Bearded Dragons - Diseases

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Medical Conditions, Nutrition, Parasites

The Bearded Dragon is a well-known lizard and currently considered one of the best pet lizards. There are eight species of Bearded Dragons, but the most popular one is the Inland or Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps), from the arid to semi-arid southeastern parts of Australia, and we will be discussing the Inland Bearded Dragon in this handout.

What are some of the more common diseases of pet Bearded Dragons?

bearded_dragons-diseases-1If they are well looked after, with a good diet and proper environment, Bearded Dragons are reasonably hardy animals. Common health conditions of pet Bearded Dragons include metabolic bone disease, infectious stomatitis (mouth rot), parasites, respiratory infections and hypervitaminosis D.

"If they are well looked after, with a good diet and proper environment, Bearded Dragons are reasonably hardy animals."

What are the signs of these diseases?

Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is a complex disease and is probably the most common health problem of pet Bearded Dragons. MBD is most often caused by feeding an improper diet that is high in phosphorus and low in calcium or Vitamin D3 (caused either by a direct nutritional deficiency or either a lack of UV-B lighting or a lack of exposure to natural light). Common signs include swelling of the lower jaw, softening of the jaw and facial bones (rubber jaw) and/or swelling of the hind limbs. X-rays reveal thin bone tissue (decreased density), widening and thickening bone shafts and possibly fractures that appear to have happened with minimal force or for no apparent reason. Green-stick fractures, bones that appear to fold or bend rather than break apart, occur in soft bones. Blood tests may show a low calcium level and an improper calcium phosphorus ratio. As the condition progresses, muscle twitching, seizures, loss of appetite, and loss of energy (lethargy) are seen. MBD is also known as fibrous osteodystrophy or nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. It is most commonly seen in juvenile Bearded Dragons (less than 2 years old).

Infectious Stomatitis (Mouth Rot) is not seen in Bearded Dragons as often as it is with iguanas. It is a bacterial condition seen as pinpoint hemorrhages on the gums, swollen gums or an excess amount of thick mucus, often like cottage cheese, in the mouth. Mouth rot can also cause swelling of the jaw, just like MBD.

Parasites, especially pinworms, are common in pet Bearded Dragons. The pet may show no clinical signs and the parasites will be detected on an annual fecal examination. In some cases, parasites may cause diarrhea or weight loss. Pinworms are probably commensal organisms (this is an association between two organisms in which one benefits while the other derives neither benefit nor harm). Mites and ticks can be found on the skin of Bearded Dragons. They come from other Bearded Dragons, not from around your house. They are often seen moving around, under or between scales around the head and in skin folds.

Respiratory infections or pneumonia can occur in animals that are stressed, improperly fed or kept in poor, cold or dirty conditions. You may see sneezing, nasal or ocular discharge, bubbles in the mouth, unnaturally rapid or shallow breathing, pulling or gasping for breath and lethargy.

Hypervitaminosis D is a condition that develops if owners either over-supplement the Bearded Dragon's diet with vitamins and minerals or feed it dog or cat food. Clinical signs are vague and include lack of appetite and lethargy.

How can I tell if my Bearded Dragon is sick?

"ANY deviation from normal is a cause for concern and your Bearded Dragon requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian."

Signs of disease in Bearded Dragons may be specific for a certain disease, such as jaw or hind limb swelling seen in Bearded Dragons with metabolic bone disease, or may be non-specific, such as Bearded Dragons with anorexia (lack of appetite), depression and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases. ANY deviation from normal is a cause for concern and your Bearded Dragon requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

How are Bearded Dragons diseases treated?

Metabolic bone disease usually requires immediate injectable or oral calcium, a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement or calcitonin, a drug which puts calcium back into your Bearded Dragon's bones. Primarily, and for long term management, the diet has to be corrected and UV-B lighting has to be provided.

Infectious stomatitis (mouth rot), usually requires injectable antibiotics, as well as rinsing the mouth with antibiotic solutions.

Several deworming medications are available, formulated as either oral or injectable drugs. The type of parasite identified on the microscopic fecal examination will determine which drug is needed. Mites and ticks can be treated either topically or with oral or injectable medication, as advised by your veterinarian. Environmental cleaning, disinfecting and treatment may be needed as well.

Respiratory infections can be diagnosed with X-rays, blood tests and cultures of discharges or other samples. They will likely be treated with oral or injectable antibiotics. If they are severe, the animal may have to be hospitalized for more aggressive therapy and supportive treatment.

Hypervitaminosis D is a serious problem that requires hospitalization and intensive therapy with fluids, force-feeding, and drugs to help lower the Bearded Dragon's calcium level. Dietary modification is necessary.

Any of these diseases can be severe enough to cause a loss of appetite and severe lethargy. Have any health issues immediately checked by your veterinarian. There may be the need for hospitalization and intensive care, which can include medications, fluid therapy and force-feeding.

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