Coccidiosis in Sheep, Goats, and Cattle
Coccidiosis, a parasite of the intestine, can cause severe disease in young animals and has been increasingly problematic in our area during the past few years. It is a wide-spread problem AND it is difficult to treat. Drug treatments are losing efficacy (not working as well on the parasite) and generally require daily individual dosing, which requires a lot of time from already busy farmers. We must do better managing our flocks and herds to reduce the prevalence of this disease. We CANNOT rely on medicines to do the job for us.
- Coccidiosis is primarily a problem for young animals. It can cause severe illness involving diarrhea, inappetence, dehydration, and death. Anemia can be involved in the clinical disease as well. If acute disease is absent, stunted growth is common where coccidiosis is a problem and sometimes the only clue that coccidiosis is presently a problem. If the problem is identified and effectively treated before the animals are 9 months old, they seem to be able to resume fairly normal growth and health.
- Coccidiosis may exist as the sole parasitic problematic disease in the animal group or may be seen in conjunction with a worm problem (such as Haemonchus/Barber Pole worm in sheep and goats. With the support of fecal egg counts, sometimes addressing the worm problem improves the health of the animals enough to reduce the coccidia problem and vice versa. It’s kind of a back and forth treatment, figuring out what works. With both problems, the animal’s ability to fight off disease is hugely compromised and sometimes an improved diet (increased protein or more digestible high quality hay or pasture) helps overcome both problems.
- Good husbandry is essential to minimizing coccidiosis. Avoid overcrowding and prevent fecal contamination of all feed and water sources.
- Think about watersheds on your farm: where does water from one area drain to? Can you keep young animals off the low areas that water flows into?
- Do you have high-shedding adults that are spreading parasites in the environment? Think about culling those animals or managing them separately from the young stock.
- Stress decreases animal health defenses. Stressors include: weaning, relocation, sudden weather changes, overcrowding.
- It’s better to have low levels of coccidia spread out in the environment than heavy concentrations in the areas where young stock are living. Because higher doses of oocyst (coccidia egg) intake generally cause more severe disease than low levels of ingestion.
- Treat when necessary, following veterinary directions, and use coccidiostats (e.g. decoquinate, rumensin) in feed or water when the herd has had a problem in the past and when anticipated coccidiosis risk is high. Do not blanket treat everyone without discrimination. We need our medical treatments to work when nothing else will work, lets use careful management decisions and timely choices to keep this parasite from wreaking havoc in our flocks and herds.
CALVS is owned and operated by Dr. Dianne Johnson. Dr. Johnson graduated from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in May 2012. Dianne is thankful to be back in Vermont (the other “VT”), where she is close to her family and many friends.
Prior to establishing CALVS, Dr. Johnson did a 6-month internship at Cross-Border Equine in Springfield, VT. Dr. Johnson enjoys working with cattle, small ruminants, camelids, and horses, and will also work with swine and poultry on an as-needed basis. Dianne is especially interested in sustainable farming, pasture management, and preventative care.
In her spare time, Dianne enjoys reading, walking and hiking with her dog, and crafts.
Prior to studying veterinary medicine, Dianne studied psychology and worked as an outdoor education instructor. She enjoys teaching youth and adults husbandry and veterinary medical skills.