Diarrhea is a fact of life in dogs. It’s how their bodies tell us that something’s wrong. It could be something they couldn’t digest, or there’s an infection taking hold or a worm or parasite has invaded. And that brings us to coccidia, one of those parasites that cause diarrhea that can lead to serious problems.
What Is Coccidia In Dogs?
Coccidia are tiny single-celled, microscopic parasites that can cause an intestinal tract infection in dogs. Isospora is the most common coccidium found in dogs. Dogs get exposed to immature coccidia by swallowing soil contaminated with dog feces. Coccidia eggs are usually dormant in healthy adult dogs.
Dormant coccidia eggs continue to be excreted in your dog’s poop and infect other animals. Coccidia are hardy and resistant to adverse environmental conditions. They can survive as long as one year if they aren’t exposed to extreme bouts of freezing or high temperatures. And your dog may not have any symptoms.
Puppies have an undeveloped immune system, so are susceptible to coccidia. At about 12 weeks they’ll start to build natural immunity to coccidia.
Coccidia becomes a problem when a dog or puppy is in poor health or stressed because of other infections, chronic disease or immunosuppression. The coccidia life cycle continues in your dog’s intestines, where eggs mature and coccidia becomes full-fledged coccidiosis. Then it’s hard for your dog to absorb nutrients and water.
The Difference Between Coccidia And Giardia
Coccidia is a similar parasite to giardia. Severe coccidia infection causes explosive watery diarrhea. The difference between this and giardia is that this parasite can lead to long-term damage of the intestinal lining. That affects the absorption of nutrients, leads to dehydration and can even cause death if untreated.
Giardia is usually contracted when your dog drinks contaminated water or is around the poop of an infected dog. This leads to diarrhea. Giardia doesn’t penetrate the intestinal wall, infect surrounding tissues, or enter the bloodstream.
How Does A Dog Get Coccidia?
Here’s how dogs can pick up coccidia:
- By eating contaminated poop.
- Walking, lying or playing in contaminated soil.
- Lick their feet or fur after being in a contaminated area.
- Eating an infected animal like a mouse or rat.
- Drinking water from a contaminated source.
- Birds can spread infected matter far and wide.
Signs Your Dog Has A Coccidia Infection
Here are the clinical signs you’ll see:
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Anorexia, vomiting and depression in severe cases
If caught immediately, most cases of coccidiosis are mild and clear up in a few weeks with treatment.
How Is Coccidiosis Diagnosed?
Coccidia are much tinier than the eggs of intestinal worms so a fecal (stool) sample needs to be viewed under a microscope for diagnosis. Collect a stool sample the size of your thumb in a clean container. If it won’t be delivered within the day, keep it in the fridge, not the freezer.
A fecal test known as a centrifugation fecal flotation test is done. But because your dog excretes the eggs intermittently, a few samples might be needed to get a positive result. An alternative higher tech test is a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) assay. It’s a more expensive procedure but with a more precise outcome.
It’s unlikely your dog can give you coccidia. The most common types of coccidia won’t affect you. Coccidia is usually species-specific. Some less common species of coccidia, like Cryptosporidium, may infect humans..If your dog has coccidia, practice good hygiene by washing your hands and keeping your dog’s belongings clean.
Why You Shouldn’t Use These Medications To Treat Coccidia In Dogs
These are drugs often prescribed to treat coccidia:
- Sulfadimethoxine/Ormetoprim – the most commonly prescribed antibacterial medication, a sulfa based antibiotic
- Metronidazole (Flagyl) – an antibiotic that is also used for infections
Ponazuril (Marquis), Tribrissen, Toltrazuril, Sulfaguanidine, Furazolidone and Quinacrine are other drugs that might be used in various drug combinations or compounded.
