Do you know what common bearded dragon diseases to watch for?
What do you do if you notice something off in your beardie?
You want to provide your pet with the best quality of life possible.
This may make you nervous about any reported diseases, illnesses, or health concerns which may affect a reptile pet.
Bearded Dragon Diseases
Many health concerns for bearded dragons are directly linked to improper diet, poor husbandry, bad environments, and stress. Common illnesses include impaction, respiratory infections, metabolic bone disease, and others.
Starting your pet’s life off right with the best possible diet and husbandry will help prevent many common health ailments and concerns.
Guaranteeing these are at the best levels will also help you rule them out as causes if any illnesses develop.
Close and frequent observation of your pet will also help you determine any strange behaviors or loss of appetite.
During handling, make sure to examine their skin, mouth and feel for any strange lumps.
If your pet’s appearance, behavior, or appetite changes at any point, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Many of the symptoms listed are not specific to any one condition.
Bearded Dragon Diseases To Watch For
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease, or MBD, is the result of a calcium deficiency.
While it is most often seen in juveniles, adults may suffer too.
Too little or too much calcium and vitamin D3 in diet and environment is the most likely cause of MBD.
Feeding too many foods with high amounts of phosphorous and oxalates will also interfere with calcium absorption into the bones.
This is why bananas especially should be an occasional treat for bearded dragons.
Symptoms may include:
- Swelling of the lower jaw
- Softening of jaws and facial bones
- Swelling of the hind limbs
- A tremor in the legs if the lizard tries to walk
- Crouching low with the belly on the ground
- Rubber limbs
- Muscle twitches
An x-ray on a bearded dragon with MBD will show thin bone tissue, widening or thickening bone shafts, fractures without trauma as a cause, or greenstick fractures (bones which bend without breaking completely).
Once an MBD diagnosis has been confirmed, it is essential to get your bearded dragon some oral calcium supplementation.
Your vet may also administer injections of calcitonin, which will get calcium back into your beardie’s bones.
Other treatments will include rehydration, corrections in diet, and adjustments in husbandry and environment.
Make sure to provide vitamin D3 either through a multivitamin supplement or through full-spectrum UVB light.
Infectious Stomatitis (Mouth Rot)
While mouth rot is less common in bearded dragons than in other reptile pets, it still happens.
An infection enters a hole caused by an injury to the mouth or because something is stuck in their teeth.
The infection, most often bacterial, affects gums and the jaw bone.
Infections are more likely in environments which are dirty or are kept at improper temperatures and humidity.
Symptoms of mouth rot include:
- Gum hemorrhages
- Gum swelling
- Excessive and thick mucus
- Swollen jaw
- Lack of appetite
- Necrosis of mouth and gum tissue in severe cases
- Mouth tissue takes on a “cottage cheese” appearance
Treatment will involve injectable antibiotics and a regular antiseptic oral rinse.
You or your vet may provide supplemental or syringe feedings if necessary.
If the mouth rot is severe, your pet may need oral surgery to remove dead and infected tissue.
If untreated, this may lead to the death of your pet, so contact a vet right away.
Tail rot is an infection usually caused by an injury to the tail.
In some instances, usually spreading from the tip of the tail to the top, the tissue will appear black, dry, and flaky.
Depending on how the rot has spread, your vet may prescribe either a regular antiseptic soak or amputation.
While a bearded dragon’s tail will not regrow, amputation may be the only way to prevent the spread of tail rot.
Both internal and external parasites are widespread in reptile pets.
Your beardie may experience gastrointestinal parasites like pinworms or external skin parasites like mites and ticks.
It should be noted parasites are not always a negative or may live inside your pet successfully without affecting them or you.
However, too high of a parasite count or a mite infestation will cause discomfort or illness.
Symptoms of gastrointestinal parasites may include diarrhea and weight loss.
Mites and ticks will be more noticeable and cause dust (really their feces) on your pet’s body, redness, bumps, fatigue, and itching.
Internal parasites will need to be detected by testing a fecal sample.
Once your vet has determined which is causing the trouble for gastrointestinal parasites, they will prescribe appropriate deworming medications.
Medications may be either oral or via injections.
Mite bites and ticks are treated with topical lotions or oral medications.
If you have a mite infestation in the enclosure, you will need to thoroughly clean and disinfect it.
This will prevent the mites from coming back.
Yellow Fungus (YFD)
Yellow fungal disease in bearded dragons is caused by the fungus Nannizziopsis guarroi.
While young dragons seem most susceptible to it, it can affect dragons of any age.
This fungus is most often prevalent in unclean environments.
Beardies housed together during transport before their sale is more likely to develop the disease, which is also highly contagious.
Beardies housed together are also more likely to fight and injure each other, allowing the fungus to enter their systems and cause the disease.
External symptoms of YFD include:
- Early on, a bad shed with dull cells
- “Shedding storm,” or seemingly shedding all the time
- Scale discoloration with a yellow appearance
- A yellow or brown crust
- Scales falling off revealing raw tissue
YFD affects both superficial and deep tissue in a bearded dragon and may affect their internal organs in severe enough cases.
