Bearded dragons don’t get sick very often, but when they do and start behaving or looking weird, it can be quite concerning.
That’s why in this article I want to go over the most popular issues you might stumble upon with you bearded dragon, what causes them, and how to treat them.
Let’s get started!
Bearded Dragon Gulping
Gulping is an exaggerated version of swallowing. You’ll notice your bearded dragon’s chin contract, and they’re more likely to have their mouth open.
Gulping doesn’t necessarily have to be anything terrible, so don’t panic right away. Sometimes bearded dragons will just gulp to intentionally move the skin around on their chin if they’re shedding.
However, if you notice that the gulping carries on for several hours, it may be because they’re struggling to get enough air into their lungs.
The gulping, in this case, is the mechanism they use to literally gulp down more air. It could be the first sign of a respiratory infection, or perhaps something as simple as the humidity being too high.
Hopefully, it’s just a humidity issue. Ideally you don’t want the humidity to be above 40%. If you have a high humidity rating (use a hygrometer), then perhaps your terrarium has too much water in there, which is converting to condensation too quickly.
Although your bearded dragon does need fresh water, they don’t need a pool, so try to reduce the amount of water and see if the gulping clears up.
If you’ve solved the humidity issue and you’re still noticing a problem, get them to the vet. If it is a respiratory infection, you won’t be able to treat this at home.
Bearded Dragon Eye Bulging
Eye bulging is quite common. This is where the skin around the eye appears to swell up and cover most of the eyeball.
The appearance can be anything from just looking a bit sleepy, so their eyes are more closed than usual, to almost full closure, with the eyes appearing to stand out from the body and look tender.
The reasons for this aren’t fully known; however, it is quite common. The theory on this is that bearded dragons bulge their eyes intentionally to start the shedding process.
The area around the eyes is the toughest spot, so getting it away from there first seems to work well for them.
If your bearded dragon has one eye swollen and not the other, this could mean that there’s an issue with the eye itself. Perhaps a bit of grit in the eye has made it sore.
If you notice both eyes bulging, this is most likely normal, and the bulging will go down on its own after a day or so. There’s nothing you really need to do in this case.
However, if it’s a single eye and it looks sore, try bathing it with warm water. They may have something in their eye that they’ve picked up from the floor, or perhaps they’ve been scratched by a cricket.
If the bulge continues for more than a few days, book in with your vet as it may be the start of an infection.
Bearded Dragon Rubbing Face
You might notice your bearded dragon repeatedly rubbing their face, much like a mammal when washing themselves.
They’ll usually use their feet in a fast waving motion over their face. Or you might even see them rubbing their face up against an object in their terrarium.
This is usually nothing to worry about and is just cute to watch. Rubbing their faces repeatedly generally means that they’re scratching.
Immediately before a shed, the skin will become very itchy, and the rubbing not only eases this but starts the peeling process.
Rubbing their face is a completely natural behavior before a shed, so you don’t really need to do anything.
However, if you’re worried that the behavior is becoming excessive, a warm bath can ease the itching a little and might help shed the dead skin off more quickly.
Bearded Dragon Coughing
A cough can appear in several different variations. You’ll notice their chin contract, much like gulping, but there will also be noise. It’s often a click, whistle or might even be a gurgle.
There are a few possible causes for this:
- After Eating – Bearded dragons cough just like us to dislodge anything in their throat that might be causing a blockage. If your dragon has just had a meal, perhaps it just didn’t go down properly the first time. If it’s a single cough, then you shouldn’t be too worried.
- Aspiration – Similarly to food, bearded dragons might cough after drinking water. This is called aspiration. They use the cough to clear the airway of fluid if they happen to have been drinking too quickly.
- Respiratory Infection – If your bearded dragon continues to cough over a few hours, this may be an early sign of a respiratory infection. These are caused by poor hygiene in their terrarium or by the heat or humidity levels being set incorrectly.
