Coccidiosis in Dogs

Coccidiosis is a gastrointestinal disease in dogs caused by a parasite from the Isospora species. Dogs are infected with I. canis, I. ohioensis, I. neorivolta and I. burrowsi. Infection occurs when the animal ingests the infective form (sporulated oocyct) of this parasite in stool. It can also be contracted by eating an intermediate host for Isospora such as a rodents or bugs especially cockroaches. The infective oocysts (eggs) release sporozoites that invade the cells lining the intestines. These organisms can reproduce sexually or asexually and begin producing more infective oocytes in as little as 12 hours! The good news is that Isospora are species specific which means it is not zoonotic.

The parasite is usually seen in young puppies where it causes straining, gas, vomiting, dehydration and/or bloody diarrhea. In severely debilitated animals, it may cause death due to dehydration. It often occurs in pups who are infected with parvovirus because it surpasses their immune system. Rarely, it is also seen in adult dogs who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised.

Diagnosis is made by performing a fecal examination and finding the Isospora oocysts. Since normal animals may pass a few of these on occasion, the diagnosis is made based on clinical signs in combination with a positive fecal. Another form of coccidia called Eimeria is often found on fecal analysis of dogs. This organism does not cause disease in dogs. It is seen in dogs who eat droppings from birds, rabbits and rodents. In the United States, sulfadimethoxine (Albon) is used to treat this parasite. Most puppies love the taste of Albon making it an easy mediation to administer.

The oocystes of Isospora are resistant to most chemical disinfectants including bleach.  Feces should be removed immediately followed by steam cleaning as it is the only method that will kill oocytes on surfaces. Also, it is important to remove fecal material from the pup’s paws and anus. I recommend using a baby wipe on the pup’s anus after every bowel movement. Don’t forget to check the paws for stool stuck between the toes.


Shell, Linda. Coccidiosis. Associated Database – VIN, Last updated 4/21/2011.


You Make The Diagnosis: Thickened Black Skin in Dogs

The pictures below are of the abdominal skin of a dog. The skin is black in color and thickened like an elephant’s skin. Although this dog developed it on the abdomen, it can also commonly occur around the anus, underarms and muzzle. Look closely at the pictures and then answer the following questions: What is the term used to describe this kind of skin?  What causes this condition to occur?

photo 1 (8)

photo 2 (7)

Diagnosis: Lichenification

Lichenification is the term used to describe skin that looks like elephant skin. Here are the most common causes of this condition ranked in the order I see them:

  1. Food Allergy
  2. Pyoderma – Bacterial infection of the skin
  3. Malassezia Dermatitis – Fungal infection of the skin by an organism called Malassezia
  4. Atopic Dermatitis – This is often simply called allergies or environmental allergies
  5. Demodectic Mange – I have seen dogs with lichenification of all their skin from demodex mites
  6. Cutaneous Diroflilariasis
  7. Primary and Secondary Acanthosis Nigrans

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a neurologic condition that usually leads to paralysis. It is similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in humans. The myelin sheaths that insulate the nerves degenerate disrupting the transmission of electrical impulses to muscles. The disease  usually affects the nerves of the lower spinal cord. It starts with weakness in the rear legs that makes it difficult for the affected dog to get up and walk on slippery floors. As the nerves degenerate further, the dog starts to drag their paws causing worn nails and abrasions on the top of their paws. Although the disease can wax and wane, most dogs are paralyzed within a year. They also lose control of their bowel and bladder.

DM (also called degenerative radiculomyelopathy) is caused by a genetic mutation called superoxide dismutase 1. I have diagnosed DM in Boxers, Bernese mountain dogs, Great Pyrenees, Pugs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and my own German Shepherd dog. Gretchen was just 3 years old when she started slipping on a concrete porch. Her back legs were completely paralyzed three months later. DM is also sometimes called German shepherd degenerative myelopathy because it is so common in this breed. It is also reported in American Water Spaniels, Bloodhounds, Borzoi, Canaan Dogs, English Cocker Spaniels, Kerry blue terriers, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Sealyham terriers and Whippets.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for DMe at this time to stop the degeneration of the myelin sheaths. Perhaps this may be an area for stem cell therapy in the future. Intensive physical therapy that slows muscle loss is the only option available. Most dogs are euthanized due to quality of life concerns.

Prevention is based on identifying dogs with the mutation before breeding. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals performs DNA testing for superoxide dismutase 1 gene. I strongly encourage all breeders to check their dogs for this mutation before breeding.


Lundgren, Beck. Degenerative Myelopathy. Veterinary Partner, VIN, originally published 7/2/2007, revised 4/27/2015.