Syringe Feeding A Bearded Dragon – 4 Reasons Why It’s Dangerous
Can I Syringe Feed My Bearded Dragon?
We get asked this question quite a lot when bearded dragons won’t eat. Should I be syringe feeding a bearded dragon?
If you’re asking us this question the answer is a resounding no, you should not syringe feed your bearded dragon. The question is more accurately phrased as ‘can I force feed my bearded dragon?‘ which suddenly doesn’t sound as nice and friendly at all does it? Read on for why you shouldn’t just force feed your bearded dragon.
Why Should I Not Syringe Feed My Bearded Dragon?
Syringe feeding should ONLY be undertaken under the advice of a vet.
This is probably contrary to the information you’ll see on other bearded dragon websites where they advocate syringe feeding bearded dragons for a variety of reasons, such as them not having eaten for a few days, or if you believe your bearded dragon is in danger of being dehydrated.
Bearded dragons should only ever be syringe fed if they’re extremely sick. And an extremely sick bearded dragon absolutely requires a veterinary assessment before arriving at the conclusion that he/she requires syringe feeding.
Syringe feeding can make your bearded dragon even sicker than they originally were.
What Are The Dangers of Syringe Feeding A Bearded Dragon?
There are many dangers with syringe feeding a bearded dragon. Here’s a few of them;
Masking Of An Underlying Illness
We sort of addressed this one above, but the biggest reason for not simply deciding to syringe feed your bearded dragon is really that if you think they’re sick enough to warrant force feeding then they’re definitely sick enough to need to see a vet first.
The vet might advise you to syringe feed them after a consultation and that’s of course then perfectly fine because it’s warranted. The vet will give you advice on what to feed them, how often, how much and how to do it. We’ll give some guidance on this below but it should only be used if you’ve seen a vet and you’re still unsure how to go about it.
Aspiration of Syringe Liquids
Bearded dragons can aspirate on fluids very easily. Aspiration is the term used to describe the process of breathing fluids instead of swallowing them. Bearded dragons are reptiles and are therefore designed to breath air into the lungs which is then absorbed into the bloodstream.
Bearded dragons cannot breathe fluids. Fluids will fill up a bearded dragons lungs and they will have reduced surface area for gas exchange. In severe cases this will essentially cause them to drown. In less severe cases it will still cause respiratory distress due to the reduce gas exchange capability.
Aspiration of water or liquid foods also provides a perfect breeding ground for pathogens such as fungi or bacteria and this of course leads to respiratory infection and/or pneumonia. Bearded dragons do not have a diaphragm to assist them with breathing, or more importantly coughing. It’s therefore very difficult for a bearded dragon to expel any liquid that they aspirate.
Ingestion Of Plastic
It’s very common for a bearded dragon to bite the end of the syringe when being syringe fed. If you are force feeding a bearded dragon you’ll need to be extremely careful to ensure they cannot bite the plastic tip off of the syringe, as doing so could lead to internal trauma.
Depending on the size of the syringe tip, it may become lodged inside the bearded dragon’s intestinal system causing impaction. If it has sharp enough edges it could cause sufficient trauma to cause internal bleeding which can of course lead to death.
Mouth or Gum Trauma
We often see pictures of bearded dragons who’ve been syringe fed (with no just cause) with some nasty mouth and gum trauma. This then leads to gum or mouth infections that require treatment with antibiotics or anti-fungals. Administration of antibiotics or anti-fungals of course requires further syringe feeding treatment, which leads to a vicious cycle.
Of course, as before, if you’re administering antibiotics or anti-fungals at the advice of your vet then this is a perfectly acceptable use of syringe feeding. But as before, the vet will show you how to do it and how much to administer, so the risk of mouth damage is much reduced.
Should I Syringe Feed My Bearded Dragon If They’re Dehydrated?
Again, we would recommend against this at almost all costs. There is never a good reason to syringe fluids into a bearded dragon unless you have been so advised by a specialist herpetologist vet.
Bearded dragons will generally get all the fluid they need from their diet. This can be in the form of softer bodied insects such as hornworms, locusts or crickets. Dubia roaches, whilst good for a bearded dragon in general, don’t carry quite as much water as the others. Mealworms and super worms also aren’t great if you’re thinking of rehydrating your dragon.
Insects can be gutloaded with watery vegetables first if the aim is to rehydrate your bearded dragon.
Other ways to rehydrate your bearded dragon without resorting to syringes include the use of watery vegetables in their diet if you can. Things such as capsicum (bell peppers), cucumbers or even butternut squash contain good amounts of water and can help with rehydration. They’re easily swallowed and far far less likely to be aspirated than a syringe full of water.
Our final recommendation for rehydrating a bearded dragon (and it should be noted that these are in no particular order of effectiveness in any case) is to give your bearded dragon a bath. However, it must be understood that the process of bathing a bearded dragon does not rehydrate a bearded dragon unless they drink from the bathwater. Bearded dragons do not absorb water through their cloaca or their skin. But if they drink whilst in the bath (and many do) this will help to rehydrate them.
Should I Syringe Feed My Bearded Dragon If She Won’t Eat?
If you’ve been reading the previous sections of this article you can probably predict the answer to this. No, you should not syringe feed a bearded dragon that won’t eat. At least, not without seeing a herpetologist veterinarian first. There’s a whole slew of reasons your bearded dragon may not be eating and every one of those reasons will be made a lot worse by blindly deciding to syringe feed them.
Bearded dragons can survive quite readily for literally weeks without food. It happens all the time in the wild and they’re built for it. It is not necessary to begin syringe feeding a bearded dragon just because it hasn’t eaten for a few days, even if that is out of character for them. They may just be bored of the food you’re giving them, so before even thinking of syringe feeding, perhaps try something new in their diet.
