Bearded Dragon Behavior and Diseases
Signs of a Healthy Dragon
The first and best way to tell if your dragon is healthy is 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 appearance is also easy to spot for 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. If you notice any of these signs or lack of alertness, take your dragon to the vet as soon as possible.
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
- lack of energy
- lack of appetite
- jerky movements
- swollen body parts
- 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 winter to fall months. This is due to the change in temperatures and lighting, and 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.
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.
During your dragons 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 dragons 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. You will need to watch the tip of your dragons 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 in Bearded Dragons
Dragons need to have a semi-regular bathroom schedule, if you notice your dragon hasn't had a bowl movement in several days but is still feeding regularly then it could be a problem. The longer your dragon goes without a bowl movement the more serious the problem.
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 your dragon 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. Dragons stool should be solid but if you notice your dragon having 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.
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:
- 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. 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 it's 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 or Swollen/Puffy Eyes
Drooping eyes, like that of a bloodhound, can be the cause of kidney problems and if you think your dragon's eyes are droopy then you should take your dragon 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.
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
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.
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.
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