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Coccidiosis in Goats

Jul 12, 2016

With expected changes in the ADI lab, and wanting to offer fecal testing to our farmers, I thought it would be helpful to talk about a common illness found in dairy goats: Coccidiosis.

By: Kelly Whitcomb

Coccidiosis is a common illness of goats, sheep, and cattle which causes significant damage to herd health and production. It is most common in young stock, due to their weak immune systems and susceptibility for exposure. By understanding prevention and treatment, farmers can maintain or improve a healthy, sustainable herd.

Coccidia (or Eimeria) are protozoa found in feces-contaminated sources of soil, feed and water. They cause severe damage to the intestinal tract, preventing food from being properly absorbed and utilized. Some species of Eimeria are non-pathogenic, meaning they do not cause disease, while others have great impact. Coccidia are host-specific and therefore cannot cross contaminate from species to species, goats and sheep being the only exception.

Level of infection is determined by the host (age, stage of production, breed and health), the parasite (species and number), and environmental conditions (climate, stress and sanitation). Immunity to the illness is developed over time making young animals more likely to obtain the parasite and show symptoms. Once these parasites have invaded the animal’s cells, they then produce additional parasites which in turn overcome more cells. For this reason, animals may be severely infested long before showing symptoms or eggs in their feces.

Common signs of Coccidiosis include diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness or lethargy, decreased appetite, dehydration and extreme weight loss. In some cases, the infection is not overwhelming and can be cured in a few weeks while other cases, with quicker onset exposure to higher quantities of parasites, lead to death.

Though mortalities can have a huge impact on farm profitability, it is also extremely important to consider long-term effects of herd health and production.  Goats exposed to Coccidiosis as kids can continue on in life with issues including poor milk production, inadequate growth rates and susceptibility to health problems due to damaged intestines and a weakened immune system.

Treatment options vary when dealing with Coccidiosis. Common resolutions include feeding ionophores, administering sulfa drugs, and/or other alternative treatments; consultation with a veterinarian is necessary in order to determine which option will work best for your animals. It is also important to isolate the animals showing clinical signs, minimize stress, perform rotational grazing (if possible), and avoid feeding on the ground. Additionally, farmers can improve hygiene of facilities, pastures, and water sources, avoid over-crowding of pastures, minimizing weaning stress, and quarantine new animals before introduction to the herd in order to prevent Coccidiosis.

Last but not least, farmers should take notice of the animals who do not become ill despite equal exposure to the parasite. Selecting breeding stock based on immunity will provide stronger animals, improve herd health, and minimize contamination over time. Prevention is the best cure for the illness, and it gives farmers the most positive outcome for success.

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