Given proper care, a healthy bearded dragon can live for 10 years or longer. Part of that care includes monitoring for signs of external parasites -- mites -- and internal parasites, including coccidia, worms and flagellates. Left unchecked, intestinal parasites can permanently damage the gastrointestinal system or even kill the animal, while mites rob the lizard of energy and leave him vulnerable to other infections. A lizard showing symptoms of parasitic infection should be examined by a veterinarian with experience treating reptiles.
A healthy dragon's stool often will contain a minimal amount of parasites. The microscopic coccidia, for example, may be present in a perfectly healthy dragon whose immune system keeps the population under control naturally. That population can grow to harmful levels, however, if the animal is unusually stressed or suffering an infection of more dangerous parasites, such as flagellates or worms.
Metabolism and Behavior
All intestinal parasites subsist by consuming whatever the dragon consumes, in essence, stealing his food after he eats it. In minimal numbers, coccidia does not consume very much and does not harm the dragon. If the population grows out of control or other parasites, like worms or flagellates, it invades the dragon and he may lose weight, not grow as he should and appear dehydrated, with sunken eyes and wrinkled skin. A dragon who feels ill -- possibly as a result of these parasites -- may also eat and drink less and even vomit whatever he does consume. Some other symptoms of intestinal parasites include overall lethargy and weakness and secondary infections due to the dragon's compromised immune system.
A lizard suffering from intestinal parasites may have constipation or diarrhea, or produce stools that are blood-tinged or look or smell different than usual. Collect a stool sample, seal it in an airtight bag and bring it to the veterinarian to be tested for parasites. If parasites prove to be the problem, the vet may prescribe antibiotics and de-worming medication to get rid of them. Note, however, that these medications will also kill any good bacteria in the digestive system; to correct the balance, add specially formulated probiotics to the lizard's diet.
Only a few millimeters in diameter, mites can attach themselves to a dragon, bore through his skin and, like ticks on a dog, suck the lizard's blood. In sufficient numbers, mites can drain a bearded dragon of more blood than he can comfortably endure. The dragon may lose his appetite and his immune system may be weakened. To remedy the problem, the dragon as well as his environment must be thoroughly cleaned and possibly treated with a mite killer prescribed by a veterinarian.