Some people consider lizards to be “disposable” pets: when one dies, you buy a new one. While it’s certainly fine to buy a new pet if your bearded dragon dies, there are many things you can do to give your lizard a long and healthy life. In fact, a healthy bearded dragon can live over 10 years. Take time to learn about your dragon and potential health issues, and you and your lizard can enjoy many years together.
While many health issues can be taken care of at home, it is a good idea to find a veterinarian that specialized in reptiles, in case of emergency. In fact, it is best to find a vet as soon as possible (preferably before you even bring your dragon home for the first time) so you won’t have to waste any precious time when an emergency arises. Locating a vet that specializes in reptiles can be challenging. If you’re having trouble, check with local pet stores, animal shelters, or herpetological societies, and they may be able to help. You can also visit www.arav.org, the site for the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.
Injuries are common for reptiles, probably more so than disease. Burns from a heating lamp or ceramic heater are one of the most common injuries. While some burns are minor and cause only discoloration or blistering of the skin and scales, and other burns can produce open, bleeding wounds, all burns should be seen by a vet. They must be treated for both external and internal (muscular damage) wounds and infections. Most reptile burn victims will require antibiotic injections and topical salves for a complete recovery. The best way to avoid burns is to make sure your dragon does not have direct access to a heating source.
Bearded dragons can also be affected by parasites, both internal and external. Symptoms of internal parasites include loss of appetite, bloating, vomiting, sudden weight loss, sluggish movements, and constipation. Internal parasites should be treated by a veterinarian, who will generally prescribe a regimen of oral or injected medication.
Mites are external parasites that often afflict bearded dragons. They are tiny (a few millimeters in diameter) and difficult to spot. Mites will attach themselves to your dragon, bore through his skin, and suck his blood. If many mites are present, they can work together and quickly drain a significant amount of blood, causing a lack of appetite in your pet and a weakening of his immune system. Because of the severity of the consequences of mites, if you think your pet is infected you will need to act quickly.
There are three ways to rid your dragon of mites. First, try thoroughly bathing him, paying particular attention to the eyes, nostrils, vents, and skin folds, and housing him in a separate terrarium while you clean his home. When cleaning the terrarium, dispose of the substrate, any live plants, and other furnishings that are able to be thrown away. Any items that are kept should be wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in the oven at 275°F for two to three hours. Next, soak the terrarium in a bleach solution, letting it soak for 18 to 24 hours. Then, thoroughly rinse it and air it out.
Another method bearded dragon owners use to rid their pet of mites is to dip him in cooking oil (vegetable, olive, etc.). Dip him quickly, making sure his whole body is covered. Soak up any oil that remain on him, using a towel. Then, place him in a separate terrarium and clean the tank as detailed above.
One final option is to take your pet to the veterinarian. She will prescribe a mite killer that will usually need to be sprayed on both the bearded dragon and his terrarium. This treatment should soon eradicate all mites from your dragon and his home.
Mouth rot is a bacterial infection that can affect both the mouth and guns of a bearded dragon. Symptoms include bleeding gums, loss of appetite, blackening of the teeth, swollen mouth, and a cheesy, yellowish buildup between the teeth. This disease almost never occurs in dragons that are well taken care of, as it is generally brought on by dirty living conditions and low temperatures. It is extremely painful for the reptile and can prove fatal if not treated by a veterinarian as quickly as possible. To prevent mouth rot, maintain a clean terrarium and be sure your pet is getting an appropriate level of heat.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease is caused by inadequate exposure to ultraviolet light. This ailment is painful and eventually debilitating for the lizard. Symptoms include soft jaws that are bent outward, difficulty walking, limbs that are crooked or bent, swollen thighs that are hard to the touch, and trembling or convulsing. This disease is easily prevented by allowing your bearded dragon to soak up enough ultraviolet rays so he can efficiently metabolize calcium and synthesize vitamin D3, which will keep his bones and teeth strong and healthy.