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Bearded Dragon Behavior and Diseases

Jade has experience caring for bearded dragons and likes to share husbandry tips with other reptile enthusiasts.

My personal bearded dragon.

My personal bearded dragon.

Signs of a Healthy Dragon

  • The first and best way to tell if your dragon is healthy is to observe how active and alert they are. They should keep their heads perked up and be alert and awake when someone walks by their tank.
  • A healthy face appearance is also easy to observe; there should be no puss or unusual fluids around their mouth, eyes, or nose.
  • Another thing to look for is to make sure their joints are not swollen. Look at their jaw, legs, and tail.
Swollen eyes in a dragon.

Swollen eyes in a dragon.

Signs of Discomfort in Dragons

In nature, most animals do not show signs of pain or discomfort because it shows weakness and makes them a prime target for predators. This will make it more difficult to tell if your dragon is unhappy/unhealthy. Here are some signs your dragon may be suffering from discomfort or other illnesses.

Signs Your Dragon Is Sick:

  • lack of energy
  • lack of appetite
  • jerky movements
  • limping
  • swollen body parts
  • aggressiveness
  • change in mood or behavior
  • hunching over
  • reluctant to lie down
  • abnormal defecation

If you see any of the signs above, you need to take your dragon to the vet for a checkup. It is always better to be safe than sorry, so if you know your dragon well enough to know or sense something isn't right, take them into the vet.

Brumation in Bearded Dragons

Brumation is a natural hibernation cycle that dragons will go through usually during the fall to winter months. This is due to the change in temperatures and lighting.

Do All Bearded Dragons Hibernate?

All dragons are different while going through brumation. Some dragons will sleep on and off while some dragons will sleep all the way through brumation. The length of the brumation also varies from dragon to dragon, some dragons will sleep for only a few weeks while others can sleep for several months. Some dragons don't even go through brumation at all, it all depends on the dragon.

How to Care for a Hibernating Dragon:

During your dragon's brumation, they will become less active and will sleep a lot more during the day and night. They may also stop eating all together or just eat less of their normal amount of food. It's a natural thing for them to stop eating during brumation and your dragon should NOT lose any weight throughout this period. IF they DO lose weight during this brumation period, they probably have parasites. You should be able to notice parasites on your dragon as either black or white moving tiny spots on your dragon, and you should get your dragon checked by a vet if you have concerns that they may have them.

During the brumation period, some owners like to turn off the dragons lights and stop feeding their dragon until the brumation period ends but this is not recommended. The reason why is that all dragons are different, some dragons will wake up occasionally to eat a little bit or even bask in their basking spot. You should always keep a little bit of fresh food and fresh water in your dragon's cage and monitor if they eat any of it. Owners also sometimes wake their dragons for regular bathing or to make sure they eat but this is also not recommended for it can extend your dragons brumation period by about 1 or more months. It is best to leave your dragon undisturbed.

Should I Prevent My Dragon From Hibernating?

Some bearded dragon owners try to force or even prevent brumation in their dragons by adjusting the lighting and temperatures. It is not recommended to do this, you should always allow your dragon to do what is natural for them to do.

Adult dragon shedding.

Adult dragon shedding.

Shedding in Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragons and other reptiles will shed their skin as they grow. This is a natural occurrence. Babies and juveniles will shed a lot more than adults because they are growing rapidly, while adult dragons should only shed once or twice per year.

Signs of Shedding:

Bearded dragons' skin color will dull and become a more grey color and their eyes will become slightly puffy before they begin to shed. This is normal, and it is a sign of a good healthy shed cycle.

How to Care for a Shedding Dragon:

During the shedding cycle, you will want to ensure your dragon stays hydrated and clean with regular bathing with warm water. Keep a spray bottle close with warm water to mist your dragon's cage at least once a day to keep the humidity up because this will help make the shed cycle go faster. In the wild, there is higher humidity that helps the dragon shed their skin while in the tank you are keeping the humidity low.

Should You Try to Help Your Dragon Shed Its Skin?

Some owners have the urge to 'help' their dragons shed by pulling off the loose skin but this can cause pain and damage to new scales under the old ones! When the skin is ready to come off it should literally be falling off your dragon or fall of when touched. Do NOT pull on any shedding skin that is damp or wet, or shows resistance to the pulling as this is what can cause damage and pain to your dragon because it is not ready to come off yet.

How You Can Help a Shedding Dragon:

You will need to watch the tip of your dragon's tail, and their toes and spikes on their beard to make sure they are able to get all the skin off. These are the most common problem areas and it is not as easy to get off as the rest of the body. This is where it IS recommended that you assist your dragon with shedding if need be. You can help by gently rubbing the problem areas while bathing your dragon and keeping the problem areas damp and working the areas on a daily basis to promote shedding and until the skin comes off.

