15 Signs of a Stressed & Unhealthy Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons are typically very hardy lizards, who don’t suffer from a lot of health problems – that’s part of the reason they’re so well-suited for fledgling reptile keepers.

But that doesn’t mean that they never fall ill or suffer injuries, because they most certainly do.

Sometimes illnesses and injury occur out-of-the-blue, but most commonly, a dragon’s failing health is the result of improper husbandry.

This is why it is so important to provide your bearded dragon with a proper habitat, diet, and maintenance routine.

Fortunately, bearded dragons are not only hardy, but they will often survive long enough for dedicated keepers to correct any mistakes and seek veterinary assistance when required.

In order to take these steps, keepers must learn to recognize the signs that indicate that something may be wrong.

We’ll try to help you do that below, as we explain 15 concerning signs and symptoms you’ll want to watch out for.

These symptoms don’t always indicate a problem, and owners must learn to interpret their dragon’s behavior, demeanor and physical appearance over time.

These are things that bearded dragons of all skill and experience levels should learn to recognize.


1. Bubbles are coming out of your Bearded Dragon’s nose or mouth

Healthy bearded dragons have relatively dry and clean nostrils.

Lizards who blow bubbles or have fluids leaking from their nose are often suffering from an upper respiratory illness – essentially, the reptilian equivalent of a cold.

But respiratory infections are often quite serious when they affect reptiles. They aren’t the minor inconvenience that humans are used to experiencing.

In fact, respiratory infections are likely one of the leading causes of death for all types of captive reptiles.

Respiratory infections can be caused by fungi or viruses, but most are the result of bacteria.

In some cases, they contract pathogenic (illness-causing) bacteria from other lizards or even your hands, if you’ve recently had contact with a sick lizard.

The same would be true of respiratory infections caused by fungi or viruses.

But many (perhaps most) respiratory infections caused by bacteria are the result of ubiquitous strains, which are found everywhere.

These types of bacteria don’t usually cause problems for healthy dragons, but they can cause illness for injured or stressed individuals, whose immune systems are not yet operating at full strength.

Prompt veterinary care is almost always advisable for bearded dragons who are blowing bubbles.

Your lizard may be able to battle off some bacteria, but others may quickly cause him to spiral downward.

And you have no way of determining which type are at play – for that you’ll need your vet’s help.

Plus, you’ll need to administer the medications your vet prescribes to give your lizard the best chance of recovery.

Meanwhile, it is always a good idea to analyze your husbandry and maintenance practices when a bearded dragon develops a respiratory infection.

Stress is usually a causal factor, and improper husbandry will invariably lead to stress.

Double-check all of your temperatures, make sure you’re cleaning the habitat very regularly and reduce the amount of time you spend holding him until he returns to good health.


2. Bearded Dragon poop that is extremely smelly, soft or watery

Healthy bearded dragon poops should be vaguely sausage-shaped, dark in color, and more-or-less firm.

They usually produce a small amount of white material at the same time too, but this is no cause for concern.

The white matter is urates, uric acid, or urea, which are all essentially reptile urine.

But if your lizard’s stools are loose, smelly, soft, or watery you’ll want to start paying a bit more attention to your pet.

One or two abnormal stools can be caused by minor intestinal bugs, stress, or a variety of other things.

But if your lizard starts producing consistently concerning stools, you’ll want to have your vet examine your dragon.

A variety of things can cause these kinds of intestinal disturbances, but they most typically result from bacterial infections or parasites (and often, both).

Your vet can figure out what is going on by examining a stool sample, and then he or she can prescribe medicines that’ll clear up the issue.

Make sure that you pay close attention to hygiene during these times. You don’t want to spread any pathogens around your home, nor do you want to infect any other pets you have.

So, as always, wash your hands after touching your pet, and be sure to separate the sick lizard, if you normally keep multiple animals in the same enclosure.


3. Your Bearded Dragon isn’t eating

Healthy bearded dragons should usually pounce on a high-value food item, whenever it is offered.

They may not lose their mind over a cricket or piece of collard green, but if you toss a superworm or big roach in your pet’s habitat, the lizard should usually take advantage of the treat.

