How to Care for a Sick Bearded Dragon

By Ben Team

Virtually all illnesses that afflict bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) require veterinary assistance to cure. Because sick dragons have usually been battling the offending pathogen for a while before symptoms appear, seek immediate veterinary care at the first sign of poor health. Different medical conditions require different treatments. Provide your pet with the best possible husbandry while carrying out your vet’s prescribed treatment.

Gastrointestinal Infections

A wide variety of pathogens can cause bearded dragons to produce loose, foul-smelling, watery or blood-laden stools. Some of these infectious agents may also cause vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy or weight loss. While an isolated intestinal issue may be of no cause for concern, repeated problems demand veterinary care. Your vet will likely take samples from your pet to determine the causal agent, then prescribe a treatment that will help your lizard recover. Some intestinal pathogens, including many roundworms, are relatively easy to treat, while others, such as many protozoal organisms, may require extended efforts and experimentation by your vet.

Respiratory Infections

Bearded dragons occasionally suffer from respiratory tract infections. Some of these infections are caused by communicable pathogens, while others occur when stress or poor husbandry compromise their immune response, thereby allowing ubiquitous bacteria to cause illness.

Respiratory infections may cause a bearded’s nose to run or excess saliva to appear near his mouth. Lethargy and inappetence are also common signs of respiratory disease.

Your veterinarian will likely prescribe an antibiotic to treat bacterial respiratory infections. Illness caused by viruses or parasites may be more difficult to treat.

Other Infections

If your bearded suffers a cut, it may become infected and require veterinary care. While treating the infection, your vet may advise you to use a paper substrate to avoid contaminating the wound. Stomatis -- colloquially called mouth rot -- is not that common in bearded dragons, but it is often treatable with antibiotics and improved husbandry.

Retained shed skin may also lead to infection or necrosis; check your lizard regularly for old skin that clings to his body. Dampen the area with plenty of warm water to help soften the skin, thereby allowing you to remove it gently.

Nutritional Disorders

Like many other omnivorous, diurnal lizards, bearded dragons require carefully designed diets to obtain their necessary vitamins and minerals, as well as full-spectrum lighting so their bodies can properly utilize the resources. If fed an improper diet or provided with inadequate lighting, bearded dragons can suffer from debilitating nutritional deficiencies. Vague signs, such as lethargy or lack of appetite, may present early with such problems, but often the deficiency goes unnoticed until the lizard’s limbs and jaws become pliable, swollen or otherwise deformed. Your vet may prescribe supplements or medications to treat the disease, and he may recommend implementing changes to your lizard’s diet and cage lighting.

Supportive Care

No matter the type of illness your bearded dragon is suffering from, it is important to provide him with the highest quality husbandry possible. Be sure to provide the lizard with full-spectrum lighting, and verify that the habitat's ambient temperature is in the low 80s and the basking spot reaches at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

It may be necessary to use newspaper or paper towels as a substrate if you need to collect stool samples for your veterinarian. Handle your pet as little as possible while he is sick to keep his stress level low. Feed, water and administer medications as directed by your veterinarian, and keep your vet apprised of your pet’s progress.

Human Health and Hygiene

Bearded dragons can transmit some illnesses to humans. For example, humans can contract salmonella bacteria from lizards who do not even present signs of illness. Pentastomes, small wormlike arthropods that may infect reptiles, can also infect humans. Always exercise sound hygiene practices when handling reptiles; wash your hands with soap and water after handling your pet or his habitat, dishes or cage furnishings, and never wash reptile-related items in kitchens or bathrooms used by humans.