If the lack of eating goes on for more than a few days then there may be something else going on. One of the most common causes for a bearded dragon that’s not eating is of course brumation. But brumation should never be assumed without first ruling out the other possible causes. We have an article about bearded dragon not eating that can give you some pointers here.
But again, the take home from this is that you should not begin syringe feeding your bearded dragon without veterinary advice first.
Should I Syringe Feed My Bearded Dragon If They Are Sick?
This is the only time you should be syringe feeding a bearded dragon and only then if it has been advised by the Vet. If you think your bearded dragon is sick enough to be syringe fed then it’s definitely sick enough to see a Vet first.
If you’ve experienced similar symptoms before with your bearded dragon and you know that this time is exactly the same, it could be prudent to begin syringe feeding. But it’s still worth a vet consultation if you’re not 100% certain because it may be different this time.
How To Go About Syringe Feeding A Bearded Dragon
So, if after reading all the above, you still actually do need to syringe feed a bearded dragon then it can be a bit of an art form, depending on the dragon.
If you’ve never done it before, do not do it unless you have consulted your vet first. Internet forums, Facebook groups and even this web site are not the place to get initial advice about syringe feeding a bearded dragon. Your vet can show you how to properly hold your dragon, how to hold the syringe whilst holding your dragon and how to squeeze the plunger slowly and properly.
Holding A Bearded Dragon To Syringe Feed
When I had to syringe feed one of my bearded dragons I found the best way to hold her was as follows;
- Lay her along my forearm, with her head in my upturned palm. I used my left hand to hold her because I am right handed.
- Use my thumb to hold her left arm down beside her side to prevent her scratching herself or me.
- Place my index finger against the left side of her head to restrict her head movement to the left
- Place my middle finger against the right side of her head to restrict her head movement to the right. She may struggle a little at this restriction!
- Place my ring finger and little finger against her right side with her right arm held beside her so she cannot scratch herself or me, or pull the syringe away.
You can also use a tea towel or some other cloth around her back legs to help prevent scratches.
Placing The Syringe And Feeding
Then, once you’re sure she is gently but firmly held in place you can begin to position the syringe. This is the dangerous and delicate part of the process. Extreme care must be taken to avoid gum or mouth trauma and/or ingestion of the syringe end.
Carefully place the end of the syringe in the corner of your bearded dragons mouth and gently rotate back and forth to help slide it in. Some people like to begin the syringing process from here and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. For my girl though, I found she responded better if I moved the syringe slowly and gently towards her nose. In this position (on the right hand side of her face pretty much underneath her right nostril) she generally opened her mouth and lapped the syringe drops as I was placing them.
If you can push the contents of the syringe into your bearded dragons open mouth as they lap it with their tongue, then there is a much reduced chance of aspiration. If you can place the tip of the syringe just outside the range of their teeth whilst allowing any droplets to fall onto their tongue then you’ve pretty much mastered the art of syringe feeding a bearded dragon.
As you can see from the video clip above, some bearded dragons take to syringe feeding quite well and don’t require ‘force feeding’ in that way. Ruby was our beautiful old girl who could no longer digest solid food due to follicular stasis that couldn’t be operated on. We nursed her for as long as she wasn’t in pain and could still be fed this way. She lived an extra four or five months with us, enjoying her excursions into the garden and playing with us, even though she couldn’t eat insects or vegetables any more.
You’ll notice she doesn’t need holding or the syringe to be placed in her mouth. Dropping the syringe food on her nose was enough to get her started to lap it off. If you’re patient, calm and persevere you may well be able to get to the same place.
What Should I Syringe Feed A Bearded Dragon?
Your vet will advise you what you need to be giving to your bearded dragon to help them during this time. But some things that may need to be given by syringe are;
- Worming medicine ( Ivermectin or similar ).
- Rehydration therapy, such as water and Reptoboost.
- Vitamized ( Liquidized ) insects in a soup / mush.
- Repashy Beardie Buffet.
- Critical Care Herbivore.
Baby food should generally be avoided unless there is absolutely no alternative. Baby food may contain more sugar than is recommended for a bearded dragon and may have preservatives and colourings that are less than ideal – but that can depend a little on which country you’re in. In some cases your vet may recommend baby food because it is easy, convenient, cheap and the right sort of baby food can contain the nutrients required.
Caution When Syringe Feeding A Bearded Dragon
Do not over feed them. Adding more feed content into their mouth before they have swallowed what they’ve already got significantly increases the risk of aspiration.
You must be very patient when syringe feeding a bearded dragon.
Your bearded dragon will likely try to fight against you – particularly in the early stages until he/she gets used to it. You’ll need to be firm but gentle to ensure she can’t move her head or legs too much.
Don’t try to force more in than he/she can accept. Too much feed in their mouth at once significantly increases the risk of her breathing it rather than swallowing it.
If you’re giving medicine (as opposed to feeding) it is worth practicing with water first. This is so that you can get used to the process before administering the medicine. If you don’t practice first you risk much of the dose ending up around your bearded dragon’s mouth or on the floor.
Use as small a syringe as you can as this will enable you to control the plunger most effectively and should reduce the risk of administering too much at one time.
Hopefully after reading this article you’re now aware that syringe feeding your bearded dragon is a last resort if there’s no other way and should only be done after a veterinary consultation.
But also, if you are sure you need to syringe feed your bearded dragon, then hopefully you’ve also got enough hints and tips on how to do it.
If you have any questions or comments, please do leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help.
Remember, every bearded dragon is different – some are very receptive to medicine administration and/or syringe feeding and others are absolutely dead set against it and you’ll have a really hard time making it work.
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