Intestinal Protozoa

Next to worms, the intestinal protozoa are the most troublesome of parasites. The common protozoa infecting dogs are the coccidia. There are four species of coccidia capable of infecting dogs and other animals, including poultry. Usually, however, each of the four species prefers its own specific host, such as the dog, cow, or chicken. But it is possible for a dog to become infected with the poultry-type coccidia if he eats raw chicken viscera that are infected.

Coccidia fasten onto the cells that line the small intestine and the tissue under the intestinal lining. They reproduce and develop into what are know as oocysts. These oocysts are oval-shaped cells with a membrane and one or two granular bodies floating within the cell. Oocysts are highly infective. They are eliminated from the dog's intestinal tract with the feces. Your dog can become infected, therefore, by coming into contact with the infected feces of other dogs. It is also possible—if your dog has coccidia— for him to reinfect himself by eating his feces that contain oocysts.

Coccidiosis has distemper-like symptoms: nasal and eye discharge; soft bowel movement (changing to a watery or bloody diarrhea); weakness, emaciation and a rise in temperature. There is also a progressive weight loss. Puppies are very susceptible to coccidia. Very often they become infected as early as 3 to 4 weeks of age. If left untreated, puppies deteriorate very rapidly, ending with convulsions and death.

A positive diagnosis of coccidiosis is easily made by a micro scopic examination of the feces for oocysts. Both the diagnosis and treatment should be left to the veterinarian. You can take preventive measures that include keeping the dog's sleeping and living quarters clean. Keep out strange dogs and avoid an accumulation of feces in the yard or kennel.

Other protozoa

For many years, it was believed that the coccidia were the main protozoa affecting dogs. Now we know that others are responsible for intestinal troubles. Among these are organisms belonging to the Entamoeba, Giardia and Trichomona groups. The symptoms caused by these organisms are similar to those of coccidiosis. Diagnosis and treatment are jobs for the veterinarian.

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