I am pretty sure the term « Coccidia » does ring a bell if you breed dogs or cats. Indeed, hardly a day goes by without me seeing it mentioned on a breeders’ forum. Very often, the tone sounds alarming. « What should I do ? », « How do I prevent this in my kennel / cattery ? », « What is the best drug to deal with it? ».
Generally speaking, I am under the impression that this parasite scares people out. Sure, it is one of those enemies you do not want to see in your kennel or cattery. It can be a threat. Eventually… But should we be afraid ? I believe this is essentially fear of the unknown. Knowledge : that is THE way to fight it.
That's why I started writing this series. You will find there a list of fact breeders should know when it comes down to coccidia. Because knowledge is power. And when you know, you are not afraid. Because you are prepared.
#1 Coccidia are unicellular digestive parasites. They are tiny little bugs (we call them protozoa) that, unlike worms, you cannot see with your own eyes in your animal’s feces.
#2 The term « Coccidia » in fact refers to a larger family of parasites. Some of its members are quite "famous" so to say and you certainly have heard of them: Toxoplasma sp, Neospora sp, and Cryptosporidium sp ; there are others like Hammondia sp, Besnoitia sp and Sarcocystis sp. And there is Isospora sp..
#3 Isospora sp are the ones that interest us here : when you hear about « coccidia » in dogs & cats, this is usually the ones that are referred to. So don't freak out if you hear somebody - like me ! - mentioning Isospora. This is no new bug ! Just a synonymous.
#4 Coccidia / Isospora (!) are species-specific : the ones that infect cats will not infect dogs, and vice-versa.
#5 We use a single term, but there are in fact several Isospora species :
- 4 of them infect dogs : Isospora canis, Isospora ohioensis, Isospora burrowsi and Isospora neorivolta
- 2 of them infect cats : Isospora felis and Isosposra rivolta
One generic name for 6 different pathogens !
#6 Why is this important ? Because they don’t infect the same type of individuals !
#7 Isospora canis & Isospora felis usually infect puppies and kittens at weaning...
#8 … while the others will usually affect neonates !
#9 Coccidia are identified by fecal flotation (aka « fecal test »). None of the PCR panels (=DNA tests performed on stools and very often used in clinics) will screen for them to date.
#10 Dogs and cats harbouring coccidia will shed structures called « oocysts » in their feces. These oocysts will infect the animals that ingest them.
#11 Oocysts are resistant in the environment : they can survive for many months, and this despite well below freezing temperatures. So in order to clear out the environment, don't count too much on winter !
That's it for today ! There is still plenty of things to write about coccidia, especially about the clinical aspect of the disease. And obviously about how to prevent it in breeding kennels and catteries ! So stay tuned, more to come soon on our blog !
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