Coccidiosis is an infectious parasitic disease of the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. This species specific disease spreads from one animal to another by contact with infected faeces. In the majority of cases diarrhoea is the primary symptom.
Coccidiosis in Bearded dragons is very common. It is commonly seen in stressed Beardies, especially in neglected and unhygienic enclosures. As with all infected animal species, coccidia invade the gastrointestinal tract and cause cellular damage, giving rise to various degrees of diarrhoea. If uncontrolled or untreated, coccidiosis can even lead to death! The two main genera involved are Eimeria spp. and Isospora spp.
What is Coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is an infection caused by a single-celled organism called Eimeria (or Isospora). This protozoan disease can affect many different kinds of reptiles, and it is typically spread through contamination with faeces. The coccidiosis parasites reproduce in the intestines and produce infective eggs, which are then passed out from the infected animal.
Younger reptiles, such as bearded dragons, have been seen to be particularly vulnerable to developing signs of infection due to coccidiosis. One particular species of this parasite is cryptosporidium, which has also been found to occur in reptiles.
Life Cycle of Coccidia
The lifecycle of Coccidia in Bearded Dragons is a complex process that begins with eggs. An infected Bearded Dragon will shed these oocysts, which are then picked up by the host and ingested.
Once inside the gut, they break open, releasing sporocysts that contain sporozoites. These sporozoites then enter the intestinal mucosa or epithelial cells of the host where they develop into meronts. In turn, the nucleuses become merozoites and leave to infect more cells in what is known as cycles.
Eventually, male and female gamonts form from these meronts. During this development process, damaged cells are released as part of the cycle which completes when zygotes transition into oocysts. Once released back into their environment through feces, these new oocysts become infectious again to start the process over once more.
How Coccidia works
The Coccidia parasite has a simple life cycle. and is acquired by exposure to faecal-contaminated food and water. After the ingestion of ‘oocysts’, they give rise to various stages of the parasite, which grows and replicate in multiple sites of the small intestines of their host. At the end of their life cycle adults produce oocysts again which are excreted via faeces into the environment. Coccidia is known to build build up in the environment, especially in unhygienic and overcrowded enclosures. The diagnosis is made by finding the characteristic oocysts on faecal flotation.
What is the route of transmission?
Coccidia can be spread through various routes of transmission, the most common being food or substrate contaminated with infected droppings. This is because the tough outer shell of the egg allows it to survive in the environment for extended periods of time and thus can contaminate these items if not handled properly.
Ingesting such contaminated items can result in infection and spread to other individuals or animals. Other means of transmission include contact with infected animals, and contaminated surfaces where infected droppings may have been deposited.
Signs and Symptoms Of Coccidiosis
Diarrhea is one of the main signs and symptoms of coccidiosis. You may notice the stool being watery, smelling bad, or having mucus in it with no blood present – this is known as bloodless diarrhea. In more severe cases, you can expect to see bloody stool along with other indications of diarrhoea.
Dehydration is one of the main signs of coccidiosis in bearded dragons. Many dragons, unfortunately, experience consistent dehydration due to the rapid spread of this infestation.
It’s important that you attempt to rehydrate your dragon as soon as you can notice the symptoms, not only to help improve their condition but also to make sure they get proper treatment from the vet.
Weight loss is one of the most common signs and symptoms of coccidiosis in bearded dragons. While this condition can often occur without any other noticeable changes, it can be very hard to notice in some cases.
Bearded dragons with coccidiosis might suddenly start to lose weight, which is a symptom that should not be overlooked.
Lethargy is a common sign of Coccidiosis in bearded dragons. As the infection progresses, your scaly friend may become noticeably less active – they won’t be as interested in exploring its enclosure or participating in other activities. The reptile likely became weak and tired from the diarrhoea and poor nutrition caused by sickness.
If your bearded dragon is suffering from Coccidiosis, one of the most obvious signs and symptoms you’ll likely notice is stunted growth.
Poor appetite, digestive problems, and other issues can all contribute to slowing a bearded dragon’s growth rate, especially in the case of juvenile dragons which are in a transitional stage.
Anorexia is an eating disorder that can be caused by coccidia in bearded dragons. This can manifest as the reptile losing interest in food and turning their nose up at every offer made, due to the lack of digestion resulting from coccidia. This leaves them malnourished and prone to other health issues and digestive problems.
Vomiting is one of the most common signs and symptoms associated with Coccidiosis in bearded dragons. Bearded dragons can vomit the insects and other food they eat if they experience indigestion.
The vomiting experienced by these reptiles could become consistent when coccidiosis is advanced in their system, leading to a number of additional health problems.
Causes of Coccidia in Bearded Dragons?
Stress is one of the main causes of coccidiosis in bearded dragons. When a bearded dragon is stressed, its immune system becomes weakened. This makes it more susceptible to picking up parasites like coccidia which can cause serious illnesses such as diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.
