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Bearded Dragon Health

Sick Bearded Dragon? – What Could It Be? 10 Preventable Bearded Dragon Diseases and How To Treat Them

I Think I Have a Sick Bearded Dragon, What Can I Do?

Bearded Dragons do occasionally get sick – 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 bearded dragon you should contact a qualified Herpetologist as soon as possible. If you’re not sure if you have a sick bearded dragon then this article should help you determine what is wrong and give you some tips and advice on how serious it is.

If you don’t know where to find a qualified herpetologist, check Google for;

“Qualified Herpetologist in my area” or
“Specialist 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 Bearded Dragon Owners to ask for advice. You’ll still want to consult a qualified vet though as the advice you’re given will be general in nature. But a forum or Facebook group can give you some tips in the meantime.

Common Bearded Dragon Diseases

Impaction

This is where your bearded dragon has ingested something that it can’t digest. This could be sand from the vivarium, if your substrate is sand or soil. Or it could be because you feed too many hard-shelled foods such as crickets or mealworms. The hard exoskeleton of these insects are much more difficult for bearded dragons to digest and end up building up in the gut and causing impaction.

It can also happen if your bearded dragon can’t digest food because it’s not warm enough or is becoming dehydrated. The light and temperature in their environment is very important to avoid an impacted bearded dragon or indeed for avoiding various other things that cause a sick bearded dragon.

We have a specific article about bearded dragon impaction. The article will give you all the information you need to know to avoid or fix bearded dragon impaction. You can read that article by clicking the button below;

Learn About Bearded Dragon Impaction – How To Avoid It, How To Help

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Sick Bearded Dragon with MBD
Bearded Dragon MBD

This debilitating disorder is similar to Osteoporosis in humans, but in bearded dragons 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.

Bearded dragons require a lot of calcium in their diet and the right housing conditions to be able to properly metabolize 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. This leads to a very very sick bearded dragon as you can see from the image above.

For more information about preventing metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons, or how to reduce the impact of MBD in bearded dragons if your dragon already has it, then please click the button below;

Bearded Dragon MBD – How To Prevent MBD In Bearded Dragons & How To Care For Bearded Dragons With MBD

Bearded Dragon Tail Rot

Sick Bearded Dragon? - What Could It Be? 10 Preventable Bearded Dragon Diseases and How To Treat Them 1

Tail rot is a condition of the Bearded Dragon’s tail whereby the blood flow becomes restricted. The end of the tail then dies, becomes necrotic (rots) and eventually falls off. The condition is somewhat akin to gangrene in humans. Similarly to gangrene the affected limb, in this case the tail, may require amputation.

Of course, a dead tail that is still attached causes it’s own set of complications. Toxins and/or infection can enter the bloodstream leading to septicaemia and ultimately death. So, keep your eye on your bearded dragon’s tail.

For further information about Bearded Dragon Tail rot, click the button below;

Bearded Dragon Tail Rot

Mouth Rot

Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is a condition that many lizards can get. Bearded dragons are susceptible to this too.

For further information about bearded dragon mouth rot please click the button below;

Bearded Dragon Mouth Rot

Reptile Yellow Fungus Infection

Bearded Dragon with Yellow Fungus

Yellow fungal infection is, as it suggests, a disease caused by a fungal infection. It has the very complicated name of Chrysosporium Anamorph of Nanniziopsis vriesii (CANV). Infection is becoming more common recently and is spread by direct contact between bearded dragons. It can also be passed between reptiles who’ve been in a vivarium that has housed an infected individual.

For more information about Yellow Fungus infection in bearded dragons, please click the box below;

Bearded Dragon Yellow Fungus And How To Avoid It

Diarrhoea In Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragon stools should be relatively hard and brown in colour. They should have a nice white part (chelate) at the end. The white part is the urine byproducts. If the dragon has diarrhoea, as in humans, it means something is not right. Diarrhoea can be caused by a number of factors. This can be something as simple as being fed Iceberg lettuce – but sometimes more sinister factors can be at play.