Abnormal Behavior in Dragons

Below are some of the most common problems to watch out for, some may be fixed by simply making sure the lighting and temperatures are right while other issues will need to be checked by a certified vet.

Impaction (Constipation) in Bearded Dragons

Dragons need to have a semi-regular bathroom schedule, if you notice your dragon hasn't had a bowel movement in several days but is still feeding regularly, then it could be a problem. The longer your dragon goes without a bowel movement, the more serious the problem.

How to Help a Constipated Dragon:

You can usually solve this problem by giving your dragon a warm bath for about 10-15 minutes and massaging their belly gently. This should help their constipation if it was due to them being too cold. Dragons need heat to help digest and move food through their body, so a cold dragon might have bowel complications. However, if your dragon still does not have a bowl movement within 24 hours of the warm bath, you will need to get it to a vet as soon as possible because this could be a major blockage that can cause long term problems or even kill your dragon.

Note: Using sand as a substrate can increase the chances of your dragon becoming impacted if ingested.

Diarrhea in Dragons

A change in diet, bad food, or even stress can be the cause of your dragon having diarrhea, but this should not last for a long period of time. A dragon's stool should be solid but if you notice runny stool for long periods of time, they might have a case of parasites or worms. If you notice this, you should have your dragon checked by a vet.

Dehydrated, lethargic and weak dragon.

Dehydrated, lethargic and weak dragon.

Dehydration in Dragons

Bearded dragons should be regularly hydrated, and as with what was said above, diarrhea can cause dehydration in dragons. But that is not the only thing that can cause dehydration. Many illnesses can cause it, and it can be the cause of illness. If you think your dragon is suffering from dehydration check for the following symptoms.

Signs Your Dragon Is Dehydrated:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Wrinkled skin
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dragon perks up after drinking

You can also check by picking up your dragon and gently pinching the skin with your index and thumb in an area that has normally lose skin. If the skin holds its shape after a few moments instead of going back to place then your dragon is probably dehydrated.

How to Help a Dehydrated Dragon:

If your dragon is dehydrated, you need to try to get them to drink water. You can use diluted powerade or pedialyte if the problem is severe but you should try to get them to drink clean cool water first. If your dragon doesn't drink on its own, you may need to use an eye dropper or syringe without a needle. It is very important that your dragon keeps hydrated in order to be happy and healthy.

Droopy puffy eyes, this is not normal or healthy.

Droopy puffy eyes, this is not normal or healthy.

Droopy, Swollen, or Puffy Eyes

Drooping eyes, like that of a bloodhound, can be the cause of kidney problems. If you think your dragon's eyes are droopy then you should take it to the vet. However, droopy eyes can also be the cause of parasites or an infection, and if you fear your dragon has one of these issues, you need to take them into the vet as soon as possible for it can cause permanent damage to the eye and even cause blindness (My own personal dragon had a bad case of parasites and she is now blind in one eye due to it. This is a serious problem). Swollen eyes can be a normal sign of shedding however it can also be caused by an overdose of vitamin A, parasites, or an eye infection.

Mites and Parasites

Mites and parasites can cause serious problems for your dragon if not treated soon enough. They suck the blood from your dragon and can easily transmit diseases from one dragon to another. Because dragons scales are thick and act like armor against parasites and mites, they will often attack the more sensitive areas like the nose, eyes, ears and even the belly where the scales are not as thick.

Baby dragon that broke his back and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Baby dragon that broke his back and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Paralysis in Dragons

Feeding your dragon things that are larger then the gap between their eyes or are far too large can cause paralysis in dragons. This is because the food will put pressure on their spinal cord during digestion and if it puts pressure on their spine for too long during digestion it can cause paralysis or even death. If you fear your dragon may have eaten something too large for them to digest properly, you need to keep them off their stomach so that the food will not put pressure on the spine. Allow your dragon to lounge and let their belly hang on a branch or by cutting a hole in a towel and letting your dragons stomach hang freely through the hole.

See your vet immediately if you think your dragon is or may become paralyzed because the sooner you take them in, the more likely you will be able to reverse the problem with proper medical care.

Personal Note: I had a baby dragon that jumped off my bed and broke his back. He was paralyzed from the waist down and the vet said it would be easier to put him down because he could not be helped. His back legs were extended and showed no movement when touched. If you dragons back legs are outstretched while basking, touch them and see if they respond. They may be stretching or it may be a sign of paralysis.

