Coccidiosis can kill young goats and sheep

Kids and lambs that are stressed can develop acute coccidiosis. Planning before an outbreak can help.

Coccidiosis can be one of the most economically important diseases in many livestock species. It can be especially devastating to recently weaned kids or lambs and, occasionally, cause losses in other age groups. Coccidia are everywhere; it is nearly impossible to find a goat or sheep without some coccidia.

The presence of coccidia in the intestines of an individual does not mean the animal is actually suffering from coccidiosis. Coccidia only cause disease when their numbers become so great that pathological damage is done to the host. The damage done to the host is essentially that of intestinal cell destruction. The first signs of disease are usually a sudden onset of severe diarrhea with foul smelling feces often containing mucus and blood. The blood may appear as a dark tarry staining of the feces or as streaks. In particularly severe cases, the stool may consist almost entirely of large clots of blood. Kids and lambs which have been brought off pastures with little or no prior exposure to coccidia are very susceptible to acute clinical coccidiosis because they have very little immunity or resistance.

Coccidiosis, if it doesn’t kill the animal, is usually a self-limiting disease and clinical signs usually subside spontaneously. If damage to the intestine is not too severe, natural immunity will reduce, but not eliminate, the number of coccidia living in the gut. According to Michigan State University Extension, amprolium and monensin are the most popular drugs used to control coccidiosis with goat breeders. Monensin has been found to be of value in preventing coccidiosis in Angora goats at levels that also increase feed efficacy. While most coccidostats are only approved for use in cattle, sheep or other species, monensin has recently been approved for use in Angora goats in the United States. A similar drug, lasalocid, is approved for use in sheep and an unrelated compound, decoquinate, has been shown to be effective against coccidia in sheep.

The obvious solution to problems resulting from coccidiosis is to prevent susceptible animals from ingesting large numbers of oocysts. Sanitation, dry weather, sunlight, water troughs that cannot be defecated into and don’t overflow, and feeders that infected animals can’t walk in, all help in prevention of the disease by limiting fecal contamination. These conditions are only rarely achieved. While good sanitation will help prevent disease, these measures will not entirely preclude an outbreak of coccidiosis unless extremely rigorous precautions are taken. The most economical way to deal with coccidiosis is to medicate the feed or water supplies with the drug of choice and also avoid overcrowding, nutritional disorders, and unnecessary stresses.

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