Bearded dragon owners need to know about all the illnesses and injuries their pets may suffer; after all, we want them to live long and healthy lives!
But most beardie owners don’t know what a cloacal prolapse is, what causes it, and how to handle it.
It’s a severe and potentially deadly problem if not taken care of right away, so let’s clarify this issue.
A pink bulge coming out of your bearded dragon’s rear end indicates a cloacal prolapse, which means an organ has come out through the cloaca. It happens when a bearded dragon strains to defecate or lay eggs. Apply gentle pressure to the pink tissue from the outside in with well-lubricated finger pads to treat it.
If a prolapse is not taken care of quickly, the affected organs are at risk of dying.
Once the organs start to die out, your beardie will need surgery to repair the damage, and there is a significant risk of death.
Read on to learn all you need to know about this dangerous condition.
Causes Of Bearded Dragon Prolapse
The cloaca is a cavity at the end of the digestive tract, and it aids in the release of urine, feces, and eggs.
Reptiles, birds, and most fish have cloaca and are susceptible to a prolapse.
In a cloacal prolapse, the intestines, bladder, or reproductive organs protrude from the animal’s cloacal vent.
For a veterinarian to properly treat the prolapse, it is important to understand what caused it.
Treating the underlying cause of the prolapse is crucial in preventing it from happening again.
In this section, we provide information on the common causes of cloacal prolapse in bearded dragons so you will be able to understand why it happens.
Lack of Calcium
A calcium deficiency is one of the most common causes of cloacal prolapse in bearded dragons.
When a beardie lacks enough calcium in its diet, its body will compensate by taking calcium from the bones.
This causes the bones to weaken and become soft.
The deformation of the bones is also known as metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease is incurable, and it is a very painful disease for a beardie.
Since there is no cure, it is important to ensure your beardie gets enough calcium in its diet to prevent the disease altogether.
If metabolic bone disease is not treated in its early stages, the bones will become so deformed it will lead to paralysis and death.
When the bones in the pelvis become too soft, the bearded dragon will likely prolapse because the pelvis is not strong enough to contain some of the internal organs near the cloaca.
Once the bones have softened in the pelvis, it may be too late to reverse the damage.
We recommend going over our calcium guide for bearded dragons to get a complete understanding of how calcium can affect your pet.
Bearded dragons typically have a small number of internal parasites, such as pinworms and coccidia, in their body at any given time.
If these parasites multiply too quickly, the beardie will become sick and lose weight due to diarrhea.
The constant need to defecate puts a strain on a bearded dragon’s cloaca and will lead to prolapse.
A fecal test is used to diagnose parasites in your beardie’s body.
If there are too many parasites present, your veterinarian will give your beardie a deworming medication to cure the infestation.
Because of diarrhea, it is crucial to keep your beardie well hydrated while it is being treated for worms.
Soak your beardie in a shallow, warm bath for at least 15 minutes every day until the deworming treatment has cleared the parasites and diarrhea has subsided.
If you believe your pet may have worms, here’s our post on the signs, symptoms, and treatment for pinworms.
Impaction occurs when your beardie ingests something its digestive tract cannot process, and the reptile is unable to defecate.
The most common cause of impaction is due to your beardie accidentally ingesting particles from a loose substrate, such as sand.
Dehydration will also cause impaction because there is a lack of fluid in the digestive system to keep things moving.
It is very important to provide your bearded dragon with a shallow dish of fresh, clean water every day.
Further Reading: How much water to give your bearded dragon
You may need to change the water several times daily because it will get dirty.
The strain to defecate will then cause a bearded dragon to suffer a cloacal prolapse because of the constant pressure on the cloaca.
Further Reading: How to tell if your bearded dragon is impacted.
Dystocia and Egg Laying
Dystocia is also known as egg binding, and it occurs when a female bearded dragon is unable to lay an egg becomes trapped in the cloaca.
Dystocia is caused by a lack of calcium in a pregnant female, which causes her body not to have the necessary contractions needed to pass the egg.
The constant strain to lay the egg will cause a bearded dragon to have a cloacal prolapse.
Even if a beardie does not suffer from dystocia, it is still possible to have a prolapse with normal egg-laying if the female is not getting enough calcium in her diet.
A bearded dragon does not have to mate to lay eggs.
If a female bearded dragon has any contact with a male, it could trigger the female’s reproductive hormones.
The female beardie will become pregnant, but her eggs will be infertile.
Bearded Dragon Prolapse Treatment
Cloacal prolapse is a very serious health condition, and it requires immediate medical attention.
The affected organs will die if the prolapse is not taken care of quickly.
Once necrosis of the organs happens, it is usually fatal for your beardie.
The most important thing to do when dealing with a cloacal prolapse is to keep the affected organ moist.
Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with information on how to keep the organ lubricated until you get to the animal hospital.
The organ should be kept moist with a lubricating gel, vaseline, or water.
Move your bearded dragon away from any type of loose substrate, such as sand or dirt, which could irritate the prolapsed tissue and cause contamination.
Paper towels make an excellent substrate for sick beardies, and it is easy to change out whenever it becomes soiled.
Once the organ dries out, necrosis will quickly set in, so it is important not to let this happen.
If the organs start to die, the beardie will need emergency surgery to remove any dead tissue.
It is very easy to accidentally puncture or otherwise damage an organ when replacing the prolapse.
A veterinarian can gently push the prolapsed organ back into the cloaca.
Anesthesia is sometimes needed to help your beardie relax for the procedure.
Your veterinarian may also use sutures to keep the prolapse in the body once it has been replaced.
Preventing Bearded Dragon Prolapse
While there is no definitive way of knowing whether or not a cloacal prolapse will affect your bearded dragon, there are some ways to prevent it from happening.
Unfortunately, once a bearded dragon has suffered a prolapse, it will likely happen again.
This is especially true if the initial cause of the prolapse is not identified and treated.
Add a Calcium Powder Supplement to Your Bearded Dragon’s Diet
Adding a calcium supplement like this one on Amazon to your beardie’s diet is easy, and it is one of the most important things you will do for your reptile.
Calcium deficiency is responsible for numerous health problems in bearded dragons.
In addition to prolapse, a lack of calcium will cause bone development, muscle contractions, and egg development.
To use a calcium powder supplement, you must dust your beardie’s food right before feeding time.
To dust live feeder insects, you will place some of the calcium powder in a plastic container, add the insects, and gently shake the container to coat them thoroughly.
Take care not to use too much calcium powder because bearded dragons do not find it very tasty and may refuse to eat.
Leafy greens and vegetables may also be lightly dusted with the calcium supplement.
Use the calcium supplement at every feeding to ensure your beardie gets an adequate supply of calcium.
If your beardie is a pregnant female, it is even more important to provide her with a calcium supplement.
The calcium will aid in egg development and allow your beardie’s body to produce the contractions necessary for laying eggs.
Bearded dragons will lay eggs even without mating, further increasing the risk for prolapse.
Hormones are sometimes given to beardies to prevent them from being pregnant, and this greatly reduces the chance of prolapse.
A bearded dragon’s body does not readily absorb calcium without vitamin D3.
To ensure your beardie is getting enough D3, you will need to purchase a separate D3 supplement.
Since it is possible for your beardie to overdose on D3 and become very sick, only use a vitamin D3 supplement 2-3 times per week at most.
Another source of vitamin D3 comes from UVB lighting.
A bearded dragon will absorb the UVB rays, and its body will convert the vitamin D from the rays into D3.
Your beardie should receive at least 12 hours of UVB light every day.
Invest in a light timer so you do not forget to turn the light on or off.
Keep Your Bearded Dragon Hydrated
Water is crucial to a bearded dragon’s diet and needs to stay hydrated.
Unfortunately, beardies are notorious for not being big water drinkers.
In the wild, beardies are used to flowing water from rivers and streams, and in captivity, they seem to lose interest in still water.
To ensure your bearded dragon stays hydrated, provide them with fresh, clean water every day in a water dish large enough for the reptile to soak in.
You will need to change the water several times daily since it will quickly become dirty.
Another way to keep your beardie hydrated is to give it a bath in warm water several times during the week.
The bath only needs to last around 30 minutes, giving your beardie enough time to hydrate itself.
Be sure to keep the water warm, and add more warm water when it is needed.
Water is even more critical to prevent dehydration when a bearded dragon is sick.
Pedialyte may be used to replace much-needed electrolytes in your beardie.
It has a low sugar content and is metabolized faster than water.
Prevent Impaction in Your Bearded Dragon
Hydration is also essential in preventing impaction in a bearded dragon.
Water keeps everything in a beardie’s digestive tract moving, therefore keeping the reptile from having to strain when defecating.
Since straining to go to the bathroom is one of the leading causes of prolapse, keeping your beardie hydrated will help prevent prolapse from happening.
To further reduce the risk of impaction, change any loose substrate in the enclosure to something smoother such as reptile carpet, paper towels, or ceramic tile.
If your beardie is straining to defecate or has hard feces, add some fiber to the reptile’s diet.
Squash and sweet potato are natural laxatives, but be careful not to overdo them, or your beardie will end up with diarrhea.
Feed your bearded dragons softer insects like dubia roaches, hornworms, or crickets.
Avoid mealworms because their exoskeleton is very tough and more likely to cause constipation or impaction.
Further Reading: How many mealworms should bearded dragons get?