Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Truth Behind Coccidia

We all know how important it is to have our pets receive an annual physical by their veterinarian each and every year and as part of their yearly checkup we are often asked to bring in a stool sample. When pressed for a reason why the most common response is to check for parasites or worms. But what exactly is your veterinarian looking for and why is it so important to check for it? How could your “indoor only” pet possible pick up any kind of parasite? Over the next few months we will cover the most commonly seen types of parasites, how your pet can come in contact with them, and what you can do if your pet already has them. Today’s spotlight in our series will be on one of the smallest villains in our series: coccidia.

Coccidia is a one-celled organism that lives within the cells of the intestinal lining. They are not actual worms, but are are often confused with them due to the fact they live in the intestinal tract and commonly cause diarrhea.

Prevalence and Contributing Factors
Coccidia is often found in young kittens and puppies especially if they are strays or have come from a crowded environment with poor hygiene (pet store, puppy “mill,” etc.). The major contributing factors to the spread of coccidia infections are overcrowding, poor sanitation, and stress.

Oocysts (immature coccidia; "eggs") are passed into the environament through the stool of the dog or cat. They lie in the environment and eventually sporulate (mature; hatch) into a more developed oocyst that can then infect the same dog again. This process can occur in as little as 6 hours, but it usually takes 7-10 days. Other dogs, cats, or other animals may also become infected if they come in contact with the contaminated stool. Mature oocysts can be ingested intentially, if your pet eats it’s own stool or the stool of another animal, or accidentally, for example if you pet walks through an infected area and then lickes his or her paws. Once swallowed the mature oocysts will complete it’s life cycle in the animal's intestine. Coccidia can also be spread if your pet eats another infected animal, for example a mouse that is infected with coccidia.

Clinical Signs
Most dogs with an active coccidia infection do not show any clinical signs such as diarrhea. However, the “eggs” (oocysts) can still be found in the stool of a dog or cat with a simple lab test. When found in the stool of a healthy pet that is showing no clinical symptoms they are generally considered a transient, insignificant finding. However, in puppies and debilitated adult dogs, they may cause severe, watery diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal distress, and vomiting. In very severe cases, death may occur.

The presence of coccidia is diagnosed by performing a microscopic examination of a stool sample. Since the oocysts (“eggs”) are much smaller than the eggs of other intestinal parasites, they can be easily missed unless a very careful study is made. An infection with some of the less common coccidial parasites can later be confirmed with additional tests that may require specialized laboratory facilities.

The most common drug used to eliminate coccidia is a sulfa-type antibiotic which is typically given for 10-14 days. The medication is sweet-tasting and most pets will take it with no issue. If the infection persists after giving the sulfa-type drug other medications are also available. If any additional symptoms from the infection such as diarrhea or dehydration occur additional medication may also be needed.

In most cases, a good response to treatment is expected and most pets recover fully. The presence of concurrent diseases or immune suppression can make the prognosis less certain.

Transmission to Humans
The most common form of coccidia found in dogs does not have any affect on humans. However, less common types of coccidia are potentially infectious to humans. One parasite, called Cryptosporidium, may be carried by dogs and may possibly be transmitted to people. This parasite has also been found in public water supplies in some major cites. Another coccidial organism, Toxoplasma, is carried by cats and is of particular concern to pregnant women because of the potential to cause birth defects in newborns. This organism is only able to complete its life cycle in the cat.

These two coccidial parasites pose a health risk for immunosuppressed humans (i.e., AIDS patients, those taking immune suppressant drugs, cancer patients, the elderly). Good hygiene and proper disposal of dog and cat feces are important in minimizing risk of transmission of all parasites to humans. Although there is risk of pets transmitting parasites to humans, it does not warrant removing the pet from the household except in very rare instances.

Reinfection of dogs is very common so sanitizing the environment is very important. The use of chlorine bleach, one cup in a gallon of water, is an effective way to sterilize any surfaces that can be safely treated with it. Because coccidia tends to be a problem in areas of poor sanitation, the need to keep the area as clean and sanitary as possible cannot be emphasized enough.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wellness Programs- What Are They Good For?