To find out whether your bearded dragon has issues, or whether it’s nothing to worry about click the link below;

If Your Bearded Dragon Has Diarrhea Here’s Some Things To Check

Atadenovirus / Adenovirus

Adenovirus or Atadenovirus is a life threatening disease that is highly contagious among reptiles. It usually infects baby or juvenile bearded dragons. Adults can contract it as well, but it tends to be rarer in them.

Atadenovirus is usually fatal to baby bearded dragons. Infected babies will usually die within 90 days. The cause of death from atadenovirus is usually liver failure or multiple organ failure. If the baby does manage to survive the disease it will remain a carrier for life. For this reason it should not be housed among atadenovirus negative reptiles.

For further information about Atadenovirus In Bearded Dragons, click here

Respiratory Tract Infection In Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons can develop respiratory tract infection (often abbreviated to RTI or RI) for a number of reasons but they all come down to something wrong in the environment or husbandry. Usually, a RTI is due to the temperature being too low or the humidity being too high, but aspiration of water or food can instead be a culprit.

Aspiration is more of a problem if you’re syringe feeding your dragon or providing water through a syringe directly into their mouths. They can aspirate when drinking from a normal water source too. A respiratory infection can be fatal for a bearded dragon if the husbandry is not corrected and the infection treated.

For a far more in depth look at Bearded Dragon Respiratory Infection Click here.

Burns

Although not a disease in itself of course, we thought it wise to include the possibility of burns in this book as there are many people who don’t know better who’ve caused some significant burns to their dragons.

Burns can happen for a number of reasons which we’ll go into below, but they’ll present as an area of skin that is inflamed, possibly gone white or yellow with a pus-like exudate, similar to when humans are burned.

Burns can appear on your dragons underside, which is probably the most common area as they don’t feel heat properly through their bellies. They may also appear on their backs, legs, toes and tails though.

Preventing Burns

Whilst this may seem obvious, the best way to prevent burns is to ensure that your dragon cannot come into contact with anything hot. Be aware though that even a relatively low temperature (50 to 60 celsius, 122 to 140 Fahrenheit) can cause burns if the dragon is subjected to it for a long enough period. It is for this reason that we don’t recommend the use of heat mats for example.

Remove any heat mats within the vivarium, particularly if these are exposed with no substrate covering them. Heat rocks are equally dangerous from a burns perspective. This is because bearded dragons rely on heat on their backs to decide if an area is hot or not, they cannot feel the heat as well on their stomachs. A dragon will think it is cool or cold even while laying on a heat mat or heat rock if there is no overhead heat to stimulate them.

Heat mats are very suitable for other reptiles, but they are not suitable for bearded dragons.

Be especially careful with any cages that surround heat lamps. These cages can get quite hot in themselves and if the dragon manages to jump onto the cage surround, they’ll be presenting the underside of their body to the cage, which means they won’t feel it is hot. They may therefore hang around on the side of the cage and get burned.

Ideally, any heat lamps should be positioned at the very top of the vivarium, with a hole cut to exactly the right size so that a heat lamp doesn’t need a protective cage. That is to say, the bulb/lamp is actually outside the vivarium, with just the very base of the lamp lining up with the top of the vivarium. If that’s not possible, make certain there is no way at all that the dragon can jump up to hang on the protective cage.

Treating Burns

This is a specialist area requiring a specialist trip to the vet. In an emergency we would recommend cooling the burned area with tepid (not cold) clean water on a cotton wool ball – changing the water regularly to keep it cool. Don’t apply any ointments or creams unless advised by the vet to do this. They will need an emergency appointment with the vet as the skin will be damaged and subject to circulatory problems and infection. The vet should be able to advise you over the phone with immediate home remedies before seeing them.

Hypervitaminosis ( or Over Supplementing )

Dusting bearded dragons food with supplements is a well established practice for ensuring that they get enough Vitamin D and calcium. Some people also like to supplement the bearded dragon diet with extra multivitamins and pro-biotics.

