This year, we have diagnosed as many of our patients (and a large amount of these have been indoor-only!) with coccidia. Most of these cases have been found by checking a screening stool sample during routine physical exam and vaccine appointments.
What is Coccidia?
Coccidia are microscopic single-celled organisms that infect the intestine.
How would my cat get Coccidia?
Oocysts (pronounced "o-o-sists") come from fecal-contaminated ground/dirt. They are swallowed when a pet grooms/licks the dirt off. In some cases, the coccidia can be swallowed by mice and the host (cat) can be infected by eating the contaminated mouse. Coccidia is actually quite common in young animals who have undeveloped immune systems, and who are housed in groups such as shelters, rescue areas, kennels, etc. This is a common parasite and is not necessarily a sign of poor husbandry.
What are the symptoms of a Coccidia infection?
Sometimes there are no signs at all, but other times there can be diarrhea or even bloody diarrhea since coccidia destroys intestinal cells.
How are Coccidia detected?
Coccidia oocysts are microscopic and can be found on routine fecal sample screening. Checking stool samples on all pets at least once a year, even on indoor-only petss, is recommended - and every 6 months for pets who have access to the outdoors. This fecal screening is also a good idea for any patient who is experiencing diarrhea. However, coccidia in small numbers can be difficult to detect, so even though a sample looks negative, doesn't necessarily mean the patient isn't infected. Sometimes several fecal test are performed, especially in a young pet with ongoing diarrhea, since parasites may not be evident until later in the course of the condition.
How is Coccidia treated?
General deworming will not treat coccidia since it is not a worm, but a protozoa. Medications such as Albon inhibit coccidial reproduction, and once the numbers of coccidia in the body stop expanding, it's easier for the patient's immune system to catch up and wipe the infection out. This also means, though, that the time it takes to clear the infection depends on how many coccidia organisms there are and how strong the patient's immune system is. A typical treatment lasts a week or two, but the medication should be given until the diarrhea resolves, plus an extra couple of days. Sometimes courses as long as a month are needed.
Can people or other pets become infected?
The Isospora species of coccidia are not infective to people. However, other pets may become infected from exposure to infected fecal matters, though this is usually an infection of young animals with immature or underdeveloped immune systems. In most cases, an infected new puppy or kitten does not infect the resident adult animal.
When was the last time my cat was screened?
Whenever was the last time you brought in a stool sample to be tested! If you aren't sure when that was, feel free to call and we can tell you when the last sample was checked. If it's been more than a year, your cat is due for a routine screening, and you can bring in a fecal sample anytime without needing an appointment. We can have the test run and call with results within a day or so of receiving the sample.
Who do I talk to if I have other questions?
You can call us anytime to speak with a technician for more information, or you can talk to your tech and veterinarian if your cat is in for an appointment.