Therefore, it’s important to create an environment that is comfortable and stress-free for your bearded dragon in order to reduce the chances of them suffering from coccidiosis. Unfamiliar movements around their tank can put a lot of stress on them, so you should make sure they are familiar with their surroundings if at all possible. Creating a stress-free environment will help ensure that they remain healthy and happy!
Inadequate housing is an issue that must not be overlooked when it comes to caring for a bearded dragon. A tank that is too small is extremely detrimental to the overall health and wellbeing of your pet, as it can cause their unnatural behaviors to intensify and increase their susceptibility to illnesses like coccidia.
Poor dieting can be damaging to bearded dragons and can lead to an increase in coccidian organisms. Nutrition is a key part of keeping your beardie healthy, so feeding them the wrong food could have serious consequences.
It’s essential to give your dragon a well-rounded diet that provides numerous nutrients, minerals, and vitamins in order for their stomachs to remain healthy. A lack of balanced nutrition could lead to an overgrowth of coccidian in their intestines, leading to further health complications.
Swift diet changes
Swift diet changes can be detrimental to a bearded dragon’s health. It is important to follow a strict dietary plan for your bearded dragon and avoid sudden changes. If you feel the need to add or remove any food from your pet’s eating habits, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian first.
Doing so will help ensure their safety and well-being, as certain foods may have adverse reactions on your pet’s system if they are not introduced or removed properly.
Poor sanitation is a common cause of coccidiosis in bearded dragons. If the living environment of your dragon is unhealthy and filled with droppings, it essentially becomes an ideal breeding ground for the parasites to reproduce.
This increases the chances that your bearded dragon may become infected, so it’s important to keep its surroundings as clean as possible.
Overcrowding can be dangerous for bearded dragons. Having two or three reptiles in the same tank is never a good idea, as they can easily spread illnesses such as coccidia. Every reptile should have its own tank with all the necessary accessories to ensure they stay healthy and safe.
There is some controversy as to the significance of this disease as many infected individuals can be purely be carriers (called ‘coccidiasis’). Although moderate to severe infections are more related to clinical signs some dragons tend to show severe disease, even with lower oocyst numbers. In other words, not all animals with coccidia have clinical signs of disease (sub-clinical). Stress is believed to be a major contributing factor.
Severely affected Bearded dragons mainly show gastrointestinal signs which includes the following:
- Partial or complete anorexia (lack of appetite)
- Weight loss & poor body condition
- Dehydration (wrinkled skin & sunken eyes)
- Weakness (lying flat)
- Lethargy or dullness (unaware of its surroundings)
More specific signs of coccidiosis in Bearded dragons include:
- Diarrhoea (abnormal or runny faeces and / or cloacal soiling)
- Blood tinged stool
Treatment & control
Treatment should consist of a combination of medication and fastidious and regular environmental control. While treatment is not always difficult, eradication of the coccidian parasite in the environment can be extremely difficult. Hygiene also plays a huge roll in the prevention and control of these parasites. Treatment should only commence under the supervision of a experienced reptile veterinarian.
Effective enclosure treatment includes sterilisation with a diluted bleach solution and proper desiccation (drying out). Some reptile veterinarians recommend a ‘two-cage’ system where one enclosure is properly cleaned and disinfected and let to dry while using the other. Coccidiosis can take weeks to treat efficiently. While not always the cause as believed by many, by discarding uneaten crickets after a meal the build-up and re-infestation can be prevented.
Will all bearded dragons become sick?
Not all bearded dragons will become sick with coccidiosis, an intestinal parasite. However, some individuals may be carriers who don’t show any clinical signs of the disease yet could still spread it to other bearded dragons.
Those bearded dragons who do show signs of coccidiosis usually have other diseases occurring at the same time, such as metabolic bone disease or viral infections like atadenovirus. Proper diet and husbandry are key in keeping your pet safe from becoming ill.
How are coccidia identified in the live reptile?
Identifying coccidia in a live reptile can be difficult. The most common way is to examine faecal smears under the microscope, as this often reveals the eggs of the parasite. However, it’s not always possible to see those eggs in every sample, so a more sensitive test like a faecal flotation may be needed in order to accurately identify coccidia in a live reptile.
With this method, technicians are able to float the samples for a certain amount of time so that the parasites are easier to detect. By using these techniques, veterinarians and other professionals are able to get an accurate picture of what is going on inside your pet reptile.
What is the treatment for Coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is a serious disease and it’s important to know what the proper treatment plan is. Fortunately, there are effective medications that can be used to treat it, such as toltrazuril or trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole.
In addition to medications, it’s also important to keep the animal’s enclosure clean and disinfected on a daily basis. This will help prevent any more infections from occurring and allow the medications to do their job properly.
In some cases, secondary infections caused by bacteria may also need to be treated with additional antibiotics. Your vet will be able to tell you if this is necessary for your individual pet.
What Can You Do to Help Your Bearded Dragon Beat Coccidia?