Malnutrition Signs in Dragons

Improper diet, or inadequate UV exposure is an easy way to make your dragon malnourished, below will be the most common types of malnutrition in bearded dragons.

Too Much Vitamin A and Lack of Vitamin B1

Dragons can overdose on a lot of vitamins by getting far too many in their diets. Vitamin A is the easiest one they OD on and will cause swelling eyes, throat, body and lack of energy. Reptile supplements with artificial vitamin A are one of the main causes of dragons overdosing.

Lack of vitamin B1 symptoms are also similar to a more common issue in dragons known as Metabolic Bone Disease that can cause misdiagnoses. These symptoms for lack of Vitamin B1 are muscle twitches and tremors and is caused due to not enough thiamine in the dragons diet. The main reason for lack of B1 is due to your dragons not having fresh enough greens and vegetables. Veggies and greens lose their vitamin B1 when they are frozen or stored for too long.

Metabolic Bone Disease in dragons.

Metabolic Bone Disease in dragons.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease or MBD is a disease that weakens the bones of your bearded dragon due to lack of calcium, vitamin D3 and Phosphorus in their diets. Some of the symptoms of MBD are as follows:

  • Bumps that you can see or feel in the legs
  • Twitches, ticks, spasms, or tremors
  • Bumps in the vertical columns of the back and tail
  • Swollen bottom jaw
  • Jerky movements

MBD can be prevented and treated by using proper multivitamin supplements. Rep-Cal with Vitamin D is a favorite among many breeders and vets. However it can also be treated with proper diet and correct temperature and UV lighting. If you think your dragon might be suffering from MBD you should consult your vet and have tests done to make sure it isn't something less serious.

Mouth Rot in bearded dragons, this one also may have a case of MBD.

Mouth Rot in bearded dragons, this one also may have a case of MBD.

Mouth Rot

If you see a yellowish/white substance appear around the corners of your dragons mouth, or notice your dragons mouth is swollen and they have lose teeth, your dragon probably has moth rot. Dragons with mouth rot often have a decrease in appetite and will not want to eat. If you think your dragon has mouth rot, you need to take them into the vet for treatment.

Now that you have a general idea of the most common diseases and problems in bearded dragons you can now watch out for signs and symptoms and get your dragon to the vet as soon as possible if need be. I hope this article helped you in keeping your dragons safe and healthy!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have a few-month-old bearded dragon who, when shedding his legs shake and seem lifeless, but when he is done shedding everything goes back to normal. Any thoughts on why this could be happening?

Answer: It sounds like your dragon might just be trying to get some stuck shed off his legs if he's only doing this when he's shedding. A warm bath will help him shed easier to. I'll post a link that might also be helpful for you.

Question: Do you trim your bearded dragon's nails?

Answer: Yes, I have trimmed her nails when she was younger but I don't need to do so as often now. She has a rough basking spot that helps keep her nails filled down but yes you can trim their nails. If you do just be sure to ONLY cut the very end! Don't cut into the lighter part of the nail only the black tip.

Question: My bearded dragon has gooey stuff coming out of his eye and keeps it shut most of the time what should I do?

Answer: You'll need a vet visit. It sounds like your dragon has a bad eye infection and if you let it go too long it can cause your dragon to lose vision in that eye.

Question: My bearded dragon disappeared for nine months. I just found him and he is barely alive. What should I do?

Answer: Take your dragon to a vet asap to get fluids in him and make sure he's not too far gone. Ask them about how you can keep your dragon safer in the future as well.

Question: What foods contain a high amount of vitamin A that could be fed to a bearded dragon?

Answer: Kale and butternut squash are a good source of vitamin A and are a staple in a bearded dragon's diet. You can also give them a little carrot too.

Question: My bearded dragon is making a cough-like noise. He's eating less but he's in shed. He's pooping and it looks ok. Why is he making this noise?

Answer: Sounds like your dragon might have a respiratory infection. The only thing you can do is go to a vet to get antibiotics if that's the case. Respiratory infections can be very serious in reptiles.

Question: My dragon's eyes are crusted shut and every time I clean them they crust back over and he can’t see because of it, what is wrong with him?

Answer: It sounds like an eye infection that will require a vet visit.

Question: My bearded dragon has two identical black spots on its back feet. I tried cleaning them off with a toothbrush, but it didn't work. They look like discolored scales. She has been behaving normally and hasn't been grumpy. She doesn't seem to care about or feel the patches on her legs either. What could it be?

Answer: It could just be different colored scales. My girl has a few random black spots to but it's nothing dangerous.