These drugs are given along with fluid therapy to manage dehydration … and other distress often caused by the meds. Treatment is usually for 2 to 4 weeks and often requires several rounds of dosing. That means there is more opportunity to kill the beneficial bacteria in your dog’s gut. That weakens your dog’s immune system … and a weakened immune system is likely what led to coccidia infection in the first place.
Side Effects Of Coccidia Drugs
These meds often cause upset stomach and diarrhea. But some have more serious side effects and several aren’t even FDA approved for dogs:
- Sulfadimethoxine – This is the go-to prescription. It’s usually given for 5-25 days, and repeated in severe cases. That’s 50 days! Side effects are dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), acute liver inflammation, fever, hives, polyarthritis, facial swelling, increased drinking and urination, and crystals or stones in the urinary tract; destruction of beneficial gut bacteria
- Metronidazole – blood in urine, muscle stiffness, and dilated pupils, neurological issues; possible carcinogen
- Ponazuril – rash or blisters around the mouth and nose when given orally; hives, or seizures; eye discharge, and squinting among dogs predisposed to dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca); it’s not FDA approved for use in dogs
- Tribrissen – destruction of beneficial gut bacteria
- Toltrazuril – it’s not FDA approved for dogs or horses
- Furazolidone – no longer available in the US; banned by FDA for use in feed animals
- Quinacrine – dizziness, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps
These are antibiotics that can damage your dog’s gut health by destroying his microflora. With 90% of your dog’s immune system in his gut … this damage can make him prone to illness in the future.
But it’s not all bad news … there are natural ways to help your dog to fight coccidia.
11 Natural Remedies for Coccidia in Dogs
Here are some safe and effective natural solutions for coccidia in dogs.
- A Parasite Cleanse
Parasites live off bad bacteria and fungus in your dog’s digestive system. You can kill these harmful organisms with a parasite cleansing diet for your dog. Start by removing all grains and sugar from your dog’s diet. Processed kibble diets are high in grains and carbohydrates that convert to sugar in the process of digestion. Sugar feeds harmful organisms, leads to inflammation, and weakens your dog’s immune system … and that allows parasites to take hold and feed.
Choose a whole food, raw meat diet for your dog. It eliminates parasites by removing their food source of grains and sugars. You also want to stick with low-sugar berries like raspberries, blueberries and cranberries.
You’ll also want to include high-fiber vegetables that nourish the gut. Fiber encourages bowel movements that will move the parasites through the digestive tract. You should include broccoli, greens, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, green beans, cauliflower and zucchini. Avoid carrots and squash that have a high sugar content that feeds parasites. Vegetables need to be lightly steamed, ground or blended so your dog can digest them.
RELATED: How to start your dog on a raw food diet …
Pineapple core contains bromelain, an enzyme that can boost digestion and kill parasites. Add some fresh pineapple to your dog’s meals to help with coccidia.
Garlic has sulfur compounds and antioxidants that destroy parasites and other pathogenic organisms. Allicin is a compound in garlic that’s effective against parasites. Release it by chopping it and letting it sit for 15 minutes. Use a quarter clove or 1/4 tsp or less for small dogs, ½ clove for medium dogs, 3/4 clove for large dogs and up to 1 clove for giant breeds. You can give it twice a day. Use it with Goldenseal (see #9 below) for even better results.
- Oil Of Oregano
Oregano has antibacterial and antiparasitic effects that increase the production of stomach acid, which kills parasites and prevents infections. If you’re using oil of oregano it’s pretty potent so you must dilute it for your dog. Always dilute with 1 tsp of olive oil per 1-2 drops of oregano oil and mix it into your dog’s food. A drop or 2 or oregano oil is all you need for tiny dogs, 3-4 drops for medium to large dogs, 5-6 drops for extra large dogs.
Ginger is similar to oregano with antibacterial and antiparasitic effects that increase stomach acid that kills parasites and prevents infections. Grate it fresh and dose it similarly to fresh garlic. Use 1/4 tsp or less for small dogs, ½ tsp to full clove for medium dogs, a clove for large dogs and as much as 2 cloves for extra large dogs.
