Coccidiosis is primarily a winter disease of young cattle under 1 year old, although older cattle and feedlot cattle are susceptible year round. Purebred cattle appear more prone than Zebu crossbred breeds.
Many cases may present subclinically as intermittent diarrhoea. Acutely affected calves often show tenesmus when defecating and some may be febrile.
Severe infections are rare, and usually have bloody diarrhea that may continue for more than 1 week Dehydration is a common complication in acute cases. Calves that survive severe illness can remain permanently stunted. Calves with concurrent enteric infections (eg, Giardia spp) may be more severely affected.
Nervous signs (eg, muscular tremors, hyperesthesia, clonic-tonic convulsions with ventroflexion of the head and neck, nystagmus) and a high mortality rate (80–90%) are seen in some calves with acute clinical coccidiosis.
Diagnosis in most cases can be made by fecal analysis and identification of oocysts on fecal flotation or direct smear. PCR testing on fecal samples is an additional, highly accurate test, but presence of some protozoa do not necessarily infer incrimination as causative agents.
Treatment is usually symptomatic with fluid and electrolyte therapy, both oral or intravenous as required.
Antimicrobial coverage is indicated in severe cases, and includes sulfaquinoxaline, toltrazuril 5% oral suspension) or amprolium. Toltrazuril appears most effective in long-term studies of its use in calves, promoting greater weight gains compared to other coccidiostats.
The value of frequent emptying and cleaning of water troughs in reducing the exposure of calves to Eimeria spp and thus lowering the impact of coccidiosis, both clinical and subclinical should be communicated to cattle farmers. Feeding practices adopted that avoid fecal contamination of feed, calves grouped by size, and an “all-in/all-out” method of calf movement from pen to pen adopted.
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