Do Bearded Dragons Get Ill?
Bearded Dragons do occasionally get ill – like any animal. I’ll go over some of the illnesses / diseases that can afflict Bearded Dragons, but if you’re in any doubt about the health of your Beardie you should contact a qualified Herpetologist as soon as possible.
If you don’t know where to find a qualified herpetologist, check Google for;
“Qualified Herpetologist in my area” or
“Qualified Reptile Vet in my area” or
“Qualified Reptile Veterinarian in my area”
Or check for a good Facebook Group relating to Bearded Dragons, or a good forum for Beardies to ask for advice. Be warned though when asking in these groups for advice – the advice you’re given will be general in nature and you should consider seeking specialist help from your reptile vet.
Some of the more common illnesses though are:
This is where your Beardie has ingested something that it can’t digest, such as sand from the vivarium, if your substrate is sand or soil or if you feed too many hard-shelled foods such as crickets or mealworms. The hard exoskeleton of the insects are much more difficult for beardie to digest and end up building up in the intestinal tract and causing an impaction.
It can also happen if your Beardie can’t digest food because it’s not warm enough or is becoming dehydrated.
Ways To Avoid Impaction
The most likely culprit of impaction is that Beardie is ingesting substrate from the floor of the vivarium. Any substrate that beardie can get into its mouth could cause impaction. Sand is often the biggest culprit for this, particularly with young bearded dragons, but it can happen with any age.
Other substrates can also cause impaction, such as wood chips, although these tend not to get stuck on the food as often it is important to remember that bearded dragons have sticky tongues and may not always realise that what they’re eating is indigestible.
Choose your substrate wisely to avoid impaction.
Beetles, crickets and other meaty foods that have a hard exoskeleton can also cause impactions. A good rule of thumb when it comes to feeding – particularly baby or adolescent Beardies – is to never give them food that is bigger than the space between their eyes. This helps not only to get the food down in the first place, but also to avoid impaction as the exoskeleton should be small enough to be digested. Bear in mind reptiles don’t chew their food first (at least not significantly) and so everything eaten has to be broken down chemically rather than physically.
How Can I Tell Beardie Is Impacted?
Your Bearded Dragon will stop pooing for some time. Sometimes this is normal, but if he/she doesn’t poo for longer than usual, and is showing signs of lethargy and off their food they may be impacted. Unfortunately for you, these signs can also be for other reasons, so it’s going to be difficult to tell.
If they stop pooing, go off their food and become very lethargic and appear uncomfortable around their tummy, they’re possibly impacted. They may begin to lose weight and walk very stiffly if they do walk. They may show stress colours and generally look unwell.
If they are impacted and continue to eat they may regurgitate their food shortly afterwards.
What Can I Do About Impaction?
Prevention is definitely better than cure so choose your substrate and foods wisely and make sure the temperatures are correct in your vivarium. But if they have become impacted (and don’t feel bad, it’s not always your fault!) there are a couple of things you can try at home, but I’d highly recommend contacting your specialist reptile vet for advice as well.
If you want to try things at home, you can try dropping some pure unsweetened prunes from a syringe onto their nose which will help speed up bowel movements. Then place them in a warm bath up to their shoulders for up to half an hour. You’ll need to keep the water warm during this time, so a warm environment is essential.
If this doesn’t help them to go to the toilet you should contact your reptile vet urgently. Impaction ( just as bowel obstruction in humans ) can be fatal as it can lead to perforated bowels, rectal prolapses and other significant complications.
Don’t try to manually move the impaction through, you will very likely cause a rupture somewhere. Your beardie needs specialist veterinary assistance.
Metabolic Bone Disease
This debilitating disorder is similar to Osteoporosis in humans, but in Beardies tends to be an exaggerated form. This is primarily due to the fact they’re kept in captivity and can’t moderate their own food intake nor their exposure to UVB light.
Beardies require a lot of calcium in their diet and the right housing conditions to be able to properly metabolise that calcium. It’s a fine balance of dietary requirements and environmental requirements. If your Bearded Dragon isn’t getting enough calcium, or isn’t able to process the calcium it is getting, then its body will start degrading its own bones to get it.
Ways To Avoid MBD
You should make sure your beardie gets enough UVB from their light source in the vivarium. As in humans, Bearded Dragons synthesise Vitamin D through sunlight, or specifically through the Ultraviolet light in sunlight – or UVB light. You’ll need to make sure you have a good UVB light in the vivarium that is active for around 12 hours per day. You’ll probably want to change this bulb every 6 to 9 months as well as they degrade, but because we humans can’t see UV light you’ll not know whether it’s producing enough properly. Follow the manufacturers advice on this.
