Being able to tell when a bearded dragon is healthy or unhealthy is crucial, whether you are buying or you already have one. You don’t want to end up with a sick beardie unknowingly as some illnesses are fatal and contagious.
To help you accomplish this, we will look at some of the signs of healthy bearded dragons as well as those that might indicate this agamid lizard is unwell or not in a perfect physical and health conditions.
Signs of a healthy bearded dragon
- Alert, active and energetic– When alert and active, they will curiously look and move around, including climbing on branches and so on with vigor.
- Clear, bright, and alert eyes-Their eyes must be bright and clear. They should also be attentive and not dull.
- Upright posture – They should be able to maintain an upright stance as this will indicate that their skeletal structure is perfectly well.
- Walk normally – They should not have wobbly, jerky movements. Instead, they should walk perfectly well.
- No deformation or swellings – There should be no swellings or distortion, i.e., on their legs, tail, spine, jaws, or any other part of their body. Furthermore, all its body parts must be intact and without any severe scars.
- Eat and bask – A healthy beardie should have a high appetite and enjoy eating various foods, including live feeder insects, veggies as well as some safe fruits or plants. Similarly, they must go to their basking spot to catch some warmth.
- No discharge or exudate – Their eyes, mouth, nose, or ears shouldn’t produce any discharges or exudates.
- Vibrant skin – Unless about to shed, they should have a vibrant looking skin without any lesions.
- Round full belly – Emaciated and skinny bearded dragons often indicate poor diet, habitat, or being unwell. Ensure their belly is round and full. However, they shouldn’t be obese.
- Clean cloacal vent – It should not be blood or stool stained. Such will indicate diarrhea or infections.
Besides the physical appearance, this lizard should allow you to handle them, not hide all the time, nervous or aggressive.
Signs and symptoms of a sick or unhealthy beardie
If your beardie is unwell or unhealthy, there are always some telltale signs. We already looked at common bearded dragon diseases and conditions as well as parasites, where we mentioned their symptoms and treatment where possible. We will be focusing on symptoms or signs that your beardie is not all well that include the following
1. Diarrhea, watery or runny poop
Diarrhea in bearded dragons occurs when their poop is a liquid, runny, watery or loose that may have a foul smell as contrasted to a healthy poop.
a). Healthy or normal poop
Healthy poop is often a soft solid that is brownish (made of digested food remains) and semi-solid or sold urine known as urates. Both the feces and urates shouldn’t be too hard or too soft.
Usually, urates are the soft, yellowish, or white chalky substance that accompanies poop. Remember, these pets don’t pee as we do.
However, normal stool surrounded by a watery pool may not indicate diarrhea but a means of getting rid of excess water from their body.
b), Green, yellow, black or red poop
Its color might vary slighting depending on their diet, medicine, etc. For instance, leafy greens high in chlorophyll may make the poop to appear greenish while yellow veggies make it look yellowish. Similarly, black bugs can make it darker or black.
Finally, a bloody appearance may be due to food color, parasites, impaction, polyps, and so on, while all white will indicate the presence of urates with no fecal matter. However, don’t confuse urates with eggs.
c). Causes of runny or watery poop
- Diets – Some diets may cause diarrhea, especially those that cause a laxative effect. Veggies like lettuce may cause a soft or runny stool.
- Parasitic infection – They cause a foul-smelling runny stool with various colors. Sometimes, there may be blood and mucus, and your pet will lose weight, be lethargic, or have poor appetites. Common parasites include hookworms, coccidia, pinworms, flagellated protozoa, and amoebas, and so on.
- Pregnancy – Gravid or egg carrying beardies may have a loose stool.
- Gastrointestinal infections – Viral, fungal, or stomach infections like salmonella often cause a runny stomach as one of its symptoms.
- Some beardies have a loose stool during shedding.
- Tap water – has heavy metals, ammonia, fluorides, and chlorides that may but rarely cause diarrhea. Consider conditioning your water with ReptiSafe.
Besides the above atadenovirus infection, poor hygiene (dirty drinking water, food and water bowls, cages, and so on) could cause infections that lead to diarrhea.
d). Diagnosis and treatment
If the loose stool is not a temporary problem and persist for more than two days, you see your vet as diarrhea can quickly weaken them. He or she may request a fresh sample of the poop for conducting various tests to ascertain the cause. Treatments will largely depend on what diagnosis shows as the problem.
