What is Coccidiosis and how is it affecting your profits?

What is Coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis is caused by Protozoa. A Protozoa is a very small parasite which is only made of a single cell. There are lots of different types of Protozoa; the one which causes Coccidiosis in cattle is called Eimeria. There are also lots of types of Eimeria and you may find up to 12 different species in cattle. Coccidiosis is most often seen in calves between 1-2 months of life, but it can affect them up to 1 year of age.

How is Coccidiosis stealing your profits?

The Eimeria lifecycle begins with a calf consuming the “eggs” of the parasite. These may come from the surface of the udder, pasture, feeders, water sources, grooming, or anything which could have faecal contamination from other cattle. Once the “eggs” have been swallowed, they “hatch” in the intestine. The newly “hatched” parasite then finds a cell on the lining of the gut to enter and hijack. The hijacked cell becomes a factory making multiple copies of the parasite. The hijacked cell then bursts open and the new parasites are released into the gut lumen, these new parasites then sexually replicate inside another gut cell and create “eggs”. The “eggs” are shed in vast numbers in the faeces which contaminate the environment and infect other calves. When the gut cells are damaged three things happen that contribute to diarrhoea:

When the gut cells are damaged three things happen that contribute to diarrhoea:

  1. The damaged cells can’t absorb any nutrients: Undigested feed sits in the gut lumen which causes fluid to flow from the calf into the gut lumen (osmosis)
  2. The damaged areas of the gut become “leaky” meaning further fluid goes from the calf into the lumen of the gut
  3. There is an immune response to the parasite, causing inflammation in the gut

Moderate/Severe Infections

You may see profuse foetid smelling diarrhoea with or without mucus and blood. Calves may strain, be slab sided and lose condition.

Mild Infection – The Invisible Loss of Profit!

In mild infections you may not see diarrhoea and the calves may appear healthy as the lower parts of the intestine manage to re-absorb the fluid so the poo appears firm. However, they will still have gut damage, gut inflammation and they will not be absorbing nutrients properly. You may not see actual loss of condition, but you can’t see the potential growth that they have missed!

Controlling the parasite

Unfortunately the eggs of the parasite are very stable in the environment and can persist for months. Complete eradication is unlikely, but Coccidia burden in the environment can be reduced by physically removing or chemically inactivating eggs:

  1. Practice All in All out management where possible
  2. Ensure buildings are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected regularly, and always between groups
  3. Regularly change bedding
  4. Ensure feeders, troughs, equipment etc. are as clean as possible
  5. Move feeder/troughs regularly to avoid high faecal contamination of the area
  6. Workers clothing and boots must be regularly cleaned and disinfected, especially when moving between groups of calves

In addition, severity of coccidiosis is much worse in situations where cattle are overstocked or stressed for another reason e.g. other diseases, mixing, sudden changes in weather. General good husbandry will decrease the impact of coccidiosis in your calves.

Treatment and Prevention

Sick individuals should be isolated from healthy calves. They should be encouraged to continue feeding, but this may need to be supported with electrolytes to replace the fluids lost.

Medication can be included in the feed to aid prevention and provide treatment for coccidiosis.

Deccox® 6% Premix for Medicated Feeding Stuff for Sheep & Cattle contains 60 g/kg decoquinate. Indicated for the treatment and prevention of coccidiosis in lambs and calves. For information about side effects, precautions, warnings and contra-indications for this product, please refer to the product packaging. For further information please contact Zoetis UK Limited, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Tadworth, Surrey KT20 7NS. www.zoetis.co.uk Customer Support: 0845 300 8034. Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible). Date of preparation: March 2018. AH042/18