I Think I Have a Sick Bearded Dragon, What Can I Do?
Bearded Dragons do occasionally get sick – like any animal. I’ll go over some of the illnesses / diseases that can afflict Bearded Dragons, but if you’re in any doubt about the health of your bearded dragon you should contact a qualified Herpetologist as soon as possible. If you’re not sure if you have a sick bearded dragon then this article should help you determine what is wrong and give you some tips and advice on how serious it is.
If you don’t know where to find a qualified herpetologist, check Google for;
“Qualified Herpetologist in my area” or
“Specialist Reptile Vet in my area” or
“Qualified Reptile Veterinarian in my area”
Or check for a good Facebook Group relating to Bearded Dragons, or a good forum for Bearded Dragon Owners to ask for advice. You’ll still want to consult a qualified vet though as the advice you’re given will be general in nature. But a forum or Facebook group can give you some tips in the meantime.
Common Bearded Dragon Diseases
This is where your bearded dragon has ingested something that it can’t digest. This could be sand from the vivarium, if your substrate is sand or soil. Or it could be because you feed too many hard-shelled foods such as crickets or mealworms. The hard exoskeleton of these insects are much more difficult for bearded dragons to digest and end up building up in the gut and causing impaction.
It can also happen if your bearded dragon can’t digest food because it’s not warm enough or is becoming dehydrated.
Ways To Avoid Impaction
The most likely culprit of impaction is that Beardie is ingesting substrate from the floor of the vivarium. Any substrate that beardie can get into its mouth could cause impaction. Sand is often the biggest culprit for this, particularly with young bearded dragons, but it can happen with any age.
Other substrates can also cause impaction, such as wood chips. These tend not to get stuck on the food as often though. Even so, it is important to remember that bearded dragons have sticky tongues and may not always realise that what they’re eating is indigestible.
Choose your substrate wisely to avoid impaction and a very sick bearded dragon.
Beetles, crickets and other meaty foods that have a hard exoskeleton can also cause impactions. A good rule of thumb when it comes to feeding is to never give them food that is bigger than the space between their eyes. This helps not only to get the food down in the first place, but also to avoid impaction as the exoskeleton should be small enough to be digested. Bear in mind reptiles don’t chew their food very well. Everything eaten has to be broken down chemically rather than physically. This rule of thumb is more important for babies and juveniles than adults.
How Can I Tell If My Bearded Dragon Is Impacted?
Your Bearded Dragon will stop pooing for some time. Sometimes this is normal, but if he/she doesn’t poo for longer than usual, and is showing signs of lethargy and off their food they may be impacted. They may also display a black beard and look very uncomfortable. Unfortunately for you, these signs can also be for other reasons, so it’s going to be difficult to tell.
If they stop pooing, go off their food and become very lethargic and appear uncomfortable around their tummy, they’re possibly impacted. They may begin to lose weight and walk very stiffly if they do walk. They may show stress colours and generally look unwell.
If they are impacted and continue to eat they may regurgitate their food shortly afterwards.
What Can I Do About Impaction?
Prevention is definitely better than cure so choose your substrate and foods wisely and make sure the temperatures are correct in your vivarium. But if they have become impacted (and don’t feel bad, it’s not always your fault!) there are a couple of things you can try at home, but we’d highly recommend contacting your specialist reptile vet for advice as well. Impaction will end up with a very sick bearded dragon. It can also kill them.
If you want to try things at home, you can try dropping some pure unsweetened prunes from a syringe onto their nose which will help speed up bowel movements. Then place them in a warm bath up to their shoulders for up to half an hour. You’ll need to keep the water warm during this time, so a warm environment is essential. Do not force feed them from the syringe as this can lead to other problems. We’ll discuss these later.
If this doesn’t help them to go to the toilet you should contact your reptile vet urgently. Impaction ( just as bowel obstruction in humans ) can be fatal as it can lead to perforated bowels, rectal prolapses and other significant complications.
