Signs of a sick bearded dragon

Published: 07th December 2011
Views: N/A

If you notice that your Bearded Dragon is sick then you need to consult with a qualified Herp vet immediately. Dragons do not show illness until it is almost too late to save them.

If it is not breeding season, brumation or the beginning of a new shed period, the following signs may indicate pain from an injury, abscess, tumour, abdominal mass, or other problem:

• Restless
• Anorexic
• Lack of appetite
• Depressed
• Changes in stool such as smelly, runny, bloody or none at all
• A discharge from the mouth, eyes or nostrils

• Lethargy
• Lack of usual activity
• Reluctance to move
• Favouring a limb, tail or quadrant
• Limping, lameness
• Slowed reflexes (in the absence of being too cold)

• Unusual aggression to all contact
• Withdrawal or avoidance behaviour, especially in a usually sociable or gregarious individual

• Hunching (abdomen tucked up)
• Sunken eyes
• Won't lay down, even in favored places
• Stands holding foot or limb elevated


Impaction is a condition where a bearded dragon's digestive tract is blocked by a solid or semi-solid object.

In moderate impaction, you will see other symptoms before you realize they are not defecating. Some are slight leg trembles, regurgitation, dragging one of both the back legs, not walking properly and you may also see a slight bump along the spinal area.

The paralysis you are seeing is because the stomach empties out into the intestines lying right along the mid/upper spine. It puts pressure on the spine, as they do not have disc between the vertebras that protect the spine like other animals.

In the case of a major impaction, the dragon will not be very mobile, one or both back legs may appear paralysed. If the impaction is higher in the digestive track, the front legs may also be paralysed. A lower impaction that is only affecting the back legs can continue to grow until the front legs are also affected.

Causes of Impaction.

Impaction can be caused by several things. One possible cause is if a beardie ate food items that are too large to properly move through their digestive tract.

Bearded dragons needs high temperatures to digest their food. The surface temp of the basking spot must be at a temperature between 100 to 115 degrees, in order for them to digest their food properly. If a bearded dragon is fed food that are difficult to digest and they are not kept at the correct temperature to digest it then it can also cause impaction.

Particulate substrates are one of the major reasons for impaction. Calci-Sand, pellets, pebbles, play sand and every other loose substrate in the cage can cause a risk if ingested regularly.

Many calcium-based substrates claim that their substrate is digestible and they also claim that it is beneficial for your dragon's health if they do ingest it, because it is a source of calcium for them. These products are not digestible as they claim.

People will argue that Dragons live on sand in the dessert so why not keep them this way. The problem with this is that your dragon is NOT in the desert but in your home, locked up in a cage. There is absolutely nothing natural about that! Secondly they are found in a variety of habitats, ranging from wet forests to deserts, these lizards are most commonly seen in open woodlands and similar habitats.

If there is 1% chance of impaction then it is 1% too much. Your dragon's life is in your hands, not by choice, but forced and it is your responsibility to protect him from ALL harm.

1. Mites

Mites, like ticks, are eight-legged bloodsucking organisms. They carry and transmit diseases from one reptile to another. Mites can usually be found roaming the body, tucked under the edges of scales and congregating around the eyes, ears, and any place on the body where the scales are thinner.

Mites are difficult to kill because the chemicals that we use to kill mites will also kill the Dragon. Mites can be drowned, but if you are not careful, the mites can just scurry up the Beardie's body and emerge from the water, hanging out around the eyes and nose. Favourite hiding places of mites include the neck folds, head, armpits and ears.

The mite treatment products available at pet stores are ineffective. There is no easy way to get rid of mites. It requires a two-phase attack: you must aggressively treat the environment as well as the reptile. Another problem with eradication attempts is that many people think that simply cleaning and disinfecting the environment will eradicate the mites. It won't. It will get rid of the loose feces and may wash away many of the exposed mites. It will disinfect the bacteria left behind where the mites were squashed or defecated. It will likely not kill the non-feeding morphs, larvae, and laying females hidden away in deep crevices.

2. Terminal Ingestion

Young dragons swallow food that are too large and they can die from this because the item gets lodged within their digestive track. Signs of this is when they extend their back legs straight back as though they are paralysed or in pain. You can raise the basking temps and soak your dragon in warm water to induce a bowel movement. Success is a long shot.

3. Thermal Burns

These are caused by direct contact with a heat source and scald the skin - most likely resulting in blisters. The blisters often break open and create the opportunity for secondary bacterial infections which not only complicate treatment, but could possibly be fatal (depending on the severity). Dragons will walk through their feces - so an impeccable cage is a must during treatment. While daily treatment can be taken care of at home - initial diagnosis and follow-ups should be performed by your veterinarian.

4. Calcium Deficiency

Without adequate calcium and vitamin D3 in your Dragon's diet, aside from a slow growth rate, you will more than likely encounter Metabolic Bone Disease. The first symptom usually noticed is uncontrolled twitching of the dragon’s toes or legs. This can be a fatal disease if not treated promptly. If this problem occurs, we suggest raising the amount of calcium in the Dragons diet immediately and taking it outside in direct sunlight to bask for a period of time each day until the twitching stops. If there is no change in a few days then you have to take him to a herp vet.

