Health & Disease

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Bearded Dragons are incredibly hardy, well lived reptiles when given the necessities for life.  If you provide proper lighting, a modestly comfortable living environment and regularly feed your dragon greens and proteins, it will thrive.  In this section we will discuss the potential health issues that can be a threat to your dragon’s livelihood.  While in the majority of cases, a well taken care of dragon will live a long prosperous life, there is always the chance of uncontrollable scenarios and the potential for hereditary health issues.  With that said, there are some unfortunate situations that may have nothing to do with your quality of care.

Health Problems

Physical Injuries

Bearded Dragons and many other lizards have rather delicate limbs such as toes and tail tips which can be injured in a number of ways.  Bearded Dragons housed together may inflict combative damage to one another if they are feeling protective of a particular territory or particularly temperamental.  In some cases, dragons living together for years may decide to partake in combative actions.  Loosing a toe, finger or tail tip is actually a defensive mechanism of reptiles to allow them to break free from danger.

If your dragon has lost a toe, finger or tail tip prior to your knowledge, it is more then likely just fine.  If you are acquiring this dragon and fear for its future health, simply examine the scarred area, if there is nothing that appears to look infected, the dragon is most likely just fine.  In the wild, these losses are common place.

If your dragon has recently lost a toe, finger or tail tip, whether in a fight or accident, treat it with a disinfecting ointment.  Something safe for babies is typically recommended.

If your dragon has been injured more seriously then this such as an open sore, broken leg or arm, completely or partially lost limb, etc, we strongly recommend visiting your local reptile veterinarian.

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Calcium Deficiencies

Calcium deficiencies can lead to stunted growth, brittle or weak bones, general weakness and a weak immune system.  Calcium is an absolute necessity for your dragon’s well being.

Signs of calcium deficiencies include slow growth rates among baby and juvenile dragons, deformities in bone growth and sometimes even a weak and sickly appearance.

While this is something that can be remedied by balancing your dragons calcium intake levels, something things such as bone deformities may never be reversed.  It is important to make sure you give your dragon proper calcium levels prior to any health concerns arising.

Calcium is provided in supplemental forms such as calcium powder which can be coated on crickets, roaches and worms prior to feeding.  This is strongly recommended for even healthy dragons to maintain proper levels of calcium.

Calcium is also provided by an overall proper diet, and as such you should be sure to regularly feed your dragon a variety of greens as well as live food sources such as crickets, roaches, worms and even baby mice.

Just like the sun helps keep human bones and skin healthy and strong, proper UV lighting in your enclosure also provides a source of calcium for your dragon.  It is recommended you keep a fluorescent lighting source for your dragon, and ideally purchase a UV B rich bulb, available at your local pet shop.

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Vitamin D3 Deficiencies

Similar to Calcium, Vitamin D3 can be provided with proper UV lighting sources.   D3 deficiencies can lead to slow growth rates among baby and juvenile dragons, deformities in bone growth, seizures, sickness and sometimes even an overall weak and sickly appearance.  Because Vitamin D3 is derived of light, there is no fast remedy to deficiencies other then introducing the previous lacking UV light source.  For this reason it is important to always maintain your UV light, reading the recommended lifespan on your bulb as even those that remain lit may lose strength over time.

We recommend using a UV B rich bulb featuring special light spectrum ranges that specifically benefit your dragon, available at your local pet shop.

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Beta-Carotene Deficiencies

Beta-carotene is attributed to the full, rich color deeply rooted in healthy dragon’s skin.  Providing a proper source of beta-carotene is only going to provide your dragon with a better opportunity to thrive.  Proper levels will only benefit your dragon, and even enrich the coloring of specialty breeds such as flames, yellows, hypos, etc.

Beta-carotene is provided by carrots as well as other yellow and orange vegetables.  If you feed your dragon carrots or any other harder, non-leafy vegetable be sure to either mince them up or even mash them.  Carrots or other beta-carotene sources are not absolutely necessary in every meal, but once to twice a week with the greens will help maintain healthy levels.

As with anything in life, too much of even some of the best things can be harmful.  Likewise with beta-carotene sources in your dragon.  We can understand a desire to perhaps maximize coloration, but never at the expense of their health.  Maintain healthy levels for the happiest, healthy dragon.

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Compaction

Compaction is, lacking better alternative descriptions, similar to constipation in humans.  Perhaps of even greater concern for dragons as it often takes time to realize this problem is occurring.  Compaction can be caused by a number of reasons ranging from dehydration, to the consumption of impassible materials, typically enclosure substrates like sand or small gravel.

Signs of compaction include an inability of your dragon to void their bowels, whether you notice a lack of evidence, or a physical difficulty in doing so.  They may also appear sluggish, lacking in appetite, sickly appearance and in extreme cases your dragon may drag its rear legs as they can actually become paralyzed from excessive buildup pressure on the spine.

If you fear your dragon may have compaction it is important to at least contact a local reptile veterinarian for consultation, and strongly recommended you make a visit.

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Overfeeding

Overfeeding, especially in younger dragons can actually prove fatal.  Because bearded dragons are cold blooded, their digestive systems are exceptionally simplified in comparison to the intricate systems of mammals.  If you do not allow your dragon a chance to digest the food they eat, they will not be able to process new food and it can essentially back up their system.

