Bearded dragons, or "beardies," are one of the most popular pet lizards, particularly with beginner reptile keepers. Because they have specific care, diet, and temperature needs that may be missed by novices and more experienced keepers alike, it's important to know how to tell if your bearded dragon is dying to get them to an experienced veterinarian right away.
1. No Bowel Movements
Keeping track of how often your beardie has a bowel movement is a necessary step in making sure they're healthy. If your beardie has not eliminated in several days, there's a chance they may have an impaction in their intestines, which can lead to death. While there are things you can do to help them go, such as giving them a bath or feeding them canned plain pumpkin, you should consult with your veterinarian about next steps.
2. Diarrhea and Bloody Stool
On the flip side of no bowel movements is having unhealthy movements, especially diarrhea. If your beardie is producing watery stool or you see signs of blood in their feces, they could be suffering from parasites or problems with their diet, and medical intervention is needed immediately. Another sign your beardie may be sick is if their feces has a strong, bad smell to it. The possible cause for problems with their stool could be improper diet, parasites, a dirty habitat, or improper hydration, lighting, and temperatures.
Beardies definitely do enjoy lounging around, but if you see your dragon barely moving at all or moving less than usual, this is a sign they may be seriously ill. Often, this can happen due to improper heat or lighting, which has a direct negative effect on their metabolism. You should check your tank environment for these factors to rule out lighting or heat as an issue.
It's also common for beardies to become a bit lethargic if they're ready to undergo brumation (similar to hibernation in mammals), or when they are ready to shed. A beardie with a proper setup who is not shedding should be active and alert. A visit to the veterinarian is warranted if you see sluggish behavior.
4. Lack of Appetite
While it's not totally abnormal for your bearded dragon to not eat every day, lack of appetite can be a cause for concern when coupled with other symptoms. Common reasons a beardie will not eat include the following:
- Some beardies will stop eating if they feel stressed, which often happens when a new beardie is brought home to a new environment.
- Others will not eat if their tank is not warm enough, as heat is necessary for a functioning lizard's metabolism.
- Likewise, if they are not getting enough ultraviolet-B (UVB) light, this can lead to a poor appetite.
You should check for all of these possibilities when you notice your beardie has no appetite, and if you can eliminate all of them and they are still not eating and losing weight, talk to a veterinarian right away. Your bearded dragon may have parasites, an impaction, or problems with their diet.
5. Problems With Movement
A very common and serious disease among beardies and other reptiles is Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). One sign of this disorder is trouble moving; beardies suffering from MBD act as if they don't quite have control of their limbs, and you may see twitching or tremors coupled with lethargy and lack of appetite.
Bone deformation is also a common problem seen in bearded dragons with MBD, and you may notice deformities such as swelling or softening along their spine, legs, or jaws. A third sign of MBD is problems with catching live insects, as their inability to move correctly impedes their ability to catch fast-moving bugs like crickets. Life-threatening impaction can also cause problems with movement, specifically when the lizard looks like its back legs are not functioning and it appears to drag itself around the tank.
6. Skin Problems
Some other common beardie health concerns include tail rot, mouth rot, and yellow fungus. The most obvious signs of these are visible problems with the lizard's skin, such as discolored patches, particularly around the mouth, the appearance of rot, open wounds, swelling, or inflammation. Another sign is that the skin appears pale or gray, and this refers to skin that is not currently being shed.
7. Sunken Eyes
If your beardie's eyes seem "sunken" into their head or droopy, and they don't seem focused, bright, or clear, this is a sign of dehydration. Providing them with a water bath, a water spray from a bottle, as well as diluted Pedialyte through a small eye dropper can actually help with dehydration. A dehydrated lizard can quickly succumb to illness and death, and intervening right away is key in keeping your beardie well.
8. Wrinkly Skin
Beardie skin that appears visibly wrinkly is a sign of possible dehydration. You can also "test" the skin by taking your fingers and lightly pulling on the skin to see if it moves back into place. Regular, healthy skin should show elasticity and settle in as normal, whereas dry and dehydrated skin will not. If your lizard is dehydrated, you may also notice that their tail looks skinnier than usual and their fatty areas, or pads, appear sunken in.
9. Respiratory Issues
Another very common problem with beardies are respiratory issues. These can be due to improper humidity or temperatures in their tank, stress, or incorrect substrate. If you notice that your beardie is breathing with shallow or labored breaths or wide-open mouth breathing, this can be a sign they have a respiratory infection.
It can also be a sign that they are overheating, which can lead to dehydration and stroke. If you notice your beardie digging, staying in corners or under decorations, or acting like they want to get out of the tank, check your temperature settings to make sure it's not too hot.
10. Staying on the Cold Side
A proper setup for a beardie will have a cold and warm area in a tank, as well as a basking spot. If your beardie stays in the cold area and does not leave, this is an immediate cause for concern.
If a reptile cannot warm itself, its metabolism will not function properly, which can quickly lead to death. If your beardie is not moving to the warmer areas of the tank or the basking spot, it may be that they are suffering from serious medical issues that are preventing them from having the energy to move about and they need a veterinary visit ASAP.
Knowing Common Bearded Dragon Dying Signs
Make sure you understand all the necessary environmental requirements for your beardie, including lighting, humidity, temperatures, and proper diet. You'll need this knowledge not only to keep them healthy, but to rule out causes when you see signs of illness.
It's important to regularly interact with your beardie and keep your eye on how often they eat, eliminate, and show active behavior. This will help you pinpoint possible signs they are dying when there's still time to intervene. Make sure you have a veterinarian close to you who specializes in exotics so you'll know exactly where to go once it's clear immediate medical intervention is needed.