Keep a close eye on your dragon. If the cough was a one-off, there’s probably nothing to worry about.
However, if you notice a continuous cough, or if it’s worsening, you’ll need to take fast action. Respiratory infections can be fatal if not handled correctly.
- Ensure the terrarium is clean and free from old food and excrement.
- Remove excessive water to reduce humidity level to 40%.
- Check the bulbs are functioning correctly.
- Book an appointment with your vet.
If in doubt, always seek veterinary assistance. Respiratory infections will need to be medicated and aren’t something you can treat from home.
Bearded Dragon Bloated Belly
Bearded dragon bloating looks exactly as it sounds. Their bodies expand sideways, making them look much fatter. Their bellies can be balloon-like to the touch, springing back into place if you try to push them.
- Floating – If they’re taking a bath, it could be something as simple as a floating device. Bearded dragons are great swimmers, and their body type is perfectly equipped for it. They can bloat their stomach to glide along in the water more efficiently. If this happens a lot, it may be that you have the water a little too deep for them.
- Basking – When basking, bearded dragons will naturally spread out their belly on the rock or log to ensure that the maximum amount of skin has exposure to the light source, meaning they can take in more rays. For this reason, they’ll always look fatter and slightly bloated.
- Impaction – Impaction is a digestive blockage caused by eating too much of the wrong foods or by swallowing sand or soil from the bottom of their terrarium. It’s much like constipation in humans and will often come with a loss of appetite, lethargy and can be very painful for them.
- Egg Binding (Dystocia) – Female bearded dragons will become noticeably more bloated when carrying eggs. It can take between 55 and 75 days to lay her eggs. However, egg binding happens when the eggs aren’t fertilized and fail to be laid. If the dead eggs stay inside the female for too long, they can start to cause major health issues.
- Defense – Most animals make themselves appear larger as a natural defense mechanism, and it’s no different for bearded dragons. If they’re feeling stressed or threatened, they may bloat out to show that they’re not to be messed with.
The first thing to do is determine the cause.
Impaction is serious. It means that your bearded dragon cannot excrete at all and will eventually be fatal if you don’t treat it quickly.
The first thing to do is bathe them. Sometimes, if it’s a minor impaction, the warm water can break up the blockage and allow them to pass it.
If you’ve given them a bath and there’s still no change, take them to the vet. They may be able to give them some reptile friendly laxatives that can help remove the blockage.
Egg Binding. This might happen if there’s a medical issue, or if the female can’t find a suitable place to lay her eggs. Make sure she has a dark hideaway where she can dig to lay her eggs.
That might immediately solve your issue. If not, the vet can do an x-ray to determine the cause. There might be an egg stuck somewhere blocking the laying – in which case, this might mean surgery.
Defense. If your bearded dragon is bloating intentionally to protect themselves, there’s obviously something about their environment that upsets them.
- Ensure they live alone – bearded dragons don’t make friends easily.
- Try to keep them away from other pets in your household.
- Make sure they have somewhere to hide away if they feel stressed.
- Remove anything new in their environment that seems to be causing an issue – they’re quite picky with their furniture.
Bearded Dragon Gaping
Gaping is when your bearded dragon sits with their mouth open, much like an extended yawn. It often happens when they’re basking.
Gaping is completely natural. Bearded dragons regulate their temperature by exposing their tongue and the roof of their mouth to cooler air. It’s a bit like a dog panting. A single gape can last around 30 minutes at a time.
If you notice a short gape of a few seconds, it might just be a yawn. Yes, despite the lazy lifestyle, they can still be sleepy.
No treatment is needed for this, as it’s a completely normal behavior. However, if you notice excessive gaping, it may be that the heat lamp is set a little too high.
Check the temperature and always ensure that they have a cooler area to retreat to if the heat gets a bit too much for them.
Bearded Dragon Jaw Clicking
Jaw clicking will appear as a small clicking or coughing sound when your bearded dragon opens its mouth.
