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COCCIDIA FROM A LAYMANS POINT OF VIEW

By Enid Latham - Keeper Western Plains Zoo.
Jan. 1997

INTRODUCTION:

Over the last few years a large number of people have contacted me about Coccidia and it has become apparent that little information is available that the carer can readily understand especially first time carers.

Coccidia is one of those horrible diseases where no matter how many cases you have had in your eastern greys you are never sure of the outcome. I gave up counting my cases when I reached fifty . They varied in sizes from 3kgs to 30kgs and there has been a lot of variation in symptoms.

The three most reliable symptoms have been refusing the bottle, [don't let it miss more than 2 before a faeces test], their eyes have that doughy look and they are hunched over with abdominal pain and lethargic. In some cases laboured breathing is found. Almost always the fur loses it's shine and healthy look.

It can take from a few hours to a couple of weeks to lose a joey if it's going to die from coccidia. Sometimes you will only find a dead joey .This has never happened to me, there have always been symptoms. Anything that is not normal for your joey is suspicious.

It appears that some stages during handraising seem more susceptible. These appear to be approx 4.5kg to 5kg then again at 6.5kg to 8kg. Of course any age is very susceptible.

Once a joey reaches that horrible never to be forgotten bloody diarrhoea stage you can sometimes save them with a lot of TLC and devoted nursing but usually by the time the mouth Is very cold you can be pretty sure you have lost the fight.

WHAT CAUSES COCCIDIA?

The coccidia oocysts can survive in the ground a long time. So spelling yards doesn't appear to help. My place was free of kangaroos for fourteen years .The yard was a normal family house yard, Only a few months after we shifted in with my joeys we had coccidia as bad as ever.

After ingesting the oocyst the protozoan invades the intestine wall by burrowing in and produces a massive population explosion . This prevents the intestine from absorbing anything that passes through. Fluids are also able to pass through the damaged lining back into the gut and are lost from the body. This causes dehydration and shock. The damaged lining passes out as bloody looking diarrhoea. Whilst this is all going on inside your joey the last thing it feels like is milk just as you don't like milk on an upset stomach. If the joey will drink milk by all means give it milk it needs all the goodness it can get.

TREATMENT:

Warmth is very important, If you are ill you often feel cold so keep your joey at a comfortable temperature.

Medication MUST be given very quickly this means you must get a faeces test done immediately. This is done by a float method and takes about 20 minutes for your vet to do. If your vet is busy then dose the joey with Baycox 1ml per 1kg by mouth first, and test the faeces later to save the joey, as a few hours could mean the difference between life and death. If you live in the Dubbo area I will be only too happy to assist you with this test day or night. Don't hesitate to call me.

Carers have lost joeys with as few as 10 oocysts present on the slide and saved them with dozens. It appears to be a matter of how much damage is done to the intestines and how high you joeys immunity is, not how many oocysts are being passed through. By the same token usually the more oocysts present means the more damage done.

Baycox by mouth, [Toltrazura - 25g/l], is the best treatment available at this time . I have been using this at slightly higher dose rate than the recommended dose with very good results. The dose rate I am using is 1ml per 1kg, once a day for 3 days in a row. If there are many oocysts present in the faeces then you will need to give a course of antibiotics as well. Baytril 50 at 1ml per 10 kgs of joey once a day for 3 to 5 days. This can be given either intramuscular [ I/m ] or subcutaneously [ S/C ]. This will protect the joey from things like pneumonia and salmonella which may be seen simultaniosly. When the joeys resistance is low due to the stress of the coccidia these diseases seem to take over and can cause death very quickly.

I test the faeces again about 3 days later, then weekly until I'm sure the joey is completely free of coccidia. This does not mean they will not get it again - they probably will. Our vets at the zoo do NOT recommend that Baycox be used as a preventative, or we could end up with Baycox resistant strains of coccidia.

FLUIDS:

These should be given often and however you can get the joey to take them. Try to get it to take Vytrate or albi calb or any electrolyte replacer by bottle preferably . This is comforting to the joey and easy to keep tabs on what it is drinking. Always have a bowl at its side to encourage it to take more. If insufficient fluids are being taken, Hartmans solution or 5% glucose should be given subcutaneously at least 3 times a day making the total fluids per day to a minimum of 10% of the total body weight of the joey, [combined oral and s/c] .

NEVER USE A SYRINGE TO GIVE FLUIDS ORALLY, because this can cause inhalation pneumonia leading to death. These fluids are the same as for human patients and are very cheap to purchase . They should always be kept on hand. If the joey is eating well, not as much fluids will be required as they are receiving food value from the solids they are taking and are not totally dependent on the fluid intake.