You’ll also need to make sure your Beardie is getting enough calcium from their diet. You can do this by making sure you feed them lots of good leafy greens and possibly dusting their live food with a good supplement.
If your beardie won’t eat dusted live food you can ‘gutload’ their live food with the supplements so that they inadvertently eat the supplement.
Healthy foods to avoid MBD are listed in our post here – but do beware that some foods are high in Phosphorus and/or Oxalates which are specific chemicals that inhibit or reduce the uptake of calcium from their food. Bananas are a prime example of this, which of course aren’t likely to be found in the natural habitat of the bearded dragon but do make a nice treat now and then. Just don’t give them much!
The temperature of your vivarium is also very important for calcium absorption. If the temperature isn’t warm enough, Beardie will not be able to digest its food properly and if it can’t digest the food it definitely can’t absorb any calcium from it.
How Can I Tell My Beardie Is Suffering From MBD?
This is a tough one because by the time symptoms start to show it’s already quite serious. However, some symptoms will show earlier than others, so all is not necessarily lost provided your Beardie gets some treatment as soon as possible.
Symptoms of MBD include muscle tremor or twitching, lethargy and a loss of appetite. If Beardie looks weak compared to usual this could be a sign of Metabolic Bone Disease.
The above video isn’t one of ours, but is available on YouTube and gives you an idea of what the tremors might look like.
Young beardies with MBD will not grow as quickly as they should, leading to a stunting of their growth which will mean they’re likely to always be smaller than they should be.
The jawline may begin to look softer and the lower jaw may begin to recede.
Significant MBD will cause limb weakness, leading to easily broken limbs from relatively minor traumas such as jumping down from logs or rocks and will lead to deformed limbs as they can’t heal properly. Limbs may become paralysed, usually starting with the back limbs – so if your bearded dragon is dragging himself around the vivarium with his hind legs not working this could be MBD.
Significant MBD will lead to deformities, paralysis and ultimately death of your Beardy so it’s essential you look out for the signs by interacting with your dragons and spotting when anything is unusual.
How Can I Fix MBD?
Firstly, check all the things above – in particular, change your UV light if you haven’t done so recently or have reason to believe it’s not working properly. Check your tank temperatures and make sure your on/off timers are working properly. If the UV light is never being told to switch on by the timer it’ll never come on.
If everything with your husbandry is correct but Beardie is still showing signs of MBD it’s worth contacting your specialist reptile vet. Some other illnesses such as parasites or infections can mimic some of the early signs of MBD (such as lethargy and reduced appetite) so it may not be MBD at all. But if you’ve checked and it is MBD then the vet may prescribe some oral calcium and vitamin D injections to help.
Tail rot is a condition of the Bearded Dragon’s tail whereby the blood flow becomes restricted and the end of the tail (or even fairly well up the tail) dies, becomes necrotic and eventually falls off. The condition is somewhat akin to gangrene in humans (similar causes and effects) and similarly to gangrene the affected limb, in this case the tail, may require amputation.
Of course, a dead limb (tail) that is still attached causes it’s own set of complication such as toxins and/or infection which can enter the bloodstream leading to septicaemia and ultimately death. So, keep your eye on your beardies tail.
What Causes Tail Rot?
The most common cause of tail rot is an incomplete shed. In this case, because your beardie is growing and the skin and scales he is covered in can’t stretch all that much, occasionally he’ll need to shed. This is seen more vividly in the snake world because snakes tend to shed their skin as whole, leaving a replica of themselves behind. Bearded dragons shed their skins too but the whole lot rarely (if ever) comes off all at once. They’ll shed over a couple of weeks. On occasions though the shedding of their skin doesn’t fully complete and some skin, often at the end of the tail remains unshed. The body structures underneath continue to grow but the skin cannot stretch. When this happens the tissues become compressed and blood flow is restricted and eventually stopped.
This can happen if multiple sheds are incomplete, sometimes a solid band of old skin can remain around the tail, causing, essentially, a tourniquet around the tail.
Bearded Dragons are quite active within their environment and can sometimes cause themselves trauma to their tails – or you might nip the end in the doors of their enclosure. Another common source of trauma amongst beardies is when 2 or more are kept in the same vivarium – this is not a good idea because Bearded Dragons are bullies to each other. Eventually one of them is likely to lose a leg, or a tail because the other one chomps on it.
