SUPPORTIVE CARE DURING TREATMENT for COCCIDIA
and OTHER INTESTINAL PARASITES
Written by Denise R. Bushnell in June, 2005
Last updated in May, 2008
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As those of you who own Bearded Dragons are probably already aware, Bearded Dragons are extremely hardy lizards, when they are provided with the proper temperatures and UVB lighting in their environment. However, they are also pets who do their best to hide their symptoms from us when they become ill, as do most other reptiles. This is no doubt an instinctual behavior, since a sick beardie, in the wild, would no doubt not live for very long.
Fortunately, those that we are lucky enough to have as pets don’t have to fend for themselves. Because of this, we need to be very aware of what is normal behavior for each of our particular dragons, and what is not. An alert eye can generally spot a problem long before it becomes a major concern. Particular attention should be paid to each dragon’s eating habits, and the amounts that they usually eat, as well as what is the norm as far as how often they present us with bowel movements, and what they usually look like, when they do. Attention should also be paid to the amount of urates that are passed within the bowel movements, as a change in this can be a sign of kidney problems, particularly as they age.
For those of you who purchased your dragons from a pet shop, unfortunately you may have gotten more than the one living thing that you paid for.....there is a better than 50% chance that your dragon may be carrying some type of intestinal parasite, particularly if they were being housed with other dragons, and the conditions that they were being kept in were not exactly as clean as you would have liked. They may be infested with coccidia, roundworms, pinworms, hookworms, or numerous other pests. If you should buy from a reputable breeder, this is much less likely to be the case, but even then, it is possible. For this reason, once you have had your dragon for two weeks, you should make it a point to have him or her seen by a reputable vet, who is well versed in the care of reptiles, and take in a stool sample for testing. Give your dragon at least two weeks to settle in, unless it is apparent that they are ill, as when they are stressed, their parasite count , particularly their coccidia count, may be higher than normal.
Coccidia is a microscopic parasite that all dragons normally have in their intestinal tract, in small amounts. This is a normal occurrence, both in the wild, and in beardies being kept in captivity. A minimal coccidia count is usually not troublesome in a healthy dragon. Their immune systems are able to keep the amount of coccidia in their systems in check, so that they don’t become sick from them.
However, one of the things that can cause a dragon’s immune system to stop working properly is stress. And, unfortunately, when you bring your beardie home with you, no matter where you get him from, or how much you fuss over him, he is going to suffer from relocation stress for at least a week or two. Bearded Dragons are creatures of habit, and are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Nearly all of them suffer from relocation stress, to some degree, and as a result, their coccidia counts will become higher than normal. This is why you should give your dragon a couple of weeks to settle into his new home, before having his stool sample checked. Once the stress disappears, and he begins to relax and feel at home, his immune system will kick into play again, and, if coccidia is the only parasite present, his immune system will bring the coccidia levels back down to a normal level without having to medicate him.
However, if other parasites are present, that will also make their coccidia count higher, and your dragon cannot get rid of these types of parasites on his own. Leaving them untreated for a long period of time can cause serious illness, lasting problems with his digestive system, or even death.
All parasites survive in your dragon’s digestive tract by existing on the food that your dragon eats. They take in the nutrients from the food that your dragon needs to grow and remain healthy. Some parasites, such as hookworms, will even burrow into the walls of your dragon’s intestines, and lay eggs there, which will hatch and feed on his blood. A severe infestation of parasites can not only starve your dragon of the nutrients that he needs, but can also make him anemic, if left unchecked. The symptoms that he suffers are not pleasant.....he will probably have diarrhea, stomach pain, difficulty in digesting his food, and may even stop eating. His immune system will be busy trying to fight off the parasites, and he will become weak, making him susceptible to other infections. He will not grow as he should, nor will he gain weight as he grows. Parasites are not something that you can ignore, and can cause serious, and possibly lasting, problems if left unchecked.
Coccidia are not considered as serious as many of the other possible parasites, as, since they are microscopic, they don’t consume as many nutrients from your dragon, when they are only present in small numbers. However, they too can cause the same problems as other sorts of parasites do, if their numbers become too high. Sometimes, the few coccidia that are normally present will rise to levels that your dragon’s immune system cannot handle on its own. At that point, you will need to medicate him, in order to bring the levels back down to where they belong.