To help your bearded dragon stay healthy, there are a few things you should do in addition to visiting the vet, such as:
Monitor and take note of every symptom
Monitoring your bearded dragon is essential if you want to spot any unusual behavior. Any changes in the beardie’s physical appearance, diet, feces, or other factors should be noted.
Maintaining records of all this makes it simpler for the veterinarian to give appropriate care according to comprehensive data.
It is essential to always follow instructions given by your vet regarding medications for your pet. Never make changes to the type of medication or dosage without consulting with the vet first. If you do not follow their instructions, it could be dangerous for your pet and potentially lead to fatal consequences.
Keep the tank clean
Keeping your bearded dragon’s tank clean is one of the most important steps you can take to help them beat coccidia. Regularly cleaning the tank will ensure that your pet stays healthy and free from infection. Diluting bleach before using it with water is always recommended when cleaning the tank, as concentrated bleach could be deadly to your reptile.
Keep your pet hydrated
One thing you can do to help your bearded dragon beat Coccidiosis is to make sure it stays hydrated. If it gets dehydrated, it’ll be harder for it to recover. Provide fresh clean water for your pet and make sure that the bowl isn’t too hot in order to keep them hydrated and comfortable.
When it comes to helping your Bearded Dragon beat Coccidia, preventing stress is absolutely essential. That means providing a warm, safe environment for them and not forcing feed unless recommended by your vet. Keeping stress levels low will help reduce the risk of infection from coccidia.
Review your animal husbandry practices
Taking a close look at your animal husbandry practices is always beneficial when it comes to keeping your bearded dragon healthy, and this is especially true when your pet has been diagnosed with coccidia. Improving their living conditions and regularly reviewing the setup is essential in any reptile’s enclosure.
How Is Coccidia Diagnosed In Bearded Dragons?
When it comes to diagnosing coccidia in bearded dragons, the simplest and most economical method is a fecal flotation test. During this test, your veterinarian will examine a stool sample under a microscope to look for oocysts that indicate the severity of the infection.
The age of your bearded dragon, its immunity levels, and prior contact with infections will influence the number of oocysts found in the sample.
Oocyst levels can fluctuate during the course of an infection, so multiple fecal tests may be needed if there aren’t enough oocysts present in the sample for a proper diagnosis.
In rare instances where a fecal flotation test isn’t decisive, your veterinarian may use PCR testing which requires them to take a biopsy for a tissue sample and send it off for examination by pathologists – but due to its complexity and expense, it is almost never used for diagnosing coccidiosis.
Are There Secondary Infections With Coccidia?
Coccidiosis can be more than just an annoying parasite; it can also cause secondary infections in bearded dragons. When the immune system of a bearded dragon has been weakened by coccidiosis, it may be at greater risk for other types of infections.
One common secondary infection is Atadenovirus, a contagious virus that causes inflammation in the liver, kidneys, nervous tissue, and digestive system. This infection can make it difficult for the beardie to gain weight and show neurological symptoms. Sadly, there is no known cure for Atadenovirus, but antibiotics can provide relief.
Another issue associated with Coccidia is metabolic bone disease due to a lack of essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D which are prevented from being absorbed because of the parasites. Symptoms may include bone softening, deformities in the jaw or spine, tremors, and increased muscle weakness. Although there is no cure for this condition, it may be prevented by supplementing calcium and vitamin D3 into the bearded dragon’s diet.
Is Coccidia Contagious To Humans?
Coccidia is not a zoonotic disease, so it cannot be passed from a bearded dragon to its human owners. The most common type of coccidian parasite found in these reptiles is Isospora amphiboluri, which will not infect humans.
Coccidiosis is a disease that mainly affects vertebrates, but its causative parasites are particular to certain hosts. This means that other animals, such as birds and reptiles, are at risk of catching the disease if exposed to an infected bearded dragon.
It is important for bearded dragon owners to take precautions against spreading the disease by preventing contact between sick and healthy pets. It is also recommended that any person handling an infected beardie practices good hygiene by washing their hands thoroughly afterward.
Additionally, there should be no contact between sick dragons and other reptiles as this could spread coccidiosis further.
Can coccidia kill a bearded dragon?
If not properly treated, Coccidia can be life-threatening for bearded dragons and should be addressed by a medical professional without delay.
Can humans get coccidia from bearded dragons?
Bearded dragons don’t pose a risk of coccidia to humans, but it’s important to keep clean by washing hands and taking care of your immediate surroundings.
What is used to treat coccidia in bearded dragons?
Ponazuril is known to be an effective medication for coccidia in bearded dragons. Alternative treatments may not be as successful.
How does coccidia affect bearded dragons?
Coccidia can disrupt a bearded dragon’s diet, physical appearance, and even mobility. The fecal matter of these reptiles may also be affected if they have coccidia.
In conclusion, coccidiosis is a serious concern among pet bearded dragons. If left untreated, it can lead to severe illness and even death. Knowing the signs of coccidiosis and ensuring regular vet visits are critical in keeping your pet healthy and happy.
Additionally, regularly cleaning the tank and providing ample access to clean water will help prevent the spread of this parasite.