There are obviously plenty of caveats here. Healthy bearded dragons may refuse food if:

  • They’ve eaten a lot of food within the last 3 to 6 hours (depending on their size).
  • They’re sleeping, inactive, or being cooled for cycling purposes.
  • There is something wrong with your husbandry regimen.
  • They’re in the middle of a shed cycle.

And for that matter, lizards confound our expectations on occasion. So, don’t freak out if your bearded dragon does refuse food from time to time.

But, if your lizard doesn’t exhibit a strong appetite over several days or weeks, then it is wise to dig deeper.

Breeders and experienced keepers often feed crickets to very young beardeds three times a day, and most will leave veggies around for at least some period of time each day.

Adults are usually fed on a once-per-day schedule, but healthy mature specimen will devour a surprisingly large pile of vegetables every day, as well as a bunch of bugs throughout the week.


4. Your Bearded Dragon is sleeping a lot or being lethargic

Bearded dragons are not especially active lizards. But brief flourishes of activity should punctuate the natural daily rhythm of healthy individuals.

Sick dragons, on the other hand, often become very lethargic, sedentary and listless.

Over the course of the day, you want to see your pet move around the enclosure, bask, eat, drink, and produce waste in between these long periods of inactivity.

He may even interact with other individuals in the enclosure, via head bobs and arm-waving movements.

He’ll certainly sleep for most of the night and he’ll likely nap throughout the day too. But you should always see him perk up and do stuff periodically.

What you do not want to see is your lizard laying around all day, doing precious little but sleeping.

This kind of inactivity often signifies a pretty serious problem, so you’ll want to see your vet pronto. 


5. Your Bearded Dragon’s colors are black or dark

They’re certainly not chameleons, but bearded dragons can change colors a bit.

It’s not clear whether they can do so consciously, or if it is more akin to our own skin flushing when we’re flustered, but you’ll see it happen with your dragon over time.

Bearded dragon colors alter in response to a variety of stimuli.

When cool and inactive, dragons typically adopt their drabbest normal coloration.

When nice and hot, they usually show off really light and bright colors. During social interactions, the contrast of their markings often intensifies, and the throats of males often darken a bit.

These types of color changes are all normal and no cause for concern. But lizards who are ill, cold, or stressed in some way often remain dark for long periods of time.

There’s no quick-fix or easy solution for this type of symptom. But you’ll want to start by examining your lizard and reviewing your husbandry protocols to look for obvious issues you can correct.

You may find, for example, that the enclosure temperatures were not quite warm enough. So, you bump the temperatures up and your lizard’s colors start lightening on a regular basis.

Just be sure to solicit veterinary assistance if you aren’t able to figure out a simple husbandry remedy in prompt fashion.


6. Despite eating well, your Bearded Dragon isn’t growing

This is a relatively common and frustrating problem that many new owners experience.

It’s complicated by the fact that bearded dragons all grow at different rates. Some seem to put on weight every day; others never seem to increase in size.

It’s also important to mention that it is difficult for keepers to notice our own pets growing, as we see them all the time.

Accordingly, it is always wise to measure your lizard regularly, so you have empirical data to fall back on.

Ideally, you’d weigh your lizard with a digital scale, but length measurements are better than nothing.

In a best-case scenario, you’ll find that you’re doing one of three things:

  • You’re not appreciating the amount of growth your lizard is exhibiting.
  • Your lizard is growing, you’re just being impatient.
  • Your lizard just has genes that make him grow slowly.

None of these things are really a big deal.

But in a worst-case scenario, a legitimate failure to grow may be caused by a gastrointestinal infection, parasite infestation, metabolic disease, or any number of other conditions.

So, it is important to seek veterinary help if your lizard is truly not growing well. You will likely find that he’s completely healthy, but this is a perfect example of a better-safe-than-sorry scenario.


7. You can see your Bearded Dragon’s spine or hip bones easily

Bearded dragons store excess calories as fat, and they tend to store this fat in a few key places.

Some of the most notable places you should see fat deposits include the rear portion of the head, along the spine and around the hips.

Healthy dragons with adequate fat reserves look a little plump, and the fat stores tend to obscure the outline of your dragon’s hips and spine.

So, if you can see your bearded dragon’s hip bones or spine clearly, your dragon is probably a little underweight.

In some cases, this is an easy issue to address: Simply start providing a bit more food, particularly animal-based foods, such as superworms, roaches, and crickets.