Any kind of trauma can lead to a reduction in the blood flow to the area – in particular if bones are broken and deformities or swelling occurs. Any trauma to the tail should be monitored closely for signs of tail rot.
The tail dies when it isn’t getting enough blood. When the tail dies it begins to decompose due to bacteria breaking down the old flesh. This will eventually lead to the tail falling off or the dragon become septic.
How To Recognise Tail Rot
A beardie with tail rot will likely have a distinct colour change around the area that is not getting adequate blood supply. The likelihood of this just happening overnight is almost nil because as mentioned in the previous paragraph the most common cause is an incomplete shed. However, other causes are possible so you should make sure you check beardies tail regularly.
If you handle your dragon regularly and get to them and their markings you’ll soon spot anything out of the ordinary. Look for the darkened tail distally ( ie, away from the body ). Some beardies will have tails that get darker naturally, but these markings are usually subtle changes whereas tail rot is likely to be a sudden change from one colour to a much darker colour.
Check the scales on Beardies tail if you’re thinking tail-rot. They may well be damaged, missing or just look wrong compared to scales closer to the body. In severe tail rot cases the tail itself may become deformed or even begin to detach and break down. These severe cases are going to become life threatening if untreated so do get in touch with your reptile vet.
Curing Tail Rot
If the cause of the tail rot is removed – ie, the shed is completed properly, or the trauma is managed and fixed, then tail rot can often be fixed with topical creams and/or antibiotics from the vet. But the reason for the tail rot to begin will need to be fixed before this can be successful otherwise the tail rot will simply continue to spread.
If the tail rot is severe, in particular if the damaged area has become necrotic (has died) rather than just being ischaemic (not enough blood flow) then it is possible that the tail will need to be amputated. This is because without amputation, back to the well supplied area, the necrotic tissue will become infected and the bacteria that infect the area will release toxins and begin to destroy areas of good tissue further up the tail too.
Ultimately, a necrotic, infected tail will kill the host dragon through septicaemia. This is when the infection overwhelms the dragons immune system and causes such an enormous inflammatory response from the immune system that the organs fail and the dragon dies.
Ways To Avoid Tail Rot
The best way is to keep an eye on your dragon through good and regular handling, not keep beardies together in the same tank (or if you do to make sure you keep a very close on them so they don’t bully each other), keep an eye on them during shedding and to help the shed if it goes on too long or doesn’t look like it’s all coming away properly. Also to make sure there’s limited chance of trauma to their tails.
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Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is a condition that many lizards can get, so bearded dragons are susceptible to this too.
How To Recognise Mouth Rot
The biggest giveaway here is likely to be a change in beardie’s behaviour. He or she will become more lethargic and quite likely to be off their food. When you notice these changes there’s a number of reasons that could cause it, but it’s worth checking their mouth to rule out mouth rot.
If it is mouth rot you’ll probably notice whiteish grey or yellowish grey patches around the mouth and possibly some reddening and/or swelling. Your dragon may also produce a lot more saliva than usual leading to a drooling effect.
Treating mouth Rot
If caught early enough, and the symptoms are mild enough, some home remedies may work, such as a betadine swab regularly applied to the affected area. Be careful not to leave too much betadine on the swab or on Beardie’s mouth as it’s not particularly good for them to swallow it. The betadine will probably want to be watered down a little bit, but you can ask at your local reptile store as each product varies. Chlorhexidine / Nolvasan also works well but will need watering down too. Apply the solution with a cotton bud / Q-Tip.
If the symptoms don’t resolve with this treatment after a few days, or you think that the infection is too serious to begin with, then you’ll need to speak to your vet and get some antibiotics.
Preventing Mouth Rot
Most cases of mouth rot will come from the environment not being quite right. Insects that make up the beardie’s food diet will harbour bacteria and these can cause an infection on beardie if the vivarium conditions allow it.
Too much humidity or too cool vivarium with insufficient basking spots will reduce the ability of Beardie to fight off infection. So it’s worth checking your temperatures and your UV lamps to make sure everything is still functioning. Also make sure their diet is up to standard and they’re getting enough calcium and vitamins by dusting their live food with supplements if necessary.
Keeping your eye on Beardie’s behaviour and handling him or her regularly should help you to spot any issues early and in many cases early intervention can reduce recovery time and reduce need for costly interventions.
Yellow Fungus Infection
Yellow fungal infection is, as it suggests, a disease caused by a fungal infection by the very complicated name of Chrysosporium Anamorph of Nanniziopsis vriesii (CANV). Yellow fungal infection is becoming more common recently and is spread by direct contact between beardies or between beardies who’ve been in a vivarium that has, at some point, housed an infected individual.