Don’t try to manually move the impaction through, you will very likely cause a rupture somewhere. Your beardie needs specialist veterinary assistance.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
This debilitating disorder is similar to Osteoporosis in humans, but in bearded dragons tends to be an exaggerated form. This is primarily due to the fact they’re kept in captivity and can’t moderate their own food intake nor their exposure to UVB light.
Beardies require a lot of calcium in their diet and the right housing conditions to be able to properly metabolise that calcium. It’s a fine balance of dietary requirements and environmental requirements. If your Bearded Dragon isn’t getting enough calcium, or isn’t able to process the calcium it is getting, then its body will start degrading its own bones to get it. This leads to a very very sick bearded dragon as you can see from the image above.
Ways To Avoid MBD
You should make sure your dragongets enough UVB from their light source in the vivarium. As in humans, Bearded Dragons synthesise Vitamin D through sunlight. Specifically through the Ultraviolet light in sunlight – or UVB light. You’ll need to make sure you have a good UVB light in the vivarium that is active for around 12 hours per day. You’ll probably want to change this bulb every 6 to 9 months as well as they degrade. Unfortunately humans can’t see UV light so you’ll not know whether it’s producing enough properly. Follow the manufacturers advice on this.
You’ll also need to make sure your Beardie is getting enough calcium from their diet. You can do this by making sure you feed them lots of good leafy greens and possibly dusting their live food with a good supplement.
If your beardie won’t eat dusted live food you can ‘gutload’ their live food with the supplements so that they inadvertently eat the supplement.
Healthy foods to avoid MBD are listed in our post here. Beware, some foods are high in Phosphorus and/or Oxalates which are specific chemicals that inhibit or reduce the uptake of calcium from their food. Bananas are a prime example of this. They aren’t likely to be found in the natural habitat of the bearded dragon but do make a nice treat now and then. Just don’t give them much!
The temperature of your vivarium is also very important for calcium absorption. If the temperature isn’t warm enough, Beardie will not be able to digest its food properly and if it can’t digest the food it definitely can’t absorb any calcium from it.
How Can I Tell My Bearded Dragon Is Suffering From MBD?
This is a tough one because by the time symptoms start to show it’s already quite serious. Some symptoms will show earlier than others. If you get treatment for your bearded dragon quickly they can recover well.
Symptoms of MBD include muscle tremor or twitching, lethargy and a loss of appetite. If your bearded dragon looks weak compared to usual this could be a sign of Metabolic Bone Disease.
The above video isn’t one of ours, but is available on YouTube and gives you an idea of what the tremors might look like.
Young bearded dragons with MBD will not grow as quickly as they should. This will result in stunted growth. They’re likely to always be smaller than they should be.
The jawline may begin to look softer and the lower jaw may begin to recede.
Significant MBD will cause limb weakness, leading to easily broken limbs from relatively minor traumas. Jumping down from logs or rocks can lead to deformed limbs as they can’t heal properly. Limbs may become paralysed, usually starting with the back limbs. If your bearded dragon is dragging himself around the vivarium with his hind legs not working this could be MBD. Though this one might also be due to impaction.
Significant MBD will lead to deformities, paralysis and ultimately death of your bearded dragon. It’s essential you look out for the signs by interacting with your dragons and spotting when anything is unusual.
How Can I Fix MBD?
Firstly, check all the things above – in particular, change your UV light if you haven’t done so recently or have reason to believe it’s not working properly. Check your tank temperatures and make sure your on/off timers are working properly. If the UV light is never being told to switch on by the timer it’ll never come on.
If everything with your husbandry is correct but your bearded dragon is still showing signs of MBD it’s worth contacting your specialist reptile vet. Some other illnesses such as parasites or infections can mimic some of the early signs of MBD. Signs such as lethargy and reduced appetite for example. It may not be MBD at all. But if you’ve checked and it is MBD then the vet may prescribe some oral calcium and vitamin D injections to help.
Bearded Dragon Tail Rot
Tail rot is a condition of the Bearded Dragon’s tail whereby the blood flow becomes restricted. The end of the tail then dies, becomes necrotic (rots) and eventually falls off. The condition is somewhat akin to gangrene in humans. Similarly to gangrene the affected limb, in this case the tail, may require amputation.