Furthermore, dietary adjustments, correct UVA/UVB light, and temperature settings (these affect digestion), minimizing stress through proper husbandry including cleaning and disinfecting their décor or furniture as well as their terrarium, food, and water bowl, and so on may help manage diarrhea. Also, ensure feeder insect handling and raising occurs hygienically since they may carry parasites too.
Finally, to help restore their healthy gut flora, try the Nutribac Dietary Supplement for Reptiles & Amphibians probiotic.
2. Bearded dragon not pooping
Young bearded poop more often than an adult, and the frequency will depend on their diet and other factors. However, an adult bearded dragon should have a bowel movement at least once a week. Baby beardies may poop up to 4 times a day.
If they don’t poop for several weeks, possible reasons include brumation, impaction, inactivity, constipation, fewer food portions, wrong diets, dehydration, as well as low terrarium temperature and wrong UV lighting.
To fix the not pooping problem, correct the temperature and UV lighting, give a warm bath, and a belly massage (working towards their cloacal opening) and enlist the help of your herp vet in case of severe impaction.
3. Beardie acting lethargic and lazy
While they don’t mean precisely the same thing, these two terms are closely related. We say a bearded dragon is acting lazy when he or she is unwilling to be active or do something for one or the other reason.
On the other hand, lethargy is a more severe condition characterized lacks enthusiasm, energy, looks sleepy, sluggish, fatigued, weak, stays in one place, is unresponsive, and so on.
Lethargy in beardies may occur together with other symptoms like sunken eyes, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, unresponsiveness, unwillingness to move, or your bearded dragon closing her eyes.
Adults and babies can be lethargic for several reasons, most of which indicate some illness or condition, i.e., something is not well. It could be dehydration, metabolic bone disease, impaction, parasites, and so on.
Poor habitat, especially a cold terrarium, i.e., not worm enough, may make lizard act lethargic or less active than usual as well as lack of UVA light, which stimulates activity and feeding.
Invest in a good heat lamp like Zilla Reptile Terrarium Heat Lamps Mini Halogen Bulb and a good UVA/UVB light source such as Exo Terra Repti-Glo 10.0 Fluorescent Tube.
4. Bearded dragon not moving – dead or alive
Besides being lethargic, sometimes your bearded dragon won’t move at all, move a little, or won’t move its hind or front legs.
Various things can result in a beardie not moving, such as death, illnesses, brumation, low terrarium temperature, poor UV light, hypocalcemia, injuries, paralysis, atadenovirus neurological disorders, some shed remained on its legs, old age, and so on. ,
However, if your bearded dragon is not moving and is cold, stiff, looks darker, and begins smelling after a few days, it is not brumation. Your beardie is probably dead.
5. Bearded dragon vomiting or throwing up
Bearded dragons may vomit, throw up or puke clear fluid, the food they just ate, including crickets, mealworms, superworms, silkworms, and so on. Sometimes, their vomit may be bloodstained, have a foul smell, and it happens for various reasons.
Let us look at some of the common reasons why these pets may vomit.
a). Low terrarium temperatures
Your enclosure may be too cold. In such a case, these pets will not be able to digest any food they eat, meaning they will vomit whatever they just ate.
It is always good to turn the heat on for at least an hour and at correct terrarium temperatures for both the warm and colder sides, i.e., 100-110 and 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively before feeding them. Get a good thermometer to measure these temperatures accurately.
Similarly, before they go to bed, let the heat on for at least an hour after they have eaten their last meal.
Impaction mainly if it occurs on the upper digestive tract may make bearded dragon regurgitate or puke anything they eat, including water (in case of colorless vomit) and food because anything they eat cannot go beyond the place where there is obstruction.
c). Internal parasites
Having a large volume of internal parasites such as pinworms may make these pet vomit since they may cause stomach upsets. In some cases, your pet’s puke may have parasites, particularly roundworms like pinworms.
d). Disease and infections esp. salmonella
Some diseases and infections my make your beardies to puke, especially those that affect their gut. For instance, salmonella can cause not only vomiting but also diarrhea. Similarly, coccidia may have symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
e). Overeating, oversized or poisonous food
Overeating may cause vomiting of the food they just ate. You will notice this problem in baby bearded dragons. To avoid it, let them eat for 10-15 minutes in each feeding. How many times they eat will depend on how old they are as younger ones tend to eat more times.
Also, giving them oversized prey foods, particularly those with a tough exoskeleton, may make them vomit or regurgitate if they are unable to swallow them. In such a case, they will throw up the food they ate, including the exoskeletons.
