Coccidia are microscopic parasites that are found in the intestinal tract of bearded dragons. Most bearded dragons in captivity will harbor small amounts of this parasite. A small amount of this organism is fairly normal, and a dragon’s immune system can usually keep it under control.
Whether these parasites are a natural occurrence or were introduced in captivity is unsure. What is sure, though, is that large amounts of this parasite will adversely affect your bearded dragon.
Coccidia can exist in bearded dragons’ in small numbers without a dragon appearing sick. These parasites are passed with a bowel movement, and can re-enter their host by being ingested. When this occurs, what was a small number of coccidia can quickly become a very large number.
As you either already know or will find out, bearded dragons’ don’t stay clear of their feces. Most dragons will run through their waste and then proceed to run through their water and food dishs. This provides a way for the parasite to be ingested.
Stress can also be a factor in a coccidia outbreak. When dragons’ get stressed their immune systems are lowered, causing the coccidia parasite levels to raise.
If you are buying a new dragon, no matter where you get it from, it will take a little while to adjust to its new home. This transition will also cause your dragon an amount of stress. For this reason it is a good idea to give them plenty of time to get adjusted before doing other things that might push the stress even further, i.e., handling.
While coccidia exists in small amounts in bearded dragons, a super infestation will cause your dragon to become sick. In large numbers this parasite can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, fluid loss and make it hard for your dragon’s system to absorb food.
It can also lead to your dragon not wanting to eat, weight loss and lower their immune system and make it easier for other infections to come in.
What Can I Do?
The best thing that you can do when acquiring a new dragon is to have a stool sample checked by a veterinarian, and if your introducing a new dragon into a colony of dragons you will definitely want to quarantine them before putting them in with the others.
While having a stool sample checked might not be necessary all the time, it is a good preventive measure. Some veterinarians will check a stool sample without giving a checkup. This will save you a little bit of money in the process.
The other thing you can do, is prevention. To prevent this parasite from growing in numbers, you have to practice good hygiene for your dragon and it’s enclosure.
Make sure that you scoop out waste every day, depending on what substrate you use. If you use newspaper as a substrate you will want to change it daily, and if possible right after a dragon defecates.
If the feces is left in the cage, your dragon has more of an opportunity of running through it and tracking it throughout the rest of the cage.
Live prey such as crickets and mealworms can also pass through the feces, making it easier for your dragon to re ingest the parasite. Bearded dragons have even been known to eat some of their own stools.
You’ll also want to make sure you have a cage cleaning routine. You’ll want to clean your food and water dishes on a regular basis. Make sure you wash them separately from the rest of your regular dishes.
You can use a 10% bleach and water solution to disinfect the dishes and also cage fixtures. Make sure that if you use bleach, you rinse the items thoroughly to get rid of any excess bleach.
If you use a sand substrate, you will want to have a schedule for a complete change out. It would be good to change it at least every month to three months. I will say that I am not perfect at this.
What If My Dragon Has a Coccidia Outbreak?
Prevention is the best key to keeping a healthy dragon. Sometimes, though, even with the best of prevention things do happen. Some symptoms you can look for are lethargy, loss in appetite, runny stools, weight loss and just an overall sick look.
If you suspect a coccidia outbreak, it is time to take your dragon to a vet. Your veterinarian will prescribe a sulfa drug, such as Albon. They will let you know how much to give and how to administer it.
At this time it is also important to keep your dragon’s cage as clean as possible. You will need to be anal about cleaning it. At this time it would be better to use newspaper as substrate, and change it out once or twice a day.
It will be a hassle to provide the upkeep on the cage, but it will be well worth it to get your dragon healthy again. Even with prescribed drugs it will take up to six weeks for successful treatment.
There are new drugs that are still being developed that could potentially do a better job than what is out there already. Time will only tell when and if these drugs come to market.
For the most part bearded dragons are hardy animals and are not prone to getting sick easily, but it does happen. The best thing to do for any noticed sickness is to seek a veterinarian.
You might be able to diagnose and maybe even cure some lesser illnesses, but for ones that are beyond your control you don’t want to endanger your dragon’s life.
You don’t have to look for illness in every little thing, but it is good idea to keep an eye on their behavior. With prevention and good husbandry you shouldn’t have to many problems keeping a healthy dragon.