Parasites are a common problem that bearded dragon keepers will usually encounter at one time or another. But, while most parasite problems that affect bearded dragons involve the internal variety (such as hookworms, protozoans, or other intestinal invaders), bearded dragons can also suffer from mites.
Mite infestations aren’t especially common in bearded dragons, which is fortunate, as they can be exceptionally challenging to eradicate. However, they can and do happen at times, so it behooves all bearded dragon owners to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of an infestation and the treatment options available.
We’ll try to outline these things below, so you can be better prepared to help your pet, should he suffer from this kind of health problem.
Bearded Dragon Mites: The Basics
Before diving into the details of bearded dragons and mites, here are the basic facts of the matter:
- Though they are not the parasite’s preferred host, bearded dragons can suffer from snake mite infestations.
- Mites will normally appear like small red to black dots on your lizard.
- These infestations can be very difficult to treat and require extra effort on the keeper’s part for a month or more.
- Mites don’t present an acute risk, but they can cause health problems if not eradicated.
- The mites on your lizard aren’t the only problem – you’ll also have to eliminate all of the mites in the environment.
- Because mites will cause significant stress to you and your lizard, it is wisest to focus on prevention.
With these basic facts out of the way, we can begin explaining everything you’ll need to know about bearded dragon mites.
Symptoms of Mites in Bearded Dragons
The most obvious symptom of a mite infestation is the appearance of the tiny arthropods on your pet. You’re probably most likely to notice them on the foreparts of the animal (especially around the head, neck and upper torso), but they may appear anywhere.
As mentioned, mites are typically red, brown or black (or somewhere in between), and they’re about the size of a pepper flake. You may see hundreds of them if the infestation is severe, or you may only notice a single mite, which suggests that the infestation is still in its earliest stages.
You may also spot mites in or around your pet’s habitat, or on your skin or clothing. In fact, this is how observant keepers often notice mite problems at an early stage, when treatment is much easier.
You may also notice your lizard trying to dislodge the parasites or scratch itches (mites likely cause terrible skin discomfort). Anorexia and lethargy are also possible symptoms associated with mite infestations, but they’d likely only happen after a mite infestation was quite apparent from simply looking at the animal.
Snakes often soak in their water dishes when infested with mites, but bearded dragons rarely do so.
Where Do Mites Come From?
The specific routes by which mites colonized your collection will vary. But the three most common vectors are likely:
- Purchasing an animal who’s already suffering from mites
- Handling infested animals at a pet shop, expo or friend’s house
- Purchasing supplies (especially cage props or substrate) from a retailer whose animals or facility has mites
It is helpful to understand where your mite problem came from, but it doesn’t even really matter at this point – you simply need to eliminate the bugs and move on. We’ll talk about prevention later.
Eradicating Mites Part I: Getting the Bugs off Your Lizard
Solving a mite issue requires you to solve two fundamental problems: You must kill the bugs living on your pet, and you must kill the bugs living in the environment.
When dealing with mite-infested snakes, it is usually pretty simple to rid the actual animal of the bugs – you can simply soak the snake in room-temperature water with a bit of soap added. When mites get wet, they die. The soap helps lower the surface tension of the water, which compromises the mites’ water-repellant exoskeleton and makes it easier for the water to slip under the animal’s scales.
However, soaking bearded dragons is unlikely to help. For starters, bearded dragons usually won’t like soaking in water as long as may be necessary. But there’s also the issue of body posture – a bearded dragon will rarely rest with most of his body submerged, so the mites near the head and neck won’t be covered in water.
Given this, there’s really only one option for eliminating the bugs on you pet: See your vet and have him or her prescribe a mite-killing medication. Most of the ones vets recommend are very effective and reasonably safe for your lizard.
Eradicating Mites Part II: Evicting Mites from Your Pet’s Habitat
After visiting your vet and obtaining a prescription to eliminate the mites on him, you’ll need to turn your attention to the habitat and surrounding area, as these places will likely harbor mites and eggs. Without doing so, the infestation will flare back up, and you’ll be back where you started.
You can clean the surrounding area by doing simple, house-cleaning-like tasks. This includes vacuuming all rugs and fabrics in the area and cleaning hard surfaces with a pet-safe disinfectant. You can apply the same basic strategy to your pet’s habitat, but because it is more likely to harbor mites, you’ll want to do an even more thorough job.
