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How To Tell If A Bearded Dragon Is Impacted

What are the signs a bearded dragon is impacted?

What causes impaction in bearded dragons?

Many owners are afraid of the bearded dragon becoming impacted, but it is important not to panic.

Understanding what causes impaction in bearded dragons and knowing the signs of impaction is crucial to your pet’s overall health and well-being.

If impaction is not treated promptly, it will become a very serious situation for your bearded dragon, and it may require surgery.

We will take a closer look at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of bearded dragon impaction so you will know what to do if it happens to your beloved beardie.

how to tell if bearded dragon is impacted

How To Tell If Bearded Dragon Is Impacted

Common symptoms of bearded dragon impaction include:

  • Infrequent bowel movements.
  • A complete lack of bowel movements.
  • Straining while attempting to defecate.
  • Lethargy.
  • Appetite loss.

Symptoms such as rear leg paralysis or trouble walking indicate a more serious impaction.

Other physical signs of impaction in bearded dragons include a tender belly, lumps on the spine, or a bulge where the impaction occurs.

You should regularly monitor your beardie’s appearance and behavior, so you will easily spot any changes in appearance or behavior.

Impaction is not the same thing as constipation.

Constipation is the buildup of food and stool in the digestive tract.

Impaction occurs when your bearded dragon swallows something inedible, such as substrate, and it builds up in the digestive system.

If you notice any of the symptoms of impaction, you should seek veterinary care immediately.

Impaction may become fatal to your bearded dragon if it is left untreated for too long.

What Causes Impaction In Bearded Dragons?

The most common reasons for impaction in bearded dragons come from accidental ingestion of substrates, such as gravel, pellets, sand, or small pebbles.

Your beardie may accidentally consume substrate when it is feeding on live insects.

Even though your bearded dragon is only eating small amounts of the substrate, the small pieces will clump together and completely block its digestive tract over time.

A bearded dragon may also ingest substrate if it is starving and looking for food or if it is seeking nutrients it is lacking.

Large insects with tough exoskeletons may also cause your beardie to become impacted if it cannot digest the insect completely.

Temperature also plays a role in impaction, and if your beardie’s enclosure is not warm enough, it will not be able to digest its food properly.

Water is also an important factor, and if your bearded dragon is dehydrated, it will not be able to properly digest its food.

The bearded dragon will not absorb the water it needs in its colon to stimulate defecation.

You should also be sure to include the right amount of vegetables and leafy greens in your beardie’s diet to avoid impaction.

A bearded dragon will have less frequent bowel movements without enough fiber, leading to a buildup in its digestive system.

Impaction in bearded dragons may also be caused by parasites, infections, tumors, and injuries.

What is the Treatment for Impaction in Bearded Dragons?

If you have not seen your bearded dragon defecate for a couple of days, and there are no other obvious symptoms of impaction, there are a few home remedies to do if your veterinarian is immediately unavailable.

However, if the symptoms appear to be more serious, you should always seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

Check the temperature in your bearded dragon’s enclosure to see if it is too cool.

Making adjustments to raise the temperature in your beardie’s enclosure will greatly improve its digestion.

Since bearded dragons are accustomed to defecating in water, place your beardie in a warm bath to help stimulate its digestion.

The water should be around 100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C), and you should give your beardie 20-30 minutes to relax so it will defecate.

You may need to periodically add warm water to the bath to keep the water temperature consistent.

While bathing your bearded dragon, you should very gently stroke its side from the head to the tail to help move things along.

Pressing downward very gently on the chest will also help to loosen the impaction.

Remember to keep your beardie upright and supported with your hand, as bearded dragons do not breathe well when they are on their backs.

You should also avoid feeding your bearded dragon the live insects normally included in their diet when impacted.

Instead, opt for soft, easily digestible foods such as canned pumpkin diluted with water or sugar-free 100% fruit juices.

And if using canned foods interest you we have a post on what canned foods are best for bearded dragons that you’ll find helpful.

A small amount of olive oil, just a couple of drops on the beardie’s nose, which it will lick off, will also act as a gentle laxative.

You can read more about when to use olive oil for bearded dragons in our other post.

If these home remedies do not work within a few days, or if you notice serious symptoms such as regurgitation, paralysis, or leg dragging, you should take your bearded dragon to a veterinarian immediately.

The veterinarian will first do X-rays of the abdomen to have a better look at the impaction.

Based on the severity of the impaction, the veterinarian may prescribe laxatives or perform an enema on your bearded dragon.

If neither of these treatment options works, your veterinarian may decide to perform the necessary surgery.

While the surgery cost may be expensive, it could mean the difference between life or death for your bearded dragon.

Most veterinarians offer payment plans if surgery is out of your budget at the moment.

Are There Ways to Prevent Your Bearded Dragon from Becoming Impacted?

There are many ways to help prevent bearded dragon impaction, and the first thing you should do is check the temperature in your beardie’s habitat.

A bearded dragon’s enclosure should have a gradient of temperature ranges.

A basking area should have a temperature between 95 and 100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C).

The ambient temperature inside the enclosure should be around 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C), and there should be a cool, dark area with a temperature between 80-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).

Baby and juvenile bearded dragons will require slightly warmer temperatures.

During the night, allow the enclosure to cool to temperatures between 70-75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C) to encourage your beardie to rest.

