Bearded dragon impaction is a very serious condition. The bad news is impaction can be fatal in many cases for bearded dragons. The good news is impaction is preventable with good housekeeping and excellent environmental conditions. Continue reading to learn more about impaction and techniques for preventing it.
What Is Bearded Dragon Impaction?
Unfortunately, impaction in pet bearded dragons is a common occurrence and a serious bearded dragon health issue. Symptoms of impaction typically do not start showing until its too late.
Impaction is one of the leading causes of death for many pet bearded dragons.
Bearded dragon impaction occurs when the bearded dragon ingests particles which it cannot pass through the digestive system. These undigestible particles build up over time to form a solid blockage within the digestive tract.
How Does Bearded Dragon Impaction Happen?
Bearded dragon impaction happens due to small particles being present within the bearded dragon’s habitat or surroundings. These small particles can be substrates with small, loose particles, very small pieces of decor, or food that is too large for the bearded dragon.
The most common cause of impaction is using a substrate that contains small, loose particles. These substrates include ground walnut shells, aquarium pebbles, and some non-silica sands.
There is much debate whether the calcium-based substrates can lead to impaction. Some owners feel these substrates are safe while other swear against their use.
We recommend to never use calcium-based substrates (or any loose particle substrate) if the bearded dragon is less than 18 months old.
Feed baby and juvenile bearded dragons in a separate terrarium free of loose particles. A plastic tub or container with no substrate works well as a feeding station.
The best course of action is to avoid these types of substrates completely with young bearded dragons (less than 18 months old).
Typically a bearded dragon will accidentally ingest small portions of the substrate while chasing after feeder insects. When they launch going after a food item on the substrate they will inadvertently grab part of the substrate. Over time, small pieces of substrate can build up leading to a blockage in the digestive tract.
This is most common in baby and juvenile bearded dragons. The digestive systems of baby and juvenile bearded dragons are not developed enough to pass larger pieces of substrate, or other foreign debris.
Small Pieces of Decor
Very small pieces of decor could lead to bearded dragon impaction if small enough to ingest. This could be very small pieces of rock, wood, or leaves from fake plants.
Baby bearded dragons are most susceptible to items like this. Avoid any decor items in the terrarium which a baby or juvenile bearded dragon could swallow.
A poor diet can also lead to impaction in bearded dragons. Mealworms are the most common food item which may lead to digestive blockages. Mealworms have an outer exoskeletal shell called a chitin. The chitin is very hard and not easily digestible for young bearded dragons.
It is best to offer softer foods to your young bearded dragon such as dubia roaches, hornworms, Phoenix worms, wax worms, or crickets. Mealworms that have recently molted are acceptable since the chitin is much softer.
Never offer food items which are too large to a bearded dragon. A good rule of thumb is the food item should be no larger than the distance between its eyes.
How Can I Prevent Bearded Dragon Impaction?
The best way to prevent bearded dragon impaction is to eliminate or reduce what causes it. This means avoid substrates which contain loose, small particles for young bearded dragons.
The best substrates to use to avoid impaction are :
- Old newspaper
- Carpet cage liners (not outdoor carpet)
- Paper towels
Some bearded dragon owners prefer to use tiles that look much like rocks. Most home improvement and hardware stores carry a great selection of ceramic or porcelain tiles. They are great for preventing impaction and also give a great look to the habitat.
Always offer food that is the appropriate size. This goes for insects and plant matter.
Always provide the best environment you can for your bearded dragon. Provide the proper heat and adequate UV lighting. Correct temperatures and good UV lighting help promote a strong and healthy digestive system.
Preventing an impaction with your bearded dragon is very important, because the steps you take could save its life.