Having the distinction of starting life as an egg-like cyst buried deep within the excrement of animals, then shed through their feces into the water, Cryptosporidium parvum is a nasty, little protozoan parasite responsible for cryptosporidium, a water-borne illness characterized by acute, chronic or intermittent, severe watery diarrhea, and gastroenteritis. This single-celled microscopic animal infects a variety of mammals, birds, and amphibians, and less frequently dogs and their people. Infecting mostly younger or immunosuppressed dogs, cryptosporidium rarely affects dogs with healthy immune systems. Preventive measures such as limiting access to contaminated water, food, or fecal matter, and boosting your dog's immune system are the best defense against this parasitic disease.
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How do dogs get infected by cryptosporidium?
Dogs can be infected by cryptosporidium by drinking contaminated water or ingesting water while swimming in fresh water such as lakes, streams, and rivers or swimming pools and water parks — anywhere another animal defecates. Infection may also occur from eating or even licking contaminated food or fecal matter. Once ingested, the parasite multiplies in the small intestine, burrows into the tissues, and causes violent diarrhea. Dogs in kennels and overcrowded, unsanitary conditions are also at high risk for the infection. Dogs can also pick up the parasite from eating grass on which an infected animal has defecated.
In a damp environment, cryptosporidium can be active and live for up to six months. Highly resistant to chemicals and even bleach, the parasite can be killed on surfaces with a 5-percent ammonia solution.
Clinical signs and symptoms of cryptosporidium.
Young dogs are susceptible to cryptosporidium because their immune systems are still developing, thus open to attack by parasites and bacterium. When healthy adult dogs ingest the parasite, the illness is usually self-resolving, and their bodies fight off the infection with no veterinary treatment needed.
If your dog becomes infected with the cryptosporidium parasite, you may notice some or all of the following symptoms within a few days of exposure:
Diagnosing and treating cryptosporidium.
If your dog has symptoms of cryptosporidium, take him to your veterinarian asap and bring along a stool sample. Your veterinarian will do a complete physical examination and review his medical history. He'll send the fecal sample to the lab for testing, either with traditional culture and microscopy techniques or fecal PCR. PCR or polymerase chain reaction is a technique that makes the parasite more easily identifiable by amplifying trace amounts of the DNA strands they deposit. Immunologic tests such as IFA, ELISA, or latex agglutination may also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Supportive care including hydration with intravenous fluids, nutrient IVs, and blankets to protect against hypothermia may be needed depending on the severity of the illness. Antiparasitics may also be administered, but are usually not required.
The parasite causes a reduced capacity for dogs to absorb nutrients and in a worst-case scenario, dogs can die from dehydration.
How to prevent your dog from contracting cryptosporidium.
Preventing cryptosporidium is fairly straightforward but not always easy: Keep your toilet lid closed when not in use, boil any suspect drinking water sources, avoid letting your dog go into bodies of water in or near wildlife habitats, or anywhere you know there are other animals frequenting the water.
Recovery from cryptosporidium.
It can take 3-12 days for your dog to clear the infection once diagnosed. She will most likely be recuperating from her bout with cryptosporidium at home. Provide your dog with plenty of fresh water to keep her hydrated and feed a bland, easy-to-digest diet such as boiled chicken breast and white rice to help her recover from diarrhea. Dogs with depressed immune systems, puppies, and senior dogs may need medications such as antiparasitics and antidiarrheals. Carefully monitor more severe cases of cryptosporidium.
How to keep your dog’s immune system balanced and healthy.
Keeping your dog's immune system balanced and healthy is a common-sense, preventive prescription to many conditions and diseases such as cryptosporidium. Here are some essential elements of an immune system well-being regimen for your canine best friend, many of which are based on a holistic approach:
- Maintain an ideal weight in your dog, geared to his age, breed, and present state of health by feeding a fresh, whole food diet packed with rich, canine-specific nutrients. A healthy diet helps fend off inflammatory responses and boosts the immune system. Consider probiotics, anti-oxidants and fermented foods. Check with your vet for guidance on dietary supplements and overall diet planning. Look for sources of vitamin A, all the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and vitamin D on foods you feed. Likewise, fresh meats and organs, herbs, and organic, non-genetically modified vegetables will meet your dog's most stringent dietary requirements.
- Regular exercise helps control weight and keeps your pal vibrant, fit, and happy.
- Toxins in your dog's environment play a vital role in creating immune system issues so avoid the use of chemicals in and around your home, wherever possible.
- Massage your dog to increase lymphocytes and enhance their function. Like people, dogs really enjoy a soothing massage.
- Consult with a holistic veterinarian who will prioritize your dog's immune system health.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.