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Bearded Dragons

Common Health Issues

Malnourished Bearded Dragon

If your beardie seems out of sorts, low energy, on the thin side, even overweight – you may have a malnourished bearded dragon on your hands. We all know these reptiles are notoriously picky eaters. But if they appear not to be getting enough nutrients, it’s our job as their keepers to make sure our scaly friends get the right balance of vitamins, minerals, calcium, fats, and protein.

What is Malnourishment?

Malnutrition is a condition that develops when a human or animal doesn’t get enough of the minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients needed to maintain healthy organ function and tissues. Malnutrition can happen both when your dragon is undernourished and or over-fed.

It’s important to remember that bearded dragons will go through several cycles each year where they may appear ill or malnourished, but in reality, they are perfectly healthy.

Please consider the following situations before deciding your bearded dragon is malnourished:

  • Brumation – This naturally occurring  cycle typically occurs in Autumn and Winter in response to changes in natural light and available food. During brumation, your dragon may appear lazy or experience a loss of appetite and prefer to sleep for weeks up to months.

  • Shedding – During shedding, you will notice your dragon’s color becoming duller, and their eyes may appear to be puffed out. These signs are a normal part of a healthy shed cycle.

Baby beardies will shed their skin as they grow, which can happen several times a year. However, mature bearded dragons may only shed their skin once or twice per year.

If you suspect something is off with your dragon’s health and have ruled out brumation and shedding, it’s time to inspect them further for the tell-tale signs of bearded dragon malnutrition.

5 Tell-Tale Signs of a Malnourished Bearded Dragon

Below, you will find the 5 most common signs of an imbalance in nutrition:

  1. Thin tail – A healthy beardie should have a robust (but not too large) tail. A boney or thin tail is a common sign of a malnourished bearded dragon.

  2. Deflated fat pads – Bearded dragons have fat pads on their heads. If your dragon appears to have deflated fat pads, it could be missing critical nutrients in its diet even though it may not be skinny. 

  3. Lethargy – If your dragon seems more sluggish and less alert than usual and you have ruled out hibernation, shedding, and problems with the light and/or temperature in their enclosure, malnutrition may be to blame.  

  4. Calcium deficiency – Common signs of calcium deficiency in beardies are poorly developed “Gumby” bones that break easily, rickets in breeding females’ tails, and “bobblehead.” 

  5. Obesity – As mentioned above, too much fat in your reptile’s diet can become a problem. As with humans, the body doesn’t function as it should when carrying too much unnecessary weight. If you have a giant, chunky dragon with visceral fat pockets on its abdomen, or abnormally large fat reserves on the head, over-nourishment may be the culprit.

Ways to Correct Malnutrition in Your Bearded Dragon

It’s important to regularly inspect your bearded dragon for signs of malnutrition.

It’s important to adjust their diet and enclosure so they can get the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

We recommend all or some of the following strategies for getting your beardie’s nutrition back on track:

  1. Adjust their light setup – Improper lighting is one main reason why your beardie may lose their appetite.

  2. Offer your dragon a variety of nutrients – Offering a wide variety of healthy foods is a great way to keep your bearded dragon’s nutrition balanced. This is especially important if they are young and still growing.

What does a healthy diet look like for a bearded dragon?

  • Vegetables – most importantly, leafy greens.

  • Feeder insects – A variety of gut loaded Insects and avoid mealworms that are high fat and low nutritional value.

  • Supplements – Calcium supplements are an excellent addition to your dragon’s diet along with "Wombaroo Reptile".

  • Entice them with an exciting diet –Bearded dragons can be notoriously picky eaters. It’s our job as their keepers to ensure their diet is filled with the right balance of vitamins, minerals, calcium, fats, and protein. 

  • Increase the frequency of feeding sessions – You may also want to feed your dragon more often than usual if they are malnourished. Allow them to eat as much as they’d like for 10 minutes 2-5 times a day.

  • Let your beardy "hunt" its insects, feed inside the enclosure and give your beardy exercise chasing its food.


Bearded Dragons

Picture courstesy of "redit"

Bearded Dragons

Picture courstesy of "redit"


Impaction occurs when a dragon eats large amounts of something that is not easily digestible combined with inadequate husbandry(heat and correct UVB) and it becomes stuck in their bowels. Sadly this has a high mortality rate in bearded dragons and it is avoidable. Surgery can remove the impaction but sadly most dragon owners do not know that anything is wrong until it is too late. If your dragon is not pooping regularly, is lethargic, not eating, limp, spends all day with its eyes closed or vomits there is a chance it is impacted. Seek out a reptile vet's assistance as soon as possible. A smaller percentage of impaction cases are related to what type of feeder insects dragon is fed. Over feeding insects such as mealworms should be fed intermittently with several other food choices to prevent the possibility of the shells causing a minor impaction.

Hatchling dragons up until about 1 year old should poop daily, for adults 1 year+ should be pooping every 2-3 on average depending on their time spent active outside their enclosure. For adults I would only be concerned if your dragon did not poop once a week. To stimulate a dragon's bowel give them a very warm bath and time to run around outside their enclosure. Use your best judgment on bath temperature as you don't want to burn the dragon but without warmth it will not relax the muscles and help the dragon pass it's poop. If you feel it has been a very long time since your dragon has had a bowel movement, and they seem lethargic and limp, contact a vet.