While there are many safe foods, including veggies, fruits, and feeder bugs, and plants, there are those who are toxic or nasty tasking. Eating something poisonous or unpleasant tasting can make your lizard vomit. In such a case, talk to your vet for further help.
f). Drinking too much water
Just as in the case of food, these pets may drink too much water, such as while as you bathe them while they are thirsty. If this happens, they might vomit some of the water they ingested. It might appear clear with some mucus.
g). Other reasons
- Handling or disturbing your beardie immediately after eating.
- Spoiled food
h). Bearded dragon throwing up blood
Before you jump into the conclusion that your beardie is throwing up blood, it may be its poop or food color mainly if you fed them berries or any red or dark red food.
A cancerous growth on their upper digestive tract, fatty liver disease, internal injuries, and so on can be behind the bloody vomit.
i). Vomiting and not eating
Vomiting and not eat may indicate that your pet is sick or has internal parasites, especially when they are too many.
j). Vomiting up mucus
This kind of vomiting is a typical sing of upper respiratory infection or consuming something that may have triggered salivation like those that taste nasty.
k.) What to do?
Collect vomit sample, refrigerate it in an airtight plastic container, and let your vet run tests to pinpoint why your bearded dragon was puking.
Sometimes, vomiting their gastric content may erode their upper GI. In such a case, don’t feed them.
6. Sunken eyes
If your bearded dragon has sunken eyes, this might be a symptom for dehydration, especially if accompanied with wrinkly skin, or urate that a little more solidified than usual. Also, sunken eyes may be an indication of eye infection.
7. Wrinkled skin
Unlike human beings, the bearded dragon’s skin doesn’t stretch. Therefore, wrinkly skin is not a sign of aging but a sign of dehydration or weight loss. Dehydration will have other symptoms like sunken eyes and less flexible skin if you gently pinch it.
Similarly, if this pet loses considerable weight before the next time they shed, they will have wrinkled skin. Besides a wrinkly skin, you will notice diminished and indented fat pads
In case of weight loss, consider increasing the ratio of feeder insects a little bit more than what we recommended while looking at how to feed your bearded dragon, which depends on their age. Also, Reptaid will nourish and increase their appetite.
8. Limping and a hunched or distorted posture, tail, limps or bones
Besides a distorted stance and body parts, including bones, your beardie may falter or have a jerky movement. Furthermore, he may be unable to move his legs (hind and forelimbs) well (dragging his fore or hind limbs), carry his tail as usual or stand on his legs or walk, and so on.
These symptoms may result from paralysis, especially partial paralysis, metabolic bone disease, impaction, constipation, bone diseases including bone tumors, and so on.
Furthermore, physical injuries, including on limp or spine, as well as other diseases and conditions, may also cause it.
Since many things can cause jerky movements and a distorted posture, see your vet for advice once you are sure their habitat has the right UV light and temperature, and they have the proper diet dusted with multivitamins and calcium.
9. Visibly swollen body parts
Injuries or traumas, tumors as well as some diseases and conditions may cause the swellings on joints, limbs, tail, and so on.
10. Aggressive all of a sudden
Besides being a dominant behavior, especially in males, it may be an indication that your bearded dragon is hurt, unwell, stressed, shedding, and so on. As you try to handle them, they may also head bob, display their beard, or hiss if they don’t. These are all signs of aggression.
11. Abnormal breathing – labored, shallow, rapid
Usually, it occurs when there is shallow, quick, or difficulties in breathing, as well as open-mouth breathing and may occur alongside other symptoms like coughing and chocking noise, a puffed throat, runny nose, and so on.
The main culprit blamed for breathing problems is respiratory infections, which may be due to bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. However, stress, wrong humidity setting, and other diseases and conditions can make your bearded dragon to breathe abnormally.
Ensure you keep the relative humidity in your terrarium to between 30% and 45% and see your vet for further diagnosis.
12. Weight loss, underweight or skinny
Being skinny, thin, or losing weight may be a suggestion that your reptile is sick, gets poor diets, or poor lighting and heating. Also, a bearded dragon not eating may cause weight loss.
Signs that your bearded dragon is skinny includes:
- Sunken fat pads on the head, behind their eyes.
- Visible ribs
- Loose skin not caused by shedding
- Weighing less
- Their head appearing larger
To fix the weight loss, go for a vet check for any diseases including Atadenovirus, respiratory infection, yellow fungus, parasites, cancer, and so on can cause weight loss.