Just be sure to do so gradually – your lizard didn’t get skinny overnight, and he’s not going to reach a healthy body weight again in a few days.

However, if your lizard is battling parasites or is not an eager eater, you may need to visit your veterinarian to address any underlying problems before you’ll be able to put weight back on him.


8. Parts of your lizard’s toes are missing

From time to time, bearded dragons will lose the tips (or more) or their toes.

While most individuals will cope with the loss and live relatively normal lives, it is a problem that should be addressed. 

For starters, you need to figure out what happened to your lizard’s toes and prevent the loss of any others.

It’s unfortunately common to see keepers ignore these types of issues, leading to dragons who are missing more toes than they still possess.

The most common cause of missing toes is undoubtedly hungry cagemates. Bearded dragons – particularly young lizards – will often mistake each other’s toes for a tasty morsel.

They may also bite the toes of others for social reasons. But if you are keeping multiple dragons in a single enclosure and you start noticing missing toes, you’ll want to separate them if at all possible.

Other potential causes of lost digits include hungry crickets, bacterial or fungal infections, and trauma.

Once you’ve determined the cause (which may require your vet’s help), you’ll want to ensure that you maintain very good hygiene in the habitat to help prevent infections, and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure your lizard doesn’t experience any further loss of digits.


9. Your lizard’s tail has been nipped

Tail nips are another common problem that affects communally housed dragons.

It typically happens for the same reasons that bearded will nibble on each other’s toes: Other dragons mistake the lizard’s tail tip for food or for social reasons.

As with missing toes, you’ll want to provide basic first aid and try to prevent the problem from getting any worse.

Bearded dragons will usually survive tail nips, but they certainly reduce the aesthetic appeal of your pet.

Plus, if the wound becomes infected, serious consequences can be the result.

Bearded dragons may also lose their tail tips due to other types of injuries, but this isn’t terribly common.


10. Your Bearded Dragon is lying outstretched and moving strangely

Even the most experienced and skilled dragon keeper may experience cardiac arrest upon finding a lizard lying outstretched and moving around strangely.

This often indicates that your lizard has consumed a prey item that is too large.

It is thought large food items may press on your bearded’s spine, causing partial paralysis and generally making the lizard feel horrible.

Oversized prey may also cause damage to your pet’s digestive tract.

In any event, this condition is often fatal, and there are few things lizard keepers can do once it occurs.

Some keepers will administer a drop or so of olive oil to the afflicted lizard to help lubricate the digestive tract, but it isn’t entirely clear whether this helps more than it hurts.

Generally, the only thing you can do is ensure your lizard is comfortable and wait with crossed fingers – sometimes they do pass the food item and recover.

Nevertheless, you must do everything possible to avoid this eventuality.

As a rule of thumb, you never want to give your pet bearded a prey item that is longer than the distance between your lizard’s eyes. And this is especially true when feeding superworms, which are harder for bearded to digest than crickets or roaches.


11. Your Bearded Dragon retains his shed skin

Bearded dragons shed regularly, and unlike snakes, they often do so in multiple pieces.

In most cases, it’ll take your pet a full day or two to work all of the old skin off, but in some cases, parts of the shed skin may remain stuck to his body.

This isn’t an emergency situation, and your dragon should recover.

However, if you allow shed skin to remain on his body – particularly in places such as his feet, toes, or tail tip – it can cause reduced blood flow to the area.

This may ultimately lead to lost digits or a damaged tail tip.

Fortunately, this problem is pretty easy to fix. You simply need to help rid his body of the retained skin.

Start by soaking your lizard in about ¼ to 1 inch of water (depending on his size) for about 15 minutes.

This will help soften and loosen the stuck skin. In some cases, soaking may even solve the problem completely.

However, if your lizard still has old skin stuck to his body after the soak, you’ll want to try to gently (!) rub the affected area and work the skin free.

Never force anything – if a portion of skin won’t come off with gentle pressure, just stop for the day, and repeat the entire process the following day.

With repeated treatments, it will almost always be possible to achieve success.


12. Your Bearded Dragon is holding his mouth open

Beardeds who hold their mouth open may be exhibiting signs of illness, but it can also be of no consequence at all.

For example, bearded dragons sometimes hold their mouths open deliberately, as a form of thermoregulation.

