Bearded Dragon Health, Illness, & Disease
Learn how to determine how healthy your bearded dragon is and discover the signs of common bearded dragon illnesses and diseases.
Normal Bearded Dragon Behavior
Healthy bearded dragons will go through a few cycles each year where he or she may seem ill, but in reality they are perfectly healthy. Please consider the following stages if you suspect your beardie is ill.
Bearded Dragon Brumation
Brumation is a naturally occurring hibernation cycle that bearded dragons go through. Bearded dragons will go through a brumation stage in the winter or fall in response to the change in lighting or temperatures. Some bearded dragon owners will try to force or prevent brumation by manually adjusting the temperatures and lightingLearn the ideal temperature for your bearded dragon. of their dragons cage, however it is recommended to let your bearded dragon do what comes naturally.
Each bearded dragon is different during the brumation period. Some dragons will take very long naps off and on for the entire cycle, while other dragons will sleep without waking for the entire cycle. The brumation period also varies based on the dragon. Some bearded dragons don't go through brumation at all, others will only have a brumation period for a week, and some will be in brumation for several months.
During the brumation cycle your bearded dragon will become less active and will sleep for much longer periods of time. Your bearded dragon may also have a decreased appetite or stop eating all together. This is natural and your bearded dragon should not lose any weight even without eating for the duration of the brumation period if he/she is healthy. Normally bearded dragons will only lose weight during brumation if they have parasites Learn more about mites and parasites on bearded dragons., so it's generally a good idea to have your dragon tested for parasites when you suspect they are about to enter a brumation cycle. Some owners will weigh their dragon before and during the brumation period to make sure they do not lose weight, but this is unnecessary unless you suspect your beardie has parasites.
Some owners will turn the lights off during brumation and will stop feeding their bearded dragon until the brumation cycle ends. However, since every bearded dragon is different it's recommended to keep the cage lights on for the same cycle throughout the brumation period and to continue feeding the bearded dragonLearn more about feeding bearded dragons.. Many bearded dragons will wake up occasionally during the brumation period and will eat and/or bask in their basking light Learn more about bearded dragon basking lights.. To do this, simply keep a bit of fresh food in their cage and monitor if it's been eaten or not.
Most owners will wake their bearded dragon for bathing Learn how to bathe bearded dragons. and to make sure they eat. However, doing this can cause the brumation cycle to increase. For example, waking your bearded dragon every week can extend a 2 month brumation cycle to 3+ months as opposed to leaving your beardie undisturbed.
Bearded Dragon Shedding
Bearded dragons are reptiles and so they will shed their skin. Baby and juvenile bearded dragons Learn how to tell how old a bearded dragon is. will frequently shed their skin in response to them growing, however adult bearded dragons may only shed their skin once or twice per year.
Before a bearded dragon will shed you will notice their color will become more dull and their eyes will appear to be puffed out much further than normal. These things are normal and are signs of a healthy shed.
During the shed, you will want to make sure that your bearded dragon stays clean and hydrated by bathing him/her Learn how to bathe bearded dragons. with warm water. It is also recommended to use a spray bottle to occasionally mist your bearded dragon's skin to keep it hydrated during the shedding cycle. This is because in the wild the high humidity will help keep the skin moistened to make the shedding faster, however since their tank is low in humidity it can make it more difficult to shed without the use of a spray bottle.
Do not pull off your beardies shedded skin unless it is ready to come off. Any skin that is ready to come off should be literally falling off their body. If you are helping your bearded dragon shed by pulling off his/her skin, the skin you pull off should come off without any resistance and should not be damp or wet. If the skin is damp or wet and has resistance when you pull at it, it's not ready to come off and you can damage their new scales by removing it.
You will need to monitor the shedding at the tip of the tail and on their toes. These are some problem areas where the skin does not come off easily, however if the skin is left on it can tighten and restrict blood flow to these areas which can kill their skin tissue. Therefore it is recommended to help your beardie shed in these areas. Make sure they stay damp and gently work the skin over a couple of days to help promote shedding.
Signs of A Healthy Bearded Dragon
Most of the time bearded dragons will only act different if they are feeling ill. However, below are some ways you can tell if a bearded dragon is healthy.
Activeness / Energy
The first way you can tell how healthy a bearded dragon is, is by seeing how active an alert he or she is. A healthy bearded dragon will keep his/her head perked up if they are awake and will be very alert when someone is approaching their tank.