So long as the diet is balanced and the bearded dragon’s environment is well kept they won’t really need multi-vitamins or pro-biotics unless they’re ill. If they are ill then the multi-vitamin regime is best carried out under the guidance of a vet following blood tests to ensure they actually need them.

Hypervitaminosis is the reason for this. Hypervitaminosis is the condition of having too many vitamins in the body, to a level where the vitamins are in fact harmful rather than beneficial. This is only a problem with the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin E and K aren’t likely to be much of a problem for a bearded dragon, but vitamin A and D are. The water soluble vitamins B and C are passed out of the body in the urate when they are in excess.

Vitamin D is of course a very common and necessary supplement for bearded dragons. But if you over supplement you can end up with problems. Vitamin A given as a supplement is rarely needed as a balanced diet will provide them with all the vitamin A they need.

Hypervitaminosis A Symptoms

Because vitamin A is used to keep epithelial (skin/scale) cells healthy, hypervitaminosis A usually shows itself in the skin first. A dragon with hypervitaminosis A will often present with dry, flaky skin that doesn’t look like a normal shed. The most affected areas are usually those that are loose, such as around their neck and beards and front legs.

They may develop skin ulcers – which can of course be confused with yellow fungus infection. They’ll probably also be lethargic, off their food and depressed – perhaps hiding in their cave most of the day.

Hypervitaminosis A Diagnosis

Diagnosis can only be definitely made from blood tests which the vet will need to perform. If your bearded dragon exhibits any of the signs above that can’t be explained by other illnesses, a trip to the vet is recommended.

Having said all that, Hypervitaminosis A is fairly unlikely unless you’re supplementing their diet with multivitamins or if they’re receiving vitamin A injections for some reason. In the latter case your vet should be keeping an eye on their blood serum levels of Vitamin A anyway.

Obviously the cure for hypervitaminosis is to reduce the intake of the vitamin itself, but in severe cases more significant supportive care will be needed. It’s definitely one for the vet.

Hypervitaminosis D

This one is perhaps a little more likely because many people over supplement their bearded dragons diet. This isn’t all that surprising because there’s a huge and justified fear of bearded dragons developing MBD.

So, some supplementation of diet is recommended but not too much. The D3 supplement only needs to be the head of a cricket or locust dipped in the supplement and the excess tapped off. Only a small amount of supplemental D3 is needed.

There’s some evidence that Vitamin D3 supplementation provides little to no benefit at all as it’s not as well absorbed as the natural Vitamin D3 produced in the presence of UVB light. Having said that, the evidence isn’t yet conclusive and it’s probably best at this time to keep supplementing with D3 until the evidence is more available. Most captive bearded dragons don’t get enough UVB either… Just don’t overdo the VitD dusting.

Symptoms of Hypervitaminosis D

Vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption of calcium into bones, so it stands to reason that the most likely symptoms of vitamin D overdose will involve the bones. The effects of Vitamin D overdose will include calcium deposits in joints and bones that shouldn’t be there. This can lead to a reduction in movement of affected joints, along with pain for your bearded dragon as the deposited calcium is likely to be irregular in shape and sharp.

Calcium will also be laid down in arteries and the valves of the heart, causing impaired blood flow and heart problems. Calcium deposits in the kidneys will result in kidney disease and/or stones and reduce kidney function.

Ironically, bearded dragons may develop soft bones, with calcium deposits elsewhere causing them difficulty moving. This will therefore tend to look like MBD, potentially causing you, the keeper, to actually increase the Vitamin D3 supplement.

This is because the UVB light source is the best way to ensure the calcium uptake goes into the bones and if the UVB lights are up to scratch Vitamin D3 supplementation isn’t all that necessary.

If your dragon exhibits any signs of MBD it’s essential that you get a vet check for some blood tests to work out whether they are calcium deficient or vitamin D3 overdosed.

