Bearded Dragon Health

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Healthy Bearded Dragons

Healthy bearded dragons are alert, responsive reptiles. When at rest, they generally keep their upper bodies and chests off the ground with their front legs extended. Their tails are flat on the ground, with the last few inches of tail frequently elevated slightly. When basking, they may open their mouths.

Sleeping bearded dragons usually lie flat on their bellies in a corner of their cage or under an overhang. With the correct food, hydration, temperature and light, your bearded dragon should remain healthy.


Calcium/Vitamin D3 Deficiency

Like most reptiles, bearded dragons require calcium (to maintain bone density) and vitamin D3 (to help metabolize the calcium effectively). Bearded dragons obtain their calcium from the balance between live prey and vegetation, and from powdered supplements with which the prey items should be dusted. They receive their vitamin D3 from exposure to natural sunlight, adequate amounts of UV light and/or from powdered vitamin supplements.

The consequences if you fail to provide both of these essential nutrients include bone softness, lethargy, constipation, poor posture and ultimately, death. Some of the effects of inadequate calcium supplementation cannot be reversed, though providing appropriate supplementation can usually halt disease progression. In this case, the calcium may need to be administered in higher concentrations under the care of a qualified herp veterinarian.

Bearded dragons may also contract other nutritional or metabolic diseases such as gout, caused by poor kidney function due to dehydration.

Injuries

Bearded dragons kept with cage mates are more likely to sustain physical damage from bites and nips. The problems may range from simple skin breaks to loss of a limb or tail. The best prevention is to house beardies individually.

Dragons may also sustain injuries due to regular life cycle activities including prolapse (where part of the internal organs ending up outside the body) of the rectum, hemipenis or egg binding. Some bearded dragons have been known to develop swollen or crusty eyes. This may be due to getting an irritant in the eye, but there are indications that use of compact florescent bulbs as basking lights can cause or exacerbate the problem.


Parasites

Some reptiles can sometimes live with parasites, but when illness or poor husbandry damages their ability to fight disease, they experience parasite overload. In other cases, dragons become infected with parasites that arrive via live prey or other bearded dragons, and then they continue to re-infect themselves from their fecal matter or presence of oocysts (parasite eggs) in the cage.

Common parasites that affect bearded dragons include protozoa such as coccidia, microsporidia and pentastomids and worms such as pinworms and tapeworms. Some of these parasites, such as tapeworm sections, can be seen in bearded dragon feces. In most cases, the dragon will be lethargic and seem ill; diagnosis will require testing by a qualified veterinarian based on a fecal sample or other tests. External parasites such as mites are less common in bearded dragons than snakes but can occur; they need to be removed from the dragon and from the environment.

Treatment includes dosing with the appropriate anti-parasitic medication, scrupulous and repeated cleaning of the enclosure, and quarantine from other reptiles.

Adenovirus

This intestinal virus, which affects humans and some other reptiles, is very difficult to diagnose or to treat effectively. Some bearded dragons can carry the virus and remain asymptomatic indefinitely. For others, the virus is fatal relatively quickly. There is no definitive cure for Adenovirus.

Have a Good Vet

With the exception of injuries which one can see and some larger parasites, it’s nearly impossible to determine which of the diseases described above may be making your beardie act ill. When a bearded dragon’s behavior changes for the worse – including lethargy, unusual body position, constipation, inability to open the eyes – it is essential to contact a veterinarian who can correctly diagnose and treat the condition.

What’s next?
Once you’ve covered bearded dragon health and understand how to prevent bearded dragon illness, it’s time to attend to Breeding Bearded Dragons.