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Bearded dragons can sometimes become backed up—meaning they aren’t able to excrete waste. While this condition in humans may lead to some discomfort and require and over-the-counter remedy, it can be much more serious for your pet lizard. Commonly known as bearded dragon impaction, this condition can be fatal if left untreated.  

What is bearded dragon impaction? 

Impaction happens when a solid or semi-solid mass collects and becomes trapped in a bearded dragon’s intestinal tract. This condition is much more serious than constipation or bloating and can be fatal in severe cases. Therefore, pet parents need to understand and always be on the lookout for the signs of impaction in bearded dragons.  

What causes impaction?  

While an impacted bearded dragon may fully recover with proper treatment, it is always best to prevent the impaction from happening in the first place. Understanding and avoiding the most common causes can lower your pet’s risk of this dangerous condition. Many different things can lead to impaction, but some of the most common include the following. 

Low habitat temperatures

Overall, inappropriate habitat temperature is a main contributor to impaction. As reptiles, bearded dragons cannot regulate their body temperature. If their habitat becomes too cold, they can have trouble digesting their food or passing any substrate that may have inadvertently been ingested during feeding. Make sure to check your bearded dragon heating and lighting regularly to ensure the temperature is at a proper level. It’s also a good idea to feed your reptile at least an hour before turning off the lights at night so your pet has plenty of time to digest before the temperature in their enclosure drops. 

Loose substrates

During feeding time, a bearded dragon can accidentally swallow particles of substrate with their food. Indigestible substrate—such as silicate (play) sand, crushed walnut or gravel—is not recommended for your beardie’s habitat. Over time, these indigestible particles can build up and cause a blockage in your pet’s digestive tract. You can switch your bearded dragon substrate to reptile carpet to help prevent this problem. If you prefer to use loose substrate—such as calcium sand—feed your bearded dragon from a bowl to reduce the chance of accidental ingestion.  

Inappropriate food

When it comes to bearded dragon food, it is important to provide varied nutrition based on the diet suitable for their age. Ensure the food being offered is also supplemented with calcium and multivitamins. Avoid feeding your pet food that is too big for them, as food that is too large  can especially increase the risk of baby bearded dragon impaction. Both insects and vegetation should be no bigger than the space between your bearded dragon’s eyes. It is also critical that you feed your bearded dragon the appropriate amount of food based on their age and size. Baby bearded dragons can eat anywhere from 20 to 80 crickets per day! Baby bearded dragons should be offered 70% insects and 30% mixed vegetables and fruits, whereas adult bearded dragons should be eating roughly 90% vegetables and fruits and only 10% insect proteins. Ensuring they are full will also help prevent them from inadvertently swallowing substrate while picking through their habitat looking for extra food.   

Lack of exercise

Regular movement will help your bearded dragon stay healthy and encourage their digestive system to remain regular. Provide them a habitat with plenty of space for exploration if you can. Adding hides, branches and even a bearded dragon hammock will give them a reason to move throughout their enclosure.  

Symptoms of impaction in bearded dragons

While reptiles can’t speak and tell you if they are feeling ill, they’ll display other signs when there are issues. These symptoms can be both behavioral and physical.  Some of the symptoms listed below could indicate health concerns other than impaction, and it is always advisable to speak with your veterinarian if you notice a change in your bearded dragon.

No bowel movements

The number one sign of an impacted bearded dragon is a lack of bowel movements. Because the time between bowel movements for an adult beardie can vary, pet parents need to be aware of their pet’s waste routine. Baby bearded dragons typically excrete every day.  

Loss of mobility

When impaction develops in a lizard’s digestive tract, it can exert pressure on their spine. Unlike many other pets, reptiles don’t have protective discs between their vertebrae. You may notice your pet’s gait becomes stiff or awkward. If the impaction is lower in the digestive tract, a bearded dragon may begin dragging their back legs. If the impaction is higher in the digestive tract, they may suffer paralysis in one or both of their front legs.  

Lump on their back

Impaction may cause a slight rise in your pet’s mid-to-lower back. A bearded dragon’s impaction lump may be felt if you run your fingers along their back, and you may also feel one along your pet’s stomach. 

Lack of appetite

Healthy bearded dragons typically have a strong desire for food and will happily eat almost anything served up to them. If your bearded dragon isn’t eating much or refuses to eat altogether, impaction could be the cause. 

Lethargy

If your pet doesn’t want to explore their habitat or interact with you, impaction could be the reason. However, don’t assume the worst—poor appetite and lethargy are also signs that your bearded dragon may be starting to shed or entering brumation.  

One symptom may not be enough to determine if your bearded dragon is suffering from impaction. Developing a good understanding of your pet’s normal behaviors will help you be able to notice changes in your pet more quickly. Contact your veterinarian if you aren’t sure if your bearded dragon is ill or if you have questions about their overall health.  

Impacted bearded dragon treatments

Is there a simple and easy bearded dragon impaction cure? Not exactly, but there are steps you and your veterinarian can take to resolve an impaction. If you suspect your pet is suffering from this condition, one of the bearded dragon impaction remedies you should try first is a bath. 

Some bearded dragons like to “go” in water. Fill up a tub with warm water and place your dragon inside, adding enough water so your dragon has to swim but isn’t fully submerged. This extra exercise can help move things along. Be patient. Wait for at least 30 minutes for your pet to have a bowel movement, and add more warm water as the water in the tub begins to cool. If your pet’s impaction is mild, this could do the trick.  In general, it is recommended to have a water bowl big enough for your bearded dragon to soak in or to provide routine weekly baths.

If a bath doesn’t work, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They will be able to X-ray your bearded dragon to confirm the impaction and determine the severity of your pet’s condition. If the impaction is mild, your veterinarian may recommend laxatives or perform an abdomen massage or enema. If your pet’s condition is severe, your vet may need to perform bearded dragon impaction surgery to save your lizard’s life.  

Prevention is good medicine  

No pet parent wants their bearded dragon to experience impaction. The condition is painful, and it can be expensive to take your pet to your veterinarian—especially if surgery is required.  

One of the best ways to avoid bearded dragon impaction is to lower or eliminate the biggest risk factors. That means avoiding indigestible loose substrate, feeding your pet an appropriate-sized, varied diet based on their age, ensuring that their habitat is heated correctly and encouraging regular exercise. At Petco, we offer many supplies that can help you keep your bearded dragon healthy and happy, including these excellent bearded dragon 

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Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is apassionate group of experiencedpet care experts dedicated to supportingtheoverall health & wellness ofpets. The ACEteam works to developanimal care operations and standards across the organizationandpromoteproperanimal careandeducationfor Pet Care Center partnersand pet parents,while alsoensuringregulatory compliance.