Cryptosporidiosis is an intestinal disease that causes chronic diarrhea in many animal species, including dogs, cats, farm animals, and humans.
Cryptosporidium species are microscopic, single-celled, protozoan parasites that are found all over the world. Cryptosporidiosis is spread by the fecal-oral route. Infected individuals pass a form of the parasite called an oocyst in their stool. The oocysts can immediately infect the next susceptible person or animal that swallows them. This usually happens when there is stool contamination of the hands, face, food, or water. The organism is very hardy and persists in the environment for prolonged periods. Dogs and cats may become infected by contact with surfaces contaminated with wildlife or livestock feces.
In most animal species and people, Cryptosporidium lives in the small intestine. Many infections in dogs and cats develop diarrhea that is characterized by a high volume of semi formed to liquid feces and abnormal frequency of defecation. Lethargy and weight loss may be seen in animals with persistent diarrhea. Diarrhea is more likely in young and immune-suppressed animals.
Diagnosis is made at a reference lab by detecting antigens (proteins of the organism) in the feces of affected animals.
Cryptosporidium is a hardy parasite that is difficult to eliminate. Antibiotics including Tylosin or Azithromycin are the most effective medication for treating Cryptosporidiosis. Medication may need to be administered for 4 to 6 weeks.
Additional therapies including prescription food, such as Purina EN or Science Diet I/D, and the probiotic FortiFlora will help the symptoms to resolve more quickly.
To confirm infection has been eliminated, the feces should be checked 6 to 8 weeks post treatment to confirm the organism has been eliminated.
To prevent and control the spread of Cryptosporidium, avoid overcrowding of animals and maintain good hygiene. Keep pets away from wildlife and livestock areas. Prompt removal of all feces from the environment is important to prevent infection.
Cryptosporidium oocysts are very hardy and resistant. Even freezing and thawing may not be entirely effective at killing oocysts. Prolonged contact with high concentrations of ammonia or chlorine, or boiling water for at least one minute will kill oocysts. Because oocysts are so hard to kill, the best thing to do is prevent stool contamination of hands, food, water and the environment in the first place. Removing feces from the yard and the haircoat (bathing) also helps to prevent re-infection.
Cryptosporidium can occasionally infect people. The degree of risk of transmission of Cryptosporidium from pets is still unknown, but the potential exists. Taking a few simple steps can help reduce the risk that you will get Cryptosporidium from your pet. Pet owners should use gloves when cleaning up feces and wash their hands after handling infected pets. Immuno-compromised individuals are at a much higher risk for contracting infection. Immune compromised people should avoid handling infected animals, their feces, or articles contaminated by infected pets.
The long-term prognosis for infected dogs and cats in infected with Cryptosporidium is generally good. Symptoms will generally improve for most patients within the first 1 to 2 weeks of starting treatment. Complete elimination of infection can take up to to 4 weeks. Occasionally some patients may get re-infected from the contaminated environment, or may have resistant forms of the disease that require additional rounds of medication. Most animals recover from the infection with proper treatment. The most common complication is dehydration and weight-loss due to severe diarrhea.