If you think it looks like it could be scale rot or something serious I'd recommend a visit to the vet.

© 2014 Jade Hassenplug


Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on August 05, 2019:

Izzy- It isn't uncommon for dragons to have a naturally dark beard. Usually they will fluff up their beards and open their mouths when they feel threatened or are irritated.

izzy on August 05, 2019:

My bearded dragon is 2 1/2 years old i just got him. He had black on his beard but isn’t mean or vicious and is very calm but he has a very dark black beard. It makes me very nervous because idk how he’s feeling.

Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on April 01, 2019:

*sorry for the late reply*

So if the dragon doesn't like calcium you could try buying baby food and mixing it in! Get a jar of squash baby food (make sure it's JUST squash) and mix in a bit of calcium dust and try to feed the dragon with a little bit on a spoon.

You didn't specify if it was an arm, tail or a toe so I can't tell you if anything might be broken and need a vet visit.

Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on April 01, 2019:

*sorry for the late reply*

If it's just one bump it could be something serious as impaction and that could be cleared up with a little pumpkin puree or a couple drops of olive oil to act as a laxative.

Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on April 01, 2019:

*Sorry for the late reply*

It could be nothing if they are getting extra sunlight your dragon will change colors slightly. Some spots get dark and the body could get brighter depending on the coloration of the dragon normally.

However, it could be busing depending on where the spots are or could be something more serious. If the spots get larger or do not seem to go away I would suggest talking with a vet.

Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on April 01, 2019:

*Sorry for such a late reply*

So, as long as you have the temperature above 75 degrees and still provide fresh food to them and you know for sure they are not ill, then it is fine. Some dragons are also just lazy and won't move for a while.

If you notice drastic color changes or if your dragon begins to look thinner or don't respond to you picking them up (say for a bath) then I would contact a vet.

Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on April 01, 2019:

I don't quite understand your question, do you mean to tell me your dragon is missing in your house and has been gone for 9 months? If that's the case it would depend on the temp of the home and if there are any animals in the home.

I highly doubt the dragon could survive for so long without proper food or UV light though.

Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on April 01, 2019:

It could be a respiratory issue, and those can be very dangerous. I would highly recommend a vet visit to be on the safe side.

Marina on March 24, 2019:

How bearded dragons can disappeared for 9 months and still be alive?

Diane on March 21, 2019:

My berdy has been making coughing type noise an beared turns black.his head is in shed .hes eating but not as usual.hes bowels r good .but whats the cough .only when i take him out of his viv for a bit.anyone know if it s just stress.

Chenoa on February 21, 2019:

Good Luck if you live in a small town or out in the country. We drove over 5 hours in one day, spent over 500 to find out nothing. The reptile vet overlooked a clear open and shut case of SIMPLE mouth rot. We took our bearded dragon to 2 vets and I figured it out luckily. Sometimes you have to be your own detective... I'm treating him now with heavy antibiotic injections and heavy mouth cleaning. Also bump up your tank temps and humidity.

Natasha on November 05, 2018:

Great article. I have been trying to find out what to do for a swollen limb. Some say calcium but my sisters bearded dragon resists all food dipped in calcium. She was given the Dragon by someone who didn't want the pet anymore. She is very anxious to get some answers. Thank you

I'm confused on August 17, 2018:

My bearded dragon has a bumb on her belly. Except the only reason I am confused is cause it sticks out, not like a regular bump. Although I am pretty shura she had it when I got her.PLEASE HELP!!!!

Lulani Nunez on July 24, 2018:

My dragon is starting to grow black spots all over its body but they are small and some are large black spots. Is he okay? What should I do?

Help meeee on February 06, 2018:

I’m still getting confused with them sleeping so much, my dragon hasn’t moved all day and I was getting really concerned.

ShazzieMacc on January 11, 2018:

Hello. Great post thanks.

You said your dragon had an eye problem due to parasites. Can you tell me anything more you know - my dragon is having eye issues (back and forth to the vet and now has been admitted) - what type of parasite and how can it be treated - if you know. Thanks. S

m.roscoe on November 23, 2016:

Very informative. Thank you so much

Jade Hassenplug (author) from Omaha on September 07, 2014:

You are very welcome! Thank you for reading. :)

Michael Kismet from Northern California on September 05, 2014:

I do not yet own a bearded dragon, but I've been thinking about getting one. I have a turtle that I've raised since he was the size of a bottle cap, now he's big, and all he does is bask in the sun and eat. I will definitely bookmark this article, so I may take proper care of my new impending pet reptile. Very informative hub, thanks for sharing!