A bearded dragon seizure is something no-one should have to experience. It’s scary, it’s potentially life threatening for the lizard and it requires an urgent consultation with a Bearded Dragon veterinarian.
What Can Cause A Bearded Dragon Seizure
A seizure in any vertebrate is caused when the neurons in the brain fire in a random, uncoordinated fashion, often causing involuntary jerking of limbs and spine and reduced ability to breath as well as a loss of consciousness. Some seizures will stop the animal from whatever it was doing at the time and make them look like they’re simply staring into the distance. The first type of seizure are called tonic-clonic seizures (previously grand-mal seizures) and the second would be absence seizures.
Seizures can be caused by a number of things. In bearded dragons it’s usually down to a lack of calcium in the blood, often as a result of severe metabolic bone disease. Metabolic Bone Disease is a significant risk for bearded dragons as they need a lot of UVB light to create vitamin D3 to absorb the calcium from their diet. They also tend to need calcium supplements to improve the calcium they have.
Other Causes Of Bearded Dragon Seizure
Whilst electrolyte imbalance (such as calcium) is the most common cause of bearded dragon seizure, there are other potential causes as well. The only way to know for sure is to have blood-work and perhaps imaging performed by a qualified bearded dragon veterinarian.
Whilst we don’t necessarily want to scare you, it’s fair to say there’s really no good seizure. However, some causes are more treatable than others;
- Electrolyte imbalance. Calcium, sodium, potassium imbalances can all potentially cause seizures. Blood work by the Vet can determine if this is the cause.
- Tumours in the brain. Tumours often go undetected until they grow big enough to start putting pressure on other areas of the brain and this can then lead to a bearded dragon seizure. Veterinary imaging would be needed to determine if this is the cause. X-rays may not be sufficient, it may require a CT scan.
- Stroke. A stroke occurs when an area of the brain is starved of oxygen due to either a burst blood vessel in the area, or more commonly a clot that has entered the vessel and is blocking blood from passing. Strokes can present as seizures although usually they will present as weakness in the limbs on one side. It is rare for strokes to cause weakness on both sides.
- Pregnancy. A female bearded dragon uses an incredible amount of calcium and protein to produce her eggs. If she’s not getting enough it is possible that she may become hypocalcaemic even though she does not have MBD. Blood work from the Vet will be needed to determine this. An X-ray can show if she is pregnant and can be used to determine if she has MBD too. Obviously this one only applies to females – but you may be surprised that the male you thought you had turns out to be female.
- Trauma. If your bearded dragon has fallen from a height and hit their head this can cause a seizure. Generally this occurs if the trauma to the head is sufficient to have caused internal bleeding, but it’s not always the case. Nevertheless, a seizure after trauma is an emergency situation and you’ll need to contact a herpetologist veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Organ disease. Kidneys and/or liver failure can cause toxins to build up in the blood leading to a seizure. Veterinarian blood work is needed to rule this in or out so you’ll need to make an appointment.
- Poisons. If your bearded dragon has eaten something that is poisonous it can cause seizures. Many people would suggest activated charcoal and whilst that’s not going to do any harm it’s unlikely to have much benefit at this stage either since the poison has already entered the blood-stream and found its way to the brain. Again, it’s a vet call unfortunately.
What To Do If Your Bearded Dragon Has A Seizure
Firstly, don’t panic. There’s not much you can do except try to keep them safe. If they are perched up high when they have their seizure gently move them to the floor so they do not fall. Keep your fingers away from their mouths and do not try to put anything their mouths either. They may very well bite you – hard.
They may have difficulty breathing, and they may benefit from being placed slightly head down to allow any fluid to drain from their mouths and reduce the risk of aspiration (fluid in the lungs). Don’t put their head too far down though as they will already be having trouble breathing due to the muscle tremors and going too far down will make this worse.
If your bearded dragon has flipped themselves onto their back during the seizure, gently place them back on their tummy. Bearded dragon’s do not have diaphragms and cannot breathe properly on their back. This would be exacerbated during a seizure, so tummy is essential.
Try to note the time when the seizure started and note when it stopped. This will be useful information for your vet.
Most seizures self resolve within a few minutes. Unfortunately for a bearded dragon seizure there is little that can be done if it doesn’t. A human will require an emergency ambulance attendance if a seizure does not self resolve but no such service exists for bearded dragons.
Depending on the reason for the seizure your vet may prescribe you some medications to help reduce the likelihood of future seizures.
Preventing Bearded Dragon Seizures
Some of the causes listed above are simply not preventable (tumours for example). But many of them are and fortunately the most common cause for bearded dragon seizures is entirely preventable. That is of course, Metabolic Bone Disease. The article in that link will give you all the information you need to prevent MBD and in doing so reduce the likelihood that you’ll ever see a bearded dragon seizure.
Unfortunately an article on the internet such as this cannot diagnose a bearded dragon seizure and it is an emergency situation. Once the seizure passes you should get in touch with a bearded dragon vet as soon as you can to determine the cause and best way of treating your bearded dragon so that seizures don’t happen again.
With treatment, depending on the cause, most bearded dragons that do have a seizure will not experience any long term effects from the seizure itself. But the more they have the higher risk of brain injury and/or body injury. So contact your veterinarian as soon as possible and take it from there.
If you’re reading this article it’s probably because you’ve just recently experienced a bearded dragon seizure and as such, our thoughts are with you. Our fingers are crossed that it’s nothing too sinister and your vet can help you treat it.
All the very best of luck.
The featured image for this post is obtained from ‘PublicDomainPictures‘ on Pixabay. It is not intended to show a bearded dragon having a seizure (since this would be difficult to obtain and quite likely unethical). Thus, in this case it’s a generic bearded dragon image. Thanks to Pixabay and PublicDomainPictures.