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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
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;
Metabolic Bone Disease (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 Tail Rot
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;
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;
Reptile Yellow Fungus Infection
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;
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.