It’s hard to imagine that mammals, as complex as we are, can be taken seriously ill by one-celled organisms called protozoans. You might remember studying them from biology class in junior high. These organisms are the most basic form of life, and while many are harmless, a few can invade our pets and cause a range of health issues including diarrhea, weight loss, debilitation and even death.
Intestinal protozoa can cause havoc on the intestinal tract of house pets, especially in puppies and kittens. Pet owners should know about these parasites and how it can affect their pets. If you have any suspicion that your pet may be infected, get to the vet ASAP to get them help. Left untreated, it could lead to serious issues including dehydration.
Coccidia in Pets
Coccidia are intestinal protozoans that invade and infect the lining of the small intestine. There are many species of coccidia and almost all domestic animals can become infected. Of the numerous types that infect dogs and cats, Isospora is the most common. Our pets can become infected when they eat infected feces of another animal or an infected host, such as a small rodent. Many researchers maintain that virtually all dogs and cats have been infected with the organism at one time or another during their life.
Most coccidial infections are harmless, cause minimal symptoms and are eliminated by normal body defense mechanisms. More serious coccidial infections cause severe watery or bloody diarrhea and are often seen in high-density confinement situations such as kennels, catteries and pet shops. Treatment of the entire population of animals with specific sulfa drugs, along with a general cleaning of the premises, is usually necessary to solve the problem.
Cryptosporidia are a different type of coccidial organism that infect house pets. Most healthy adult pets can control the infection and have no symptoms. However, if their immune system is compromised by another serious disease, they are likely to develop the intestinal signs of coccidiosis on an ongoing basis. Also, this type of infection can be transmitted to humans suffering from a weakened immune system from conditions such as HIV, receiving chemotherapy, etc.
Giardia in Pets
Giardia are pear-shaped, one-celled organisms that infect the small intestine of dogs and cats. Similar to other protozoal infections, most clinical cases of giardia in young animals cause explosive, watery diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss and an untidy appearance. Adult animals are often able to have the infection but not show clinical signs.
Giardia is commonly found in wild animals, especially beavers. Most domestic animals contract giardia from drinking contaminated pond or stream water. If the contamination is serious, treatment can require long-term therapy using prescription medications. Keeping your home sanitized and preventing fecal contamination of food and water supplies is essential for reducing reinfection.
Humans have also been diagnosed with giardia infections, but as yet, animal to human transmission has not been confirmed.
While less common, organisms known as Trichomonads, a species of amoeba, are occasionally found in confined populations of animals. Both infections cause the typical watery, sometimes bloody, diarrhea which can lead to dehydration and weight loss. Again, younger animals are at the highest risk, and frequently the presence of the infection stems back to crowding and unsanitary environmental conditions. Keeping sanitation levels up can get rid of these organisms as well.
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