Many times bearded dragon owners may come across special health needs of their pets. There are also times when an unhealthy bearded dragon might start showing signs or symptoms of a condition without you really knowing it. Unfortunately, an unhealthy bearded dragon can not tell us what is wrong.
It is very important to pay attention to tell-tale signs that something might be amiss. These signs could give clues as to any unhealthy conditions the bearded dragon is going through. There are times when it shows signs of an unhealthy state that it can be remedied by simply changing its habitat or food. Some serious conditions will require a visit to a reptile veterinarian.
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Here are fourteen signs that you should keep an eye on that could mean an unhealthy bearded dragon.
Eyes Appear Cloudy or Filmy
If the bearded dragon’s eyes seem to have a film on them, or seem to not move towards any motion, it could mean it is having some complications. A film over the eyes could simply be a shedding issue, or it could be something more serious like an infection. Check to make sure a bearded dragon you intend to purchase always has clear, bright, and alert eyes.
If it’s a shedding issue, try giving the bearded dragon a bath in warm water. Let it soak for about 15 – 20 minutes to help loosen the skin. You can also use Repti Shedding Aid, or Zilla Bath Shed Ease, to help loosen the skin and promote healthy shedding. If the problem does not seem to be a shedding issue, seek a reptile veterinarian as soon as possible.
Acts Very Lethargic
A bearded dragon that seems “lazy” and doesn’t move much could mean a couple things. One problem could be the temperature of the habitat. A young bearded dragon needs a basking area temperature of between 95°F to 110°F, with a cooler region of around 80°F to 90°F. Often low habitat temperatures coincide with loss of appetite as well.
When seasons begin to change from summer into fall and then into winter many bearded dragon may brumate, or hibernate. The bearded dragon’s appetite will decrease along with it’s activity levels. Most of the time this is normal and nothing to worry about. It’s still important to continue to offer food and water while maintaining proper temperatures and light cycles.
Continually monitor temperatures within the terrarium by using a high quality thermometer like an Zoo Med Thermometer/Hygrometer Dual Gauge. It is a good idea to use two – one located in the basking area and the other located in the cooler area so that you can check the complete temperature gradient throughout the terrarium. Adjust temperatures as needed by adding a larger or smaller wattage basking bulb depending on your needs. A mercury vapor bulb can be used to supply both radiant heat and UV radiation.
If temperatures are in the correct range for the age of your bearded dragon, and it’s not the right time of year for brumation to occur, and your bearded dragon is still acting lethargic you may need to seek the advice of a reptile veterinarian.
Soft, Runny, or Foul Stool
Soft or runny stool could be a sign that your bearded dragon has a possible internal parasite or an inadequate diet. Feeding a bearded dragon lettuce can cause a runny stool and cause malnutrition. A yellow tinged urate (the end of the poop that is usually white) can be a sign of dehydration. Urates that are red or rusty-colored could be an indication of possible parasites.
A bearded dragon that is very stressed out could also have a runny stool or temporary diarrhea.
Make sure to feed your bearded dragon a proper diet and avoid feeding lettuce, as it holds no nutritional value and causes diarrhea. Internal parasites can come from feeder insects that are raised in unsanitary conditions. Make sure you are purchasing feeders that are kept properly. Don’t be afraid to ask your feeder supplier about their husbandry.
It is also important to keep your bearded dragon’s home clean and sanitary. Clean the entire terrarium and any decor at least once per month with a quality terrarium cleaner. Do not use household cleaners such as Windex or anything containing strong chemicals. Clean any spills or soiled areas as soon as possible. This will keep bacteria to a minimum.
It is very important to keep your bearded dragon hydrated. If you begin to notice the white part of the poop (the urate) is a yellow-ish tint there could be a hydration issue. Mist your bearded dragon a couple times per day with clean, dechlorinated water. If using tap water treat the water with a water conditioner that removes chlorine, ammonia, heavy metals, and other chemicals. Zoo Med ReptiSafe is a great product. Lightly mist his/her face with water and they will begin to slowly lap the water off the end of the nose. Give the bearded dragon a bath in clean, dechlorinated water at least once a week. Baths not only help keep the bearded dragon hydrated, but also help facilitate shedding and can even help with light constipation or small impaction issues.
If your bearded dragon is new to its home, or recently moved around it could be stressed, causing temporary diarrhea. Allow some time for your bearded dragon to adjust, and provide a hide box so that he/she will have a bit of shelter for security.