Of course, a dead tail that is still attached causes it’s own set of complications. Toxins and/or infection can enter the bloodstream leading to septicaemia and ultimately death. So, keep your eye on your bearded dragon’s tail.
What Causes Tail Rot?
The most common cause of tail rot is an incomplete shed. Your dragon is growing and the skin and scales they are covered in can’t stretch all that much. As a result occasionally they’ll need to shed. This is seen more vividly in the snake world because snakes tend to shed their skin as whole, leaving a replica of themselves behind. Bearded dragons shed their skins too but the whole lot rarely (if ever) comes off all at once. They’ll shed over a couple of weeks. On occasions though the shedding of their skin doesn’t fully complete and some skin, often at the end of the tail remains. The body structures underneath continue to grow but the skin cannot stretch. When this happens the tissues become compressed and blood flow is restricted and eventually stopped.
This can happen if multiple sheds are incomplete, sometimes a solid band of old skin can remain around the tail, causing, essentially, a tourniquet around the tail. We’ve provided a comprehensive post on how to help your bearded dragon to shed properly.
Bearded Dragons are quite active within their environment and can sometimes cause themselves trauma to their tails. You can also inadvertently nip the end in the doors of their enclosure. Another common source of trauma amongst bearded dragons is when 2 or more are kept in the same vivarium. We don’t recommend this because Bearded Dragons are bullies to each other. Eventually one of them is likely to lose a leg, or a tail because the other one chomps on it. Boy bearded dragons are especially bad for bullying each other.
Any kind of trauma can lead to a reduction in the blood flow to the area. This is particularly true if your dragon breaks any bones or causes swelling to the area. You should monitor any trauma to the tail closely for signs of tail rot.
The tail dies when it isn’t getting enough blood. When the tail dies it begins to decompose due to bacteria breaking down the old flesh. This will eventually lead to the tail falling off or the dragon become septic. Bearded dragons do not regrow their tails either.
How To Recognise Tail Rot
A beardie with tail rot will likely have a distinct colour change around the area that is not getting adequate blood supply. The likelihood of this just happening overnight is almost nil because as mentioned in the previous paragraph the most common cause is an incomplete shed. However, other causes are possible so you should make sure you check beardies tail regularly.
If you handle your dragon regularly and get to know them and their markings you’ll soon spot anything out of the ordinary. Look for the darkened tail distally ( ie, away from the body ). Some bearded dragons will have tails that get darker naturally. Normally these markings are subtle changes whereas tail rot is likely to be a sudden change.
Check the scales on your bearded dragon’s tail if you’re thinking tail-rot. You may notice that they’re damaged, missing or just look wrong. In severe tail rot cases the tail itself may become deformed or even begin to detach and break down. These severe cases are going to become life threatening if untreated so do get in touch with your reptile vet. Severe cases of tail rot will result in a very sick bearded dragon.
Curing Bearded Dragon Tail Rot
If you notice in time and remove the cause of the problem – ie, the shed is completed properly, or the trauma is managed and fixed, then tail rot can often be fixed with topical creams and/or antibiotics from the vet. But the reason for the tail rot to begin will need to be fixed before this can be successful otherwise the tail rot will simply continue to spread.
If the tail rot is severe, in particular if the damaged area has become necrotic (has died) rather than just being ischaemic (not enough blood flow) then it is possible that the tail will need to be amputated. This is because without amputation, back to the well supplied area, the necrotic tissue will become infected. The bacteria that infect the area will release toxins and begin to destroy areas of good tissue further up the tail too.
Ultimately, a necrotic, infected tail will kill the host dragon through septicaemia. This is when the infection overwhelms the dragons immune system and causes such an enormous inflammatory response from the immune system that the organs fail and the dragon dies.
Ways To Avoid Tail Rot
The best way is to keep an eye on your dragon through good and regular handling. Don’t keep bearded dragons together in the same tank. If you do, make sure you keep a very close on them so they don’t bully each other. Keep an eye on them during shedding and to help the shed if it goes on too long or doesn’t look like it’s all coming away properly. Also to make sure there’s limited chance of trauma to their tails.
Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is a condition that many lizards can get. Bearded dragons are susceptible to this too.
How To Recognise Mouth Rot
The biggest giveaway here is likely to be a change in your dragon’s behaviour. He or she will become more lethargic and quite likely to be off their food. When you notice these changes there’s a number of reasons that could cause it. It’s worth checking their mouth to rule out mouth rot.
If it is mouth rot you’ll probably notice whiteish grey or yellowish grey patches around the mouth. You may also see some reddening and/or swelling. Your dragon may also produce a lot more saliva than usual leading to a drooling effect.
Treating mouth Rot
If caught early enough, and the symptoms are mild enough, some home remedies may work. You can apply some betadine on a swab to the affected area for example. Be careful not to leave too much betadine on the swab or on their mouth as it’s not good for them to swallow it. The betadine will probably need to be watered down a little bit. You can ask at your local reptile store as each product varies. Chlorhexidine / Nolvasan also works well but will need watering down too. Apply the solution with a cotton bud / Q-Tip.
If the symptoms don’t resolve with this treatment after a few days, or you think that the infection is too serious to begin with, then you’ll need to speak to your vet and get some antibiotics.
Preventing Mouth Rot
Most cases of mouth rot will come from the environment not being quite right. Insects that make up the the diet will harbour bacteria. These can cause an infection on your bearded dragon if the vivarium conditions allow it.
If your vivarium is too cool this will reduce the bearded dragon’s immune system. If the humidity is too high this will also have the same effect. So it’s worth checking your temperatures and your UV lamps to make sure everything is still functioning. Make sure their diet is up to standard and they’re getting enough calcium and vitamins. You can dust their live food with supplements if necessary.
Keeping your eye on Beardie’s behaviour and handling him or her regularly should help you to spot any issues early. In many cases early intervention can reduce recovery time and reduce need for costly interventions.
Reptile Yellow Fungus Infection
Yellow fungal infection is, as it suggests, a disease caused by a fungal infection. It has the very complicated name of Chrysosporium Anamorph of Nanniziopsis vriesii (CANV). Infection is becoming more common recently and is spread by direct contact between bearded dragons. It can also be passed between reptiles who’ve been in a vivarium that has housed an infected individual.
Yellow Fungus Symptoms
Along with the usual symptoms of increased lethargy and being off their food, Beardies with a yellow fungal infection will exhibit the signs somewhere on their body. A yellowy discolouration of their skin ( which gives rise to the diseases alternative name of Yellow Skin Disease ) will be the first skin signs and if left untreated these can progress to painful ulcers underneath their scales which will eventually push the scales off and lead to nasty painful skin lesions. These lesions can often contain pus and will cause a discharge.
These lesions can cause issues with shedding. They are harder to shed and quite often lead to an incomplete shed – with the associated problems that can cause.
If left untreated the fungus will eventually infiltrate the bearded dragons body and organs and this will lead to death.
But just to confuse you, many people online send pictures asking “Is this yellow fungus?”. Usually it’s just staining from their substrate. Check there’s nothing yellow around their habitat before assuming yellow fungus is the culprit. If you can’t find anything that might have stained their skin then further assistance from the vet is probably wise.
Yellow Fungus Prevention
The best way to avoid the risk of yellow fungal infection is to make sure that the vivarium is thoroughly cleaned regularly. Make sure any new-comers don’t share the vivarium (which isn’t a particularly good idea anyway for other reasons).
Make sure the temperatures are correct in the vivarium. In particular make sure they’re warm enough at basking end and at cool end. The yellow fungus will prefer a cooler vivarium with too much humidity. If your temperatures are correct the risk of your dragon picking up this infection are much reduced. Ensure your UV lamps are functioning correctly and for long enough throughout the day. The fungus won’t like the UV light.
Good hand hygiene from yourself, particularly if you have multiple dragons or other reptiles that you look after, will help to reduce the risk of spreading the infection between animals.
