What is causing your bearded dragon’s joints to swell?
Can bearded dragons get gout?
As a caring bearded dragon owner, you’ll probably worry when your pet seems to be in pain.
A relatively rare, but still possible, illness may develop called gout.
To keep your pet healthy and happy, you need to know about bearded dragon gout.
All reptiles, especially pet reptiles, are prone to gout. In all but a few cases, the causes are due to inappropriate diet and dehydration. If you see any symptoms of gout in your bearded dragon, contact your vet immediately.
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What Is Bearded Dragon Gout?
Gout is defined as an excess uric acid in the blood.
Uric acid, synthesized as a breakdown product of nitrogen when the body breaks down amino acids from proteins, is usually processed by the kidneys in many animals, including reptiles.
Both animal and plant proteins metabolize into uric acid. In reptiles, this is often caused by a high-protein diet.
Gout may be a primary condition or a secondary result of another disease like renal failure.
Whether the body overproduces uric acid or fails to excrete it, the excess is deposited in crystal form, known as urate crystals.
These crystals either appear in organs and tissues, known as visceral gout, or in the joint fluid, known as articular gout.
In either case, these crystals, usually shaped like needles, cause a great amount of inflammation and pain.
Pseudogout has similar effects.
However, the crystals formed here are calcium-based rather than sodium urate crystals.
An excess of calcium will also make gout harder to treat.
How Do Bearded Dragons Get Gout?
Most causes of gout in pet reptiles are related to an improper diet or bad husbandry.
Gout often affects omnivorous or carnivorous reptiles.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous and will eat insects, vegetables, and fruits.
While it may seem easy to give a beardy a balanced diet, many owners may stick with insects, especially ones high in the organic compound purine.
A pure insect diet contains high amounts of protein.
This causes real health problems for a bearded dragon.
Make sure your beardy is getting a balanced diet from the start.
While a baby should be eating multiple insect meals a day, an adult only needs insects one to three times a week, with vegetables filling the rest of the week’s meals.
A bearded dragon also needs an appropriate amount of a powdered calcium supplement.
Do not over-supplement calcium.
Dehydration also affects kidney function in reptiles.
Most cases of gout in reptiles are attributed to insufficient water availability and intake.
Although your bearded dragon is a desert animal, they still need access to fresh water daily.
They may also become dehydrated if the enclosure temperature is too high.
You should have a water dish large and shallow enough for your bearded dragon to soak.
If your beardy is not interested in standing drinking water, a fountain with always moving fresh water may interest them more.
Spraying with a mister twice a week will help with hydration, but be careful to keep the relative humidity low.
A bearded dragon enclosure should stay at 20 to 40% humidity, monitored with a hygrometer.
An enclosure temperature which is too low for your beardy may also negatively impact their renal function.
Gout may be a secondary effect of underlying kidney disease or renal failure.
Consult your veterinarian on how to treat these primary issues best.
In rare cases, gout may be genetic.
What Are The Symptoms Of Gout In Bearded Dragons?
If you see any of these symptoms in your bearded dragon, contact your veterinarian immediately to set up an appointment:
- Depression and lethargy
- Weight loss
- Swollen, painful joints
- White or cream-colored deposits in the mouth called tophi
These symptoms will usually appear slowly and get worse over time.
How Do Vets Help Your Bearded Dragon With Gout?
Your veterinarian will conduct several exams on your bearded dragon if they suspect gout.
They will want to make sure your beardy’s swollen joints are not caused by metabolic bone disease, which has an entirely different treatment plan.
The vet will conduct a physical exam, feeling for swelling in the joints and tissues.
They may also feel the kidneys, as enlarged kidneys are signs of kidney disease.
Blood tests may show high levels of uric acid, which indicates gout.
An x-ray may be used to find crystal deposits.
Your vet may also analyze your bearded dragon’s plasma chemistry.
It will also be necessary for your vet to understand what you are feeding your beardy and how often they are soaking in or drinking water.
If you feed them a balanced, low-purine diet and give them plenty of water, your vet will look for another potential cause of gout.
From there, your vet will base treatment on potential causes of the issue.
Your beardy may have to stay overnight at the vet’s office for fluid therapy to correct dehydration.
Fluid therapy may involve subcutaneous injections or intravenous fluid.
From there, your vet will want to monitor your beardy’s weight and uric acid levels for the weeks of treatment.
If the gout is due to diet, you will have to lower the amounts of protein and purine in your beardy’s meals at the very least until the symptoms are no longer present.
Avoid crickets, as these are the highest in purines. Mealworms and superworms are low in purines.
Make sure to give your beardy plenty of lower-protein vegetables.
Bearded dragon owners recommend adding black cherry extract as a home remedy.
Depending on how severe the gout is, your vet may also prescribe pain medication and human gout medications like Allopurinol.
Human medications are usually only prescribed as a last resort, as there is not much research into how these affect reptiles.
In some instances, your vet may have to perform surgery to remove the needle-like crystals from your bearded dragon’s tissues.
If your beardy is suffering articular gout, amputation of toes or limbs may be needed. In the most severe cases, since gout is so painful, veterinarians may recommend euthanasia.
Most of the treatment for gout in reptiles is preventative.
A good diet and husbandry regimen generally means no troubles with gout.
Once your beardy develops gout, it will most likely be a lifelong problem.
We hope this article has helped you determine whether your bearded dragon has gout.
A case of gout will most likely require changes in diet and husbandry for your pet.
Many cases of gout are caused by dehydration and improper diet.
The condition is then managed with pain medicine, dietary and water intake changes, and monitoring.