This amino acid helps heal your dog’s stomach and intestinal lining, which can be damaged by coccidia. It can be given with other supplements, or as part of an overall gut healing supplement. Daily dose is 500mg per 25 lbs body weight.
- Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape is a natural antibiotic and liver tonic that can attack parasites. Give your dog 12 drops of tincture per 20 pounds of body weight, every day. Oregon grape should not be given to pregnant females or dogs who have liver disease.
Cloves are strong fighters against parasites like coccidia. Essential oil of cloves was found to inhibit the growth of parasites in one study. Give 1 clove per 10 pounds of body weight once 1 day. Or, you can mix a pinch of clove powder in your dog’s food.
Caution: Cloves can be toxic in large doses so follow the dosing recommendations, especially for small dogs and puppies.
Goldenseal is a herbal remedy with many uses. When combined with garlic, it’s been very effective against parasites like coccidia. You can mix goldenseal as a dried powder directly into your dog’s food. Use 1 tsp per 20 pounds of your dog’s body weight. You can also offer it to your dog as a tea, providing ¼ cup per 20 pounds per day. Or, give a tincture, 5 to 10 drops per 20 pounds about 2 to 3 times a day.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that restore balance to the microflora of your dog’s intestinal tract. Friendly bacteria crowd out the pathogenic bacteria and infection that form an environment for parasites. Give a good probiotic supplement, or feed probiotic-rich foods include fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. And be sure to include prebiotics, which are needed to feed the probiotics. Prebiotic foods include mushrooms, garlic, bananas and dandelion greens.
- Digestive enzymes
How Do You Stop Coccidia From Spreading?
It’s impossible to eradicate the coccidia parasite, especially when you can’t see it. But freezing temperatures, drought, sunlight and ammonia will kill it. Coccidia multiply best in warm, wet, dirty, overcrowded conditions so eliminate these conditions whenever possible. Here are ways to be proactive against coccidia.
Pick Up Poop
Be diligent about picking up your dog’s poop and don’t let him eat it. Minimize the rodent and insect population around your house and yard. Both cockroaches and mice can be carriers.
Follow Good Cleaning Practices
Good hygiene is the best way to contain coccidia and prevent the spread. Traditional sources will advise using chlorine bleach as a disinfectant but it’s extremely toxic. This is especially true for a dog weakened by illness, so avoid bleach if you can. A safer choice is oxygen bleach made from hydrogen peroxide and water (check the ingredients of the product you buy).
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends cleaning all hard surfaces – floors, crates, trash cans – with soap and boiling water, and rinse thoroughly. Steam-clean carpets.
Or you can use castile soap and essential oils. Mix 2T of castille soap and 15 drops each of lavender and lemon essential oils in 1 ¾ cups water and ¼ cup white vinegar. (You don’t want to add essential oils to really hot water or they’ll dissipate into the air, rather than be present in the cleaning solution.) Use this to keep your dog’s kennel, food and water bowls, and his favorite toys clean.
Wash and dry bedding, towels and toys at the highest heat possible or dry them in direct sunlight. Add a few drops of lavender and lemon essential oil to the laundry.
Use your dishwasher to disinfect bowls and toys at high settings. The CDC defines that as a rinse cycle of 113°F for 20 minutes, 122°F for five minutes, or 162°F for one minute. You can boil items in boiling water for at least one minute.
Bathe Your Dog
Use homemade wipes to keep your dog clean. You can make your own spray using a cup of water and 3 drops each of lavender and lemon essential oil. Then just shake well, spray and dab your dog’s butt as needed to keep him fresh. When he’s through the illness, bathe him and clean him well around the anus. Clean him repeatedly until you are sure he has eliminated the coccidia from his system … which can take a few weeks.
Treating parasites is never easy. It’s better to build your dog’s health consistently. But if you need to fight invaders like coccidia, there are natural options that work.
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