The first thing to determine is whether it is the jaw clicking, or whether it’s coming from their throat and just happens to come out when they open their mouth.
If it’s a clicking noise coming from their throat, then it may be the beginning of a respiratory infection.
However, if the click always happens at a certain point when their mouth opens, it may be an issue with the jaw itself.
Sometimes, if there’s a deformity, the bones can click in and out of place as they get older. This issue will generally continue throughout their lives.
In rare cases, it can be the early onset of metabolic bone disease, and the clicking is a sign that the jawbones are becoming more fragile. Though most MDB does start in the toes and legs first.
The best thing to do in all cases is to get it checked out by a vet. If it’s a natural deformity, they can live with it, it might sound a little weird. It may even just be a displaced tooth that can be fixed.
However, if it is early onset MBD or a respiratory infection, you will need medication to correct both issues.
Bearded Dragon Dry Heaving And Vomiting
Bearded dragons can vomit just like us. It will look like a contraction in the stomach, and your dragon will typically have its mouth open.
There may also be some slight coughing or clicking noises, even if no vomit comes out.
It may be that your dragon has just eaten too much too quickly.
This usually happens with younger bearded dragons as they naturally need to eat more to grow faster, but they don’t seem to understand the concept of only eating as much as you can fit in their mouth at one time.
Equally, it could be that they’ve swallowed too much water. Bearded dragons don’t drink much in the wild, as they get most of their moisture from the food they eat, so overloading their system with fluid can cause them to vomit.
If either of these is the case, then there’s nothing too serious to worry about. However, there could be much more serious reasons for the heaving:
- Impaction is a blockage in the digestive system which causes constipation. This can be from eating foods that they shouldn’t have or swallowing sand, soil, or shavings. As they can’t pass normal, they may try to vomit it back up instead.
- Dehydration. If your bearded dragon is dehydrated, they may vomit as the digestive system isn’t in balance.
- Toxic Foods. Your bearded dragon may have eaten something that’s toxic to them.
If the issue doesn’t go away, you should try giving your dragon a bath in lukewarm water (check out our full guide). If it’s an impaction issue, this may help loosen the stool and clear away the problem, and if it happens to be a dehydration issue, it’ll also help them hydrate them.
Dehydration can also be combatted with a light misting of water from a spray bottle every few hours, just over their skin.
If a bath doesn’t clear the issue, take a trip to the vet to see if there’s anything that they can determine from an x-ray.
If you suspect that your bearded dragon has accidentally eaten something that could be toxic, get them straight to the vet!
Bearded Dragon Throwing Up Blood
If your bearded dragon throws up blood, it’s never a good sign. You’ll notice a contraction of the stomach followed by a brown or red moisture around their mouth or on the terrarium floor.
Impaction Rupture. It could be that the impaction has become so severe, that the blockage has ruptured an internal organ.
Respiratory Infection. This blood could be coming from the throat, meaning that an infection caused your dragon to cough so much that the throat got injured.
Parasites. Bearded dragons naturally have small parasites called coccidia in their digestive tract, but they normally manage them quite well and can live with them for years.
However, if your bearded dragon has a hormonal imbalance or isn’t getting enough nutrients from the food they’re eating, the parasites can become more severe while they hunt for those extra nutrients.
This can cause problems in your bearded dragon’s stomach lining and might cause an internal bleed.
If you get to this stage, it’s serious. You need to take them to the vet immediately! There may be medication that your vet can give you to ease the symptoms. None of these issues can be treated at home.
Bearded Dragon Throwing Up Mucus
Mucus looks like a clear, or slightly yellow phlegm. You might notice it on the floor of the terrarium or around their mouth.
The mucus can be a sign that your bearded dragon has an upset stomach. Perhaps they’ve eaten something they shouldn’t have. It could also mean that they’ve swallowed some substrate from the floor of their terrarium.