Temperatures should never fall below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).

UVB Lighting May Help

You should place a heat lamp and UVB lighting above your bearded dragon’s enclosure to provide heat and light.

UVB lighting allows your beardie to synthesize vitamin D3 from vitamin D, which in turn aids in calcium absorption.

Avoiding loose particle substrates is another way to prevent your bearded dragon from becoming impacted.

Substrates made from sand, pellets, or crushed walnut shells are easily eaten by accident when a bearded dragon eats live insects.

These particles will eventually build up in a beardie’s digestive tract and cause impaction even in small amounts.

This type of impaction is easily by choosing smooth substrate options such as reptile carpet, rubber shelf liner, or ceramic tile made for bearded dragons.

Be sure to choose a heat-absorbing tile rather than one which reflects light and heat.

Your bearded dragon’s substrate should never be cold to the touch.

Besides being safer for your bearded dragon, these smooth substrates are also much easier to clean.

You should spot clean your beardie’s enclosure every day and perform deep cleaning at least once a month.

Feeding Advice

There are also certain insects with hard shells or exoskeletons, which will also cause impaction if they are fed to your bearded dragon too often.

These insects include larger crickets, mealworms, and superworms.

A general rule of thumb is to never give your bearded dragon a feeder insect larger than the space between your beardie’s eyes.

You should never give baby bearded dragons these types of insect feeders, and adults should only have them as an occasional treat.

You should also closely monitor your bearded dragon when outside of its enclosure to ensure it does not eat any type of foreign particles.

In addition to properly sized gut-loaded insect feeders, you should feed your bearded dragon a variety of fruits and vegetables high in fiber to keep its digestive system moving.

Acceptable fruits and vegetables include collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, grapes, bananas, watermelon, and blueberries.

You should feed an adult bearded dragon once a day, and its diet should consist of 75% vegetables, leafy greens, fruit, and 25% live gut-loaded insects.

Always provide a shallow bowl of clean, fresh water inside your bearded dragon’s enclosure to ensure it stays hydrated and has a place to soak.

If a bearded dragon does not get enough water, its digestive system will slow down and cause a higher risk of impaction.

You should also strive to keep your beardie’s environment as stress-free as possible.

A stressed bearded dragon is more susceptible to illness, and its appetite may also be affected.

The following table shows some common causes of impaction in bearded dragons and solutions to these issues.

Cause of ImpactionSolution
Accidental ingestion of loose substrateChoose a smooth substrate such as  reptile carpet, rubber shelf liner, or ceramic tile made for bearded dragons.
Improper temperature inside the enclosureKeep the ambient temperature of the enclosure at around 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C), with a basking area of 95-100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C), and a cool side at 80-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C). Monitor the temperature regularly and never let the enclosure go below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).
Feeder insects too large/hardFeed larger insects with hard shells or exoskeletons such as crickets, mealworms, and superworms very sparingly.
DehydrationAlways provide fresh, clean water in a shallow bowl within the enclosure.

It will be easier to avoid any future impactions in your bearded dragon with proper care and maintenance.

Should You Include Supplements in Your Bearded Dragon’s Diet?

bearded dragon supplements

Besides a healthy diet of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and live insects, you should also be giving your bearded dragon supplements.

You should give a multivitamin 3-5 times per week, a calcium supplement 4-7 times per week, and a vitamin D3 supplement no more than 3 times per week.

These supplements are important to your bearded dragon’s health because they cannot get these supplements from insects or plant matter.

Supplements are also necessary due to bearded dragons being notoriously picky eaters, even if you have gone to great lengths to provide them with a proper diet.

Calcium supplements help prevent metabolic bone disease, which is an incurable disease and is often fatal to bearded dragons.

Symptoms of metabolic bone disease include softening of the jaw and facial bones, swelling of the hind limbs, tremors, and difficulty walking or standing.

Vitamin D3 goes hand-in-hand with calcium because D3 is necessary for the bearded dragon to absorb calcium in its body.

Sometimes, D3 is included in a calcium supplement. 

Still, since you should be providing your bearded dragon with proper UVB lighting, you should give D3 separately and less often than calcium to avoid D3 overdose.

When choosing a multivitamin supplement, be sure the supplement lists beta carotene instead of vitamin A.

A bearded dragon will convert beta carotene into vitamin A naturally. 

Still, if vitamin A is directly received through a supplement, it will build up in the beardie’s system in toxic amounts.

Too much vitamin A will cause vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy in bearded dragons.

These supplements come in powder form and are easily given to a bearded dragon by lightly dusting its food.

An easy way to dust insects is to place them in a plastic container with a bit of the supplement powder, cover with a lid, and gently shake.

These supplements may also be dusted onto the feeder insects’ food, where they will digest the nutrients and pass them on to the bearded dragon.

Final Thoughts

Impaction in bearded dragons is a serious issue, and you should always seek veterinary care for proper treatment to prevent it from becoming fatal.

By learning the symptoms of impaction, you will be able to spot any problems in your bearded dragon and provide them with the care they need until you are able to get an appointment with a veterinarian.

Preventative measures go a long way in keeping your bearded dragon healthy, but they are not always fool-proof.

You should always monitor your beardie for any unusual symptoms or behaviors and seek veterinary care when it is necessary.

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