive for coccidia cysts. When we look at it from a kennel or a cattery perspective, we can assume that coccidia cysts can be found in nearly 100% of these structures.
#9 An interesting point : did you know that the clinical significance of the disease has in fact not been clearly established ? Coccidia infection might indeed turn symptomatic when coccidia are associated with a concurrent infection, like cryptosporidiosis, coronavirosis, parvovirosis and/or candidiasis. That reinforces the importance of looking for a definitive diagnosis.
#10 It appears that puppies and kittens need to absorb a massive dose of the parasite to develop clinical signs of infection. Disease was not produced in 6 to 8 week-old puppies inoculated with 130 to 150,000 (!!!) Isospora canis oocysts. In kittens, few clinical signs were observed when 6 to 13 week-old cats were inoculated with the same amount of parasite.
#11 The role stress can play in the occurence of the disease should also never be neglected : intestinal coccidiosis may be manifest clinically when dogs or cats are shipped, weaned or experience a change in ownership.
That’s the end of our post today but again stay tuned ! We will soon publish our Part III which will focus on what breeders can do in terms of preventive measures.
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