If your bearded dragon is coughing as well as throwing up mucus, it could be a respiratory issue, much like us getting rid of mucus when we have the flu.
Your first action should be to clean the terrarium. They could have picked up a bug from something in there.
If the behavior continues, you also need to worry about dehydration. That mucus that they’re throwing up is fluid that they need.
Use a spray bottle every few hours to hydrate their skin and make sure they have a bath to replace anything they’re losing.
If you’re worried that they’re not eating, try them with some vegetable-based baby food. It’s kind on their stomach, and they’re more likely to keep it down.
If the problem persists, take them or a sample of the vomit to the vet so they can diagnose accurately.
Bearded Dragon Regurgitation
Bearded dragons may throw up the food that they’ve eaten. This will look much like human vomit in that it will be a mushed-up version of what they’ve eaten – most likely of the same color.
It could be that your bearded dragon just ate too fast and their stomach didn’t like it. This happens most often with younger bearded dragons. It could also mean that the type of food doesn’t agree with them.
If this is a one-time issue, just make sure that the food they had right before they threw up is removed from their diet.
If your bearded dragon is still eating after this event, the removal of the food is usually enough to make them feel a little better.
It’s a good idea to give them a bath after regurgitation, as they’ve lost a lot of their fluids in doing so, which will need to be replaced.
If the regurgitation persists with different foods, or your bearded dragon stops eating altogether, it may be an issue with the parasites in their stomach. Take them to the vets for a proper diagnosis.
Bearded Dragon Hiccups
Bearded dragons can’t get hiccups as they lack the muscles that make this possible. However, they can produce repeated sounds and movements that might appear to be hiccups.
Head Bobbing – Head bobbing is the repeated moving of the head going up and down, which can look like hiccups if you’re unsure what you’re seeing.
It’s an entirely natural form of communication and happens most often when they’re ready to mate.
Coughing – Coughing is the repeated contraction of their chin and a slight clicking sound. If this happens after eating or drinking, it may be that your dragon has just swallowed too much too fast.
However, if you notice it continuing over a longer period, it might be the early signs of a respiratory infection.
If your bearded dragon is coughing and the behavior continues over a day, it’s best to make a veterinary appointment to rule out an infection.
In the meantime, ensure you turn the humidity in the terrarium to around 40%. Excess humidity can cause bacteria to grow in the respiratory tract, contributing to this issue.
Bearded Dragon Sunken Eyes
When your bearded dragon gets sunken eyes, you’ll notice that their eyelids are a little more withdrawn than usual and their eye sockets are more exposed.
Usually, this is a sign of dehydration. It could be because they just aren’t drinking, aren’t eating enough foods with a high water-content or it may be that the heat in the terrarium is a little overpowering.
There are a few things you can do to combat this:
- Check the thermometer for temperature changes.
- Give your bearded dragon a bath. They can take water in through their skin or simply drink it from there.
- Mist your dragon – Spray them using a water bottle every couple of hours so they can absorb water through their skin.
- Try feeding some fruit and vegetables with a high water-content, such as cucumber.
Bearded Dragon Sunken Fat Pads
Fat pads are the areas around a bearded dragon’s eyes which are typically soft and squishy. If they’re sunken, you’ll notice their face growing thinner or becoming harder and sensitive to the touch.
This is generally down to a nutritional issue. If they aren’t eating the right foods, it can cause their fat to reduce, and their face is the first place that they’ll lose it.
The best thing to do in this case is to change their diet. Bearded dragons should have a diet of 50% live food, 35% vegetables and 15% fruits.
Live food is fantastic for protein, but it doesn’t maintain their fat storage. Try a few different fruits and vegetables to vary their diet. A salad of leafy greens and a single piece of fruit daily should bring them back to full health.
Remember, not all bearded dragon illnesses can be diagnosed and treated at home. If you’re worried that your bearded dragon isn’t improving, make an appointment with a specialist reptile veterinarian.