You now are the proud parent of a bearded dragon. If you are a new owner of a dragon or a reptile in general, you would like to know if your dragon is happy and content. You certainly want to know if there’s a problem and how to spot one. It may be harder to tell if your dragon is content or not. After all, they don’t make noises or have facial expressions as other pets such as dogs do.
One good way to make sure your pet is healthy to start with is to take him to a reptile veterinarian or exotic pet vet for a good checkup soon after you get him. The vet will check him out and make sure there are no problems.
Also, this is a good way to establish a baseline for your individual dragon so that the vet can be alert to any differences later on that may signal trouble.
8 Signs Your Bearded Dragon is Healthy
Alert – Your beardie should look alert and bright-eyed unless he is sleeping. He should be interested in his surroundings. If you have made friends with him, he should enjoy attention from you. If he seems lethargic or wants to sleep more than usual, it may be a sign of something else.
This could also be a sign that he is preparing to go into a brumation period, which is a sort of hibernation for bearded dragons. Since some health problems have similar symptoms, it’s important to keep an eye on him if he seems listless, and perhaps take him to a vet to check him out to make sure you have a healthy bearded dragon.
Good appetite – A healthy bearded dragon will eat about the same amount every day. He should dig into his food, especially first thing in the morning, and be interested in catching any live food he gets. They usually chase after it right away. If you want to know all the foods you can feed your bearded dragon check out my complete guide What to Feed a Bearded Dragon [The Complete Guide].
Likes to bask – Basking is actually more than just soaking up heat. It also allows them to absorb important ultraviolet rays. You’ll often see yours go to his basking spot after he eats. This is because basking actually is essential for him to metabolize his food properly.
Most healthy dragons spend most of their day in the basking area if it is set up properly. However, if he never moves from his basking spot, he may be sick. Likewise, if he hides instead of basking, it’s not a good sign.
Eyes, nose and mouth have no excretions – There should be nothing leaking or exuding from their eyes, nose or mouth. This could be in the form of a liquid or a dried crust. He could have an injury or eye infection, his nostrils can get blocked, or it may be a sign of dirt getting in his eyes or nose.
Excretions around the mouth could indicate a fairly common reptile infection or inflammation called mouth rot, which definitely requires medical attention. Excretions around the head area are definitely a sign of a problem, and a vet should be contacted.
Has a clean vent – The cloacal vent should be clean and not swollen. This will indicate solid bowel movements, which for a beardie are naturally soft but usually are eliminated leaving a clean vent. Dragons don’t urinate as we think of it. Instead, their urine is solid or semi-solid and is a white or yellowish substance that usually accompanies the feces.
A vent stained with feces or blood indicates a problem such as diarrhea. This could mean an infection or internal parasites. A swollen vent could mean that he was injured or that something is stuck in the area.
Has good posture – Your beardie should be up on his legs, not dragging his belly or slouching. He should also be able to walk normally, not with jerky or wobbly movements. If he seems to have trouble doing this, it may be a sign of a potential bone problem or other health condition. Be alert if he seems to be having trouble with one limb as well, since it may signal an injury. Trouble with the hind legs may signal an impaction problem.
Belly is shaped well – Healthy bearded dragons usually have a rounded, full belly. Your vet can tell you the difference between a healthy-looking belly and one that’s too fat if you have questions. You should also not be able to see his spine or ribs, and his hip bones should definitely not be sticking out.
No swelling around toes and nails – If your beardie’s toes are swollen, he may have a problem shedding his skin when he needs to. Most dragons in the proper environment have no problem shedding their skins and need no intervention.
However, if your beardie’s environment is not humid enough, it’s harder for the skin to separate and slough off, especially at the finish line, which is the tail and toes. This is another reason to watch your dragon move around to make sure he is walking normally.
What are the Signs Your Bearded Dragon is Happy?
One reason that bearded dragons are popular is that they like being picked up and held, even being carried around. They will happily perch on your shoulder and may even fall asleep watching television in your lap.
Making friends with your beardie will also help you determine if he is happy. A happy dragon will like to be picked up and held. If he doesn’t want to be picked up or moves away from you it may be a sign that something is wrong.
He also won’t show any signs of stress or aggression, such as puffing up or hissing when you try to pick him up. While he may do this at first if you have to feed him and clean the tank from the top because he is startled at something coming down from above, this is a natural reaction to a potential predator. He should get used to this after a time.
Beardies are actually expressive animals. It’s important to get to know his normal habits and behaviors to determine when he’s content and when he’s not. They can wave their arms, swing their tails, yawn and bob their heads. This is normal, content behavior. Hissing, puffing up, and a gaping mouth are not. Another sign your bearded dragon is happy and healthy is they like to eat, check out my article The Complete Bearded Dragon Feeding Schedule for more information on when is the best time to feed your bearded dragon.
How to Know if Your Bearded Dragon is Sick?
There are several signs that may mean your beardie is not feeling well. Besides the ones covered above, such as unusual secretions and lethargy, there are other signs that your beardie may have a problem. Some are not immediately obvious and only can be detected by an attentive owner who is familiar with his beardie’s habits and behaviors and notices the difference.
