Is your bearded dragon rubbing against cage furniture or acting strangely?
Have you noticed red spots or tiny black insects crawling around your beardie’s skin?
Every pet owner’s goal is to decrease the risk of disease and injury to their best friends.
Ensuring your beardie is safe and comfortable is essential.
Bearded dragon mites increase risk and expose pets to possibly dangerous health conditions, which is why we wrote this guide for you to learn from.
Bearded dragon mites are carriers of harmful viruses and bacteria and can cause severe damage to bearded dragons. Taking preventative measures so your beardie never gets them in the first place is the best way to go. Unfortunately, mites are hard to get rid of once they’ve infested your bearded dragon’s enclosure.
What Are Mites?
Mites are tiny parasitic insects that use larger animals as hosts.
They are similar to fleas or lice for mammals like dogs and cats.
Mites are not an incredibly common issue for bearded dragons; however, they’re more likely to show up on animals in captivity.
Wild bearded dragons often eliminate mites when they shed their skin.
In captivity, beardies have nowhere to go outside of their enclosure.
Instead, they remain exposed to whatever creatures happened to be living on their shed skin.
This is where health issues arise.
Mites are most frequently found under a bearded dragon’s larger scales, around eyes and ears, and around areas with thin scales.
When a bearded dragon is infested with mites, it is called acariasis.
Types Of Mites
A bearded dragon could become infested by four main types of mites.
These are the most common mites which feed on reptiles.
They look like tiny black or brown dots.
Snake mites live in or around “mite pockets” like skin folds, armpits, mucous membranes, and other damp and dark parts of the host animal.
These mites mainly infect lizards.
They are a reddish, orangish color.
They tend to distribute themselves evenly across the entire skin of the host and don’t limit themselves to just mite pockets.
Bearded dragons infested with pterygosomid mites will have orange, red, or brown spots on their skin.
Also known as chiggers, these mites aren’t too particular when choosing a host.
They will feed on mammals, birds, reptiles – even humans!
Harvest mites will feed for five or six days, then drop off their host and continue on their merry way.
Adult harvest chiggers are usually bright red.
They will create an orange crust on the skin of their host.
These mites often come around when poor husbandry practices, particularly inappropriate humidity levels, are in play.
Storage mites affect lizards who eat insects.
You may find these little guys in hosts’ feces, which signifies their food source is infested.
Vets may even require samples of the stool for diagnosis.
The Life Cycle Of Mites
Mites can live their whole lives hidden in a scaly crevice on a lizard.
They may even lay their eggs in the skin folds of their host.
There are five stages of the mite life cycle:
- Eggs are extremely tiny. One pole of the egg will darken as the baby mite develops.
- Larvae need 75% relative humidity to survive. They stay close to the egg and do not feed.
- Protonymphs are aggressive and feeding. Depending on the type of mite, they will feed on blood, skin, or lymph. They will crawl under a bearded dragon’s scales or live around their eyes.
- Deutonymphs become nonfeeding, temporarily. Sometimes they detach from the host.
- Adults return to feeding on the host animal. They reproduce and lay eggs.
This entire life cycle takes about three weeks!
How Do Bearded Dragon Mites Spread?
Because mites have short life cycles, they reproduce and spread very quickly.
This is especially true if bearded dragons are close together in a crowded enclosure.
Mites can easily escape an enclosure.
They can infest the entire room of a house, along with all of the terrariums, within a day.
Mites are most commonly found on new reptiles coming home from the pet store.
Poor husbandry also increases the risk of a mite infestation and may result in a debilitated animal.
Symptoms Of Mite Infestations
A bearded dragon with mites will exhibit some odd behaviors and health symptoms.
- Dull skin
- Crusty scales
- Loss of appetite
- Rubbing against cage furniture; itching
- Soaking in water more than usual
- Weight loss
- Incomplete shedding
- Sunken eyes
In addition to health conditions and behaviors, mites are visible to the human eye.
You may notice mites:
- Infesting ears, eyes, front or back legs, vent, or scales and skin folds.
- Moving around on your beardie’s skin
- In your bearded dragon’s fecal matter.
If you notice any of these signs, you must take action.
Consult your veterinarian.
Health Effects Of Bearded Dragon Mites
Mites make bearded dragons uncomfortable and expose them to many horrible potential illnesses, such as:
- Skin damage
- Hyperkeratosis (thickening of the outer layer of skin)
- Impaired growth
- Bacterial infections from bites and lesions
- Viral infections
- Skin shedding impairments
A bearded dragon with mites is considered to have a life-threatening condition that can cause dangerous clinical diseases.
To see what kind of illnesses are possible, check out our post on bearded dragon diseases.
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How To Get Rid Of Bearded Dragon Mites
The first important step is to consult with a reptile veterinarian.
Mite treatments sold in pet stores are relatively ineffective, and DIY suggestions (like the ones below) can help, but they do not replace a professional’s advice.
Mites are a significant challenge to eliminate once they’ve infested your home.
Why Are Mites Hard To Get Rid Of?
Mites hide, reproduce quickly, and spread easily.
If you notice them in your bearded dragon’s enclosure, they most likely have already infested the entire room.
The chemicals for killing mites will also kill your reptile.
So, mites require a double treatment.
You must treat the enclosure and its contents with toxic substances, but treat your pet with nontoxic solutions.
Isolate The Affect Animals
If you have more than one reptile in your home, you must isolate your bearded dragon(s), quarantining them for two to four weeks.
