Protozoa, called coccidia, lead to intestinal tract infections called coccidiosis. The infection can be dangerous to both humans and animals. However, when we talk of coccidian in bearded dragons, it can severely affect their health. The adult ones tolerate treatment for such infection in bearded dragons. But the young ones can face difficulty in recovering.
Bearded dragons are sensitive creatures. They are susceptible to falling sick very easily if they are not comfortable, have a poor diet, and more. Disease and illness can spread quickly among bearded dragons.
Causes of Coccindia in Bearded Dragons
Coccidia is a disease spread through feces. When a bearded dragon comes across infected stools, it can unknowingly step on it, or its tail can swish in it and touch the infected poop. As they walk around the enclosure, they will leave a trail of footprints of the infected poop they have stepped on all around them.
When you feed your bearded dragon and some food they are eating falls on that infected footprint of feces, they will lick it up and eat the food again. By doing this, they will ingest the coccidia parasite because the food that touched the feces is now contaminated with coccidia. This is called oral transmission, and it is the most common way of transmission of coccidia and other diseases among animals.
Other causes can be:
- Poor diet
- Unhygienic environment
- Overcrowded enclosures
Symptoms of Coccidia in Bearded Dragons
Coccidia is a microscopic organism that invades the body. It is a parasite that infects and takes over the gastrointestinal tract. Isospora amphiboluri is a species of coccidia that is well known to affect bearded dragons. This disease can be life-threatening for bearded dragons and is a health concern for lizards in captive and closed environments or enclosures.
Coccidia can come from infected feces, and once ingested, the parasite lays small eggs all along the intestines.
The symptoms of coccidia are :
- Watery drooping/feces
- Swollen abdomen
- Slow growth
Diagnosis and Common Tests Performed By Veterinarians
Going to the vet and receiving professional help is always the best in cases of sick animals. The vet will take your pet’s medical history and do a physical examination to see the condition of your bearded dragon currently.
Fecal flotation is the most common test to determine coccidia in bearded dragons. This particular test is made to look for intestinal parasites.
In this test, vets will look at your bearded dragon’s poop and fecal matter under a microscope to check for any signs of eggs.
In some cases, the eggs may not be visible, so an additional test called fecal flotation is used because it is more sensitive. The fecal flotation test determines the mature eggs of the parasite. The number of oocysts will help the vet determine a proper diagnosis.
Since all coccidia parasites are different, your vet may perform other tests to determine which parasite is present in your bearded dragon’s body.
This way of testing comes with a disposable kit. To do this test, put a small piece of feces inside the container. The flotation solution is added, and the feces is broken down by mashing it gently. The container should be filled to the brim, and be careful not to spill any.
Leave the container alone for 15 – 20 minutes to allow all the particles to sink to the bottom of the container and settle down there. And any parasite eggs present will float to the top of the liquid solution. The eggs will be a little stuck on the top of the container where the coverslip is placed. You can remove them slowly and then put them under a microscope to view them.
This technique is widely used because it is successful in identifying parasite eggs. For this test, a feces sample is placed in a centrifuge tube. Then more chemical solution is added until it has a slightly rounded meniscus. Then coverslip is placed. This sample will be spun for 3-5 minutes at 1000-1500 revolutions per minute. After it is done, look at it under the microscope.
This testing shortens the time needed for the debris and eggs to separate and settle.
Antigen testing can identify the type of parasites much quicker before the parasite egg is even present. These enzymes can detect parasite antigens from the secretions of adult bearded dragons whose parasite eggs have still not hatched.
Besides the test mentioned above, the vet may perform other tests mentioned below to determine coccidia.
- PCR test
- Blood test
- Blood count
- Plasma testing
How to Treat Coccidia in Bearded Dragons
It is best to treat coccidia in bearded dragons in its early stages. As it progresses, the parasite becomes stronger, and the bearded dragon’s body becomes weaker, making it difficult for it to fight infection.
Coccidia can seem challenging to treat, but you can get rid of it by following a certain regime to bring back your bearded dragon’s health via a medication called Albon, prescribed by a vet after a diagnosis.
You will have to administer this drug to your bearded dragon, and it can be a bit challenging, but don’t worry. Keeping your lizard’s environment clean and hygienic during treatment and recovery is imperative. You don’t want your bearded dragon to have a relapse of coccidia again. Take precautions and keep yourself and your pet sanitary.
5 Tips to Protect your Bearded Dragon Against Coccidia
1: Keep a Clean Environment
Your bearded dragon must have a clean enclosure. It can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and spread if your bearded dragon comes in contact with it. If there is any leftover food in the cage, remove it. Food is the only thing that will attract insects and flies carrying diseases. If your lizard has pooped inside the cell, clean it up. Sanitize the place to kill any coccidia bacteria.
Frequently change the water bowl. Bearded dragons are known not to drink much water, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. Every morning change the water and give them fresh water because so much dust and other particles can settle on the water during the day. It can be ingested once they drink it. Additionally, don’t forget to wash your food and water bowls daily. Keeping a clean food and water bowl is very important because that is where they put their mouths daily.
2: Regular Fecal Checks
It is good to check your bearded dragon’s poop now and then. You may be able to see discarded shells of hatched eggs from the parasite.
3: Isolate-Infected Bearded Dragons
If you have more than one bearded dragon and one gets infected, keep it quarantined. It will not allow the disease to spread to your otherwise healthy bearded dragon, and you can keep it safe. During this period, keep them separate. To ensure no cross-contamination, wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant and keep yourself clean. Don’t use anything you used with your infected bearded dragon, and keep that separate. Take all precautionary measures.
4: Avoid Stress
Most stress for bearded dragons can be caused by suddenly changing their food or enclosure habitat. You should be able to tell your bearded dragon’s needs and provide for those needs. Don’t force your bearded dragon to do anything. Encourage its natural behavior and let it be.
5: Don’t Overcrowd Enclosures
If you have more than one bearded dragon, say 2-3. It is best not to put them all inside the same enclosed habitat. Bearded dragons are not small creatures; they can grow up to 16-24 inches and weigh up to 0.6201.1 pounds. There needs to be a lot of space for them to move around and be active.
Instead, you separate individual cages for each bearded dragon, or you can use one large cage. If you have a large cage, the risk of contamination is more because there is a high concentration of bacteria in a large cage. Keep the cage clean frequently and disinfect everything with chemicals regularly.
Coccidia is a very harmful parasite; if bearded dragons are exposed to it, it can have serious consequences. Coccidia in bearded dragons could be very ill, and even death is possible. Look for signs of an early indicator of coccidia. These are usually egg shells from the parasite babies that have already hatched inside your bearded dragon’s colon. You can also look for symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, watery poop, swollen abdomen, etc.
To prevent coccidia, keep your bearded dragon’s cage or enclosure clean. If you notice these symptoms, take your pet to the vet immediately and get it diagnosed and treated for coccidia.
Can I catch coccidia from my bearded dragon?
No, you cannot catch coccidia from your bearded dragon. It is not a zoonotic disease.
Can coccidia kill a bearded dragon?
Yes, possible. If not treated right away, coccidia can potentially kill your bearded dragon. Coccidia is known to have a 15% mortality rate among young bearded dragons.
Is coccidia common in bearded dragons?
Coccidia is usually associated with captive bearded dragons, and it is most common for bearded dragons in the United Kingdom.