If your bearded dragon has runny stool or sustained diarrhea have your veterinarian perform a fecal exam to find out the cause of the abnormal stool. Ask them to check for parasites and possible treatments.
Swollen Limbs or Tail
Swollen limbs or tail could be a sign of a fractured or broken limb/tail. This could come from a fall or when multiple bearded dragons housed together get into a skirmish. Limbs or a tail that tend to break or fracture easily could be a sign of Metabolic Bone Disease. There could also be a bacterial infection, such as tail rot, that could cause swelling.
If your bearded dragon has a swollen limb or tail seek a qualified veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian can perform x-rays and other tests to determine exactly what’s causing the swelling and prescribe treatment.
If you suspect possible Metabolic Bone Disease, seek a qualified veterinarian. This is a life-threatening disease that should be treated immediately.
There are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of Metabolic Bone Disease with your bearded dragon:
- Always provide adequate UV radiation by using reptile-specific bulbs such as the Exo Terra Repti-Glo 10.0 UVB Fluorescent Bulb or the Exo Terra Solar Glo Mercury Vapor Bulb.
- Always supplement food items with calcium powder such as the Rep-Cal Calcium Powder with Vitamin D3. Dust insects and plant matter liberally at each feeding.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite can be due to a variety of issues – everything from inadequate temperatures to stress. Unfortunately, our cute bearded dragons cannot talk to tell us what the problem is, so we must use our best judgement according to conditions.
Check the habitat temperatures to make sure they are in the proper ranges for the age of bearded dragon you have. If the temperatures are correct, then check to make sure adequate UV radiation is provided.
There are many things that can cause bearded dragon’s to become stressed. The most stressful times are when a new pet is first brought home, or when the terrarium setting drastically changes. Remember, bearded dragons have different personalities just like people, so each one will act differently. Some bearded dragons are not fazed one bit by change, others may freak out. If you have recently acquired a bearded dragon give it time to adjust and only disturb him/her when absolutely necessary. Do not leave live feeders in the terrarium overnight or for long periods of time as this can cause some stress.
If you have covered all the bases and your bearded dragon is still not eating well you should seek the advice of a reptile veterinarian as there could be other possible health issues such as impaction or Metabolic Bone Disease.
Mouth Hanging Open
A sign of Metabolic Bone Disease is a slack jaw. If the bearded dragon’s mouth is constantly open and has difficulty hanging onto food, it could be a sign of slack jaw. This condition should be seen by a reptile veterinarian immediately to be tested for Metabolic Bone Disease. The veterinarian can perform a blood test to evaluate calcium levels in the blood.
It can be very common for the bearded dragon to open its mouth while on the basking perch for short periods of time. This is a way to cool off while directly under the basking bulb. This behavior is very similar to the way a dog pants to cool off and completely normal.
If slack jaw is suspected seek a reptile veterinarian immediately. In the mean time, offer soft foods to the bearded dragon such as baby food or soft wax worms. Give him food that will be easily swallowed.
To help prevent slack jaw, or Metabolic Bone Disease, make sure you are providing adequate UV radiation. Use a mercury vapor bulb or fluorescent bulb specially designed for desert-dwelling reptiles. Supplement the diet by dusting food items with calcium powder.
Inside of Mouth is Black or Discolored
A discolored, or blackened mouth could be the symptoms of mouth rot. Mouth rot is a bacterial infection that affects the mouth and gums of bearded dragons. It is typically caused by unsanitary conditions and low temperatures. Mouth rot must be treated by a reptile veterinarian.
Produce and keep a routine cleaning schedule. Clean the terrarium, all decor items, and food/water dishes regularly. Use a cleaning solution safe for reptiles such as Healthy Habitat.
Monitor the temperature and humidity levels within the terrarium by using a good thermometer/humidity gauge. If temperatures tend to be too cool use a basking bulb or heat lamp with a higher wattage. Add a under tank heater to warm the substrate, if necessary.
If the stomach of your pet darkens, or becomes black, it could be due to stress. This can happen most commonly with bearded dragons that have recently been brought home, or changed habitats. Give it time to adjust to the new surroundings. Stress can also be caused by feeder insects left in the habitat overnight, or incorrect temperatures.
Attempt to reduce stress as much as possible by giving the bearded dragon a good hiding place. The ability to hide gives the bearded dragon a safe and secure feeling where they can get away. When introducing a bearded dragon to a new home, give them a week or two to become accustom to the new surroundings. Avoid contact with the bearded dragon except for regular feedings and cleaning. Gradually increase contact at a slow pace to avoid stressing the bearded dragon.
