What is CoccidiosisCoccidiosis is caused by single-celled parasites (not bacteria) known as coccidia. There are several species in cattle, not all of which cause disease. The species that cause disease are primarily found in the large intestine, and the diarrhoea results from damage to the cells lining it.
Coccidiosis is seen in animals up to two years old, and is particularly common in calves between three weeks and six months of age. Cattle become infected when placed in environments contaminated by older cattle or other infected calves. This can happen either indoors on bedding, or outdoors around drinking or feeding troughs. In order for the coccidial oocysts (the egg stage of the parasite) to become infective they require warmth and moisture. It is probably the lack of moisture in late summer and the low temperatures in late winter that result in the low level of coccidiosis during these times, however coccidiosis can be a significant problem at any time of year.
Clinical SignsThe most common sign is a watery diarrhoea, which because the coccidia damage the large intestine is often accompanied by straining (which can become very severe), mucous and blood. Other signs can include depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, and, much more rarely than with diarrhoea in milk-fed calves, dehydration. Death is rare. Infections that fail to produce diarrhoea can, nevertheless, result in reduced growth and weight gain. This sub-clinical infection is very common, with up to 95% of cases being of this type.
- On the clinical signs described above
- Examination of diarrhoea for the presence of large numbers of oocysts. However, care must be taken when interpreting these results and it is best to consult a veterinarian in suspect cases
- Most cases will recover without treatment. Discuss the necessity of treatment in particular cases with your veterinary surgeon.
- If calves become dehydrated then electrolytes should be given.
- Once high numbers of oocysts are found, then treatment is unlikely to be of any benefit
- Treatment is better given to in-contact animals that have not yet started showing signs, or to combat secondary infection. A large number of products are available for treatment, but only two are licensed. Specific recommendations should be obtained from your veterinarian.
- All calves with diarrhoea should be separated from clinically normal calves, to reduce contamination of environment with oocysts.
- If possible, during an outbreak stressful procedures, such as dehorning, castration and weaning should be avoided
PreventionTo achieve effective control of coccidia, good management and hygiene is vital. This should include:
- Reducing stocking density
- Regularly moving feed and water troughs
- Preventing faecal contamination of feed and water troughs, by raising or covering
- Increasing the bedding to reduce contamination
- Clean and disinfect all buildings with products that kill oocysts
- Mass medication can be used as a preventative, but it is no substitute for improving management.