Well actually quite a lot. Many of us, when visiting our family doctor for a routine physical examination will choose to have blood tests similar to the ones offered by your local veterinarian for your pets run for ourselves. We may feel great, but we also want to know that our cholesterol, blood sugars, and other signifiers of health are all okay. Your doctor, much like your veterinarian, understands how important a good baseline is for us when diagnosing future health concerns and he or she also understands that when hidden health issues are detected early more options for treatment are made available

At the Animal Clinic at Thorndale, p.c. we offer two wellness programs for our patients. The first is a junior wellness program that includes a complete blood count (CBC), abbreviated blood chemistry profile and a heartworm test. Pets must be 6 years old or younger, have a complete physical examination, be current vaccinations, and not have any clearly apparent abnormalities that would require more extensive testing at the time to be eligible. These screenings help provide a baseline with which to compare when your pet is sick and can also help defer some of the cost of the annual visit since they already include a heartworm test. The senior wellness program is available for all our patients 7 years and older. This wellness program includes a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry, and urinalysis. These three simple testing procedures provide your veterinarian with invaluable information about your pet’s health status and can screen for potential health conditions such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, liver disease, anemia, and bleeding disorders. The earlier these problems are found, the sooner your veterinarian can help your pet feel better and fill those golden years with plenty of happy purrs, tail wags, and sunny walks in the park.

As you can see the benefits far outweigh any cost that will be incurred for these basic screenings. Not only will they give you the peace of mind knowing that your pet is in great health but also if the unforeseeable happens and they catch a hidden problem early enough they greatly improve the odds of your favorite pet living a long, happy life. So next time you take your pet in to see your veterinarian ask about what wellness screening programs they offer and give them a serious consideration. It could be some of the best money you’ve spent in a long time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Wonderland: Tips On Having A Fun and Safe Time Outdoors When It Snows

Winter has arrived in force this year and it's hard to see an end in sight. It is important to remember that although all the snow can be a lot of fun we still need to be careful when playing outside. Freezing temperatures, dehydration, and antifreeze are all things to be on the lookout for when the white stuff starts falling from the sky. The following link contains a list of ten tips you can use to keep you and your dog safe during this winter season.

Winter Safety Tips For Your Dog


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February Is Dental Health Month



Dental plaque, tartar, and periodontal disease are inevitable parts of life for animals just like for people. Humans brush daily and visit their dentist on a regular basis to minimize and prevent dental disease. Sadly our pets don't always get such good treatment. When was the last time you brushed your pet’s teeth or even looked in their mouth? Left unchecked dental disease can lead to a variety of problems including but not exclusive to those listed below.

-Tooth Loss
-Stinky Breath (strong enough to knock you over)
-Infections and disease in other organs such as the heart, liver, or kidneys


Daily tooth brushing is still considered the best at-home approach to dental disease and a variety of pet toothbrushes and toothpaste are available. In addition to brushing you can try applying a weekly application of Oravet, a barrier prevention gel, which can help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. Chew toys and treats (such as C.E.T. treats and Greenies) are also a great way to prevent dental disease since they work by wearing down plaque and tartar buildup along the tooth similar to how a toothbrush works. When taking into consideration all these options it is important to remember that while each of these products may be helpful in fighting dental disease none of them are a complete solution on their own.

In fact a time will probably come when your pets’ teeth will need a professional cleaning no matter how well you take care of them at home. This includes a thorough examination of the oral cavity and a complete scaling and polishing of all their teeth. This is the most expensive option when it comes to fighting dental disease but it is also the most effective and thorough. When this time comes be confident in knowing that your pets are getting the best possible care and they will live a happier, healthier life for having it done.

February is Dental Health Month for both you and your pet. It’s as good a time as any to start daily tooth brushings with your pet or to schedule that professional cleaning you have been putting off. Remember, they’re worth the extra effort and you will enjoy the rewards as well.