By exposing the damp inner cavity of their mouths, they can reduce their body temperature via evaporative cooling.

Alternatively, the lizards may hold their mouths open during threat or social displays.

But bearded dragons who are suffering from respiratory issues may keep their mouths open in an effort to breathe more effectively.

Dragons suffering from metabolic bone disease or some other skeletal issue may also hold their mouths open.

The trick to figuring out whether your bearded’s open mouth is a problem or not is to look for any other troubling symptoms.

If your lizard is exhibiting any other signs of a respiratory illness (such as nasal discharge), it is wise to see your vet.

The same would hold true of lizards who exhibit an open mouth and other skeletal deformities.

But, if your lizard closes his mouth from time to time, and runs around the habitat acting normally, it is probably not anything to worry about.

Especially if he still eats well and doesn’t exhibit any problems chewing. 


13. Your lizard’s bones appear misshapen or soft

Soft or malformed bones can be symptomatic of very serious illness.

There are a few possible reasons for soft or deformed bones, but the most obvious culprit is metabolic bone disease (MBD).

This often occurs when the calcium chemistry in your lizard’s body is not properly balanced.

Unfortunately, the calcium needs of bearded dragons (and many other lizards) are relatively tricky to satisfy.

Bearded dragons not only need a sufficient quantity of calcium to remain healthy, but they also require it at a specific ratio to the amount of phosphorus in their diet.

They also need enough Vitamin D3 in their blood so that they can properly utilize the calcium they do have.

Keepers typically provide a well-balanced diet, supplement their lizard’s food with additional calcium, and utilize lights that produce lights in the UVB portion of the spectrum to help avoid these problems.

But they don’t always work, and once your lizard start showing deformities, it is likely that he’ll need veterinary care to survive and enjoy a high quality of life.


14. Your lizard’s snout appears bloody or wounded

Bloody or damaged snouts are not uncommon for bearded dragons.

You’ll often see several dragons with injured snouts while perusing the lizards available at the average pet store or pet expo.

But just because this is a common issue doesn’t mean it is something that keepers should ignore.

In fact, if allowed to persist without treatment, a simple rostral abrasion can lead to significant health problems.

Bearded dragons usually injure their snouts by rubbing their face against the glass sides of their enclosure.

Like many other lizards, bearded dragons don’t appear to understand glass very well, which can lead to them spending hours at a time, pressing their face against the glass.

Additionally, bearded dragons may suffer from snout injuries by rubbing their face on screened panels or any other rough surfaces in the habitat.

Regardless of how your lizard suffered the injury, the important thing is to provide basic first aid and try to prevent it from happening again.

Start by cleaning the wound and applying a very small amount of triple antibiotic to the damaged area.

Reapply the medication every few days, until the skin begins to heal. If your lizard’s wound does not start to heal within a week or so, you’ll want to get your vet’s assistance in treating the wound.

To stop the behavior moving forward, you’ll want to investigate the reason your lizard is pressing his nose into the glass, and try to remove whatever is triggering the behavior.

Your lizard may, for example, be seeing your superworm container across the room, and trying to reach the tasty treats.

He may also be trying to reach another lizard in a different enclosure.


15. Your lizard’s eyes appear sunken

Sunken eyes can occur for a variety of reasons, but they’re probably often caused by respiratory infections or, even more commonly, dehydration.

This is an unfortunately common problem, as many keepers underestimate the water requirements of their pets.

Bearded dragons do hail from arid habitats, but they still need plenty of water.

If your bearded dragon is willing to drink from a water bowl (some are, others are not), just be sure that your lizard’s enclosure always has fresh water inside.

On the other hand, if your lizard prefers drinking water when you mist him and the enclosure, just be sure to do so often enough.

Adults will remain well-hydrated if provided with water once per day, but it is often helpful to provide young bearded dragons with drinking water at least two times each day.

As long as the habitat is allowed to dry out completely between mistings, there’s really no such thing as providing “too much” drinking water.


Conclusion

If you’re lucky, you’ll never notice any of the troubling symptoms mentioned above. And even if you do, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to address the issue and return your lizard to full health.

Just remember to make sure your husbandry practices are sound and that you remain observant of your pet.

Do that, and you’ll likely enjoy years of fun with your bearded dragon!

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