All producers — from cow/calf to feedlot — could be compromising cattle health and performance because of an intestinal, protozoan parasite called coccidia. Coccidiosis is a disease that affects most species of domestic livestock and poultry and results in significant economic losses due to mortality and, more important, decreased growth and feed efficiency due to the damage to the intestinal tract.
“The parasite that causes coccidiosis is virtually impossible to eliminate from the bovine species just because it is so abundant and, in most cases, is a normal inhabitant of the intestine,” says Matt Cravey, Ph.D., Pfizer Animal Health, Cattle and Equine Technical Services. “Out of the 16 species that are found in cattle, generally only two species (Eimeria bovis and Eimeria zuernii) will be responsible for causing much of the damage in the intestinal tract. However, in most cases, we don’t see or otherwise detect their presence in production situations like a feedlot until we see blood in the feces.”
By the time such signs are obvious, the disease may have been progressing for days or weeks — all the while dragging down overall animal health and lowering gains. Most frequently, coccidiosis affects calves 1 to 6 months of age, but it can occur in older cattle as well, especially during periods of stress. The severity of disease is related to the number of oocysts (the infective form of the parasite) ingested.¹ However, the parasites are prolific and can replicate quickly, Dr. Cravey says.
“Despite the challenges coccidiosis may cause, it does not often result in death,” he notes. “But it can complicate other illnesses, especially during times of stress.”
The losses in gain are incentive enough to prevent coccidiosis before it begins, Dr. Cravey says.
One of the simplest ways to prepare for — and treat — coccidiosis is to include an in-feed, nonantimicrobial medication.
Preventing coccidiosis also can help maintain immune system function. Without the suppressive effects of coccidia on an animal’s immune system, calves can respond better to secondary disease challenges.²
When looking for an in-feed medication, Dr. Cravey recommends choosing a product that will be effective and allow for combination with other products.
“I encourage producers to use a product to help control coccidiosis before they see clinical signs — especially any time producers have commingled cattle or have a heavily stocked pasture,” Dr. Cravey says. “By the time you see the signs, cattlemen have already lost pounds of gain that are hard to earn back.”
¹ Kirkpatrick JG, Selk G. Coccidiosis in cattle. Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension. VTMD-9129. November 2004.
² Roth JA, Jarvinen JA, Frank DE, Fox JE. Alteration of neutrophil function associated with coccidiosis in cattle: influence of decoquinate and dexamethasone. Am J Vet Res 1989;50:1250-1253
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