PAIN:

If the joey appears to have a lot of pain you can obtain a pain killer from your vet or use 1/4 of a codaphin tablet twice daily for no more than 2 days, or 1/8 of an aspalgin tablet dissolved in 1ml of water, again twice daily for no more than 2 days. If it still appears to have a lot of pain consult your vet. Codeine slows down the gut allowing more nutrients to be absorbed before passing through in an animal that has diarrhoea. If caught early enough most joeys don't get diarrhoea, but if they do bleed from the bowel it can be fresh looking as if you have cut your finger, or dark blood [very smelly] or just bloody faeces.

PREVENTION:

Of course your yards should be kept clean, but this only helps. It doesn't prevent coccidia once it's in the ground. I used to believe it was in the grass, but my yards are bare dirt and it's worse than ever. Preventives such as amprolmix j are of no benefit . I used to go around all my joeys with a 2ml syringe of amprolmix every morning. However it is so foul tasting, when the joeys see you coming they take off like a rocket, and coccidia still ruled supreme.

PLASMA TRANSFERS:

At the Zoo we take blood from an adult kangaroo that hopefully has a good immunity to coccidia. This blood is then spun to separate off the plasma content of the blood. This is then injected intravenously under anaesthetic at a rate of 10mls per 1kg body weight. The ideal weight to transfer a joey is 3kgs. After the transfer it takes about 10 days to build up some immunity.

Of course this is NOT a cure just a preventative that seems to work I have at this time had 36 joeys transferred and have only lost one with coccidia.

This preventative measure was started by Dr David Blyde in 1992. Prior to this I lost 3 joeys in three months. In my opinion this is a vast improvement . They still may contract the disease but not as severely.

COMPLICATIONS WITH COCCIDIOSIS:

Pneumonia and salmonella are two common causes of death in young joeys when their resistance is low. These diseases are brought on by the stress of already being sick. Salmonella is already present in the joey, and the stress just triggers it off . This is why in serious cases we give the Bayrtril 50 for 3 to 5 days to fight off these infections before they get a hold. We have only been doing this for about 4 months, with very good results.

PROLAPSE OF THE BOWEL:

Prolapses sometimes occur after diarrhoea . Sometimes a small amount of bleeding is present, other times just the exposed bowel.

in most cases the bowel just goes in by itself after about an hour . Sometimes popping in and out for a day or two. If it is a bad prolapse or it doesn't return by itself, it may require a stitch to hold it in place for a few days until it settles down again .TAKE IT TO YOUR VET.

DO NOT put your joey legs up [toileting position], or toilet while your joey has a prolapse or for a few days after, as this will make thing worse.

IS YOUR JOEY HEALTHY?   
Does it have a good immunity?

Richard Speares has written about the thymus which is situated at the base of the neck on either side of the middle below where your own adam's apple can be found.

This gland should be most noticeable in the first week after being orphaned. So check all your joeys as soon as they come into care. Some joeys retain a pronounced Thymus throughout their entire time in care, others lose them quickly. This is something I have taken a great deal of notice of over the past few years and have found that a very pronounced Thymus has always been a healthy joey.

TAILS:

Tails can tell a tale. In a very healthy joey you will find the base of it's tail very thick. If you cannot feel the bone when gently tapping, it is healthy. If you can feel it's bones easily then it's not as healthy. Speares goes into a lot of detail about the survival rate of joeys by the thickness of their tails.

BLOOD TESTS:

At the time of a plasma transfer, the Zoo takes a blood sample from the joey. This blood is then tested to find the amount of imunogloblins in the blood telling us how much immunity the joey has . The total protein level in the blood consists of Albumin and globulins and some others combined .

The lowest count I have ever seen was one of Robyn Whitby's joeys. Joe had a combined count of 9. [He died a few weeks later]. The top reading was my joey Jena, with a combined count of 71. This joey never contacted coccidia. The combined counts are usually in the high 40's and 50's. If the joey has a low count then you can take particular notice for any signs of illness. Watch that joey closely.

Coccidia is host specific which means the coccidia your poultry gets is not the same as that your joey gets. As very little seems to be known about this disease amongst our carers, the symptoms and problems you have may well help a fellow carer save another joey, so please contact me with anything you think may be of help to others. Ph. 02-68872102.


Acknowledgments:
Particular thanks go to Dr David Blyde BVSc Dip Vet Wild Med., Western Plains Zoo. Without whom we would not be using plasma transfers today.  Dr. Ted Finnie BVSc Veterinarian Merriwa. For his advice on codeine.   Speares R. 1988. Clinical assessment and management of the orphaned macropod joey from the John Keep refresher course for veterinarian proceedings, 104 - p104 to p305

Notes:
Baycox now comes in two strengths one for poultry and one for pigs.    Active ingredient TOLTRAZURIL 25g/L dose one ml per kg bodyweight [poultry) 50g/L dose half a ml per kg [pigs]

In more recent times I have been working with the theory that passive imunity could be transferred from the milk of goats, [it is low in lactose], that have been exposed to coccidia and built an imunity. This appears to be helping with the larger joeys. If you are interested in this contact me on 02-68872102.

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