Protozoa

Protozoa in pets

A small organism that can do extensive damages in the intestines.

When we hear about intestinal parasites in pets we usually think about worms. However, there is another family of parasites found in cats and dogs called protozoa. Which are very small parasites. The most common intestinal protozoa infecting our pets are: Coccidia, Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

The most common intestinal protozoa infecting our pets are: Coccidia, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Infections will usually affect younger individuals and are asymptomatic, which means that many infected animals won’t show symptoms. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make the parasite any less contagious. Some protozoa, such as Giardia, cause zoonosis, meaning that they can spread from animals to humans and vice versa.

In general, the more animals that live in close proximity, like at a breeder, a shelter, or a cattery, for example, the greater the risk of protozoa infection, because those parasites spread easily in direct contact. Also, animals are more at risk of getting a protozoa infection when they eat raw meat, go outside, and hunt.

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THE MORE COMMONS PARASITES

Giardia

Giardia (Giardia intestinalis) is one of the protozoa that can infect many mammals, including dogs, cats, and even humans. These tiny parasites invade the intestines, cover the intestinal wall, and reduce the absorption of nutrients. Such malabsorption can cause chronic and intermittent diarrhea, loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, and apathy. Stools will have mucus and a paste-like consistency.

Occasionally, protozoa will form cysts and spread in the surrounding environment via stools. These microscopic cysts are infectious and easily spread orally, especially when pets ingest water or food that has been contaminated by feces.

Coccidia

There are many kinds of Coccidia, but here we will discuss C. isospora and C. neospora that infect cats and dogs. They are species specific, meaning that they only infect one species at a time.

Therefore, feline Coccidia infects only cats and canine Coccidia infects only dogs. The parasite infects and overtakes the intestinal cells of the cat or the dog to reproduce. Such an infection can cause diarrhea (possibly severe and bloody) in puppies and kittens. Which may require intensive care. Coccidia located in the intestines will form oocysts and spread in the surrounding environment via stools.
Animals get infected by ingesting oocysts found in the environment once Coccidia is spore-forming and infectious.

Toxoplasma (Toxoplasma gondii)

These protozoa are the most popular parasite on the plant because, unfortunately, they can infect pregnant mothers and their fetuses. They reproduce in felines. Infecting the cat’s intestines where they multiply and then form oocysts (small eggs), and spread in the surrounding environment via stools.

The eggs are then ingested accidentally by other mammals (intermediate hosts). Parasites hatch their oocysts and migrate from the intestines to various organs and tissues to form a cyst. The cycle is complete when a cat, or any other feline, eats a prey (mouse, rat, chicken, etc.) that contains toxoplasma cysts. It gets infected and the parasite can reproduce again.

Cats most likely get infected when they hunt, and they evacuate eggs in their stools for 2 to 3 weeks. During which time they show few to no symptoms. After that, they are immune and the parasite can no longer reproduce.

WHAT ABOUT INFECTION IN HUMANS?

People typically get infected by ingesting an oocyst from the soil, when gardening or eating vegetables that are not properly washed after being picked. They mostly get infected when ingesting raw meat from an infected intermediate host (always mammals), or when meat is undercooked and containing cysts. Because cysts don’t survive well in a dry environment, like a litter box, humans rarely get infected when handling cat stools without washing their hands. Healthy and immunocompetent individuals are slightly at risk of developing a health condition, however. The parasite can cause damage (e.g., a neurological condition) in immunosuppressed individuals and fetuses. Prenatal infections occur when the mother gets infected with Toxoplasma gondii for the first time in her life during the pregnancy. Prevention is simple: adopt a good hand washing routine, let another family member clean the litter, thoroughly wash any vegetables, and cook meat well. It is not that complicated and there is no need to get rid of a household cat.

HOW DO WE PREVENT OR TREAT INTESTINAL PROTOZOA INFECTIONS?

People typically get infected by ingesting an oocyst from the soil, when gardening or eating vegetables that are not properly washed after being picked. Veterinarians recommend an annual fecal analysis of pets and a regular deworming treatment. As they are more at risk of developing and spreading protozoa infections, pay extra attention to puppies and kittens younger than 6 months of age. The best advice remains to visit your family veterinarian as soon as you adopt an animal and then comply to the visit calendar suggested by the clinic.

It is also important to adopt a good hand washing routine, especially when you handle animal stools. Pick up stools immediately and wash your hands thoroughly after handling your pet or it’s feces.

For any additional information, we invite you to reach out to your Passionimo veterinary team. We are here to help and advise you with animal health.

Have more questions?

Please do not hesitate to contact the Passionimo veterinary clinic near you.