Coccidia

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We have seen a number of coccidia cases in calves over the last few weeks. Conditions at the moment are ideal for coccidia outbreaks, so here's a run down on the basics and what to look out for.

 

What is it?

Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease which occurs primarily in young stock between 3 and 8 months of age, but can appear from as little as 4 weeks of age in heavily contaminated environments.

Most cattle are infected with coccidia during their lives, and in most animals the parasites co-exist, causing minimal damage. Clinical disease generally only occurs if animals are exposed to heavy infestations or if their resistance is lowered through stress, poor nutrition or concurrent disease. Coccidia is commonly associated with overstocking and is often encountered when there are pasture management issues.

 

What does it do?

Coccidia have a complex lifecycle, which results in "eggs" being passed in the faeces. Dry conditions and high temperatures will destroy these eggs within a few weeks. However, in wet cold conditions with high stocking rates they may survive for up to 2 years. The source of infection is the faeces of clinically affected or carrier animals, and cattle ingest these eggs by consuming contaminated feed, water and pasture, or by grooming themselves. Once consumed the coccidia invade the cells that line the gut and start to multiply. This process damages the gut lining which results in a bloody scour and dehydration.

There are two common circumstances under which coccidiosis can be seen: • There is a build up of coccidia on pasture. This is usually seen where the same paddocks are used for calves year after year. Climactic conditions also contribute to a build up in these paddocks. Mild and moist seasons favour the survival of coccidia.

Alternatively coccidia can occur at the time when calf meal/grain feeding has been discontinued. Many proprietary calf feeds contain a coccidiostat which controls numbers of coccidia, so when meal feeding stops the calf no longer has this benefit.

What does it look like?

The most common sign of coccidia is a green scour with moderate to severe straining. Calves often appear very hunched and uncomfortable while they defecate. Tail, back end and hocks are often stained with faeces. Calves are often dehydrated and off food.

The incidence and severity of coccidiosis is often directly related to the level of stress a calf is under. Infection can range from low grade to severe and sometimes fatal. Affected calves generally lose condition rapidly. Because coccidia badly damage the gut lining, regaining condition can take a long time. Severely affected calves generally undergo a convalescence of many weeks, during which feed intake and weight gains are reduced. Some animals can become chronically unthrifty. Diagnosis of Coccidia is made from faecal samples.

 

Treatment:

1) Sick calves should be isolated from healthy ones

2) Electrolytes should be given for dehydration, 2L 2-3 times daily. Bovalyte is a good choice.

3) Treat the coccidia with Baycox at 5.5ml/10kg orally once (this is a good option for treating a number of calves, or SD333 injected for 3-5 days. Both products are available from the clinic.

4) Antibiotics should be given for secondary infections that arise from the damaged gut - Tribactril at 3ml/60kg into the muscle for 3-5 days OR Bivatop 5ml/50kg under the skin every 72hrs are good choices

Control:

Move the mob to an uncontaminated paddock and reduce stocking density

All calves in an affected mob should be treated for coccidia (i.e. with Baycox), as even those not showing signs of infection are likely to be affected or shedding, and this can have long term effects on growth and production.

Avoid faecal contamination of feed areas and water sources

Avoid using the same paddocks for calves year after year

If you think your calves may be affected by coccidia please give us a call so we can discuss options with you.