Estimates are that coccidiosis costs the beef industry $100 million annually, says Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff UAPB.
Caused by a single-celled parasite, a protozoan, coccidiosis is also the second most important internal parasite of sheep. The parasite lives in the feces of animals and can survive for a year if protected from the sun. When young animals lick one another, eat contaminated feed or drink contaminated water, the parasite gets into the intestine wall where it multiplies, says Dr. Fernandez. The parasite can cause the loss of appetite, lethargy, rough hair coats, slow growth, failure to thrive and bloody diarrhea.
A standard fecal analysis will show whether or not an animal is infected. In cattle, coccidiosis is typically prevented by adding a coccidiostat to the water. Unfortunately, none of the drugs available to treat coccidiosis is approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for use with lambs and kids, says Dr. Fernandez. Off-label use is permitted only with the approval of a veterinarian with whom a rancher has a valid client-veterinary relationship. Without it, ranchers can be liable for any illness or deaths associated with the consumption of meat or milk products from their animals.
Drugs used to treat coccidiosis include amprolium (Corid) and sulfadimethoxine (Albion or Di-Methox). Corid mimics thiamine, causing coccidia to starve to death. In sheep and goats, Corid can cause a thiamine deficiency, so a thiamine injection is usually recommended.
Coccidiostats slow the spread of coccidia and help reduce the incidence of coccidiosis. To be effective, they must be given at least three weeks before calving, lambing or kidding begins. Bovatec (lasalocid) is FDA approved for confined sheep. Rumensin (monensin) is FDA approved for confined goats, but not for lactating goats. Monesin is toxic to horses and dogs; do not allow them to eat goat feed containing monensin. Deccox (decoquinate) is FDA approved for young nonlactating sheep and goats. Do not feed coccidiostats year round to avoid the development of drug resistance by the protozoa, warns Dr. Fernandez.
Prevention is the key to managing coccidia, says Dr. Fernandez. Because coccidia rely on fecal-oral transmission, good hygiene and sanitation are critical. Keep pens where animals give birth clean and free of manure. Avoid overcrowding animals, especially the very young or stressed animals, such as at weaning time.
Young and stressed animals’ immune systems are weaker than older animals and those that are not stressed, making them more susceptible to infection. For this reason, avoid mixing young and older animals, if possible. Keep waterers and stock tanks clean and free of manure. Put feed and hay in bunks and racks that keep animals and manure out.