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Dairy Today Healthline

Take a Proactive Approach Against a Silent Thief — Coccidiosis

Aug 31, 2009
Joe Dedrickson, DVM

Fall brings with it a number of health risks for calves, one of which steals from calves’ growth and productivity while showing few signs before it’s too late.

Coccidiosis is a profit-robbing disease that costs the cattle industry about $100 million a year1 and research shows that a majority of these losses are due to subclinical coccidiosis.2 These low-level infections never cause the bloody diarrhea that is the most obvious sign of the disease. As a result, losses in productivity often go unnoticed. If visible signs do occur, it is not until three to eight weeks after the initial infection. By then, much of the damage has already been done.2

The changing weather of fall brings a heightened threat of both clinical and subclinical cases of coccidiosis.3 To help producers prepare, the following are key facts about the disease to remember:

  • Coccidiosis is a stress-induced disease. Therefore, prevention methods should be taken prior to times of stress like weaning, moving animals into larger groups, changing rations and — the most common — changing weather.3
  • Prevention should be twofold:
    • Use good animal husbandry measures to prevent ingestion of oocysts (the infective form of coccidia) by cattle.1
    • Use a coccidiostat with a prevention label during periods of exposure or when experience indicates coccidiosis is likely to be a hazard.
  • If treatment is needed, use a coccidiostat in water for five consecutive days at the first signs of the disease — such as diarrhea and dehydration. Producers should consider treating on a pen basis. Once a calf shows signs of the disease, it is likely the rest of the group has been exposed.1 If left untreated, coccidiosis can be fatal to calves.2

A coccidiostat is a powerful tool to help producers prevent and treat coccidiosis in calves. Both in-feed and liquid formulations are available to make administration more convenient for producers.

Producers shouldn’t leave their calves vulnerable to the costly effects of coccidiosis this fall. Prevention is the best medicine in order to avoid unnecessary lost profits from a sometimes silent disease.

1 Kirkpatrick JG, et al. Coccidiosis in cattle. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Fact Sheet F-9129.
2 Daugschies A, Najdrowski M. Eimeriosis in cattle: current understanding. J Vet Med B 2005;52:417-427.
3 Jolley WR, Bardsley KD. Veterinary Clinics Food Animal Practice. New York: Elsevier, 2006:613-621.

Joe Dedrickson, DVM, Ph.D., is associate director of the Merial Veterinary Services team. For more information on coccidiosis, visit


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