Yellow Fungus Symptoms
Along with the usual symptoms of increased lethargy and being off their food, Beardies with a yellow fungal infection will exhibit the signs somewhere on their body. A yellowy discolouration of their skin ( which gives rise to the diseases alternative name of Yellow Skin Disease ) will be the first skin signs and if left untreated these can progress to painful ulcers underneath their scales which will eventually push the scales off and lead to nasty painful skin lesions. These lesions can often contain pus and will cause a discharge.
These lesions can cause issues with shedding in that they are harder to shed and quite often lead to an incomplete shed – with the associated problems that can cause.
If left untreated the fungus will eventually infiltrate the bearded dragons body and organs and this will lead to death.
Yellow Fungus Prevention
The best way to avoid the risk of yellow fungal infection is to make sure that the vivarium is thoroughly cleaned regularly and that any new-comers don’t share the vivarium (which isn’t a particularly good idea anyway for other reasons).
Make sure the temperatures are correct in the vivarium, in particular make sure they’re warm enough at basking end and at cool end. The yellow fungus will prefer a cooler vivarium with too much humidity, so if your temperatures are correct the risk of your Beardie picking up this infection are much reduced. Similarly – ensure your UV lamps are functioning correctly and for long enough throughout the day as the fungus won’t like UV light.
Good hand hygiene from yourself, particularly if you have multiple dragons or other reptiles that you look after, will help to reduce the risk of spreading the infection between animals.
Treatment For Yellow Fungal Infection
Many people online will tell you that yellow fungus is untreatable. This is not true. Yellow fungus is difficult to treat but is nonetheless treatable. But…
This disease is going to require a visit to the reptile vets for appropriate anti-fungal treatment – and the earlier your beardie visits their favourite place ( cos the Vet is every animals favourite place is it not? ) the quicker and easier they can make a recovery – and the less damage to your wallet too.
Treatment consists of oral anti-fungals which you’ll probably need to administer by dropping some into their mouths through the use of a syringe, as well as topical ointments to help reduce the infection and inflammation.
In severe cases, significant debridement of the lesions may be required resulting in a fairly lengthy vet stay with the associated costs.
The best bet here is get this one to the vet early and quickly to avoid these fairly significant complications. Avoid contaminating other animals nearby by making sure you have good hand hygiene in between touching them and definitely keep any affected Beardies in isolation whilst they’re being treated. If treated early and properly, this disease can be cured with no adverse effects – but if left untreated it will be fatal.
Bearded Dragon stools should be relatively hard and brown in colour with a nice white part (chelate) at the end – the white part is the urine byproducts. If the beardie has diarrhoea, as in humans, it means something is not right. Diarrhoea can be caused by a number of factors, including something as simple as being fed Iceberg lettuce – but sometimes more sinister factors can be at play.
If your beardie has diarrhoea and is showing other signs and symptoms such as lethargy, off their food etc, then there’s a strong chance they may have become infected with parasites. Fortunately there are tests available which can be ordered online or through your Vet which will rule these in or out.
Generally speaking, Beardie poop doesn’t actually smell all that much – but if it’s diarrhoea and caused by parasites it probably will!
Parasites are easily treatable if you discover they are present, so it’s worth a trip to the vet to get a parasite check done. It’s also worth doing this once a year or so as a ‘checkup’ measure anyway – and before your Beardie goes into brumation too.
Stress can cause beardies poop to be diarrhoea like – as in most animals their guts are highly sensitive to sudden changes in circumstances, so if your beardie does have a bout of diarrhoea it’s not a huge problem so long as it only lasts a day or two. If it goes on longer than that seek advice.
If there’s any blood in the diarrhoea though, you should call the vet and get an appointment as soon as you possibly can. And if possible, take a sample in with you.
Even with the proper care, bearded dragons, like every other living creature, including of course us humans, can get sick. I’ve outlined some of the more common symptoms and causes and how to help your Beardie pet get better.
The best defence against all these illnesses is to make sure your vivarium is at the right temperatures with the right amount of UV for basking. Finally, the best thing you can do to keep on top of your Bearded Dragon’s health is to make sure you interact with them
Regularly interacting with Beardie will alert you almost immediately if something is wrong because you’ll notice a change in their behaviour or character.
If you have anything that concerns you it’s always best to consult your vet, but if it’s something you think we might be able to help with then do feel free to drop us a line in the comments below. If you’ve experienced any Beardie illness and want to share your thoughts with other readers, please also leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you.