Avoiding Hypervitaminosis D

The best way to avoid hypervitaminosis D is to ensure you’re only supplementing D3 once a week and only a small amount. But it’s vital to ensure that your UVB lights are changed every 6 to 9 months as the UVB output from these lights degrades quickly and as we’ve said, insufficient UVB will lead to MBD.

This All Sounds Too Much! I Can’t Cope!

The incidence of Hypervitaminosis A or D is fairly rare. We include it here in case it happens so that you can recognise it and consider it as a possibility if your dragon exhibits the signs.

But a balanced diet, with supplementation as described and plenty of UVB will make sure you avoid this.

If your climate is reasonable ( which rules out most of the UK! ) then taking your bearded dragon outside for some proper summer sun will be extremely beneficial too. But do be aware of airborn predators and don’t leave them outside unattended.

Conclusion

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 UVB light 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.


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10 Comments

  1. Hi I have a 2 year old bearded dragon I have him in a 5ft vivarium with no substrate (at the moment) he has a branch a hide a basking ledge he has 2 recently new uvb bulbs 14% arcadia strip light ones his temps are 102-108 basking side (did try lower but he didn’t seem to like it) cool side roughly 80. I’m having a problem with his eyes mainly his inner eylid seems swollen and doesn’t retract all the way he has been treated for an eye infection and that did nothing I’ve read that it can be caused by lack of vit A his food is always supplemented with multivits including vit A and calcium D3 and also read he could have to much vit A which can cause the same problem he seems a bit lethargic as well and has gone off eating (he has never liked his veg hence why I had got the supplements) so where I am now is I have stopped the vitimins incase I am overdoing it and I’m syringe feeding him a mix of carrot green beans and spring greens. Just wondering if you think this is the right way to go about it its been about 2 days since trying this and he seems more himself but the eyes are still not right the don’t look bulgy or anything just the inner eyelid looks a bit red and doest retract properly iv also been using beaphar on his eyes. Sorry for the long message any advise would be appreciated thankyou.

    1. Hi Ian,
      Thanks for getting in touch. This is a tough one to diagnose from a description, although I note that you’ve sent some photos through as well.

      I think if you’ve made changes and they’re showing some signs of improvement that it may be worth continuing those changes. It certainly could be a Vitamin A overdose – or Hypervitaminosis A. This would probably depend on how often you’re giving him multivitamins and the doseage – which is all quite difficult to measure with Bearded Dragons.

      It could also be some kind of foreign body trapped under the eyelid – a small particle or wood-shaving or something similar. Whilst this seems unlikely as it’s both eyes it’s not impossible. The other alternative is that an infection or perforated sclera is the culprit but again it would be unlucky (but not impossible) to involve both eyes.

      Our best advice is to keep doing what you’re doing if it’s showing an improvement and try to find a specialist reptile Vet in your area who may have some other ideas – and potentially can do some X-Rays or something similar to see if foreign body shows up. Or swabs to see what grows in a petri-dish to determine which antibiotics will be most effective. It’s probably wise to see the Vet as soon as possible otherwise any infection could potentially spread to the eyeball itself and may result in total loss of vision for your pet – potentially in both eyes which for a lizard isn’t going to be great.

      Please let us know how you get on and we wish you all the best,
      Steve and Claire.

  2. Thankyou for your advice I’ve changed his vitimins as well now to a natural a vitimin from beta carotene which I read online works where as the one I was using before was from reptivite and just contained a non natural vit A which aparently stores up and causes toxicity so I’m hoping this will help I read online some else had the same problem same symptoms ect so fingers crossed if I don’t see any improvement by the end of the week I will take another trip to the vets he has done a course of antibiotic eye drops which he was on for 2 weeks so I’m thinking infection is proberbly off the cards but will get them to do a swab like you suggest just in case thankyou for your time have you got any advice on how to get them to eat their veg he is so fussy I have tried so many different fruits and veg (just the good ones nothing that’s bad for him) and he sticks his nose up at them he has the odd bite but normaly spits them out, is their anything out there that can make them taste like morio worms or something

    Thanks again

    1. Hi Ian,
      I have also seen recommendations to use natural vitamin A supplements rather than non-natural. This may help reduce toxicity.