Secondly, ensure you know how to feed your bearded dragon with the right foods and in their right portions. A little bit of more of gut-loaded feeder insects like crickets, Dubia roaches, silkworms, and other staple feeder insects will help this pet gain weight.
Finally, ensure you have the right heat lamps and UV light as these two are essential in digestion and vitamin D3 synthesis.
13. Cloacal, mouth, eye and nasal discharge or exudates
Discharges from the various vents, including eyes, nose, mouth, and cloacal opening, can be due to bacterial, fungal, or viral infections such as eye infection, ear infection, or respiratory infection (nose and mouth) or mouth rot.
These pet’s vent or cloaca may suffer from cloacitis (an infected and inflamed cloaca that is swollen and has a blood discharge), cloacal prolapse (protruding cloaca).
Cloacal prolapse can be due to dehydration, constipation, metabolic bone disease, tumors, trauma, bladder stones, infections that make your bearded dragon strain while passing stool, and so on.
14. Injured snout
Bearded dragons may end up with a bloody, damaged, or injured snout as a result of rubbing against objects if stressed, kept in small uncomfortable cages, or if housed in wire cage types. Furthermore, some injuries like a fall can cause an injured snout.
Avoid wire cages, ensure they terrarium size meets the minimum required size, and insulate wires with plastic or rubber. Also, maintain the right terrarium temperatures, humidity, and UV lighting and have a hiding place or box to help minimize stress.
15. Skin discoloration including stomach color change
Skin discoloration can be healthy such as darkening when basking while their color becomes lighter under darkness or having dull colors before shedding and vibrant colors after sloughing.
However, stress can cause color changes, especially on their bellies (stress marks), and yellow fungus can make their color to turn yellowish.
Provide a hiding place to minimize stress, treat any skin infection, and ensure their habitat has the right humidity, temperature, and UV lighting.
16. Slack jaw
Not to be confused with mouth gaping that has various reasons, a slaw jaw occurs when their jaw loosely hangs that hampers usual eating since their mouth is hanging open. In beardies, the slack jaw is a sign of metabolic bone disease injuries.
17. Droopy eyes
Closely resembles bloodhound’s eyes and can be a sign of kidney problems such as disease or failure as well as having mites (parasites).
18. Black or discolored mouth
Bearded dragon mouth should appear pinkish. However, if you see some discoloration, including turning black. It is a likely indication of mouth rot.
19. Cloudy or filmy eyes
A healthy bearded dragon’s eye should look clear, bright, and alert. If they look dull, it may be a sign of shedding, while if they are cloudy and have a discharge, they are probably infected.
A non-retracting third eyelid, corneal injuries including abrasion or injuries, cataract, hypopyon, and so on may also make eyes dully and cloudy looking.
20. Beardie not eating, eating or drinking less
Adult, juvenile, or baby bearded dragons, not eating or drinking or eating less and drinking less may be due to several reasons. Sometimes it can occur to specific foods such as crickets, mealworms, or veggies, and it can happen alongside other symptoms like it turning black, being lethargic, not pooping or pooping, etcetera.
Many things can cause refusal to eat, including brumation, wrong habitat conditions (UV light, heat, and humidity), vitamin deficiency, parasites, impaction, loss of appetite, and shedding.
Also, age, infections like mouth rot, injury, stress, environmental changes, breeding, having dominant mates, dehydration, being gravid, or being a picky eater can be reasons.
Since it may be a natural, behavioral, or health issue, always find why your baby, juvenile, or adult beardies are not eating, drinking, or eating and drinking less.
Unless it is natural, have your pet checked by your vet, try appetite stimulants like Zilla Appetite Stimulant or Reptaid, and change their diet to see if they will start eating as usual.
21. Bearded dragon hiding
Bearded dragons hide for various reasons. Common ones include to feel safe, i.e., they want someone away from predators, especially during brumation, to shelter from intense heat and light (to cool themselves) or avoid other beardies especially if they are the dominant ones.
Additionally, a breaded dragon hiding may be an indication of stress due to various reasons like a new environment or sick since being ill makes them feel very vulnerable. If you get they are unwell, check for other signs like lethargy, loss of appetite, and so on.
Besides being sick or stressed, they often hide when they want to sleep at night as well as when they are shedding, among other reasons.
Finally, beardies tend to hide more than older ones. Since prolonged hiding may hamper their regular basking routine as well as deny them a chance to absorb UV light, always find out why they are hiding and modify their environment or them treated if sick.