Ridgeway Research Protozoa identification for livestock treatment strategies


What they are and the impact they have

Protozoa are single-celled organisms, some of which are significant parasites of the intestine and other organs. These are a major cause of animal disease that is often severe, and may be fatal.

Protozoa are extremely diverse. Species of particular concern to farmers include the flagellate, Giardia spp. and the Plasmodium, which causes avian malaria.

However, the most significant threat to livestock and birds comes from the coccidian species.


The coccidia species are intestinal protozoa. With few exceptions, coccidia are host-specific – capable of living in or on only one species of host. Their reproduction can be asexual or sexual, and usually takes place in cells lining the intestine.

Depending on the host species, coccidial infection can cause significant diarrhoea, failure to thrive and weight loss. Infections may be seen in calves, lambs and piglets, often after they have been moved.

Depending on the species and level of infection, coccidiosis in poultry and game birds can cause significant economic loss. This is due to the bird’s failure to convert food and, in many cases, death.

Identifying coccidial infection

Coccidial infection is identified by examining a sample of contents from the intestine or by counting oocysts (the result of sexual reproduction) present in faeces. Unfortunately, a simple count is often inadequate as the result can be very high but composed of non-pathogenic species.

Species identification of oocysts is a specialist job done by either sporulating the oocyst, which are then examined with a high power microscope, or a DNA test.

How we can help

We can examine samples of intestinal contents or faeces for protozoa, in particular faecal samples for coccidia. We can identify anything from a simple presence or absence of protozoa, to a quantitative count by species.

When you request a protozoa test we’ll send you a test kit. The kit includes a guide to help you interpret the results. As soon as we’ve completed the test we’ll get in touch and let you know what they are.

Depending of the level of analysis you need, the test will help you decide whether treatment is necessary, the type of treatment required and whether you need any other control methods.