Always monitor temperatures to make sure they are not too low or too high. Temperatures that are not correct can cause undue stress for the reptile. Feeder insects that are left in the terrarium can crawl on and bite the bearded dragon causing a stressful situation. Always remove uneaten feeders after 15 – 20 minutes after feeding.
Boney / Malnourished Appearance
A boney, malnourished appearance can be a direct sign that the bearded dragon is not eating correctly. This could be due to stress, improper temperatures, a lack of adequate UV lighting, or a sign of a more serious health condition.
Use a quality reptile thermometer to monitor terrarium temperatures. Vary the bearded dragon’s diet as much as possible to help stimulate feeding, and be sure to supplement food items with calcium powder.
Always supply adequate UV radiation exposure using a Repti Glo 10.0 fluorescent bulb or equivalent. Make sure the UV bulb you use if specifically for desert-dwelling reptiles.
If eating does not improve seek the advice of a qualified reptile veterinarian.
Disfigured Tail or Limbs / Brittle Bones
Tail or limb disfigurement can be a sign of a broken bone resulting from a drop or impact of some type. Weak or brittle bones can be a sign of Metabolic Bone Disease. If you notice the end of the tail becoming black and dead-looking, it could be a bacterial infection called tail rot.
If a broken bone is suspected seek a veterinarian immediately for x-rays and diagnosis. The vet will also perform a blood test to check calcium levels. Gently use ice around the area of the suspected broken bone to help reduce swelling until you can get to the veterinarian.
Tail rot is a bacterial infection that causes the section of the tail to turn black and eventually fall off. If left untreated to infection will gradually move up the tail and enter the body leading to death. If the tail of the bearded dragon begins to turn black and feel softer to the touch seek a veterinarian for antibiotic treatment.
To help reduce the chances of possible tail rot following these steps:
- Follow sanitary husbandry conditions. Clean the terrarium regularly with an anti-microbial cleaner that is safe for pets such as Healthy Habitat
- Do not leave feeder insects in the terrarium for long periods of time or at night. Crickets will chew on the bearded dragon, especially the small end of the tail
- Give the bearded dragon a warm bath at least once per week. This will help to keep the skin clean and supple
Bearded dragons in the wild are very active creatures. Captive-raised bearded dragons do not have the room typically to be as active as their wild counterparts. Less overall activity coupled with a poor diet can eventually lead to obesity.
The chances of obesity with adult bearded dragons can be reduced by offering a balanced diet of nutritious feeder insects and wholesome fruits and vegetables. Always gut-load feeder insects to increase nutrient content. Dust all food items with a good calcium powder before offering to your bearded dragon.
Limit insects that are high in fat content such as wax worms. Try to provide a little exercise for your bearded dragon at least once per week. Take the bearded dragon out of the terrarium and let him/her explore the room. You can even take your bearded dragon out for a short walk during warm weather.
Jerky / Shaky Behavior
There can be many reasons why your bearded dragon is showing jerky, or shaky behavior. The most common reason is due to calcium and vitamin D3 deficiencies. Bearded dragons need calcium for strong bones and vitamin D3 in order to absorb calcium.
A possible neurological disorder could also result in jerky, shaky behavior.
Always provide adequate UV lighting for a bearded dragon. Bearded dragons need UV radiation in order to produce vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 assists with the absorption of calcium in the blood stream to promote good skeletal development. UV radiation also helps to promote a healthy appetite and brain function.
Continued shaky, jerky behavior may need further examination from a veterinarian for complete diagnosis.
Bloody / Damaged Snout
A bloody damaged-looking snout is most commonly caused by snout rubbing. This generally happens when it is kept in an enclosure that is too small. As it searches for a way out of the enclosure it will rub it’s snout until it’s bloody and raw. This can be remedied by ensuring the bearded dragon’s enclosure is adequate and has the proper diet. Taking it out of the habitat occasionally can also help with snout rubbing.
If your bearded dragon appears to have sunken eyes, it could be the signs of an infection. This can also result from dehydration. Give it a bath in warm water. It should lap some of the water after you set it in. Always supply your it with fresh water daily. Be sure the water container is relatively shallow so it can not drown. Misting your bearded dragon several times a day will also help. It will lap up drips of water from its nose as you mist it.