Intestinal Worm Infections in Bearded Dragons

Worm infections are amongst the more common parasitic diseases in pet Bearded dragons. Even though a common occurrence, worms are not always noticeable and do not always cause disease, but can still pose a health threat to Bearded dragons.

The worms referred to in this article are a group of very small worms that invade the intestines of animals (also referred to intestinal worms). They are mostly parasitic in nature and cause some form of biological damage. In order to survive, these worms need a ‘host’ on which they depend for their food, shelter, and the ability to reproduce. Each animal species has its own set of worm types that can be problematic and some worms are more dangerous than others. Problematic worm types in Bearded dragons include Pinworms (Oxyurids), Hookworms, and Roundworms.

Intestinal Worm Infections in Bearded Dragons

The Common Life-cycle of Intestinal Worms

Intestinal worms in Bearded dragons have a direct life-cyle. This means they are directly transmitted from one Bearded dragon to the next. When an infected Bearded dragon passes stool, worms and worm eggs are passed along with it. When another Bearded dragon comes in contact with this stool, the worms and eggs are ingested through the mouth (either indirectly, e.g. eating crawling food, or directly). This is referred to a faeco-oral mode of transmission.

After ingestion, worm eggs hatch into immature worms in various parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Immature worms parasitize on the host (giving rise to various degrees of related disease) as they grow into adults, which in turn mate and lay eggs again. Worms and eggs are then excreted in the feces to be ingested by the next Bearded dragon again.

Pinworm Infections in Bearded Dragons (Oxyurids)

Pinworms are the most common type of worm found in Bearded dragons and are commonly seen in fecal evaluations. Healthy Bearded dragons, as suppose to stressed and/or sick Bearded dragons, are less prone to the effects of these worms and often goes unnoticed. This is why young, wild caught and pregnant Bearded dragons and/or Bearded dragons that live in overcrowded or unhygenic environments tend to be more affected.

Although their presence is commonly discovered on tests, Pinworms do not always cause disease. It must also be noted that many other Bearded dragon diseases (e.g. coccidiosis) can look very similar to worm infections. The treatment of Pinworms in Bearded dragons is commonly reserved for when large numbers are present, when there are concurrent health problems or when the following signs are observed:

  • 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 worms in Bearded dragons include:

  • Diarrhea (abnormal or runny feces and/or cloacal soiling)
  • Blood tinged stool
  • Vomition

Preventing Worm Infections in Bearded Dragons

A good starting point to minimize the risk of worm infections in Bearded dragons is to buy healthy-looking, captive-bred, worm-free babies and juveniles from reputable breeders and pet shops. The risk of transferring worms between newcomers and established Bearded dragons can be significantly reduced by enforcing proper quarantine principles.

Some veterinarians and herpetoculturists believe that Bearded dragons should be dewormed routinely and regularly. It is recommended that deworming takes place at the start and the end of the quarantine period and then at least once a year for single Bearded dragons, and at least every six months for larger collections.

In order to prevent the build-up and spreading of worm eggs in the environment, good hygiene principles are very important. Droppings should be removed and food and water bowls should be cleaned and disinfected every day or as needed (i.e. directly after soiling). Complete enclosure cleaning and disinfection should also take place regularly.

Treating Worm Infections in Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragon worm treatment can either be prophylactic (as discussed earlier), symptomatic or after a diagnosis has been made. Worm infections in Bearded dragons are best diagnosed and treated by herpetologists or reptile-friendly veterinarians. In the case of a sick Bearded dragon,  or where a worm infection is suspected, all those in contact should also be evaluated for potential transmission of diseases. During veterinary visits, the inclusion of a fresh stool sample will often result in a faster, and more accurate, diagnosis. Apart from the correct anti-parasitic remedy, affected Bearded dragons might also need antibiotics, parenteral fluid replacement (drips), and tube feeding.