Treatment For Yellow Fungal Infection
Many people online will tell you that yellow fungus is untreatable. This is not true. Yellow fungus is difficult to treat but is nonetheless treatable. But…
This disease is going to require a visit to the reptile vets for appropriate anti-fungal treatment. The earlier your sick bearded dragon visits their favourite place ( cos the Vet is every animals favourite place is it not? ) the quicker and easier they can make a recovery. There’ll be less damage to your wallet too.
You’ll need to treat with oral anti-fungals. You’ll probably need to administer by dropping some into their mouths through the use of a syringe. You may need to use topical ointments to help reduce the infection and inflammation.
In severe cases, significant debridement of the lesions may be required. This will need a fairly lengthy vet stay with the associated costs.
The best bet here is get this one to the vet early and quickly to avoid these fairly significant complications. Avoid contaminating other animals nearby by making sure you have good hand hygiene. Keep any affected Beardies in isolation whilst they’re being treated. If treated early and properly, this disease can be cured with no adverse effects. If left untreated it will be fatal.
Diarrhoea In Bearded Dragons
Bearded Dragon stools should be relatively hard and brown in colour. They should have a nice white part (chelate) at the end. The white part is the urine byproducts. If the dragon has diarrhoea, as in humans, it means something is not right. Diarrhoea can be caused by a number of factors. This can be something as simple as being fed Iceberg lettuce – but sometimes more sinister factors can be at play.
If your bearded dragon has diarrhoea and is showing other signs and symptoms such as lethargy, off their food etc, then there’s a strong chance they may have become infected with parasites. Fortunately there are tests available which can be ordered online or through your Vet which will rule these in or out.
Generally speaking, bearded dragon poop doesn’t actually smell all that much. However, if it’s diarrhoea and caused by parasites it probably will!
Parasites are easily treatable if you discover they are present. It’s therefore worth a trip to the vet to get a parasite check done. It’s also worth doing this once a year or so as a ‘checkup’ measure anyway. We also recommend it if you think your bearded dragon is going into brumation.
Stress can cause beardies poop to be diarrhoea like. As with most animals their guts are highly sensitive to sudden changes in circumstances. If your bearded dragon has a bout of diarrhoea it’s not a problem if it lasts a day or two. Seek veterinary advice if it goes on any longer than that though.
If there’s any blood in the diarrhoea though, you should call the vet and get an appointment as soon as you possibly can. And if possible, take a sample in with you.
Atadenovirus / Adenovirus
Adenovirus or Atadenovirus is a life threatening disease that is highly contagious among reptiles. It usually infects baby or juvenile bearded dragons. Adults can contract it as well, but it tends to be rarer in them.
Atadenovirus is usually fatal to baby bearded dragons. Infected babies will usually die within 90 days. The cause of death from atadenovirus is usually liver failure or multiple organ failure. If the baby does manage to survive the disease it will remain a carrier for life. For this reason it should not be housed among atadenovirus negative reptiles.
Atadenovirus In Bearded Dragons Is Relatively Rare
It is relatively rare due to having a high mortality rate. Most infected individuals will die and therefore not live long enough to pass it on. However, it is highly contagious. If you suspect you have a sick bearded dragon with atadenovirus then it is vital that you quarantine them. You should also keep them away from other reptiles as it is contagious across species.
If you have an adult bearded dragon that hasn’t been around any other reptiles recently then atadenovirus is a highly unlikely diagnosis.
If you’ve recently bought a baby from a pet shop it is possible that they’re infected if they’re showing the signs listed below. Pet shops don’t practise good hygiene between colonies and the spread of disease between baby bearded dragons is therefore a much higher possibility.
- Weight loss
- Weakness / Lethargy / Depression
- Stargazing – where the dragon continually stretches its neck upwards to “gaze at the stars”
- Flipping onto their back randomly
With the exception of the last two symptoms, the others are of course common across many different sick bearded dragon symptoms. The latter symptoms indicate some form of neurological impairment and are commonly found among atadenovirus positive animals.
