I just finished reading this email.
It was a long and sad story…
It was about puppies developing a severe diarrhea…
And unfortunately dying from it…
At 6 weeks…
Yes, it is a sad story ; no doubt about this…
Truth is though : I have heard MANY similar stories over the years.
The reason why ?
Because of a syndrome we encounter very often in dog breeding kennels.
A syndrome called weaning diarrhea.
Weaning Diarrhea : A Challenge You Must Know About.
In this email I was reading, the age at which the problem occurred actually tells it all…
Those puppies were 6 weeks…
At that time they were going through nutritional weaning, transitioning from milk to solid food.
Their digestive system was maturing and was therefore more fragile and sensitive to digestive pathogens.
Their immune system was going through what we call the “critical period”, making them also more susceptible to any infectious disorder…
At this very specific time in their life, they cumulate all the risk factors…
And if unluckily, at that time, they were to encounter any digestive pathogens…
You understand : it can lead to a very sad end…
I have written a lot about this syndrome over the years, and I encourage you to have a look at those previous blogs l mentioned throughout this blog to find out more about the weaning diarrhea syndrome in kennels.
There is one key take-away though I want you guys to remember : weaning diarrhea is unfortunately something common in breeding kennels.
To lower the risk, you must know about it. So you can anticipate.
Coccidiosis : the perfect culprit ?
There is more to this email I was reading though.
It contained lots of details, about what happened, what was done…
What should and could have been…
And among the million questions, one disease was pointed out.
I am sure this name might ring a bell to many of you.
It indeed very often pops up on online breeders’ forums.
Coccidiosis is a disease cause by a gastro-intestinal parasite named Coccidia (we also refer to it as Isospora).
Those are protozoa (=unicellular parasites) that live in the digestive tract and are described as an infectious cause of diarrhea.
The content is still relevant and will definitely help you better understand the parasite and what can be done about it.
What I want to focus on here is really what this breeder was asking me.
#1 She was wondering how she got this in her kennel in the first place.
#2 And she wanted to get rid of it… and was wondering what miracle drug and protocol I could recommend.
Coccidiosis : how does it get into your kennel ?
Coccidia are parasites of the digestive tract and dogs get infected when they ingest coccidia cysts (=“coccidia eggs”) that will then resume their development, reproduce… There are then more coccidia, leading to more coccidia cysts being excreted in the environment via the feces… You get the idea am sure…
Coccidia cysts are very resistant in the environment, so this is usually where the infection comes from… but there is an important point you guys must keep in mind here.
According to studies, up to almost 40% of adult dogs actually harbour Coccidia in their digestive tract WITHOUT EXHIBITING ANY CLINICAL SYMPTOMS.
This last sentence actually tells you a LOT of things.
> Let me rewrite this : almost 40% of dogs harbour coccidia in their digestive tract and are asymptomatic ; that’s a huge amount of the dog population ! That is why you will hear some veterinarians say that coccidia are “almost” normal hosts of the canine digestive flora !
> Because almost 40% of dogs harbour the parasite, this is something you can hardly “eradicate” ; that would require LOTS of testing, medical treatment… on mainly asymptomatic animals that are doing perfectly well ! Coccidia are here to last, we have to learn to live with them, that’s what makes most sense.
> almost 40% of individual adult dogs harbour the parasite also mean that THE PATHOGEN CIRCULATES IN VIRTUALLY ALL KENNELS ;
At the end of the day, when you take all of this into account, I believe the question “how do we get the parasite in our kennel ?” is therefore NOT of such great importance.
Because as long as you have dogs (several dogs obviously if you are breeding them), Coccidia might definitely come along with them…
The real question all dog breeders should focus on therefore is : “How do we better control their impact on our kennel ?” .
Problems (understand diarrhea) actually happens when coccidia proliferate in the digestive tract.
In most adults with a strong immune system, this will not occur.
Mainly predisposed individuals are at risk of developing diarrhea here.
And obviously, puppies at the time of weaning definitely fall into this category.
This leads me to the second main question this breeder had for me.
Coccidia : what is the “miracle” drug ?
In this email, I was asked if I could share the medical protocol I’d recommend to get rid of this problem.
So here is my answer :
> First optimize your sanitation protocol.
> And then make it one of your main area of focus.
I know, many of you might be disappointed… but let me explain why I think this really matters.
Puppies get infected by the coccidia cysts in their environment ; therefore, the better you control this, the lower the risk.
Your objective is simple : bring the number of coccidia cysts in the environment as low as possible.
How do you achieve this ?
#1 Make sure you have a clear cleaning and disinfecting protocol in place for your kennel and maternity.
I really emphasize this one because, while it sounds trivial, there are lots of mistakes that are made here. Check this previous blog to find out more about it.
#2 Use the Coccidia cycle to your advantage
Coccidia cysts need to spend around 5 days in the environment to sporulate (and therefore being able to infect other dogs).
From a practical standpoint, it just means one thing : scoop the poop daily !
Just by doing that and removing as much fecal matter as possible from the environment daily, you will break the cycle ! By the way, this is the main purpose of “cleaning”.
#3 Bath the bitches before they enter the maternity
Coccidia cysts are resistant in the environment, which mean bitches can carry them on their coat.
There are actually studies that have been done, showing that many pathogens are carried on the coat of the adult dogs.
So before you let them enter the maternity (we usually recommend to do this 1-2 weeks before parturition), just bath them.
We apply here the same “cleaning” concept, by removing organic matter and potential coccidia cysts.
This is a simple measure but that can make a real difference in kennels where coccidiosis is an issue.
You can also repeat this during lactation. Bathing the bitch once a week will decrease passive carriage of any potential pathogen and therefore minimize the risk.
#4 Use the right disinfectant for coccidia
A sanitation protocol is always a two step procedure : first you clean, then you disinfect.
And not all disinfectants are equal when it comes to coccidiosis.
Bleach for instance, which is a great disinfectant for nude viruses like parvo, is not efficient to destroy those coccidia cysts. It actually makes them sporulate faster…
The best one to use here : steam-cleaning.
Hot water (above 70 degree Celsius) will make the coccidia cyst rupture. Actually it is a very good option anytime you deal with a problem caused by a Protozoa (the same goes for Giardia for instance).
This can be an extra step to add in the maternity after cleaning if coccidia has been reported as an issue for sure !
I really see sanitation as the cornerstone of the protection against coccidiosis in dog breeding kennels.
For sure, there are times, despite all these measures, when coccidia will still be a problem.
Is it because of a genetic predisposition to this problem ? Is it because of stress ?
I don’t have the answer…
In those situations, I will therefore then recommend using medical protocols that are described in the veterinary scientific literature.
That’s your 3rd step : if the problem remains despite an optimized sanitation protocol, seek medical advice from your veterinarian.
But again, the origin of the problem is because there are too many coccidia cysts in the environment in the beginning.
If you can prevent them from getting to the puppies, you will lower the risk tremendously.
Sure, It takes time and effort, much more than “just” giving a medication for a week…
But in my opinion, no doubt : it is worth the effort !
When it comes to coccidiosis in kennels, this is clearly THE best way to anticipate the threat.