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Health & Wellness

If you have a young dog, you should know about coccidia

A microscopic organism that can cause big problems.

Gastrointestinal issues, irritants and infections can take many forms in our four-legged best friends. Fortunately, no matter the size of said infection, there are clear signs that something is afoot and you should seek medical care. 

Case in point: coccidia. Since it doesn’t affect humans, this may only sound familiar to pet parents who associate it with a single-celled organism known as protozoa. And for something so minuscule, it can cause much larger problems, like a gastrointestinal infection called coccidiosis, which can impact certain breeds and ages in different — and potentially dangerous — ways.

What are the symptoms of coccidia in dogs? 

According to Dr. Aliya McCullough, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, the most common coccidia found in dogs is Isospora, aka Cystoisospora and Cryptosporidium. And the symptoms of coccidia vary among pups. 

Diarrhea, with or without blood, is the most common symptom,” she says. “But dogs may also have lethargy, weight loss, vomiting and a decreased appetite.” However, not all dogs will show obvious symptoms.

Immature coccidia, which are resilient and can survive prolonged periods in and on the ground, can be found in dog poop and contaminated soil (i.e., dirt where your best friends do their business). Infected dogs can pass them along in their own feces, making visiting dog parks, or other public areas with lots of dogs, a risky endeavor.

RELATED: Hookworms in dogs: symptoms and treatments

What are the treatment options for coccidia in dogs? 

Since some dogs don’t exhibit any symptoms, not every case of coccidia is necessarily an emergency. “Pet parents should seek treatment if they notice their dog has symptoms,” Dr. McCullough notes, explaining that it's typically treated with an oral anti-protozoal medication.

“In dogs that are more severely affected, hospitalization with intravenous fluid therapy and supportive care may be necessary,” she adds. However, reinfection is also a risk that can occur, so promptly removing poop from your environment is vital for preventing coccidia.

And some furry family members are at a higher risk of more serious outbreaks. “Young, debilitated and immunocompromised dogs may have more severe life-threatening symptoms,” Dr. McCullough explains. So if your best friend falls into any of those categories, be extra vigilant in keeping an eye out for symptoms. 

Preventing coccidia in dogs

Since coccidia is a gastrointestinal infection primarily passed along through fecal matter, quickly cleaning up your pup’s business is pivotal in preventing the gastrointestinal ailment. "Prevention of coccidiosis includes prompt removal of feces from the environment and good hygiene. So if your dog has coccidiosis, avoid dog daycare and the park until the infection has cleared to prevent spreading it to other dogs," Dr. McCullough reiterates.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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