Treatment is limited to supportive care only. There is no cure for atadenovirus. The aim of supportive treatment is to provide the bearded dragon with as much support as you can to allow its immune system time to fight off the infection. It will never fully fight it off, the virus will merely go dormant if the sick bearded dragon manages to survive that long.
If your bearded dragon is exhibiting symptoms that you suspect may be due to atadenovirus you should contact a specialist reptile vet immediately. By the time the symptoms present (particularly stargazing and flipping over randomly) the disease is probably too late to be treated. However, it may not be, so speak to your Vet.
Do not just take your bearded dragon to the vet however. Ring them first. Discuss the symptoms over the phone and make an appointment. The vet may need to make special precautions to avoid contaminating other reptiles nearby. The last thing they’ll want is to spread the disease to previously uninfected patients.
Respiratory Tract Infection In Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons can develop respiratory tract infection (often abbreviated to RTI or RI) for a number of reasons but they all come down to something wrong in the environment or husbandry. Usually, a RTI is due to the humidity being too high, but aspiration of water or food can be a culprit. Aspiration is more of a problem if you’re syringe feeding your dragon or providing water through a syringe directly into their mouths. They can aspirate when drinking from a normal water source too.
Bearded Dragons have evolved over thousands or millions of years in a dry environment where the relative humidity is quite low. Some days during summer in the areas dragons can be found will not reach more than 15% relative humidity, although the Australian Bureau of Meteorology states that the average for Alice Springs is around 24%, ranging from 18-35%. Coober Pedy ranges similarly from 1841%. Both these cities are in the arid zone from which Bearded Dragons originate.
The issue here is that bacteria and moulds like a humid environment, so they thrive better in humidity. This coupled with the fact that because dragons haven’t evolved a suitable immunity because they’ve not been exposed to these microbes, make respiratory illness a problem for them.
Respiratory Tract Infection Symptoms
- Lethargy and reduce appetite
- Mouth gaping – when not basking.
- Excess mucous production resulting in runny nose, runny eyes or drooling.
- Beard and chest puffing. Don’t be worried about the occasional beard puff, beardies do this often. But prolonged beard puffing is potentially a problem.
- Wheezing or clicking noise when breathing.
- Black beard for a prolonged period of time.
- Difficulty breathing – excessive chest wall movement at rest.
Not every sick bearded dragon will exhibit all the symptoms. Only some may be present.
Causes And Prevention Of Respiratory Tract Infection
By far the biggest cause of respiratory tract infection is an environment that is too humid and/or too cool. However, syringe feeding can be a significant risk to a bearded dragon developing a respiratory tract infection. Bearded dragons fed from syringe are in danger of aspirating the food/drink. This means they breath the contents of the syringe instead of eating it.
If syringe feeding do so very very carefully. Syringe feeding is best avoided except under the direction of a vet for this reason. Aspiration respiratory tract infection can quickly lead to pneumonia and ultimately the death of your bearded dragon. If you’re thinking of syringe feeding just because your bearded dragon won’t eat we wouldn’t recommend it. There’s better ways to coax them to eat in the previously linked post. If they simply won’t eat, it’s worth a chat with the vet anyway.
So, avoiding syringe feeding is one way to prevent a bearded dragon getting a respiratory tract infection.
Keeping the temperatures and humidity at the right levels is very important for keeping respiratory infections at bay. Bearded dragons have evolved in the very dry arid areas of central Australia and as such have not evolved defences against pathogens that like damp, cool environments. The best prevention therefore is to keep the temperature at recommended levels and the humidity as low as you possibly can. Humidity is recommended to be no more than 40% at the cool end. There is no minimum for bearded dragons – they will not suffer from a humidity of 10% particularly at the basking end.
If you are seeing evidence of dampness on the walls or glass of the vivarium or you can see evidence of mould growth anywhere then your bearded dragon is at risk of developing a respiratory infection.
Treatment For Respiratory Infection
The first line of treatment for respiratory is either antibiotics or antifungals depending on whether the infection is of a bacterial or fungal nature. In order to properly determine this a trip to your herpetologist vet is going to be needed.
