Do Bearded Dragons Get Cancer?

Why did your bearded dragon lose its appetite?

Are you worried your pet has something seriously wrong with it, like cancer?

You’ve given your pet the best husbandry and care. 

Your environment for them is perfect. 

Yet, they still aren’t eating, and you feel odd lumps in their body. 

Could these be tumors?

bearded dragon cancer

Do Bearded Dragons Get Cancer?

Yes, bearded dragons are susceptible to a few types of cancer. These include sarcomas and gastric neuroendocrine carcinomas. Tumors, both benign and malignant, are becoming more common among pet reptiles.

While most cancers develop later in life, young beardies are not immune either. 

Veterinary scientists and researchers are still finding information about this disease in reptilian pets. 

While they have determined a few common treatment options, like chemotherapy and radiation, these may not work as well for a reptilian pet as they might for a dog, cat, or human.

It may be difficult to tell if your pet is ill or has a serious medical condition like cancer. 

As prey animals, beardies often hide their pain and attempt their normal behaviors. 

It may take a while to see even the most basic symptoms unless you are looking and observing closely.

The best way to tell if something is “off” with your pet is to monitor their appetite. 

A sustained loss of appetite is a general symptom of many conditions in reptiles. 

Measuring their weight, looking for unexpected gain or loss, is a good way to see if something is wrong. 

Feel for strange lumps or growths during handling. 

Wrinkly skin, sunken fat pads, and sunken eyes may be a sign of dehydration, which should be addressed. 

However, they may also signal extreme weight loss, which could point to a severe condition.

If you see any changes in your dragon’s behavior, appearance, or appetite, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

While it may not be cancer, any changes may be a sign of an underlying illness or health concern which should still be addressed with veterinary care.

Do I Have Preventative Options?

The best prevention for hereditary and serious medical issues is to buy or adopt a beardie from a reliable and trustworthy source. 

Do your research before committing to a particular bearded dragon. 

Observe the breeder or store manager, along with their creatures. 

Many disreputable breeders will inbreed their mating pairs or breed unhealthy dragons. 

Unhealthy or related pairings result in higher frequencies of severe conditions like cancer and other hereditary diseases. 

These lead to a reduced quality of life for the offspring.

As of now, in the United States, intentional inbreeding of pet dogs and cats is illegal. 

However, the same protections are not in place for reptilian pets. 

While inbreeding may happen accidentally, both in captivity and in the wild, a responsible breeder will not, out of concern for their animals’ welfare and the respect for their customers, repeatedly inbreed their animals.

Artificial and unsuitable ingredients in commercially produced bearded dragon foods may also be at fault.

For this reason, you should feed only whole foods and live insects from the start. 

Avoid produce treated with pesticides, or make sure to wash off any produce you feed your bearded dragon before offering.

For any bearded dragon at home, make sure to reduce their stressors wherever possible. 

Put their enclosures in a quiet location, away from heavy traffic or other pets. 

Provide proper nutrition and supplement when necessary. 

Make sure their environment is well-set up, with UVB light, hides, and regular cleaning. 

Ensuring these causes of illnesses and parasites are not present is not only beneficial for your pet, but it will also help you rule them out as possible causes of your beardie’s poor health and distress. 

This will make diagnosis easier for your vet if there is something serious going on.

Types Of Bearded Dragon Cancer

Sarcoma

Sarcomas are common tumors which affect bone, muscle, or fat cells. 

There are different types of sarcomas with various types of cell makeup and appearance. 

Sarcomas on bearded dragons are often visible as dark spots on their skin which may grow larger over time or suddenly. 

They may also affect the eyelid or other soft tissues above the eye. 

If you notice any dark spots or growths which do not respond to normal treatments, contact your vet. 

Your vet may need to perform a few tests to diagnose a sarcoma. 

These may include x-rays, blood panels, and a test of their plasma chemistry.

Sarcomas will require surgical removal. 

From there, a vet may prescribe chemotherapy or radiation treatment. 

Unfortunately, disease treatment for exotic pets like birds, lizards, and snakes, tends to be more expensive than mammalian pet treatments. 

The cost will often put owners off of surgery. 

Fortunately, many organizations and corporations provide grants to help with the costs of treatment in exotic or nontraditional pets. 

