Bearded Dragons - Problems

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Medical Conditions, Nutrition, Zoonosis & Human Health

General Information

Bearded Dragons have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.


bearded_dragons-problems-1While turtles are most commonly incriminated for causing Salmonella bacterial infections in children, Bearded Dragons have lately been determined to be a source of this infection as well. Salmonellosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Salmonellosis is usually a severe gastrointestinal disease, causing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, and fever; it can also cause septicemia (blood poisoning). The risk of getting this disease is higher for children, the elderly and the immunocompromised. Many animals and people carry the bacteria without showing any clinical signs yet shed the bacteria in their feces, serving a a source of infection for others.

"Bearded Dragons have lately been determined to be a source of this infection."

Prevention, through proper hygiene, is the best control. Properly clean and disinfect your Bearded Dragon's cage every time it is soiled. Clean up all feces right away. Use a separate cleaning area for people and reptiles. Most importantly, wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant soap after every time you handle, clean or feed your Bearded Dragon. Since most reptiles that carry Salmonella are not ill, they usually require no treatment (treatment is often unsuccessful in killing all the bacteria anyway).

Avascular Necrosis

Bearded dragons may rarely 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 affected tissue. This problem is seen more in lizards like iguanas and less so in Bearded Dragons. In most cases this is a problem with juvenile Bearded Dragons kept 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 unshed skin can form rings around the toes and tail resulting in restriction of the blood supply to the affected area; eventually the constriction results in avascular necrosis. Within a short period of time, the toe or tip of the tail becomes discolored (often dark), may become infected, and then dies, dries out and becomes hard. Necrosis or infection can spread up the tail or toe to surrounding areas of the body.

"Successive layers of unshed skin can form rings around the toes and tail."

Blood vessels to the extremities may also become obstructed by traumatic injuries that become infected and swollen, a blood clot (embolus) becoming lodged in the blood vessel, or a tumor that cuts off the blood supply to the tail or toe. Sometimes, the cause cannot be determined. Treatment involves removing the "ring" of dead, unshed skin or, in severe cases, amputating the affected tail or toe in an effort to stop the spread of the necrosis. Most pets recover well and lead normal lives after the surgery.


Abscesses, occasionally seen in Bearded Dragons, 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. They are less common in Bearded Dragons than in iguanas.

"Reptilian pus is usually caseous and thick, or like cottage cheese."

They occur when bacteria (most common) or fungi are introduced into the tissue by trauma such as a bite wound, a foreign body, a tumor, or certain parasites. Subcutaneous (just under the skin) abscesses are frequently encountered. Reptilian pus is usually caseous and thick, or like cottage cheese (not liquid). Abscesses often appear as a swelling somewhere on the body. They 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 will usually be cultured to identify the causative organism and determine the appropriate antibiotics to use for completely eliminating the infection.


Dystocia or egg binding happens when the female Bearded Dragon is unable to pass her eggs. It is a reasonably common problem in reptiles and can be life threatening. It is caused by a variety of factors. Most commonly, it is associated with poor husbandry including improper environmental lighting and temperature, an inadequate nest site, an improper diet (malnutrition) and dehydration.

"Dystocia or egg binding happens when the female Bearded Dragon is unable to pass her eggs."

Other contributing factors include the age and condition of the animal, injuries or physical obstruction caused by deformed eggs, oversized eggs, physical abnormalities with the reproductive tract or pelvis, infections, constipation, abscesses or masses. A normal gravid (with eggs) Bearded Dragon may not eat, but will still be bright, active and alert. A gravid Bearded Dragon with dystocia will be anorectic, but rapidly becomes sick, lethargic or unresponsive. It is very important that you have a veterinarian familiar with reptiles examine this animal. A physical examination, blood tests and X-rays are used to facilitate diagnosis. Medical and/or surgical procedures may be required to help these animals.

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