Alongside this, you’ll need to be measuring your relative humidity and making sure it’s under 40% and making sure your temperatures within the tank are correct.
Although not a disease in itself of course, we thought it wise to include the possibility of burns in this book as there are many people who don’t know better who’ve caused some significant burns to their dragons.
Burns can happen for a number of reasons which we’ll go into below, but they’ll present as an area of skin that is inflamed, possibly gone white or yellow with a pus-like exudate, similar to when humans are burned.
Burns can appear on your dragons underside, which is probably the most common area as they don’t feel heat properly through their bellies. They may also appear on their backs, legs, toes and tails though.
Whilst this may seem obvious, the best way to prevent burns is to ensure that your dragon cannot come into contact with anything hot. Be aware though that even a relatively low temperature (50 to 60 celsius, 122 to 140 Fahrenheit) can cause burns if the dragon is subjected to it for a long enough period. It is for this reason that we don’t recommend the use of heat mats for example.
Remove any heat mats within the vivarium, particularly if these are exposed with no substrate covering them. Heat rocks are equally dangerous from a burns perspective. This is because bearded dragons rely on heat on their backs to decide if an area is hot or not, they cannot feel the heat as well on their stomachs. A dragon will think it is cool or cold even while laying on a heat mat or heat rock if there is no overhead heat to stimulate them.
Heat mats are very suitable for other reptiles, but they are not suitable for bearded dragons.
Be especially careful with any cages that surround heat lamps. These cages can get quite hot in themselves and if the dragon manages to jump onto the cage surround, they’ll be presenting the underside of their body to the cage, which means they won’t feel it is hot. They may therefore hang around on the side of the cage and get burned.
Ideally, any heat lamps should be positioned at the very top of the vivarium, with a hole cut to exactly the right size so that a heat lamp doesn’t need a protective cage. That is to say, the bulb/lamp is actually outside the vivarium, with just the very base of the lamp lining up with the top of the vivarium. If that’s not possible, make certain there is no way at all that the dragon can jump up to hang on the protective cage.
This is a specialist area requiring a specialist trip to the vet. In an emergency we would recommend cooling the burned area with tepid (not cold) clean water on a cotton wool ball – changing the water regularly to keep it cool. Don’t apply any ointments or creams unless advised by the vet to do this. They will need an emergency appointment with the vet as the skin will be damaged and subject to circulatory problems and infection. The vet should be able to advise you over the phone with immediate home remedies before seeing them.
Hypervitaminosis ( or Over Supplementing )
Dusting bearded dragons food with supplements is a well established practice for ensuring that they get enough Vitamin D and calcium. Some people also like to supplement the bearded dragon diet with extra multivitamins and pro-biotics.
So long as the diet is balanced and the bearded dragon’s environment is well kept they won’t really need multi-vitamins or pro-biotics unless they’re ill. If they are ill then the multi-vitamin regime is best carried out under the guidance of a vet following blood tests to ensure they actually need them.
Hypervitaminosis is the reason for this. Hypervitaminosis is the condition of having too many vitamins in the body, to a level where the vitamins are in fact harmful rather than beneficial. This is only a problem with the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin E and K aren’t likely to be much of a problem for a bearded dragon, but vitamin A and D are. The water soluble vitamins B and C are passed out of the body in the urate when they are in excess.
Vitamin D is of course a very common and necessary supplement for bearded dragons. But if you over supplement you can end up with problems. Vitamin A given as a supplement is rarely needed as a balanced diet will provide them with all the vitamin A they need.
Hypervitaminosis A Symptoms
Because vitamin A is used to keep epithelial (skin/scale) cells healthy, hypervitaminosis A usually shows itself in the skin first. A dragon with hypervitaminosis A will often present with dry, flaky skin that doesn’t look like a normal shed. The most affected areas are usually those that are loose, such as around their neck and beards and front legs.
They may develop skin ulcers – which can of course be confused with yellow fungus infection. They’ll probably also be lethargic, off their food and depressed – perhaps hiding in their cave most of the day.
