Observe young goats for possible coccidiosis symptoms

Coccidiosis is an economically important disease in many species of livestock. It can be a very devastating disease in goat herds.

Understanding the life cycle of coccidia is an important step in learning what damage they do to the host and why they are so difficult to control. Coccidia are intercellular parasites and are ubiquitous in the environment. They live and grow within the cells lining the gastrointestinal tracts of the host. Theoocyst is excreted in the feces of infected hosts. Oocysts must undergo a period of development (sporulation) after being excreted in order to become capable of infecting another host. This usually takes 2 to 3 days. Oxygen, moisture and warm temperatures are required for development. After sporulation occurs, the oocysts are very resistant to environmental conditions and ordinary disinfectants. After a susceptible goat ingests sporulated oocyst, “spores” are released and enter the cells lining the intestine. In the intestine they go through several stages of development. The intestinal cells are destroyed and thousands of smaller forms of coccidia are released. Eventually sexual stages are reached and new oocysts are passed into the environment. The complete cycle usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks.

The symptoms of coccidiosis range from loss of appetite and slight, short-lived diarrhea to severe cases involving great amounts of dark and bloody diarrhea and, in some cases, death. The severity of symptoms depends upon the number of parasites invading the intestines. Feces of sick goats contain many infective stages of coccidia. When an outbreak occurs, isolation and sanitation are key to preventing its spread throughout the herd. Additionally, coccidiosis is more of a problem in crowded conditions.

If a goat is exhibiting clinical signs of coccidiosis (diarrhea being the most common sign) there are some treatment options. These include sulfa drugs, such as sulfamethazine, sulfadimethoxine (Albon) and sulfaguanidine, tetracycline and amprolium (Corid R). Not all of these products are labeled for use in goats and require permission from a veterinarian for extra label use. Usually the treatment is given for five days. These drugs are called coccidiostats. Coccidiostats do not kill coccidia. However, they slow it down. With a heavily infected goat, treatment may not be successful, but it will help reduce the number of oocysts that are being excreted into the environment.

Coccidiosis can be prevented by adding coccidiostats, such as decoquinate (Decox) and lasalocid (Bovatec) to the goat’s diet. Goat rations that contain coccidiostats are available to producers who request them. This will aid in preventing an outbreak of coccidiosis. Another approach is to treat kids at three weeks of age with Albon, and treat them again in three weeks. Afterwards, use a feed with a coccidiostat. Caution: If you have horses, do not allow them to eat feed containing coccidiostats, as these products can be deadly to horses.

Coccidiosis is a very serious disease for goat producers. Remember to isolate and treat any animal that has coccidiosis. The best preventive measure a goat producer can take is to use a feed with a coccidiostat added. With careful management and sound preventive measures, the losses associated with this disease can be reduced to minimal levels.

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