You can also determine a bearded dragon's health by their appearance. You should look for any puss or unusual fluid around their eyes and mouth. You should also look at make sure their mouth and joints are not swollen.
Abnormal Bearded Dragon Behavior
If your bearded dragon is behaving abnormally, then the odds are that he or she has an issue that needs to be addressed. Sometimes it can be as simple as making sure the lighting is right How to make sure you have correct lighting for a bearded dragon. and other times you may need to take your bearded dragon to the vet. Below are some of the most common abnormal behaviors you should watch out for.
Bearded Dragon Impaction
Bearded dragons should have a fairly regular bathroom schedule. If you notice your bearded dragon has stopped defecating for several days, yet is still eating daily, it could be an issue. The longer the beardie goes without using the bathroom, the more serious the problem.
Normally, you can solve the problem by giving your dragon a bath Learn how to bathe bearded dragons. in warm water (95-100 F) for 10-15 minutes. When bathing your bearded dragon, gently massage your dragon's stomach (don't push too hard) while it is still in the water for a few minutes. Doing this will help your bearded dragon use the bathroom within 24 hours if their constipation was due to being too cold, if there was a minor blockage, or if they have a small case of intestinal parasites. However, if your bearded dragon still continues to be constipated, you will need to see a vet as soon as possible. This is because blockages can cause long term health issues if not dealt with.
Temporary diarrhea can be caused by stress, some bad food Learn what foods you shouldn't feed a bearded dragon., or by a change in diet. However, this should not last. A healthy bearded dragon's fecal matter should be solid and if you notice your bearded dragon having diarrhea frequently it could be a sign of parasites or worms. If this is the case then you should take your bearded dragon to your vet to be checked.
Keeping your bearded dragon properly hydrated is important for their health. If you suspect your bearded dragon is ill, then hydration becomes even more important.
The following are signs of dehydration:
- Sunken eyes
- Your dragon perks up after drinking
- Wrinkled skin
- Lack of appetite
- Lack of energy
One way you can test to see if your bearded dragon is dehydrated is by gently pinching their skin with your fingers (where the skin is generally lose). If the skin holds its shape after you let go for a few moments (instead of immediately going back to place) then your bearded dragon is most likely dehydrated.
If you suspect your bearded dragon is dehydrated then you need to try to coax them into drinking water, Pedialyte, or sports drinks like Powerade (diluted 1:1 in water). You should try to get them to drink first by giving them fresh water, but if that doesn't work you can try using an eye dropper or a small syringe without the needle.
Droopy eyes is when one or both of your bearded dragon's eyes seem to droop (similar to the way a bloodhound's eyes normally look). Droopy eyes can be caused by kidney issues and if you suspect your dragon's eyes to be droopy you should consult a vet. If you suspect your bearded dragon's eyes are swollen from parasites or an infection, you should see a vet because lack of treatment can cause blindness and other permanent eye issues in your bearded dragon.
Swollen / Puffed Out Eyes
Swollen eyes can be signs of shedding, an overdose of Vitamin A (Hypervitaminosis A) Learn more about Vitamin A overdoses with bearded dragons., parasites, or an eye infection. However, mites and parasites rarely cause any eye issues so the chances are swollen eyes are caused by something else.
Paralysis in bearded dragons is usually caused by feeding your dragon food Learn what food is safe for your bearded dragon to eat. that is too large for them to eat. The general rule is to never feed your dragon anything that is larger than the space between his/her eyes.
When a bearded dragon eats food that is too large it puts pressure on their spinal cord during the digestion process. If the pressure lasts too long it can cause long term paralysis or even death. If you suspect your bearded dragon has eaten something that is too large, you need to keep them off their stomach. This allows their stomach to hang freely, which keeps pressure off their spine. Some owners will cut a hole in a small towel and will put their beardie on top of the towel in a position so their stomach hangs freely through the hole.
If you suspect your bearded dragon is paralyzed or may become paralyzed then you need to contact your vet immediately because the condition can be reversed with quick medical care.
Remember, it is normal for bearded dragons to extend their hind legs when basking, however if they are doing this abnormally, then touch their toes to see if they move their legs to determine if they are stretching or have a medical issue.