Petco happens to be one of these.

Like humans and mammals, beardies may experience total remission, or brief remissions followed by recurrence of their tumors.

Leukemia

Leukemia is cancer of the bone marrow. 

Beardies may be susceptible to this, along with bone cancer itself. 

If the cancer is just affecting one limb, a vet may recommend amputation.

While this is a frightening procedure, catching it early on and getting rid of the affected limb may be your pet’s best chance at survival. 

Though beardies do not regrow amputated limbs or tails, they can and do thrive without using one of them.

Gastric Adenocarcinoma

Gastric adenocarcinoma, or stomach cancer, is common among bearded dragons. 

More specific symptoms include:

  • burping
  • regurgitation of food
  • loss of appetite, also known as anorexia
  • gas and bloating, which may appear to be weight gain

Gastric Neuroendocrine Carcinomas

Gastric neuroendocrine tumors also referred to as GNT, are most often found in a beardie’s stomachs and digestive system. 

From there, a tumor often spreads to other internal organs, like the liver, fairly rapidly.

This is a newer form of tumor, but these are often found in captive bearded dragons. 

Since it was only recently discovered, treatment options are limited, if not nonexistent. 

The prognosis, especially for a young bearded dragon, is unfortunately not usually great. 

This is true even after any masses have been removed. 

After surgery, much of your vet’s recommended treatment will involve helping your pet feel comfortable.

Symptoms of GNT include:

  • reduced appetite
  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • anemia
  • bleeding from cloaca

Since many of these symptoms are general for many bearded dragon diseases and illnesses, your vet will want to perform a few tests to rule out other causes of your pet’s distress. 

This may include x-rays to identify tumors in the stomach and digestive system. 

However, tumors in these organs may still be impossible or difficult to see. 

Your vet will need to perform a biopsy, sending any suspected tumor tissue to a lab to confirm a diagnosis of GNT fully. 

Tests may also include blood panels and analysis of plasma chemistry.

A less common symptom of GNT is high blood glucose. 

For a mammal, including a human, high blood glucose would point to a diagnosis of diabetes. 

However, diabetes is not common in reptiles, pointing to a different potential cause. 

Not all beardies with GNT will have high blood glucose, however. 

High blood glucose may be a result of stress from getting their blood drawn.

What Other Bearded Dragon Illnesses Could It Be?

Just because you see these general symptoms does not mean your dragon has cancer. 

A dragon with mouth abscesses or mouth rot (infectious stomatitis) may appear to have a tumor or cancer of their jaw. 

However, the most likely diagnosis will be mouth rot. 

If an abscess or mouth rot does not respond to draining or traditional antibiotic treatment, it rules out the more apparent diagnoses and may be a tumor.

Loss of appetite is most often the result of bearded dragon impaction or a digestive blockage. 

This could be due to several husbandry reasons. 

Most often, a beardie will get impacted after eating an unsuitable substrate or a piece of food which is too big for them. 

An x-ray will help determine if it is a basic impaction or a gastrointestinal tumor.

What Do I Do After A Bearded Dragon Cancer Diagnosis?

Unfortunately, many cancers do not have a good predicted outcome for any animal. 

It will be up to you to decide, after getting diagnosis and prognosis, whether you want to commit to ongoing care. 

This will partially depend on your pet’s situation and your finances. 

While some grants may be available in your area to help defray surgery and treatment costs, these are not necessarily available everywhere.

Your vet may recommend euthanasia to save your pet from any unnecessary suffering in a bad enough case. 

If you have elected not to go through treatment, your vet should also be able to tell you how to keep your pet comfortable and happy.

A decision like this is not easy, and your choice should depend on you and your reptile’s current situation.

It is common to feel guilty over either choice. 

We know you care about your beardie and want them to have the best chances possible.

Final Thoughts

More and more bearded dragons are being diagnosed with cancer. 

The frequency has a few possible underlying causes, including frequent inbreeding in the captive U.S. population and harmful ingredients in commercial food. 

Cancers have many symptoms which may exist in many health conditions and illnesses. 

It may take a while to narrow down the diagnosis of a tumor or malignant growth. 

Contact your veterinarian if there are any changes in your pet’s appearance, appetite, or behavior.

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