Internal Parasites and Deworming
Coccidia in Dogs and Cats
November 29, 2022
Coccidia in Dogs and Cats
Last updated: March 04, 2022 by Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
What is Coccidia in cats and dogs? Coccidia are tiny intestinal parasites that are often misunderstood.
Signs of Coccidia in Dogs and Cats
When it comes to symptoms of Coccidia in dogs and cats, the most commonly seen is diarrhea, and that can result in weight loss, lethargy and dehydration. However, most dogs and cats don't display any signs until something else initiates the diarrhea.
After the first exposure, Coccidian parasites may remain present in the animal's intestines, and they're just waiting to take advantage of any digestive upset. Coccidia is rarely the initial cause of diarrhea in dogs and cats, but once diarrhea starts, the Coccidia will grow to large numbers to keep the diarrhea going. Coccidia are spread through feces, and younger animals are more susceptible to the disease because of their underdeveloped immune systems. Coccidia are a major issue for babies under eight weeks old and can even kill them.
How is Coccidia Spread Between Dogs and Cats
Puppies and kittens are born with a sterile gut, and their mother seeds their gut with good bacteria during cleaning and care. However, puppies and kittens are often introduced to the parasite Coccidia through their mothers' infected feces. Bathing the moms a few days prior to queening and whelping will reduce the number of spores on her coat, reducing transmission.
Coccidia transmission in dogs and cats can occur by contact with certain hosts (such as flies, cockroaches, dung beetles) or eating of infected vertebrate intermediate hosts such as mice. Environmental sporulation can occur in as little as eight hours.
The goal is to keep the puppy's and kitten's exposure to a minimum number.
The best approach is prevention, keeping the environment free of feces, insects, and rodents, to keep the numbers so low in the kennel that you rarely need to treat. There is no disinfectant that will directly kill coccidia. However, a detergent with a surfactant to degrease, followed by a disinfectant such as Rescue™ may reduce environmental exposure.
Coccidia Treatment in Dogs and Cats
The only FDA approved drug is the Sulfa drug Sulfadimethoxine. This drug has long been used to treat Coccidia, and it is also effective for prevention. Sulfadimethoxine Albon® works by preventing reproduction of the parasites. However, there are concerns that Albon® has seen some resistance from years of use. The best way to monitor resistance is to track the complaints post sale and switch your preventative before issues arise. Sulfa-Trimeth is related to Albon and has been used as an alternative with excellent efficacy and is approved for use in dogs and cats in the United States.
When using Albon and Sulfa-Trimeth suspensions, you must be certain you are dosing the medication correctly. There are four key steps to this.
- Weigh the puppy or kitten accurately on a scale. Don't estimate their weight.
- Suspensions that come in large bottles are hard to resuspend uniformly. When the bottle is new, shake it well, like a can of paint, and pour immediately into smaller bottles. By doing this, the medicine for Coccidia in dogs and cats will be more evenly distributed.
- Measure the Coccidia medicine for dogs and cats with a syringe with numbers clearly marked.
- Use the medicine for Coccidia in dogs and cats according to label directions.
While there are other products touted on the internet as being safe in puppies and kittens, we cannot recommend these products, for several reasons.
- These products are not FDA approved. If you have an adverse event with your animal(s) using these drugs, the manufacturers will not stand behind their products.
- These products are made for use in livestock. Animals that are this much larger than puppies and kittens have their medications made to be much too concentrated for direct use in tiny puppies and kittens. If you make a mistake diluting the product down, you may dose your puppies or kittens with a toxic dose or an inadequate dose.
- Additionally, when these medications are diluted, we don't know how long the active ingredients are stable for. In this case, you may administer ineffective medication.
How to Prevent Coccidia in Dogs
Coccidia prevention in dogs needs to be started before birth and continued to the weaned babies. However, be cautious as there are many products that are not safe in pregnant dogs and cats! You can never use sulfa before the 50th day of gestation as you increase cleft palate and other midline defects in dogs or cats.
Another important part of prevention includes insect and rodent control, as mice and cockroaches can carry Coccidia. It is also important to practice strict sanitation. Because Coccidia spreads primarily through feces, all fecal matter should be removed regularly. This will help prevent food and water from becoming contaminated with feces.
To reduce environmental contamination and exposure, clean up feces promptly. Direct sunlight on soil, gravel or other outdoor surfaces may reduce exposure. Keeping the areas free of standing water and keeping the soil dry will also reduce risk. If you have an area that is humid or where the soil cannot dry, consider gravel or sand to minimize moisture. There are unsubstantiated reports that Rescue™ may help reduce the transmission. Finally, sealed concrete in housing and outdoor areas may improve your ability to keep the areas clean.
Babies can go on Albon® or a generic for seven days after weaning. This can also use on moms after 50 days of pregnancy.
Prevention of Coccidia in Cats
Coccidia prevention for cats is very different than for dogs. Queens cannot have something added to food. Cats have a protective response to things that change texture or taste. They will eat small amounts for several days until they are comfortable. We cannot have that in late pregnancy. When it comes to what treats Coccidia in cats, you can use Albon® safely the last 14 days of gestation.
- Use Albon® seven days before due date.
Even though Coccidia is often present in an animal, if you can prevent them from becoming an issue, you may never need to treat Coccidia again!
If you have more questions on Coccidia in puppies, dogs, cats or kittens, call us at 800.786.4751.
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.