We’ve discussed intestinal parasites several times before, but we haven’t touched on one particularly hardy parasite called Cryptosporidium.
Cryptosporidium are single-celled organisms that set up shop in the small intestine and can cause severe clinical signs, especially in young puppies and kittens or immunocompromised individuals.
Cryptosporidium is hard to detect using the usual fecal examination processes because the eggs in stool samples are very small. To achieve a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian will likely have to send a stool sample off to a laboratory for further testing. Factor in that Cryptosporidium is resistant to bleach and other usual cleaners, and it’s no wonder that it may be affecting more pets than we realize.
How is cryptosporidiosis spread?
Cryptosporidium is transmitted through feces of infected animals. Eggs can be ingested during normal grooming or perhaps by drinking infected water sources. Once ingested, Cryptosporidium undergoes a rather complex life cycle, but in the end, two types of eggs are produced in the small intestine.
A thick-walled egg is created to be shed in the stool and therefore infect the surrounding environment. A thin-walled egg stays in the small intestine, where it ruptures and re-infects the host. This causes a self-perpetuating infection in the host animal.
Luckily, most pets have only mild symptoms from infection with Cryptosporidium. Self-limited diarrhea is the most common symptom. However, other clinical signs, such as weight loss, appetite loss, or persistent diarrhea can also occur along with bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain.
How is cryptosporidiosis treated?
Currently, there are no drugs available to effectively cure a pet of this parasite. Instead, medications to halt the reproductive cycle of Cryptosporidium are used to decrease the parasite load while the host immune system is able to finish off the rest. This is why the disease is more severe in immunocompromised animals, who will struggle to rid their body of the parasite.
It is important to note that immunocompromised humans are also at risk of contracting Cryptosporidium, and clinical signs can be quite severe. If your pet suffers from persistent or cyclic diarrhea, Cryptosporidium may be to blame, and you and your family may be at risk. Visit your vet as soon as possible to rule out the presence of this parasite.
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