Unlike some reptiles that are notorious for being finicky and difficult to keep in good health, bearded dragons are known for being among the easiest lizards for beginner pet owners to properly care for. While hardy, beardies can still be prone to a host of health issues and ailments that can be serious if left unrecognized or untreated. As an owner, having a basic knowledge of certain key symptoms , and common conditions your lizard might face can be the difference between life and death in avoiding a medical emergency. This article will outline indications of possible health problems in bearded dragons and a sample of common illnesses owners may encounter in their pets.


Risky Symptoms

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While most pet owners are not trained specialists capable of diagnosing and treating animal illnesses, there are certain concerning symptoms that owners can recognize that may indicate serious health problems in their lizards. Bearded dragon keepers should regularly monitor their pets for the following signs to catch possible sickness and procure fast treatment for their pets in the event of a health crisis.

1. Diarrhea
2. Lethargy
3. Wrinkly Skin
4. Sunken Face and Eyes
5. Intermittent Eating
6. Flattened Fat Pads Behind Eyes


Common Illnesses

Listed below are common conditions and illnesses that bearded dragons in captivity can encounter along with warning signs and methods of treatment as would be prescribed by a veterinary specialist:


Impaction

Caused when a small object is swallowed by the bearded dragon, causing a digestive tract obstruction, impaction is one of the most common fatal medical emergencies encountered by bearded dragons kept in captivity. Often occurring during feeding, coarse, indigestible substrate such as rocks or sand can be accidentally swallowed along with prey, leading to a painful blockage. If discovered early, impaction can in some cases be remedied by a costly surgery to remove the blockage, however, there is little that can usually be done by the time the lizard begins to show negative symptoms.

Mouth Rot

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Mouth rot in reptiles, including bearded dragons, is a severe condition characterized by extreme irritation inside of the mouth, eventually manifesting in the flesh rotting. Often caused by poor husbandry, mouth rot can be the result of negligence on the part of the owner in a slew of aspects of day-to-day care. Risk factors include failing to keep proper humidity and temperature, poor cleaning of the cage causing the spawning of fungi and bacteria, and feeding an improper diet resulting in overall poor health and weakened immune response.

If you are able to recognize the following common symptoms, immediately bring your beardie to a reptile veterinary specialist for treatment to avoid the spread of mouth rot to other areas of the body:
1. Rejection of food
2. Rotting or dying flesh in or around the mouth
3. Swelling
4. Oddly colored discharge, or saliva
5. Inflamed head and face

Veterinarians may take immediate action such as administering antibiotics or injections for cases in the early stages, while advanced mouth rot may call for surgical intervention to prevent further spread of the illness.


MBD: Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease, also known as MBD, is a common condition that occurs in bearded dragons who encounter deficiency in calcium, Uv light, D3, or other vital vitamins and sources of nutrients. MBD can result in deterioration of the bone structure, including fractures and breaks which can cause fatal complications in beardies. Signs of metabolic bone disease include a visible decrease in gross skeletal mass, lethargy, twitching, and tremors, which if detected by owners should be addressed immediately by a visit to a herp vet. While the effects of MBD can be mitigated if the disease is recognized early on by mindful pet owners, most treated cases carry permanent lasting symptoms. Therefore, it is highly important for people to diligently provide their dragons with their essential nutrients to run as low a risk of bone disease as possible.


URI: Upper Respiratory Infection

Like other reptiles such as ball pythons, bearded dragons are often prone to contracting an upper respiratory infection when housed in a terrarium with improper levels of heat or humidity. URIs are bacterial infections that thrive in over-moist environments caused by events such as over misting by owners or a spilled water dish that saturates the beardie’s substrate for extended periods of time. Indications that your reptile may be suffering from a URI include:

1. Open, gaping mouth
2. Discharge from the nose and mouth of mucus-like consistency
3.Gasping, or squeaking noise accompanying breathing

Upper respiratory infections are easily prevented by practicing mindful husbandry and keeping a close eye on the moisture levels in the terrarium. Reptile veterinarians can treat a URI with a set of injections or regiment of antibiotics administered by the owner.




Cancer

Bearded dragons, like mammals and other animals, can, unfortunately, be affected by cancer. Owners should consult a veterinarian if their beardie exhibits signs of illness that could indicate the presence of a cancerous growth or tumor, often manifesting in symptoms such as loss of weight, lethargy, and poor appetite. GNT, or gastric neuroendocrine carcinomas, are cancerous growths currently found only in captive bearded dragons, which can quickly spread from the digestive system to other areas of the body. While there are currently few effective modes of treatment available, vets will typically recommend steps owners can take to make their bearded dragons more comfortable while the illness runs its course.




While no pet owner ever wants to see their animal suffering, having diligence and know-how can help you recognize signs of illness and get potentially life-saving medical help for your creatures before more serious complications arise. Regularly monitoring your bearded dragon's health and practicing proper husbandry are the best ways you can ensure your animals live long lives while keeping preventable diseases from ever taking hold.
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