Put each bearded dragon in a separate, large plastic container with a paper substrate to isolate your pets.
Include little or no cage furnishings.
Treating Your Bearded Dragon For Mites
There are several ways to remove mites from your beardie’s skin and give your pet comfort and relief.
Apply olive oil to your bearded dragon’s entire body.
Don’t get the oil in its eyes.
Leave the oil on for at least 10 or 20 minutes, then thoroughly rinse it off.
The oil will smother any mites living on your dragon’s skin.
And olive oil has other benefits and uses for your pet, so if you’d like to learn more about those, read our post on giving bearded dragons olive oil.
Hot Water Bath
A word of warning: bearded dragons can drown if submerged in water.
Be careful when you’re giving them a soak.
Give the water a gentle squirt of dish soap.
Soaking your bearded dragon in tepid water will drown the parasites on its body.
It won’t affect any mites living on your beardie’s head, though.
Dilute the betadine with water, so it appears the color of weak tea.
Allow your bearded dragon to soak in the solution for about 30 minutes.
During this time, use a cotton swab soaked in the same solution and clean all skin folds and crevices.
Poor hygiene makes the pseudo-fleas so much worse and results in more bites.
After 30 minutes, rinse the solution from your beardie’s body with clean water.
A few pointers:
- Do not allow your dragon to drink this solution. Put your dragon in clean water before adding the betadine to see if it will quench its thirst.
- If your beardie defecates in the betadine solution, dump it out and start over with a fresh concoction.
- Avoid getting the betadine solution in your beardie’s eyes.
Use a washcloth with undiluted betadine to wipe down your bearded dragon’s head and neck. Leave the solution on for 10 minutes, then rinse.
Dispose of the washcloth.
There are topical and injectable medications available to treat mite and parasite infestations.
Consult with your veterinarian about your options.
Your bearded dragon will most likely be feeling depleted after a mite infestation.
It’s essential to feed it nutrient-rich foods to help it get back on its feet.
Cleaning Furnishings to Eliminate Mites
Mites are stubborn and very difficult to kill.
Unfortunately, herbal and homeopathic treatments do not work.
You will most likely see a comeback of these parasites if you don’t take aggressive steps to get rid of mites from your bearded dragon’s habitat.
Use ½-cup of bleach for every gallon of water to create an effective disinfecting solution.
The first step is to remove everything from the enclosure and either sanitize it or dispose of it.
Remove all bedding from the cage.
Seal it in a plastic garbage bag and immediately take it out of your house.
It will be riddled with mites.
It is best to discard wooden or porous cage furnishings.
However, some humans have had success baking wooden products in an oven for two to three hours at 200° degrees Fahrenheit (93° C).
Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn or set fire!
Boil rocks for 20 to 30 minutes.
Or, fully submerge rocks in warm water with bleach for at least eight hours, then thoroughly rinse them and let them air dry for at least 24 hours.
Food And Water Bowls
Clean the bowls thoroughly with bleach-water.
Rinse them well and let them fully air dry.
Unplug, remove, and clean heating elements with warm, soapy water.
Rinse them, then spray them with the bleach-water solution and let them sit for 10 minutes before rinsing again.
If there are any self-adhering heating pads, it is best to discard the adhesive.
Mites can sneak in the smallest, stickiest of places!
Yes, even the light bulbs and fixtures are at risk of harboring mites.
Unplug these from their power source and wipe them down thoroughly with bleach-water.
Then allow them to air dry thoroughly.
Environmental Cleaning To Eliminate Mites
After everything has been removed from the enclosure, it is time to clean the tank itself.
Vacuum And Scrape
Vacuum the entire enclosure, including every crevice possible.
If the enclosure is wooden or porous, scrape the sides to get any eggs unstuck, then vacuum again.
Disinfect a glass tank with your bleach-water solution.
Unfortunately, this won’t kill the mites.
However, it will kill any harmful bacteria the mites brought with them.
Apply pesticides or insecticides to the habitat and air-seal it for at least three hours.
- Everything is out of the tank, especially any pets, water dishes, and food dishes.
- The enclosure is completely, 100% air-dried before you put anything back in the cage.
You must cycle fresh air back into the enclosure before reintroducing any food, water, or animals.
Use a fan and open some windows.
Vacuum The Room
The room where your bearded dragon’s cage resides is also at risk of a mite infestation.
Vacuum the entire room thoroughly.
Decontaminating every five days for three weeks will ensure no mites survive.
This timeframe is based on the time it takes for larvae to reach sexual maturity (five days) and adult mites’ entire lifespan (three weeks).
Monitor Your Pet
Over the next six weeks, maintain a bare-bones version of your beardie’s enclosure.
Provide it with a paper substrate (paper towels or newspapers work well), so mites can’t hide.
Keep your beardie isolated in this enclosure and monitor them for any signs of returning mites.
After six weeks free of mite evidence, you are in the clear!
Now you learned how to handle bearded dragon mites and why it’s much better to avoid them if at all possible.
It is much easier to take good care of your pet and perform preventative measures, so you never have to deal with them.
- Quarantine newly purchased reptiles for a month
- Take new bearded dragons to the veterinarian before removing them from isolation.
- Wash hands between handling reptiles
- Clean your beardie’s enclosure regularly
- Take your dragon to the vet for routine health exams
- Provide your beardie with the appropriate temperature, humidity, and diet.
If you do encounter mites with a lack of appetite and lesions on the individuals, your bearded dragon will need some extra love and attention for a while.
Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible, and clean, clean, clean!