Message Number: SG17767 | New FHL Archives Search
Date: 2006-07-02 20:39:10 UTC
Subject: Opening a discussion on Coccidia


From: Julie Fossa <julie_fossa@YAHOO.COM>

[2-part post combined.]

I have noticed a lot of posts lately regarding Coccidia. I am not a
vet, but have been a shelter mom for nearly 8 years, so have gathered a
lot of medical texts, an assortment of ferrets and a little experience
over time. That said, I am willing to share some of my learnings and
encourage any others having additional experiences or information they
would like to add, to jump in.

Unfortunately, some of my vet texts are still in Florida, but I'll
reference those I have with me. Coccidia is a gastro-intestinal
parasite, which most texts claim seldom cause clinical disease in ferrets
(1) (2), and usually only in young ferrets (2). However, coccidia is
considered the most common intestinal parasite found in ferrets. In
very young ferrets ( 6-16 weeks of age) (2) (3), the infection can
often be sub-clinical (not noticable) and they can carry the parasite
throughout their life until sufficiently stressed when the ferret will
present with symptoms. It is strictly host specific (each species will
have it's own variety and a ferret will not infect say a dog or a cat)
(3). In contrast, reference (2) suggests the isospora species that
infects ferrets may cross- infect dogs and cats, so other species in
the household should be checked for coccidia and treated as needed. I
do not know which reference is correct.

Coccidia, being a parasite, will produce eggs known as oocytes. These
oocytes are shed in the stool. They 'hatch' roughly 24 hours later.
Once ingested, this is how the infection is spread from one ferret to

Symptoms listed include diarrhea, weight loss, dehydration and lethargy
(1) (2). Rectal prolapse is also seen (2) (3). Diarrhea is watery to
mucoid (slimy) and sometimes blood tinged (3). Personally, I am flagged
that I may be dealing with coccidia when I see a stool that resembles
banana pudding that may or may not be orange tinged, caused by traces of
blood in the stool. I have also found there is a disagreeable odor when
ferrets have coccodia.

Coccidia, left untreated in ferrets will continue to affect the
intestinal lining. Coccidia multiplies asexualy in intestinal epithelial
cells and causes cellular damage and disease (3). It can cause
thickened, ropy, intestines and enlarged mesenteric lymph nodes which can
be felt by your vet (3). It can also cause hepatic (liver) involvement
with possible jaundice (3). Please note, other disorders can cause the
stated intestinal and liver problems, too, so a differential diagnosis
needs to be made if these findings are present.

Causes include being exposed to infected ferrets or a contaminated
environment (3). Stress will trigger symptoms (3). I have heard the
outbreaks can be worse in spring and warmer weather but I do not have a
reference for that information. If coccidia is most prevalent in ferrets
from 6-16 weeks of age, who are possibly stressed from rapid growth and
separation from mother and familiar caging, I tend to think transmission
was probably from the mother who had a sub-clinical infection or
untreated symptoms.

Diagnosis is acheived by fecal exanimation for oocysts using routine
fecal floatition (3). However, I have heard for years from a variety of
other owners that coccidia can be difficult at best to spot in a ferret's
stool, as it manages to 'hide'. I suspect that the ferret doesn't
consistently shed the oocytes on a daily basis, so it is a game of hit
and miss. We have never had a positive fecal for coccidia, but have had
good results at resolving diarrhea issues by treating for coccidia. I
also recall reading recently that the oocytes can closely resemble yeast,
which is a common finding in a ferret's intestines (no reference).

[Part 2]
Treatment for Coccidia involves giving sulfadimethoxine (1) (2) (3) at
a rate of 50 mg/kg PO (by mouth) on the first day then 25 mg/kg q24 for
9 days (3). Translated, this is the drug commonly known as Albon. The
dose is double on the first day, as it is for the following 9 days, for a
total of 10 days treatment. It is given once a day. My vet hasn't had
me vary the dose a lot dependant upon the individual ferret's weight; we
use a pretty standard dose for males and another for females and it has
worked well.