If allowed to become internal, the infection may cause loss of appetite, weight loss, and even death.
Early detection is key to stopping this particular fungus.
A late detection often means a bearded dragon will not survive treatment.
To confirm a diagnosis, your vet will need to take a biopsy of affected tissue, which may also be used for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Treatment will involve a process called debridement, which will include the removal of any infectious skin lesions.
Your vet will prescribe systemic antifungal medications.
Topical antifungals will not prevent spread into the internal organs or treat it if it has already become internal.
Prevention requires regular sanitation and cleaning of enclosures and other items your lizard touches or interacts with.
Put any new reptile pet in quarantine before introducing them or putting them near other pets.
Since YFD is extremely contagious, this is one more reason not to house bearded dragons together.
However, since it can spread to other reptile species, isolate an affected bearded dragon as far away from them as possible if you have more than one reptile pet.
Thankfully, this fungus is very unlikely to spread between your pet and you.
Nannizziopsis guarroi only survives at temperatures higher than the temps of the human body.
Upper Respiratory Infections
Upper respiratory infections like pneumonia are usually the result of poor husbandry.
Most likely, a bearded dragon develops one after being housed in an environment which is too cold, too dirty, or too moist.
Stress also weakens their immune systems, opening them up to all sorts of problems.
They may also be related to a vitamin deficiency.
The infection source could be one of a variety of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Treatment will depend on which of these is causing the distress.
Symptoms of respiratory infections include:
- Eye and nasal discharge, sometimes in the form of bubbles
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Open-mouthed breathing
Once your vet has determined which pathogen is to blame for the infection, they will prescribe injectable or oral antibiotics, antifungal medication, or antiviral if possible.
If your beardie has a severe infection, they may recommend hospitalization for more supportive care like administering fluids.
Adenovirus Or Atadenovirus
Atadenovirus can infect many different types of lizards or reptiles and other animals, including humans.
Both chronic and acute versions occur.
The most likely cause is infected bearded dragons being kept with non-infected ones during transport.
The infection caused by this virus is often referred to as “wasting” or “stargazing” disease.
Most often, the result is fatal hepatitis or gastrointestinal infection.
- Potential paralysis
- Weakened immune system (which may lead to other infections and inflammations like encephalitis, gastroenteritis, and stomatitis)
- Liver and kidney disease
- “Failure to thrive”
Many of these signs of atadenovirus are only found after a bearded dragon dies, and a necropsy is performed to determine how they died.
There is no real cure for this virus, only treatments for its various symptoms.
If your bearded dragon is diagnosed with atadenovirus, make sure you house it alone.
It is extremely contagious.
Bearded dragons are susceptible to a few types of malignant cancer.
These include sarcomas, adenocarcinomas, and gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors.
While cancers are more common later in life for beardies, young lizards are not immune.
Cancer is becoming more and more common among beardies.
The U.S. captive population is not always subject to responsible breeding practices. Irresponsible breeders will either inbreed their specimens or breed unhealthy dragons with each other.
As a preventative measure for hereditary and serious conditions like cancer, make sure you adopt or buy from a reliable and trustworthy breeder, store, or rescue organization.
Many symptoms of cancer, like a loss of appetite, are common to many illnesses affecting bearded dragons.
External cancers like sarcomas may appear as growing dark spots on the skin of the lizard.
However, your pet may also hide its symptoms from you on instinct.
Your vet may need to perform several tests to confirm a diagnosis of cancer.
An x-ray may help confirm the presence of internal masses and tumors, while a blood panel and plasma chemistry may help narrow down the causes of symptoms.
After surgery to remove any tumors, treatment options include radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
Like humans, tumors and cancers may go into cycles of remission and recurrence in bearded dragons.
Some cancers have a better outlook or prognosis than others.
For some bearded dragons, treatment may involve keeping them comfortable and treating symptoms rather than attacking the disease itself.
Your vet may recommend euthanasia in a severe enough case.
Also, the costs of treatment are often much higher for exotic animals than cats and dogs.
Many organizations and corporations offer grants specifically for cancer treatment in exotic pets.
Petco, for example, is one of these.
Do Bearded Dragons Carry Diseases?
Besides the example of atadenovirus, bearded dragons may also carry salmonella in their feces and urates.
They may have the bacteria and be able to spread it without experiencing an infection themselves.
The bacteria may easily spread to the substrate, around your house if you let your beardie roam, and even to you.
According to the CDC, outbreaks of salmonella infections linked to bearded dragons are part of the reason why they are not recommended as pets for those with weakened or suppressed immune systems.
Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your pet.
Do your best not to kiss them, or eat or drink around them, or when touching them.
If you suspect a salmonella infection, make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect your beardie’s enclosure.
Completely remove and replace the layer of the substrate.
Clean anything your beardie may have played with or on outside their enclosure.
Observing your bearded dragon closely will help you catch any strange behaviors, weight loss, changes in appetite, and growth of any rot or odd spots.
While few diseases can spread from bearded dragons to humans, some may be easily transferred, like salmonella or atadenovirus.
Make sure you wash your hands before and after handling.
Of the listed diseases, some have better potential outcomes than others.