5. Hypovitaminosis A

Early on, there is some swelling of the eyelid, some mild swelling around the iris, and some tearing of the eye in cases of hypovitaminosis A. In addition, there are changes in the orbital glands. As the condition progresses untreated, the swellings become more pronounced and the conjunctiva becomes visible, swollen and reddened. Reptiles that depend on sight to feed can no longer see well enough to feed, and slowly starvation sets in, further weakening the animal.

The the diet and environment needs to be correct and your vet will start administering Vit A.

6. Respiratory Infections

Bearded Dragons are very resistant to respiratory infections. BUT... prolonged exposure to low temperatures, improper humidity and poor cage conditions could result in respiratory complications.

Treatment for this problem is usually antibiotics and to raise the ambient temperature of your cage a bit. (The best thing is to avoid low cage temperatures and eliminate the problem before it arises.) The most obvious symptoms are gaping, forced exhalation of air, puffing of the throat, a puffed up appearance of the body and lack of appetite. In some cases, the mucus may accumulate in the mouth and/or emerge from the nostrils. If these symptoms are present and persistent the illness is usually well progressed - a veterinarian visit is in order immediately for treatment.

7. Dehydration

Symptoms of dehydration are sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, lack of appetite, and lethargy. The digestive tract requires fluids to process foods, if there are not enough fluids available they will be taken from other critical systems. When dehydrated, having a loss of appetite may be one way the Beardie's body tries to protect itself.

8. Stomatitis

Stomatitis or mouth rot is a systemic infection that often shows up as a whitish or yellow-gray cheesy substance in the soft tissues of the mouth. In advanced cases, the head may be quite swollen, and teeth may be loose. You need to take your dragon to a vet for a proper diagnosis and antibiotic treatment if you suspect he has mouth rot.

Reptiles with stomatitis usually stops eating and drinking.

9. Internal Parasites

Symptoms of internal parasites include weight loss, worms in the stools, runny stools, gaping and listlessness. If you observe a combination of these symptoms you should take your bearded dragon to a veterinarian to have a stool sample examined to determine if there are any parasites present and if so, what kind they are. Follow their recommendation for treatment. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your vet.

10. Coccidia

Coccidia is a microscopic parasite that all dragons normally have in their intestinal tract, in some very small amount. This is a normal occurrence, both in the wild, and in Beardies being kept in captivity. A minimal coccidia count is usually not troublesome in a healthy dragon. Their immune systems are able to keep the amount of coccidia in their systems in check, so that they don't become sick from them.

However, one of the things that can cause a dragon's immune system to stop working properly is stress. And unfortunately, when you bring your Beardie home with you, no matter where you get him from, or how much you fuss over him, he is going to suffer from relocation stress for at least a week or two.

Bearded Dragons are creatures of habit, and are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Nearly all of them suffer from relocation stress, to some degree, and as a result, their coccidia counts will become higher than normal.

This is why you should give your dragon a couple of weeks to settle into his new home, before having his stool sample checked. Once the stress disappears, and he begins to relax and feel at home, his immune system will kick into play again, and, if coccidia is the only parasite present, his immune system will bring the coccidia levels back down where they belong, without having to medicate him. However, if other parasites are present, they will also make the coccidia count higher, and your dragon cannot get rid of these types of parasites on his own. Leaving them untreated for a long period of time can cause serious illness, or even death.

11. MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease)
In general, metabolic bone disease (MBD) is the weakening of the bone of your Bearded Dragon caused by an imbalance in vitamin D3, calcium, and phosphorus. Several foods, which have a high calcium content, such as spinach, carrots, collards, chards and other thick leafy greens, also contain oxalates, which bind to calcium. When foods high in oxalates are eaten by a Beardie, the oxalates attack the calcium and make it useless in their body.

Vitamin D3, calcium, and phosphorus work together in maintaining bone growth, muscle contractions and blood coagulation. Too much phosphorus can throw this balance off, as can too much or too little vitamin D3 or too little access to UVB light.

Signs of metabolic bone disease include hard knobs in the long bones of the legs, bumps along the vertebral column of the back and tail, and softening or hard swelling of the lower jaw. Regular physical exams are important as these bumps may be felt before they can usually be seen. Visible signs of moderate to severe metabolic bone disease include jerky movements when walking, repeated tremors, twitches, or spasms in the limbs and muscles of the legs and toes when at rest or after exercise, and shakiness when being held. More advanced cases of MBD include all the above signs plus constipation, anorexia, and fractured bones. Severely deficient Beardies tend to be lethargic and may only be able to drag themselves along the ground.

There are several treatment options available for Beardies suffering from MBD. Moderate to severe cases of MBD require the proper diet, temperatures, and UVB as well as a more powerful calcium supplement than those found in pet stores.

I will say it again, if your bearded dragons seems ill then take him to a qualified herp-vet, his life is in your hands!

Report this article Ask About This Article

More to Explore