Bearded dragons can have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.
While turtles are most commonly incriminated for causing Salmonella bacterial infections in children, bearded dragons also have been determined to be a source of this infection. Salmonellosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Salmonellosis is usually a severe gastrointestinal disease with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, and fever; it can also cause septicemia (bacterial infection of the blood leading to potential multi-organ infection). The risk of getting this disease is higher for children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised whose immune systems may not be fully developed or functional. Many animals and people carry this bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts at a low level without showing any clinical signs yet shed the bacteria in their feces, serving as a source of infection for others.
"Bearded dragons have been determined to be a source of Salmonella bacterial infections."
Prevention, through proper hygiene, is the best control against salmonellosis. Properly clean and disinfect your bearded dragon's cage every time it is soiled. Clean up all feces right away. Use a separate area to clean items for people versus reptiles. Most importantly, wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant soap every time you handle, clean, or feed your bearded dragon. Supervise all children handling these lizards to ensure they disinfect their hands, as well. Since most reptiles that carry Salmonella bacteria are not ill, they usually require no treatment (treatment is often unsuccessful in killing all the bacteria, anyway).
Bearded dragons may occasionally be afflicted with a condition called avascular necrosis. In avascular necrosis, one or more blood vessels supplying an area of the body becomes obstructed, leading to death of the organ or tissue that this blood vessel supplies. This problem is more common in iguanas than in bearded dragons, but can be seen in juvenile bearded dragons housed in conditions of low humidity. Low humidity can lead to dysecdysis (difficulty or abnormal shedding of the skin). The tips of the toes and end of the tail are most commonly affected. Successive layers of retained skin can form constricting rings around the toes and tail resulting in restriction of the blood supply to the affected area; eventually the constriction results in avascular necrosis or death of the tissue beyond the point of the constriction. Within a short period of time, the toe or tip of the tail becomes discolored (dark), often becomes infected, and then dies, dries out, and hardens. Necrosis or infection can spread up the tail or toes to other surrounding areas of the body.
"Successive layers of retained skin can form rings around the toes and tail."
Blood vessels to the extremities also may become obstructed by traumatic injuries that become infected. These areas swell, and cut off circulation. Blood clots (emboli) that become lodged inside blood vessels, or tumors that cut off blood supply to tissues beyond the point of the tumor, may also cause avascular necrosis of tissues. Sometimes, the cause of blood vessel obstruction and resultant avascular necrosis cannot be determined. Treatment involves removing the 'ring' of dead, retained skin or, in severe cases, amputation of the affected tail or toe in an effort to stop the spread of necrosis. Most pets recover well and lead normal lives after the surgery.
Abscesses, occasionally seen in bearded dragons, often appear as hard tumor-like swellings anywhere on the pet's body. An abscess is an infected swollen area within body tissue, containing an accumulation of pus. Abscesses can occur in any reptile and often go unnoticed until they are large and obvious.
"Abcesses occur when bacteria (most commonly) or fungi are introduced into the tissue by trauma."
Abcesses occur when bacteria (most commonly) or fungi are introduced into the tissue by trauma such as with a bite wound, penetration from a foreign object, growth of a tumor, or invasion by a parasite. Subcutaneous (just under the skin) abscesses are frequently encountered in reptiles. Reptilian pus is usually caseous and thick, like cottage cheese. Abscesses are diagnosed by appearance, palpation, fine needle aspiration, or surgical exploration. Abscesses are treated by surgical excision or by lancing and flushing of the abscess. The material within the abscess should be cultured to identify the causative organism and to determine the appropriate medication to use to treat any remaining infection.
Dystocia, or egg binding, happens when a female bearded dragon is unable to lay eggs. Dystocia is a fairly common problem in reptiles and can be life threatening. It may be caused by a variety of factors, including poor husbandry such as improper environmental lighting and temperature, an unsuitable nest site, improper diet (malnutrition), and inadequate humidity.
"Dystocia, or egg binding, happens when a female bearded dragon is unable to lay eggs."
Other contributing factors include the age and health of the animal, injuries, or physical obstruction caused by deformed or, oversized eggs, physical abnormalities with the reproductive tract or pelvis, infections, constipation, or the presence of abscesses or masses obstructing egg passage. A normal gravid (with eggs) bearded dragon may not eat, but is generally still bright, active, and alert. A gravid bearded dragon with dystocia will also not eat but rapidly becomes sick, lethargic, or unresponsive. A veterinarian familiar with reptiles should examine an animal in this condition right away. A physical examination, blood tests, X-rays, and an ultrasound examination are often used to facilitate diagnosis. Medical and/or surgical procedures may be required to help these animals. Without treatment, egg binding is often fatal, and many cases can be prevented with proper husbandry. See a veterinarian experienced with reptiles to ensure your bearded dragon’s husbandry is appropriate to prevent dystocia and other diseases associated with improper care.