      I tend to agree with you that infection is relatively unlikely as he’s had the eye-drops, but if it doesn’t improve then a swab would be necessary. Some infections are resistant to certain anti-biotics and he may have a resistant strain. Having said that, the most likely culprit at the moment is still VitA overdose.

      In order to get him to eat his greens you can try a light dusting of Bee Pollen which I’m led to believe you can pick up from Holland and Barrett. Be aware though that Bee Pollen also contains a fairly decent level of multivitamins so you may want to make sure you’re not overdosing on the other ones. But most dragons seem to love the taste of the bee pollen and once they get the idea that the veggies taste good they’ll be onto them 🙂

      You can join our Facebook group as well if you like more interactive discussion and for tips from other keepers. Bearded Dragons Rock Facebook Group

    1. Hi Claire,
      I wouldn’t recommend prophylactic worming of a Beardie, it’s better to get a faecal test done to check if your dragon has any parasites and then target the specific de-wormer/anti-parasitic to any that are discovered in the sample. For this you’ll need a vet appointment with an exotic vet in your area. It shouldn’t be too expensive for this kind of check-up but you may be looking around the £60.00 mark for the checkup and faecal test, plus whatever is required to help afterwards, though it may vary.

      Hope that helps, although I know you were hoping for a specific answer, I’d always recommend a vet trip for this one to be on the safe side.

      All the best,
      Steve.

  3. Our bearded dragon is about 4 1/2. She hasnt eaten worms or crickets for about 3 months now. We have force fed her some vegetables dipped in some calcium and given her baths. She is very lethargic, and recently the last few days has diarreah. Today she has been the lightest color and limp all over with sunken eyes. She also has days where her head shakes when she moves. Other days, no shaking. The temperature in her habitat is consistent. Any ideas?? Its sad to see her like this. We havent taken her to the vet, but will call tomorrow.

    1. Hi Carolyn,
      Sorry to hear that your dragon is having troubles, and from your description she does sound quite sick at the moment.

      If all of your temperatures and lighting are correct and UVB bulbs have been changed regularly at around the 6-9 month intervals, then the most likely cause of this, in our opinion, is probably an internal parasitic infection but you’ll definitely want a vet visit because it could be something else more sinister going on and even if it’s parasites the vet will need to prescribe some medications for her.

      We wish you and your bearded dragon all the best, please pop back and let us know how you get on.
      Steve and Claire

      1. Unfortunatly our beardie, Stella passed the evening that I had posted. It was very sad for my kids. We would like to get another bearded dragon in the future. For the time we had her, she was a wonderful fun pet with alot of character!

        1. Hello Carolyn,
          Ah, we’re sorry to hear that. She sounds like she was well loved. They’re definitely fun little characters.

          Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time.

          Steve and Claire.

  4. We got a baby bearded dragon in July. She ate great for the first couple days, about 6 crickets a day, then stopped. After a while of being told she would “eat when she was hungry” by the pet store (and a lot of research on my part), I discovered she had a UVB and calcium deficiency. I replaced her lighting from what the pet store originally told me was adequate (it was NOT), and started force-feeding her a supplement. (She had become severely malnourished.) I also bought an electrolyte solution to add to daily baths for her. I then took her to the vet, who told me to keep doing what I was doing (he said he was impressed by my research), and said he hoped she’d make it, and told me to come back in a week. (I paid him to tell me that. ) I diligently worked with her every day. I’m a big animal lover. She turned around, started improving, stopped being lethargic, started standing again, stopped twitching, etc!! The vet was amazed when I brought her back in. He said it might take her a while to start eating on her own again, but to keep working on it. (He made me pay for that visit, too. Just to tell me he was glad she was still alive.) Anyway, that was a few weeks ago. She had been steadily improving, and had even finally started eating crickets again sometimes! Yay! And then a couple days ago, she started getting lethargic again, and she’s turned a dark color, and won’t eat again, and I don’t know what to do! This is my first time owning a bearded dragon. I have no idea what’s going on, and I’m super worried. Again. How do I get her to eat? Why is she turning black? Why is she lethargic again? What am I doing wrong? I need to see if I can find her a different vet, but in the mean-time…any help you can offer would be incredible.