This entails discarding everything in the habitat that you can’t disinfect, such as the substrate. It is also advisable to discard wooden climbing branches and cork bark, although you can usually kill any mites present by cooking these items at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 to 15 minutes. Water dishes, food bowls, and similar items can simply be soaked in a weak bleach solution, rinsed, and allowed to air dry completely.
In practice, it’s a good idea to clean the habitat several times while eradicating the mites. Accordingly, you’ll want to wait to maintain a relatively “sterile” habitat set up until you’re sure all of the mites are gone.
An All-In-One Strategy: Provent-a-Mite
The above-mentioned strategies are some of the best ways to address mite infestations, but there is one more option, which many keepers find easier: Provent-a-Mite.
Provent-a-Mite is a spray designed to be used in your pet’s habitat. You do NOT spray it on your pet; instead, you spray it on your pet’s substrate while your lizard relaxes in a temporary enclosure. After letting any fumes dissipate, you can return your pet to his habitat.
Now, while it would seem that Provent-a-Mite would only be helpful for one half of the mite-eradication equation, it turns out that it can also eliminate the mites on your lizard – in a round about kind of way.
Over the course of a female mite’s life, she’ll eventually find it necessary to leave her host (in this case, your lizard) and deposit eggs in the nearby habitat. The eggs will eventually hatch, at which point the offspring will return to your lizard to feed and grow. So, if you treat the substrate on a repeated basis, you can “catch” the mites as they travel from your lizard to egg-deposition sites and vice-versa.
This strategy won’t eliminate the mites as quickly as a combination of veterinary medications and habitat disinfection. It will take some time for the mites on your lizard to die or leave and seek out egg deposition sites. But it will usually result in a complete eradication over time.
Mite Prevention: Always the Best Strategy
Hopefully, you now understand the fact that mites can be very difficult to deal with, so prevention is always the best strategy. And although it won’t help you if you’re currently experiencing a mite problem, you can avoid mite infestations in the future by employing the following strategies:
- Never purchase animals from low-quality sources. We all love a bargain, but you’ll almost always regret buying an animal from unreputable retailers or breeders. Not only may you end up with a mite-infested pet, but you may find that he has other medical problems too. Instead, stick to high-quality sources when purchasing animals, as these people and companies are more likely to employ sound mite-prevention procedures.
- Use care when visiting pet stores. Most reputable pet stores will take steps to prevent mite infestations and deal with outbreaks promptly. However, others will fail to take these steps, which can expose you – and your pet – to mites. Simply picking up a climbing branch from the shelves may allow mites to crawl onto your hands, where you’ll take them back to your pet.
- Do not handle animals when attending pet expos unless absolutely necessary. Pet expos are often “ground zero” for mite infestations, so try to keep your hands in your pockets as much as possible while visiting these places. And if you do need to handle an animal while shopping for your new pet, be sure to sterilize your hands with an alcohol-based gel (or wash them with soap and water) afterward.
- Quarantine all new acquisitions until you are certain they are mite-free. Anytime you purchase a new pet, you should assume he is covered in mites and full of internal parasites. Maintain these animals in separate enclosures (preferably in a different room from the rest of your collection) and tend to them last. Only end the quarantine period once you are certain that the new animal is clean and healthy.
- Employ good hygiene measures when visiting friends with lizards or snakes. Hopefully, your friends will take good care of their pets and maintain mite-free collections. However, mistakes can happen to anyone, so it is wise to be careful when visiting reptile-keeping friends. Minimally, you’ll want to wash or disinfect your hands after visiting, and you may even want to change clothes.
- Monitor your lizard vigilantly for the first signs of mites. Despite your attempts to maintain a mite-free collection, the occasional mite may make it through your defenses. Accordingly, you’ll want to ensure that you inspect your lizard and his habitat regularly to catch mites at the earliest possible stages of an outbreak. This will give you the best chances of stopping the infestation in its tracts and eliminating the bugs before they can set up shop.
Finding mites crawling on your lizard is certainly a bit of a gut punch, but it’s important to avoid letting yourself become overwhelmed. Complete eradication often takes considerable effort and time, and you’ll simply need to accept this won’t be resolved overnight.
Once again, this highlights the importance of prevention – the happiest bearded dragon keepers are those who never have to put their mite-killing skills to the test. So, heed the advice provided above and do everything you can to avoid the bearded dragon mite problem at all.
Last update on 2021-06-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API