Coccidiosis (kok sid' e o' sis) is a specific, infectious disease caused by epithelial protozoan parasites.The coccidian commonly found in Australian bearded dragons is called Isospora amphiboluri. These parasites are so common, that minimal amounts of the protozoan exist in perfectly "healthy" dragons, usually without negative effect. These microorganisms exist at the expense of the host, but rarely rise to harmful levels, since the death of the host means the end of the gravy train. Although small amounts of coccidia are tolerated, it is not suggested that the condition remain untreated. In times of stress, a sickly beardie can quickly die from excessive levels of coccidia. Coccidia quickly invade the lining of the intestines and quickly compromise an already immuno-deficient beardie.
Heavy infestations can cause stomach pain, diarrhea and general malnutrition. The life cycle of Coccidia is simple. The host reptile ingests the infective oocyst, where it infects the cells lining the intestinal wall. Then the parasite reproduces asexually, producing more infectious cells. Eventually reproduction ceases and oocysts are produced. They are then expelled in the host feces and become infective spores outside the host. The entire process usually takes 7-10 days. You can see how it becomes a vicious, infective cycle within any size collection, and one that is painstakingly hard to contain.
It is not known exactly how Isospora is transmitted. It may be passed on during egg development, meaning that your baby bearded dragon might have it! Crickets that have digested anything with the oocysts in it are also carriers. Coccidia is often a side-effect of keeping different species together which is common during shipping. The only way to tell if your dragon has coccidia is to have a fecal exam done. If your lizard shows signs of lethargy, weight lose and consistently has loose and foul-smelling stool, a fecal exam should be performed right away by your veterinarian. Once the vet has determined that coccidia is present, sulfa drugs are then prescribed, either sulfamethoxine or trimethoprim-sulfa. Sulfadimethoxine (Albon) is usually prescribed in the following dosage: 50mg/kg for 3 days on/3 days off/3 days on and then a fecal exam should again be performed.
The bug is highly contagious, quickly wiping out colonies if left untreated. During treatment, you should minimalize the amount of cage furniture in the enclosure and keep all cages spotlessly clean. Ideally, it is suggested that you have two enclosures, alternately being used and one being cleaned. This process can last as long as six weeks before a fecal exam comes back with negative results.
Ten Things You Should Know
Q: What is coccidia? How did my beardie get it and how do I get rid of it?
A: Coccidia is an infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites. They invade the mucus lining of the intestines and feed, grow and reproduce there. Coccidia is very difficult to eradicate completely. It is almost always present in bearded dragons, but builds up to intolerable levels if the dragon is under stress. Beardie owners should always be on the look out for signs of coccidia. It can quickly spread through and wipe out an entire colony. See your vet right away. You need to have a fresh fecal sample available for examination with you. Albon (sulfadimethoxine) is usually the recommended treatment for coccidia.
Q: My adult bd has Coccidia and has been on Albon for almost 2 weeks now. The problem is that since he was diagnosed with the Coccidia, he will not eat on his own. I have been feeding him Ensure w/cacium and chic/veg baby food in a syringe, which he takes fine, but has no interest in eating superworms or salad. Does his lack of appetite mean that there is more wrong with him than we know or is it normal for bd's to go off food when they are medicated? Is there anything I can do for him? I'm afraid if I stop the force feeding him, he will lose too much weight and die. Any advice would be appreciated.
A: Both coccidia and the medication can depress the appetite. Your supplementation sounds good. Once the treatment is done, you can add some yogurt or some Acidopholus to his diet to help prevent potentially bad bacteria from growing while the good gut fauna becomes re-established. In the meantime, simply watch for weight loss. Hopefully there will be little to none. If there is, you can add some banana to the Ensure. Pedialyte is also beneficial in keeping up hydration and electrolyte levels. Dragons can quickly become dehydrated during treatment, particularly if they are young. Find more information about Pedialyte and beardies here.
Q: What does epithelial mean?
A: Epithelial describes any tissue that covers a surface or lines a cavity. Epitheliums perform protective, secreting or other functions, like the epidermis, our skin.
Q: The name amphiboluri looks familiar. Is it my imagination or aren't those bearded dragons?
A: You are right, it is familiar! The parasite is named after the earlier family classification of the bearded dragon, Amphibolurus, which means “two directional tail whipping” in Greek. However, the bearded dragon was so dissimilar to the rest of the species grouped within this family classification that they were given their own, Pogona.