Bearded Dragon Malnutrition Signs
Bearded dragons can easily become malnourished through improper diet Learn how to make sure a bearded dragon's diet is healthy. or inadequate UV exposure. Below are some of the most common types of malnourishment with bearded dragons.
Too Much Vitamin A (Hypervitaminosis A)
Bearded dragons can easily get too much vitamins, and vitamin A is one of the most common vitamins that bearded dragons overdose on. The signs of vitamin A overdose are swelling of the eyes, throat, body, and lack of energy.
Bearded dragons usually only get Hypervitaminosis A when they consume artificial vitamin A from reptile supplements. This is why its important to only use multivitamins that contain natural vitamin A, which is why we recommend Herptivite Multivitamin for Reptiles.
Lack of Vitamin B1 (Hypothiaminosis)
This is when your bearded dragon does not get enough thiamine in their diet and causes muscle twitches and tremors. Unfortunately, these are the same symptoms of a more common issue with bearded dragons called Metabolic Bone DiseaseLearn more about metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons., which causes hypothiaminosis to be misdiagnosed as MBD.
Usually hypothiaminosis is caused by not feeing your bearded dragon fresh enough greens and vegetablesLearn what greens and vegetables are safe to feed your bearded dragon.. Vegetables and greens that have been frozen or stored for extended periods of time lose their vitamin B1.
Bearded Dragon Mites & Parasites
Mites and parasites are organisms that suck the blood from your bearded dragon and can transmit diseases and illnesses among dragons. Normally the scales on your bearded dragon are too tough for mites to penetrate so the mites will generally attack sensitive areas like the eyes, ears, and other areas on the body where your dragons scales are thinner.
In bearded dragons there are good parasites, which help with digestion, and there are bad parasites which cause health issues and problems. Unfortunately there is no way to tell if your bearded dragon has unhealthy parasites without doing a stool sample, which should be done by an experienced vet.
Bearded Dragon Diseases
Below are some of the most common diseases that bearded dragons get.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is caused by a lack of Calcium, Vitamin D3, and/or Phosphorus and is the weakening of the bones of your bearded dragon.
Sings of Metabolic Bone Disease:
- Bumps in the legs (that you can feel/see)
- Twitches, ticks, spasms, or tremors
- Bumps in the vertical columns of the back and tail
- A swollen bottom jaw
- Jerky movements
Metabolic bone disease can be treated an prevented by using the proper multivitamin. Currently the best calcium and vitamin D3 available is Rep-Cal Reptile Calcium Powder with D3, which is highly favored by many breeders and reptile enthusiasts.
MBD can also be treated through proper diet Learn how to make sure a bearded dragon's diet is healthy., correct UV light, and temperature Learn what temperature is best for bearded dragons..
If you suspect your bearded dragon has MBD you should consult a vet as they can do tests to determine the severity of the MBD.
Mouth rot is where a yellowish/white substance appears in and around the mouth of your bearded dragon. Sometimes your dragon's mouth can be swollen and their teeth can be loose. Many dragons who suffer from mouth rot have a decreased appetite. If you suspect your bearded dragon has mouth rot, you should take him/her to the vet where they can get treated.
Bearded Dragon Respiratory Infection
Bearded dragons rarely get respiratory infections, however if they are exposed to low temperatures, high humidity, and/or an incorrect habitat – respiratory infections can occur.
The following are symptoms of a respiratory infection:
- Bearded dragon gapingLearn what "gaping" is and why bearded dragons do it. their mouth
- Visible breathing difficulties
- Puffing up their body and/or throat
- Excess mucus around the mouth and nostrils
Signs of Discomfort in Your Bearded Dragon
Most animals will not show or complain of pain, because in nature that makes you a target for predators. Because of this it can be difficult to tell if your bearded dragon is in pain or is uncomfortable; however the following signs should help you to determine if there is something wrong with your bearded dragon.
Keep in mind that if it is breeding season or if your bearded dragon is sheddingLearn more about bearded dragon shedding behavior., they may show unusual behavior, however if these are not the case, you should look for the following signs:
- Lack of energy
- Jerky movement
- Swollen body parts
- Change in behavior or mood
- Hunching over
- Reluctant to lie down
- Not eating
- Abnormal defecation
If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms you should consult your vet. If you are familiar with your bearded dragon and you feel something is not quite right, it is always safer to consult your vet.