“What’s That Spot on My Beardie?” Signs of Illness in Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons, commonly referred to as “beardies,” are one of the most common types of exotic pets. Native to Australia, the more common domestic bearded dragon is the central bearded dragon, the Pogona vitticeps.  After 1960, it became illegal to export bearded dragons outside of Australia, so a majority of the bearded dragons in the US were bred in captivity. 

Bearded dragons are usually pretty hardy reptiles, but sometimes they can and do get sick. While most of the time there are obvious signs of sickness, some symptoms may be hard to detect. Thankfully, there are ways to tell if they are sick and/or if they should see their vet.

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Do Your Homework Before You Adopt a Beardie

Julianne Vickstrom, DVM, a reptile veterinarian employed at West Hills Animal Hospital in Corvallis, Oregon, who has specialized in exotic pets since 2005, has seen many different types of illnesses in bearded dragons. She is a member of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV), and she strongly encourages prospective owners to do research on bearded dragons before they acquire one to care for.

“We suggest that every bearded dragon owner, before acquiring the dragon, carefully research the requirements, including the bearded dragon’s natural history,” Dr. Vickstrom said. She added “heating, lighting, nutrition, and a host of other environmental parameters are essential to the well-being of any bearded dragon.”

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What Are These Spots on My Bearded Dragon?

Nannizziopsis guarroi is a disease a bearded dragon can contract. Also known as “yellow fungus disease,” a telltale sign is the appearance of spots on the reptile. It can also affect the internal organs. These spots look like dark, crusty lesions.

A reptile veterinarian will normally treat such a pathogen with antifungal medication. There are two types of antifungal medications commonly used for this disease: voriconazole and terbinafine. Your veterinarian will be able to determine which kind of antifungal medication is best to administer, as well as the right dosage. 

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What Is Metabolic Bone Disease?

Metabolic bone disease is known as “MBD” and it is a complex disease often seen in juvenile bearded dragons (younger than 2). Dr. Vickstrom noted that “metabolic bone disease” is a “very broad term. The most common metabolic bone diseases are Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism and Renal Secondary Hyperparathyroidism.” 

Metabolic bone disease can develop from a poor diet high in phosphorus and low in calcium or Vitamin D3. Poor lighting can also contribute. Symptoms include swelling in the jaw or hind limb. Other signs to watch for are a soft jaw, tremors in the legs as the bearded dragon tries to walk, and any difficulty walking. 

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Mouth Infection 

Infectious stomatitis is more commonly referred to as “mouth rot.” It is a bacterial infection that can infect the gums or the jaw bone. There could be hemorrhages on the gum, as well as excessive thick mucus that has the consistency of cottage cheese. Once the disease affects the jawbones, the jaw will start swelling.  

Since this infection targets the gums and jawbones, it can make eating too painful for the bearded dragon. Consequently, the bearded dragon may be unable to eat, and another method of feeding would be recommended. Treatment is usually administered as injected antibiotics, as well as a mouth rinse which consists of a chemical solution. 

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Worms, Ticks and Mites

Bearded dragons are susceptible to parasitic infections due to worms, ticks and mites. These parasites can usually be found in stool samples, however, a common parasite to bearded dragons called “pinworms” usually can be found in the gastrointestinal tract. They pose no harm to the bearded dragon.

There are usually no physical symptoms of parasites in bearded dragons. However, the bearded dragon with a parasite infection may have diarrhea or begin to lose weight. Mites and ticks can be seen on the bearded dragon, usually moving around under or between the scales, as well as on the head.

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Preventable Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections consist of any type of illness affecting the bearded dragon’s respiratory system. They are usually preventable, as a bearded dragon can develop a respiratory infection due to a poor living environment or stress. If it is too humid and the temperatures are too low, an infection can develop. Also, keep their tank clean, as parasites, bacteria and fungi can also contribute to infection.

Signs of respiratory infection in a bearded dragon include sneezing, discharges from the eyes and nose, bubbles appearing around the mouth or nose, and decreased appetite. “Any gaping (mouth open, taking breaths) should be investigated,” Dr. Vickstrom said. Lethargy is another symptom of a respiratory infection. If there is unnatural, shallow or labored breathing, it may also be a sign of infection.

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Signs of a Healthy Bearded Dragon

Other ailments to watch for are obesity, constipation and dehydration, Dr. Vickstrom noted. “A well bearded dragon should have bright eyes, clear nostrils, clean teeth, and have skin without lesions or discolorations,” she said. “They should not be over-conditioned, nor should they be thin. The spine should be straight, and the tail not crooked. They should be inquisitive.” 

She noted the importance of posture. “The well bearded dragon should be standing upright, on all fours, with belly off of the ground when engaged. They should be able to move quickly and easily. They should eat regularly and with enthusiasm. Anything other than the above could indicate an underlying condition, be it metabolic, parasitic, or infectious.”

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Normal Stool and Normal Routines

While most owners of beardies don’t pay attention to the feces, Dr. Vickstrom noted the importance of doing so. Feces should usually be cleaned up as soon as possible, but first make sure it appears healthy and normal. “Feces should be passed regularly, with uric acid,” she said. “The stool should be formed, and the uric acid not crumbly or hard.” 

Finally, Dr. Vickstrom noted that just as a change in routines may be a sign of something wrong. “Any change in routine could be cause for concern,” she said. “A bearded dragon who used to bask and is now no longer doing so may be ill.”

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Contact a Qualified Reptile Veterinarian ASAP

The above illnesses are just a sample of some bearded dragon afflictions. In the event of any symptoms or unusual behavior, Dr. Vickstrom suggested contacting a reptile veterinarian. “. In the event of any symptoms or unusual behavior, Dr. Vickstrom recommended immediately contacting a reptile veterinarian. “Making an appointment with a qualified reptile veterinarian, preferably one who is a member of ARAV (if possible in your area), will go a long way toward health and happiness. To search member veterinarians, see ARAV.org.”  

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