Dr Emily Boreham MRCVS
Coccidiosis: what are we afraid of?
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
This microscopic parasite infects the gut lining of young kids & lambs. It causes profuse, watery diarrhoea - but so do lots of infections, what's so scary about Coccidia?
Well, its a vet's worst nightmare - by the time my patient is showing symptoms its way too late. This parasite infects the gut lining so deeply that the bowel scars. If I can get my patient through the initial diarrhoea phase the little lamb will always struggle, they'll always be a bit small, have a poor coat, produce a lot less milk and generally be called a 'poo-doer'.
So why not test our kids & lambs before the symptoms start - nip it in the bud?
Well, this nasty little parasite doesn't show itself in faeces until its already taken hold. A positive sample is too late - the damage is already done.
OK, so lets test our breeding adults - make sure they can't give it to the kids in the first place? Nope. This bug is too smart for that. It has many totally non-pathogenic forms that live happily in healthy adults. We can't tell which nanny or ewe is carrying the destructive form.
So lets just get rid of it from the lambing shed? Good luck with that! But - its our main hope & its pretty much all we got. Cocci is only killed by two things - it will survive anything else you throw at it:
Ammonia: most feed merchants will stock an ammonia based disinfectant. Use it to clean out the lambing & kidding area at the start of every season.
Sunlight: don't underestimate the power of UV against coccidia, use sunlight to your advantage as much as possible. Maximise access to sunshine, keep floors clear of hay & straw to let the light hit your flooring - both during lambing season and all summer.
Ha! Now I'm out in the sunshine I laugh in the face of Coccidiosis!
Help! I've done everything right, but my lambs are still getting Cocci. We're smallholders, not mass producers - every lamb & kid matters and is loved. Sometimes we have to resort to drugs. If just one of your lambs or kids (or Cria for that matter) go down with cocci then you need to treat everyone else. There are some unfortunate smallholdings out there that never get rid of the parasite and just treat every year before they lose someone:
Diclazuril (eg. Vercoxan): the mildest of the options and always your starting point. Dose everyone at the first sign or trouble, or prophylacticly at 4 weeks of age, and repeat after 3 weeks
Toltrazuril (eg Baycox): the big guns. Please don't jump to this till you're told to by your vet. Just like antibiotics, resistance is common and ever increasing - if you use this too often you'll just create a super-bug.
So in summary, your Six-Step Cocci Battle Plan is:
Scrub everything with ammonia before lambing / kidding even starts
Get plenty of sunshine in your lambing shed, including when its not in use
Ignore any adults with cocci-positive poo samples - it means nothing
Treat any kids & lambs with nasty looking diarrhoea as if its cocci - every minute counts to halt the damage
Treat everyone else if you get a case on your holding
Love & spoil any affected babies - they'll need your fuss & attention and plenty of extra protein (and Rich Tea Biscuits) for the rest of their lives. They'll thrive with your care.
Good Luck! Emily