COCCIDIOSIS – Brenda

Well over 20 years ago I received a 3.7kg eastern grey joey from a family who had presented us with a few animals over the years. From things that were and were not said the assumption was made that this little males mum had been shot by a member of the family. The joey was, not unexpectedly, quite stressed, unkempt in appearance, thin and also not particularly robust – all symptoms of poor care. Christened Benji, he settled quite well but not too long after arrival at the first feed of the day he stood for his bottle but rather than his usual upright position, assumed a more hunched posture and instead of eagerly suckling as he normally did, played and fiddled with the teat. After a few minutes I gave up and went to feed others. At this stage his poo was normal in appearance and smell. A little later his hunched stance changed a little to a more exaggerated head down into belly stance and it was clear he was in a lot of pain. The poo was collected and promptly at 8.30am I was on the steps of my vet clinic waiting for the doors to open, poo in one hand, joey in the other. I think it’s coccidiosis I said to the vet who agreed. The poo was checked and declared okay, no oocysts. Nothing specific could be found with Benji who obligingly passed more beautifully formed poo balls, also declared fine. Off home we went where he was placed into a pen with his mate [to lessen stress]. He would not take bottles at all during the day but did lap a little water and was given fluids SC. Benji was checked regularly until after midnight, nothing had changed, poo was still fine but the hunching was still the same with no desire to suckle.
First thing the following morning – 5.30am – I went out to check him, still about 10 feet from the hutch I could see he was now laying down with his mate standing close by. In the moonlight it was easy to see the now liquid poo glistening in the bright moonlight, it was also easy to see the large amounts of dark blood. There was no doubt in my mind this was coccidiosis. The joey was wrapped in blankets, taken inside and had more fluids given SC. Once more at 8.30am there I was waiting on the doorstep of the clinic. There was little doubt he would die but we decided to place him on a drip for a final chance and I would stay with
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him, less than 2 hours later he was dead. A necropsy was done, it looked as if his gut had rotted. Definitely coccidiosis. In all the years since and with all the joeys that have arrived coming from bad to incredibly bad care, I have never had another case of coccidiosis and am very frustrated whenever a case of diarrhoea is instantly diagnosed, whether from a phone call or personal contact as coccidiosis, as often there is a very simple explanation, stress for one or simply being given too much formula. Diagnosing every case of diarrhoea as coccidiosis can cause a huge amount of stress to carers, particularly if they are still in the learning phase of caring for macropods. Whereas this condition needs to be always in the mind, it shouldn’t be considered the only problem, take a little time to think and get some good advice. Best advice to carers is to always keep everything clean, always keep the yards clean which means constantly picking up the poo, particularly at the time of year when the ground is warm but wet which is the condition that will cause coccidia to thrive in/on the ground. Don’t put new arrivals, particularly if they have diarrhoea, close to other pouch animals or in a pen with others. Keeping your animals stress free is not just a good idea, it is a vital part of the caring process. Carers need to remember, checking poo when coccidiosis is suspected, although not necessarily a bad idea, can send you heading in the wrong direction about problems, as with Benji, his poo did not contain coccidia oocysts even though he was clearly in the last stages. Having the poo of healthy joeys checked can show the oocysts as they are carried naturally by kangaroos as well as other species, they are shed regularly throughout the life of the animal so it is inevitable they will sometimes show under microscopic examination. These days there is a treatment that can be used if coccidiosis is strongly suspected and in some instances it is probably a good idea to begin a treatment regime which includes fluids and multiple medications over a period of time but take care, observe all symptoms and remember the internal damage caused by coccidiosis is going on well before any visible symptoms are seen.
ABOUT RUDDER
Almost 12 months to the day after Benji’s death, and with the same weather conditions prevailing, another of my joeys began to refuse his bottles in exactly the same manner; he was approximately the same age as Benji had been. This time I wasn’t prepared to wait and see what developed but rang my vet at home – of course it was after hours. Isn’t it always? I decided not to take Rudder [named because of the splint he wore on his tail for a month after arrival] in for an examination as he was exhibiting perfectly normal behaviour except for playing with his bottles. Rudder was standing straight and tall, no signs of hunching which is one of the most visible signs of coccidiosis, but it is a very ‘different’ stance to that of an animal hunching against the cold or heavy rain, this hunching has the animal standing with its head well down and seems to be pulling its belly inwards through to its spine, the arms and hands are usually also pulled well into the belly area.
Droppings were also normal. My vet suggested administering a combination of 2 medications which would cover a number of internal problems – I was okay with that as I knew what both medications were used for. The medications were to be administered for 10 days, unless there was noticeable deterioration. If coccidiosis was the problem [and we thought it could be] we considered these would be the best bets even though we were both more than a little sceptical of success. For a number of years now there has been a medication regime given to kangaroos suspected of having coccidiosis, it may work if the animal is in the very early stages but if it has been going on for some time then success is unlikely as the damage begins well before symptoms become really visible.
After only 24hrs Rudder began to drink almost all of his daily milk ration only occasionally not finishing one feed but at the end of the 10 days he was obviously still not particularly well. In spite of eating and drinking his appearance had become unkempt and tatty. I decided to wait a day or two to see if anything happened and happen it did. Before I knew it, Rudder’s ankles had swollen to twice their normal size, this was now something visible and a dash was made for the surgery after a quick phone call advising my vet of our intentions. By the time we
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arrived he had already made a tentative diagnosis of heart problems and it took only seconds for him to listen and declare there was a strong heart murmur, he explained to me that severity of heart murmurs are rated 1 to 5 and he considered Rudder to be at least a 3. Blood was taken for testing and a new course of antibiotics started, this time good old Amoxycillin. How I cursed myself for not taking him in for an examination right at the start, I had always done it before, why had I not done it this time? The murmur would likely have been picked up immediately. Now the wait for results of the blood tests. In the following 48 hours the improvement was tremendous and we had high hopes that it was only an infection of the heart valve and not a defect beginning to develop as Rudder grew.
Rudder’s recovery was rapid, he was on Amoxycillin for a full month although within a week he looked 100% better and before 3 weeks was up was back to standing straight and tall. He was once again his beautiful well groomed, gentle, loving self.
It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten and whenever I’m doing workshops or receive calls asking for help it’s strongly recommended that the animal is looked at, I’m more than happy to have a look or get to a good vet, one familiar with wildlife. If you are not comfortable with the vet diagnosis, then try another, make some calls and ask questions. Whatever you do don’t wait, it’s not good enough that it may be more convenient in 2 or 3 days so you will do something then, it isn’t worth the risk. By the time you’re seeing very visible symptoms the joey will already have been ill for several days and in some cases much longer as was the case with Benji who was obviously well infected when he arrived although there were no symptoms and his behaviour was perfectly normal.
Though many years have passed I have never forgotten that I could have caused the unnecessary death of a joey in my care, I certainly caused more suffering than is ever acceptable.

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