Hypervitaminosis A Diagnosis
Diagnosis can only be definitely made from blood tests which the vet will need to perform. If your bearded dragon exhibits any of the signs above that can’t be explained by other illnesses, a trip to the vet is recommended.
Having said all that, Hypervitaminosis A is fairly unlikely unless you’re supplementing their diet with multivitamins or if they’re receiving vitamin A injections for some reason. In the latter case your vet should be keeping an eye on their blood serum levels of Vitamin A anyway.
Obviously the cure for hypervitaminosis is to reduce the intake of the vitamin itself, but in severe cases more significant supportive care will be needed. It’s definitely one for the vet.
This one is perhaps a little more likely because many people over supplement their bearded dragons diet. This isn’t all that surprising because there’s a huge and justified fear of bearded dragons developing MBD.
So, some supplementation of diet is recommended but not too much. The D3 supplement only needs to be the head of a cricket or locust dipped in the supplement and the excess tapped off. Only a small amount of supplemental D3 is needed.
There’s some evidence that Vitamin D3 supplementation provides little to no benefit at all as it’s not as well absorbed as the natural Vitamin D3 produced in the presence of UVB light. Having said that, the evidence isn’t yet conclusive and it’s probably best at this time to keep supplementing with D3 until the evidence is more available. Most captive bearded dragons don’t get enough UVB either… Just don’t overdo the VitD dusting.
Symptoms of Hypervitaminosis D
Vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption of calcium into bones, so it stands to reason that the most likely symptoms of vitamin D overdose will involve the bones. The effects of Vitamin D overdose will include calcium deposits in joints and bones that shouldn’t be there. This can lead to a reduction in movement of affected joints, along with pain for your bearded dragon as the deposited calcium is likely to be irregular in shape and sharp.
Calcium will also be laid down in arteries and the valves of the heart, causing impaired blood flow and heart problems. Calcium deposits in the kidneys will result in kidney disease and/or stones and reduce kidney function.
Ironically, bearded dragons may develop soft bones, with calcium deposits elsewhere causing them difficulty moving. This will therefore tend to look like MBD, potentially causing you, the keeper, to actually increase the Vitamin D3 supplement.
This is because the UVB light source is the best way to ensure the calcium uptake goes into the bones and if the UVB lights are up to scratch Vitamin D3 supplementation isn’t all that necessary.
If your dragon exhibits any signs of MBD it’s essential that you get a vet check for some blood tests to work out whether they are calcium deficient or vitamin D3 overdosed.
Avoiding Hypervitaminosis D
The best way to avoid hypervitaminosis D is to ensure you’re only supplementing D3 once a week and only a small amount. But it’s vital to ensure that your UVB lights are changed every 6 to 9 months as the UVB output from these lights degrades quickly and as we’ve said, insufficient UVB will lead to MBD.
This All Sounds Too Much! I Can’t Cope!
The incidence of Hypervitaminosis A or D is fairly rare. We include it here in case it happens so that you can recognise it and consider it as a possibility if your dragon exhibits the signs.
But a balanced diet, with supplementation as described and plenty of UVB will make sure you avoid this.
If your climate is reasonable ( which rules out most of the UK! ) then taking your bearded dragon outside for some proper summer sun will be extremely beneficial too. But do be aware of airborn predators and don’t leave them outside unattended.
Even with the proper care, bearded dragons, like every other living creature, including of course us humans, can get sick. I’ve outlined some of the more common symptoms and causes and how to help your Beardie pet get better.
The best defence against all these illnesses is to make sure your vivarium is at the right temperatures with the right amount of UVB light for basking. Finally, the best thing you can do to keep on top of your Bearded Dragon’s health is to make sure you interact with them
Regularly interacting with Beardie will alert you almost immediately if something is wrong because you’ll notice a change in their behaviour or character.
If you have anything that concerns you it’s always best to consult your vet, but if it’s something you think we might be able to help with then do feel free to drop us a line in the comments below. If you’ve experienced any Beardie illness and want to share your thoughts with other readers, please also leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you.