    Thank you!

    1. Hello Em,
      Sorry for the delay replying to this one – I thought I had replied to you but it appears I hadn’t!

      Young bearded dragons are quite fickle little creatures and the reasons why they might be turning black and off their food are many. It’s good that you’ve done your research and replaced the UVB bulb as this is one of the biggest reasons why they can get sick. You haven’t mentioned anything about the temperatures in her vivarium, though I suspect you’ve probably researched this one too. Bearded Dragon Lighting And Heating can help you determine if your baby is warm enough. They like it a little bit warmer than adults.

      The next thing to look at is whether the crickets are the right size. A good rule of thumb for baby bearded dragons is to make sure the cricket is no longer than the space between your babies eyes. Some groups online dispute this fact, but we’ve seen some very poorly baby dragons as a result of feeding them insects that are too big. If the insect is too big your baby will probably still try to eat it (they’re not very smart at this age) but the size of the insect can cause compression on the spinal cord leading to temporary (hopefully) paralysis. We feel it’s not worth the risk.

      Has your baby pooped recently and if so was it normal looking? If she hasn’t pooped she may well be impacted. Crickets are quite hard for babies to digest and we’d recommend only small crickets if at all. Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL – also known as Phoenix worms or Calciworms) are a great staple for babies as they’re fairly small and soft. They’re loaded with calcium too. We tend to recommend avoiding mealworms for babies as they contain a hard shell that can be difficult to digest and can lead to impaction too.

      Finally, you don’t mention what you’re keeping your baby on. If she’s on sand we’d recommend switching that to a non particle substrate while she’s still young as she may be ingesting the substrate itself and giving herself a blockage (impaction).

      That’s about all I can think of at the moment, but if you have any updates we’d love to hear from you and if you have any other questions please do drop us a line.

      Good luck!
      Steve and Claire.

  5. Last Tuesday we woke to our 5 year old beardie fitting. I took her straight to the vet who treated her for hypocalcemia with calcium injections for 3 days and she seemed to be improving. We also had the stuff to go in the bath and were advised to syringe feed blended veg, bugs and calcium.
    We changed her uvb and rechecked temps (all fine).
    But today she has gotten weaker and now her breathing is laboured and noisy, I’m currently sitting up over night with her in my jumper but she hasn’t closed her eyes for hours and keeps twitching/moving her head and limbs.
    If she makes the night I’ll be taking her back to the vet in the morning.
    After reading your post I’m wondering if we’ve caused a respiratory track infection through the syringe feeding? Would it show up in less than a week? We’ve been trying to build her back up to strength.
    We’d put her lethargy and disinterest in food down to starting to brumate originally but after her injections she passed 3 eggs and seemed better.
    She only started to lay eggs this summer (previously thought she was a he!) And therefore obviously she hadn’t gotten enough calcium etc to compensate for the egg laying.
    What I’m trying to ask if anyone is awake is would she be more comfortable knowing I’m here or in her Viv? Am I keeping her awake? Or keeping her feeling safe and loved as I’m trying to convey?

    1. Hi Gemma, Apologies for the late response.
      It sounds like a distressing time for both you and your beardie, you have done the right thing by getting her medical attention. We hope that she made it to the vet and is beginning to show signs of improvement.
      To answer your question We would suggest that you leave her in her vivarium overnight and allow her to sleep undisturbed. Both you and her will benefit from the rest. It may also be a good idea to reduced the handling during the day for a short time to minimize her exposure to external pathogens that may compromise her further if an infection is present. Ultimately be guided by your vet as s/he knows the specifics of your girls care.
      Please let us know how she is doing.
      Best wishes
      Claire and Steve.

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