It’s not a fun new cola product, or a part of your ear canal, or a Phil Collins song.
It’s a single-cell microorganism that lives in your dog’s belly, and it can make him very, very sick.
It’s usually found in dogs with a compromised immune system — either young puppies or senior citizens, or dogs with food sensitivities or other health conditions.
Luckily, it’s extremely treatable.
Usually it’s just a matter of antibiotics, and you’re good to go, but the sooner you can detect coccidiosis, the better.
Mostly it just makes your guy super uncomfortable. But in the long term, it can affect his nutrient absorption, and he can become severely dehydrated.
Here’s what you need to know (a.k.a. Coccidiosis 101)
Coccidiosis is a parasitic infection. Meaning it feeds on your dog from the inside. The organism can live in your dog’s intestine forever, without ever becoming detected or causing any harm to your dude.
If the dog is immunocompromised, that’s when coccidia can cause infection.
The most common instances of infection occur in places that don’t have good hygiene,
where younger puppies are often exposed to the illnesses of older puppies. Think kennels, veterinary hospitals, shelters, and so on.
Of course, we’re not saying that EVERY kennel or animal hospital is a breeding ground for coccidiosis. We’re talking about unhealthily dirty environments.
The biggest potential trigger for coccidiosis is stress. Relocating from one place to another, being left alone too long, or running afoul of a mean dog — all these situations can be stressful. You know what makes your guy anxious.
Stress puts pressure on your dog’s body and suppresses his immune system. (Just like us!)
The infection is most often transmitted through feces, usually from an older dog to a younger dog. (Dogs love other dogs’ poo.)
The older dog might be a host to the infection, but have a strong enough immune system to fight it off, whereas a younger or immunocompromised dog might not.
Like we said, it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Just take him to the vet as soon as you notice any odd symptoms.
What You Should Look For:
Mild cases of coccidiosis are often asymptomatic. The dog might lose his appetite or seem to be low on energy, but these symptoms are usually difficult to notice.
In more progressed cases, the most common symptom is diarrhea. This might be
accompanied by incontinence, so your guy may go at inappropriate or unusual times, and his stool might be watery.
Remember, a parasite eats up the host’s nutrients, which is where he gets all his energy and vigor. That’s why lethargy is one of the telltale symptoms of this infection.
In more severe cases, the diarrhea might become bloody. Also, the dog might start vomiting.
Obviously if that happens, it’s an immediate vet visit.
How to Prevent It:
Because it takes awhile for symptoms to manifest, prevention can be tricky. The most important factor is cleanliness. Fecal contamination and/or pest infestation are the two biggest causes of coccidiosis.
But since we’re pretty sure most of you take exceptionally good care of your pups (you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t), we can boil it down even further:
As long as your dog’s not living in squalor, you should be alright.
The two other most important things you can do are:
- Keep an eye on potentially stressful situations. If you know your dog hates travel, or other dogs, or whatever, make sure to keep him as calm as possible. Set him up with some cozy comforts immediately after the stress has passed, so he can recuperate.
- “Vet” your kennel (get it?) and make sure they follow appropriate hygiene measures. If your dog has playdates, check in with fellow pup parents about their kennel, and what kind of exposure their dog may have had.
Remember, this sounds scarier than it is. Regular vet visits, a clean diet, and plenty of fresh water is usually enough to keep your dog in strapping shape.