If one ferret is showing symptoms, they all are likely infected, so we
treat everyone if we have one that is showing symptoms. Otherwise, you
will have them break with symptoms one or two at a time and you'll never
get rid of it.

It is extremely important that your ferret remains adequately hydrated
while taking Albon, as it is hard on the organs and a ferret with
Coccidia may already be a bit dehydrated. Be aware of their water
intake and if necessary, consider subQ fluid therapy. Consult your vet.

We have consistently tried to keep coccidia out of our shelter.
Historically, we have treated all intakes for coccodia during quarantine,
before introduction into the general shelter population to keep coccidia
out. While ideal, it always doesn't work. There are too many variables
that contribute to the survival of the organism to be 100% effective.
Here is how we have tried to keep it out of our shelter and ultimately,
the ferrets we send out into new homes.

Giving Albon, which most ferrets willing take like a treat, is only the
first step in erradicating coccidia from your ferret and the environment.
Remember those pesky oocytes? The eggs? Guess what they do? They hatch
at around 24 hours after passed out of the waste chute. They sit in the
litterbox and become infectious material. If the ferret steps into the
litterbox, then slithers across it's bedding, then grooms itself, there
are those pesky oocytes again. It's a vicious cycle. In order to
erradicate coccidia, you have to be more determined to destroy it than
it is determined to survive.

Once your vet is convinced you are dealing with coccidia, you have to
give the Albon each day. Pick a convenient time so you can give it
regularly. You will also need to attack your ferret's environment with
the same regularity. Once a day, hopefully not more than 24 hours later
than you did yesterday, you need to clean their cage. Bleach will kill
the oocytes and parasites, but you have to have a strong enough solution
to be effective. Think of a swimming pool. You can 'smell' the chlorine
killing the 'bugs' in the pool. That is how strong your soapy cleaning
solution should smell.

For the 10 days you are treating, you need to thoroughally clean all
walking surfaces. Change the bedding and wash it every day. Wash their
water bowl and if they paw in their food, that food has to be dumped and
the dish disinfected. Dump every particle of litter into the trash and
wash all litter boxs with the bleach and soap solution. (I usually use
the least possible litter in the pans during this process.) All papers or
puppy pads need to be discarded and new placed. When you are finished,
wash and disinfect the litter scoop. This needs to be done with every
ferret cage. Be sure you rinse to remove traces of cleaning solutions.
This can be a nightmare for shelters with 20-40 cage groups. Be sure
to change the cleaning solutions after every couple of cages. This is
why it is desirable to keep coccidia out of the shelter population by
treating all intakes during quarantine, which should be observed when
any new ferret is introduced, anyway.

I often will wash toys and lay them up for the 10 days of treatment if
I'm treating the entire shelter. Floors need to be mopped to disinfect
daily where the ferrets run. If your ferrets run on carpet, it will be
almost impossible to erradicate coccidia, but you can greatly diminish
the parasitic population.

Follow-up includes fecal examination for oocysts 1-2 weeks following
treatment (3), but as I mentioned earlier, oocytes might be difficult
to find.

I do not know how long the occytes/parasites remain able to infect. I
also do not know if there is a difference in how the parasite infects the
ferret depending upon if they ingest the oocytes or if they ingest the
hatched parasite.

None of the vet texts I have available today address how to prevent
re-infection. Most of what I do has been shared with me by other
shelter moms, informed owners, articles I've happened across or critical
thinking. If I recall, Fox Biology and Disease of the Ferret has more
in it on Coccidia than the other texts, but I left my Fox's text in FL.

I am sure there are things I have overlooked and welcome any thoughts or
suggestions. I hope something here will help someone. Sukie, if you
feel this warrants carrying over to the FHL, you are welcome to do so.

Julie Fossa

(1) Essentials of Ferrets, A Guide for Practitioners by Karen Purcell
(2) Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents, Clinical Medicine and Surgery, by
Quesenberry and Carpenter
(3) The 5-minute Veterinary Consult, Ferret and Rabbit, by Barbara

Julie Fossa
FL (772)228-9067
OH (419)225-8158
West Central Ohio Ferret Shelter
International Ferret Congress


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