Metabolic Bone Disease or "MBD"

Metabolic Bone Disease is caused by lack of UVB and Vitamin D. In the wild dragons spend all day outside in natural sunlight, absorbing UV and Vitamin D from the sun. MBD occurs only in dragons in captivity as they are forced to live indoors in enclosures without proper UVB lighting. MBD softens the bones and deforms them as the dragon grows. It can also cause rubbery jaws, tremors and seizures. Dragons with MBD suffer greatly as they can be in pain with every movement. Sadly this is the most common aliment in bearded dragons and it is 100% preventable. It is important to do your research when you purchase a bearded dragon, and terrible issues like MBD can be the result if you do not. There is no way to cure MBD once the deformations start they are permanent. If you start to see a problem with your dragon that concerns you seek out a reptile vet specialist.

The best way to treat MBD is to prevent it from ever happening, and the good news is you CAN! Along with a UVB light a dragon also needs a Calcium Vitamin D supplement. I cannot express the importance of proper UVB lighting, you do not want your dragon to end up with MBD



"Adenovirus" has become a very controversial subject within the bearded dragon communities in the last few years. As I am not a Scientist or Vet, I have chosen not to post opinions due to the controversy and somewhat limited study so far that surrounds this subject. I have therefor uploaded scholarly literature (an accepted manuscript from Tim Hyndman) and links (which some from overseas as more study on the virus is carried out there) from what I believe are reputable sources for you to read and learn about ADV for yourself.


Here are just some of the talking points that may or may not be accurate but generate lots of discussion within bearded dragon communities:

  • Claims that ADV is in every collection as it's found naturally in wild Central Bearded Dragons (They are considered natural hosts).

  • There are 2 types of agamid adenovirus (AgAdv-1 and lizard atadenovirus) and only one of them is dangerous.

  • Dragons that test negative can be "carriers" and therefor test negative and still spread the virus unknowingly.

  • Do dragons need to be tested at least 3 times, 1 month apart with negative results each time to be officially classed as "ADV free".

  • ​Many claim the virus is usually not a problem and is only dangerous if you have a genetically weak dragon for reasons such as too much inbreeding or bad choices of pairings such as visual to visual morphs.

  • A young bearded dragon with ADV typically will not survive past three months.

  • Exotic Veterinarians are exaggerating how bad the virus is so that every owner feels they have to pay to check even if it has no symptoms.

*This section on Adenoviruses will be updated as more is known on this virus or more articles are released.

Adenoviruses(ADV) Uploads and links


Coccidiosis is an infectious parasitic disease of the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. This species specific disease spreads from one animal to another by contact with infected feces and sometimes through feeder insects. In the majority of cases diarrhea is the primary symptom. Coccidiosis in Bearded dragons is a very common. It is commonly seen in stressed dragons, especially in neglected and unhygienic enclosures. Parasites can often infect a dragon even if their owner keeps a clean cage, from their feeder bugs or greens, sometimes infections happen and it is no ones fault. But as with all infected animal species, coccidia invade the gastrointestinal tract and cause cellular damage, giving rise to various degrees of diarrhea. If uncontrolled or untreated, coccidiosis can even lead to death.

There is some controversy as to the significance of this disease as many infected individuals can be purely be carriers (called ‘coccidiasis’). Not all animals with coccidia have clinical signs of disease. Stress is believed to be a major contributing factor and can alter levels of the parasite. Severely affected Bearded dragons mainly show gastrointestinal signs which includes the following:

  • Partial or complete anorexia (lack of appetite)

  • Weight loss & poor body condition

  • Dehydration (wrinkled skin & sunken eyes)

  • Weakness (lying flat)

  • Lethargy or dullness (unaware of its surroundings)

  • Diarrhea (abnormal or runny feces)

  • Blood tinged stool

  • Vomiting



The most common parasite for a bearded dragon to catch is Pinworms. Also known as oxyurids. Pinworms can be harmless for long periods of time and dragons don't always show symptoms, sometimes for years. Often dragons have them in their digestive tract in small amounts off and on throughout their entire lives. However if your dragon becomes lethargic, seems to be losing weight, or not gaining weight, especially in dragons under 1 year we recommend a product called "Panacur" which is available online and pictured below along with a recommended dosage chart. 3 doses 2-4 weeks apart is recommended and you shouldn't see any side effects. If you have concerns and you choose to see a vet, make sure it is a reptile specialist.


Bearded Dragons
Bearded Dragons

Respiratory Infection

Issues with your dragon's respiratory system can be caused by bacteria, a fungus or a virus. Often these issues are caused by feces covered cages, too much humidity and dust from improper substrate.

Signs that your dragon has a respiratory issue:

  • Gulping large breaths of air through the mouth

  • Hearing your dragon's breathing

  • Consistent puffiness near the dragons throat (not to be confused with display puffing)

  • Discharge from eyes, nose and/or mouth

If you suspect your dragon has a respiratory infection seek a reptile vet's assistance immediately.


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