To prevent overfeeding your dragon, consider feeding your dragon in a controlled environment such as a separate empty tank.  Give your dragon an ample selection of food, and observe how much food it can eat before it starts to slow down, as if full.  Instincts can often tell that dragon to eat as much as it can, because in the wild not only would it need more energy, but it may not have an opportunity to eat for a while.  Do this process a handful of times and get a general feeling for about how much it can eat in a sitting.  This is a good indicator of about how much your dragon should need on a regular basis.  The more frequent you feed your dragon, the lesser the portions necessary.

Signs of being overfed include a lack of appetite, a sluggishness, an unhealthy bloated appearance and in severe cases especially among younger dragons, the paralysis of the rear legs caused by pressure being built up near the dragons stomach and spine.  If your dragon appears sluggish or lacks appetite after a big meal, do not force it to eat again for a few days.  A dragon can fast for a day regularly allowing their digestive system catch up.

If your dragon is dragging its rear legs and appears to have issues with controlled movements of the rear portion of its body we strongly recommend you visit your local reptile veterinarian as soon as possible.

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Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are commonly evidenced by a visual difficulty in breathing, gasping for air, a raspy sound to their breathing as well as mucus dripping from the nostrils as the body attempts to push the infection out through the sinuses.

Respiratory infections are caused by the temperature being too low for your dragon to maintain proper body temperature to keep up with its immune system.  They may also be caused because the humidity level is too high in their enclosure or a combination of both too high of a humidity level and too low of a temperature.

To prevent respiratory infections in your dragon be sure to monitor your dragons environment.  You want to maintain a humidity level below 50% and maintain a temperature of at least 85 degrees on the warmer side of your enclosure.

If you feel your dragon may have a respiratory infection we strongly recommend you visit your local reptile veterinarian as soon as possible as delay in properly treating this infection can quickly lead to worsened conditions and ultimately death.

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Gastrointestinal Infections

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Fungal Infections

Fungal infections may appear shortly after your dragon receives a wound or develops a sore.  A scratch, broken toe or finger, scrape or open wound are all prime spots for a dragon to develop a fungal infection.

Fungal infections appear often as oft-colored infectious looking puss oozing from a wound as the dragon’s body attempts to fight off any further bacteria.  Irritation around the wound, swelling and a tendency to avoid contact with that particular area all also indicate potential fungal infections.

Just like in humans, the ooze while gross and unappealing is actually the body just attempting to push the infection out.  We can help the dragon heal even quicker by applying an anti-fungal ointment to the area infected.  We recommend using baby safe anti-fungal ointment, and if you ever feel uncomfortable or unsure of a particular product, contact a local reptile specialist or veterinarian with your concerns prior to using.

Fungal infections are typically caused by enclosure conditions not being ideal to your dragons needs.  Maintaining proper temperature levels while keeping the humidity level down is key to recreating the desert and arid like conditions these dragons are developed to survive in.  While moist moss and water pools are nice for frogs, tortoises and many other reptiles, dragons come from the deserts of Australia and not the Amazon rainforests.

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Mites and Parasitic Infestations

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Genetic Health Issues

Genetic health issues often stem from the cross breading of a particularly unhealthy line of dragons or the inbreeding of dragons to attain a particular appearance.  Unfortunately as breeders explore the possibilities of dragon appearance, some choose to attempt to breed dragons from the same genetic line in an attempt to force mutation.

These habits as well as poor lineage can lead to genetic health issues that may plague your dragon’s entire shortened life.  The best way to avoid this problem becoming an epidemic is to carefully choose your breeder and not support those whom use improper techniques in an attempt to create a desirable mutation.  Look for healthy looking dragons, ask your breeder about where the lines come from and how they were bred.

Signs of genetic health issues include deformed limbs, weakened and undersized appearance, strange mutations and stunted growth rates.

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Egg Binding

Egg binding is the term for eggs becoming stuck within a female dragon and can be caused in a pregnant mother by a number of potential reasons.  A female with weakened bones and body from calcium deficiencies may become egg bound due to their essentially unbalanced diet.  Egg binding can also be caused by not receiving enough food as well as consuming too much food and forcing pressure on your dragon’s organs.  Finally a dragon may instinctively hold her eggs if you do not provide her with a comfortable spot to lay them.

Even unfertilized eggs need to be laid if your dragon develops them, and as such you must provide them with an ample source of diggable substrate.  Sand, soil or a mixture of both with a slight bit of moisture make for an ideal replication of where your dragon would lay in the wild.  After your dragon has laid her eggs you may remove them for incubation.  Be sure that your substrate is at least 4-6 inches deep as your dragon will dig quite a little nest for their eggs.

Signs of egg binding include a lacking appetite unlike the commonly ferocious appetite of a pregnant dragon,  sluggishness, a weakened appearance and a refusal or inability to lay her eggs.  If your dragon is showing signs of being egg bound and you’ve provided her with a location for laying with no success, we strongly recommend a visit to your local reptile veterinarian as soon as possible as it can be life threatening.

To prevent egg binding in your dragon simply be sure to maintain proper dieting habits, an ample source of calcium and when a female is showing she is pregnant, be sure to provide an ample source of substrate for them to lay their eggs in.

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More Health Concerns?

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