If your dragon hasn’t had a bowel movement in two or three days, it may be a sign of constipation or even impaction. Impaction is serious and must be attended to by a vet. At the other end of the spectrum, diarrhea is another bad sign. If the white or yellow urates on his feces turn red or orange, it may be signs of parasites.
With any fecal problems, collect a sample and keep it refrigerated to give to the vet. Fortunately, since you’ll be cleaning feces out of his enclosure at least once a day, it’s easy to keep an eye on his elimination habits.
If your dragon is off his feed, there could be several causes. Stress is one, but if your dragon is new, he may just not be quite adjusted to his new surroundings. If he’s got another pet such as a cat or dog looking at him or a lot of people running in and out of his room, that can stress him as well. Loss of appetite could also signal an enclosure that’s too hot or cool or insufficient UVB light.
Watch the fat pads on either side of your pet’s head. If these shrink or look indented and his tail looks skinny, he’s probably underweight. Changes in their skin, such as discolored or unusual yellow patches can indicate a skin issue, and these should be checked by a vet. Sunken eyes can be a sign of dehydration, as can lose skin that doesn’t flatten quickly back when you gently pinch it.
Jerky movements or shaking can indicate Metabolic Bone Disease, caused by a calcium deficiency or insufficient UVB exposure. Other signs include jaw or hind limb swelling. If it is caught early enough, it can be reversed. It can be a very painful condition, so immediate vet intervention is vital.
What are the Most Common Bearded Dragon Health Issues?
Metabolic Bone Disease, otherwise known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, is the most common health problem beardies have. It’s caused by a diet deficient in calcium or vitamin D3. It can also be caused by inadequate exposure to UVB rays, which allow the lizard to make vitamin D in their skin. A diet with too much phosphorus can also cause this, as it interferes with calcium absorption.
Signs include swelling in the lower jaw, softening of the jaw and facial bones, and in the hind limbs, shaky legs or dragons that lay on their bellies. Muscle twitching, loss of appetite and energy, and eventual seizures are also signs. This is most commonly seen in juveniles, as they are growing quickly.
It shows up in X-rays as thick bone shafts, thin bone tissue, and greenstick fractures caused by soft bones bending instead of breaking outright. Of course, broken bones can occur as well. It can be reversed if caught early enough, but it is a painful condition, and your beardie should be seen by a vet anytime this condition is suspected.
Parasites are not uncommon in the dragon digestive tract, especially pinworms. The problem comes from there being too many. Mites and tiny ticks can also get under scales and attach themselves to your dragon. They can be found anyplace on your dragon, but especially under the arms and legs where he can’t scratch them off. If you let your dragon run around outside, he may pick up these.
Infectious stomatitis, commonly known as mouth rot, is not as common with beardies as with some other reptile pets, but it does appear. It’s a bacterial infection of the gums and jawbone. Signs include swelling or reddened gums, thick mucus in the mouth, and eventual jaw swelling when the infection goes into the jawbone.
Respiratory infections can occur when dragons are stressed, improperly fed, or their environment is too cold or dirty. It can be caused by several things, including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, and can even turn into pneumonia.
Symptoms include discharge from the eyes or nose, bubbles from the nose or mouth, rapid or shallow breathing or wheezing, breathing with an open mouth, loss of appetite and lethargy.
Adenovirus infections are unfortunately common in younger dragons, but they may affect a beardie at any age. It causes a gastrointestinal infection and hepatitis which is fatal. Symptoms include weakness, appetite loss, and may eventually become paralyzed. There are two types of this infection, one of which causes the dragon to die quickly, with the other form being a slower, more chronic infection. It is fatal as well. Check out my article What is The Average Lifespan of a Bearded Dragon? for taking care of them and adding to their lifespan.
How to Keep Your Bearded Dragon Happy and Healthy?
Basically, it boils down to the proper food and environment for a healthy bearded dragon. He needs a proper white lamp for heat and a bulb emitting UVB rays to replace the benefits of natural sunlight that he needs.
He needs an enclosure that is large enough to provide some exercise and not make him feel cramped. His enclosure also needs to have a warm basking side and a cooler side for him to move to if he gets too warm. He also needs the proper humidity in his environment to keep his skin from getting too dry and hampering skin shedding.
A hiding place is great, and he also needs a few things that allow him to climb. A piece of wide driftwood in the right shape can serve as both an exercise object and provide a basking place.
Of course, your dragon needs the proper diet to be a healthy bearded dragon. He needs both live food and plant-based foods in the proper ratio according to his age. Babies and young juvenile dragons need about 75 to 80 percent live food with the rest being vegetables and greens.
This gradually gets switched to just the opposite ratio of live food to plant food as he gets to adulthood. He definitely needs clean, dechlorinated water available at all times.
Your beardie also needs some exercise. This promotes strong bone growth when he’s young and keeps his bones and muscles in good shape. He also needs some interaction with you. This will provide him with exercise and keep him from getting bored. He’ll actually get to like you and will welcome your attention. Beardies are not the kind of reptile that you just plop into a tank and look at sometimes as if he’s in a zoo.
The better you get to know your dragon, the better you’ll be able to tell if something is wrong. Interact with your dragon daily, pick him up and carry him around and also watch him so you get to know his usual habits and actions. Besides, isn’t his friendly nature one of the reasons you got him?