Bearded Dragon Flipping On Back
A bearded dragon flipped on its back can be a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment – read on for more
Why This Is An Emergency
March 1st, 2022
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Bearded dragon flipping on back is an emergency medical presentation that will need proper, immediate, veterinary attention. There is almost nothing that we can do to diagnose this problem for you unfortunately – but we can give you some tips, and can give you some idea as to why they might be doing it. Above all, we can give you some supportive treatments while you wait for your veterinary appointment.
Why A Bearded Dragon Flipping Onto Its Back Is Dangerous
There’s two things to consider regarding a bearded dragon flipping onto its back. The first is the immediate issue that bearded dragons cannot breathe properly or for long when they’re on their back. A bearded dragon flipped on its back is quite likely to therefore suffocate and die quite quickly if it’s left flipped onto its back. Despite what you may have read, this is NOT a myth. The linked post will give you some more information about that if you need convincing.
So the first step will be to pick them up and put them back on their tummy. This will overcome the most immediate life threat to them. But a bearded dragon flipped on their back will likely do so again so keep an eye out.
The more long term issue with a bearded dragon that flips onto its back is that this indicates a bearded dragon with a neurological problem. Neurological problems are almost always fatal in the end – and unfortunately only a veterinary diagnosis is going to give you any idea of what’s wrong and what the prognosis is.
Why Would A Bearded Dragon Flip On Its Back?
As we mentioned above, a bearded dragon flipped on its back most often indicates that it has some form of neurological problem. That is to say, there is something going on with its brain or nervous system that causes it to end up upside down.
However, before you jump to that conclusion, make sure that your bearded dragon hasn’t just slid off the hammock or one of his perches higher up and ended up upside down and trapped. We saw our old girl slide off the log one day, end up upside down and because of the way her feet ended up she was unable to right herself. After we quickly righted her and she looked at us as if we were silly.
We repositioned the log to make sure she couldn’t get trapped upside down again.
But if you’re certain your bearded dragon hasn’t ended up their through accidental means, or they repeatedly end up flipped on their back with no apparent reason then you’re probably looking at a neurological problem.
It’s Quite Likely NOT Atadenovirus
Previously we believed that Atadenovirus was one of the causes of neurological problems which would result in a bearded dragon flipped on its back. However, more recent research (highlighted here) suggests that many many bearded dragons are Atadenovirus positive and almost all have no symptoms whatsoever. Which leads us to believe that something else must be going on if your bearded dragon is flipping over randomly.
The only true way to know why your bearded dragon is flipping on its back is to get blood work and possibly medical imaging performed by your herpetologist Vet. But here’s a few things that you might want to rule out first;
Electrolyte Imbalance / Dehydration
Electrolytes in our bearded dragons blood are essential for proper functioning of the heart, brain and muscles. Electrolytes are so called because they carry an electrical charge and the movement of these electrolytes across nerve cell boundaries are what enable all animals to function.
The most crucial electrolytes in animals are sodium and potassium, followed by calcium and some magnesium. These are all positively charged electrolytes and will be matched with negatively charged electrolytes, primarily chlorine ions (among others).
If these electrolytes become out of balance (ie, too many of them or too few of them) the nervous systems of the animals become affected, which can cause twitching, confusion, and even seizures.
The most likely cause of these electrolytes to be out of balance is dehydration, perhaps because of a recent bout of diarrhea or medications they may have been taking. If your beardie has had a recent bout of diarrhea and is potentially dehydrated, you could look at giving them a bath with some Reptoboost or other electrolyte supplement.
It’s possible that this is why your bearded dragon is flipping on their back. But in order to properly diagnose this, a herpetologist veterinarian will need to take blood samples and check.
Bacterial, Viral, Fungal or Even Parasitic Infection
Bearded dragons are hardy little creatures but they can sometimes pick up infections just like us. These infections can, on occasion, cause our little buddies to become weaker than usual, or cause problems with balance (particularly when on logs or hammocks), or even in some case cause seizure like activity. All of these can cause a bearded dragon to end up flipped over onto its back.
The best way to prevent infections is to ensure their house is clean and tidy, disinfected regularly and any poops are removed as soon as possible. The temperatures and UVB lighting in their house is also essential for keeping nasty germs at bay – the highlighted link can give you more information on that.
If everything is setup correctly but you think your beardie may be rolling onto their back because of an infection, you’re definitely going to need some veterinary advice to get to the bottom of which type of infection it is. Many infections are curable with the appropriate medication.
Advanced Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) can cause seizures, tremors and loss of muscle control, as well as other neurological deficits which can cause bearded dragons to flip onto their back. It’s a relatively unlikely diagnosis but it’s possible. Check your UVB lighting, heating and calcium supplementation regime is all correct. You can find out more about Bearded Dragon Metabolic Bone Disease here.
It’s possible of course that unfortunately your bearded dragon may have developed a brain tumour. Whilst this is a possible diagnosis, you shouldn’t be alarmed at this stage – it’s only one of many possibilities. A veterinary surgeon will be needed to diagnose whether this is true or not.
Of course, bearded dragons being active and liking to climb, sometimes they will fall. It’s pretty much inevitable. Most of the time they’ll land well and not do any lasting damage to themselves. In most cases in the tank, the height of their fall is unlikely to lead to any significant harm. But if they’ve fallen say, from your shoulder to the ground, they may have internal injuries that you can’t see causing them problems with balance or generating seizures. This is possible if they have a head injury from a recent fall. So if your bearded dragon has had recent traumatic injury and starts to present by rolling onto its back, you should probably look at getting an urgent vet appointment too.
Sometimes, head injuries can occur naturally through aneurysm or stroke. These are probably relatively rare in the lizard community but we’ve had one bearded dragon who presented with stroke-like symptoms in the past. Again, a vet diagnosis and prognosis is likely to be required if you think this might be what’s going. But before you panic, there’s lots of other, far more likely reasons (such as electrolyte imbalance we talked about above).
When To Seek Vet Advice
If your bearded dragon has flipped on their back through clumsiness while climbing then there’s no need to seek vet advice, particularly in the first instance. Simply right them and let them carry on.
If they repeatedly flip on their back, or do so whilst not climbing then there’s likely to be a deeper problem. Unless you have one of the circumstances we talked about above where there’s possibly a home remedy (such as dehydration after diarrhea) then it’s probably time to consult the vet.
There’s a number of reasons why a bearded dragon might rollover or flip onto its back. The first thing to do is to put them back the right way up so they can breathe easier. Once that’s done we need to look at why they’re flipping on their backs.
We’ve shown some of those reasons in this post, from simple clumsiness when climbing, to becoming dizzy and disoriented because of electrolyte imbalance or dehydration. We’ve learned that infections can also cause our bearded dragons to roll over onto their backs and be unable to right themselves. Then there’s the potentially more sinister things such as head traumas perhaps from recent falls, or longer term illness such as MBD or brain tumours causing seizure activity.
In all cases, if your bearded dragon regularly flips onto their back there’s probably something significant enough going on to warrant a veterinary investigation. In many of the cases, the vet can prescribe whatever is needed to help solve the issue or at least treat it so that it isn’t such a problem.
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