Bearded dragons are striking lizards that can make great pets. They have a calm demeanor and are typically easy to care for. However, there are a few health concerns, including tail rot, that can be quite troublesome to your bearded dragon. Dr. Jess explains bearded dragon tail rot below:
Bearded Dragon Basics:
Bearded dragons are reptiles that are categorized into the desert lizard category.
They fall into the genus Pogona with eight different species falling under this grouping.
The eight species of bearded dragons, are distinguished from one another and named for the differences in their spines on their chins and necks.
This exotic pet gets their name from their armor of spiny scales, which include a “beard” of spikes under its chin and neck that puffs up depending on their mood, most commonly seen when puffed out upset for them to seem larger to whatever is upsetting them.
This may be paired with an erry ‘hiss’ when really upset.
They can reach up to 24 inches long and weigh up to 18 ounces once full grown. They range in colors from brown, to orange, to yellow, to cream.
Bearded dragons are often referred to as “beardies”, are one of the more popular reptilian pets because of their cool, interesting exterior and their popularity being of low maintenance pets.
What is Tail Rot?
Tail rot is not fun for anyone and can be a gray zone when trying to decide if your pet has it or not.
This tail rot is a condition that causes a bearded dragon’s tail to turn darker in color and rot away because of something called necrotic tissue.
Necrotic tissue is tissue on a living organism that is dying or is already dead. This tissue is usually darker in color, ranging from blue, purple, to even black because it is no longer living tissue with a healthy blood supply..
Tail rot is usually due to an infection or trauma that has occurred to the tail, usually toward the tip.
If the tail is not treated with veterinary intervention, the tail of the bearded dragon can eventually fall off and unfortunately, if the primary infection is not treated appropriately, the pet can even die.
Causes of Tail Rot:
So what causes tail rot to occur? This nasty condition has a couple of typical reasons why it shows its gross face.
1. Fights & Trauma
Adult bearded dragons are solitary animals, meaning that they prefer to live on their own, with no other bearded dragons.
This, however is not the case with a male and female who are mating partners.
Now when more than one dragon is put together in captivity, a fight will definitely break out.
These animals are highly territorial.
When adult bearded dragons are allowed to be in the vicinity of one another, fights become quite prevalent.
If a fight ensues, the tail of the bearded dragon may be in the line of fire and become injured from a bite from their set of teeth, or from a scratch, during the quarrel.
This tail injury sometimes can become infected, which can set off the perfect storm for tail rot to occur.
2. Inadequate Diet
High-quality food that has the correct nutritional requirements for bearded dragons, such as essential vitamins and minerals – remember to give your bearded dragon it’s calcium!!!
Ensuring that your bearded dragon has the right plane of nutrition by knowing what bearded dragons eat, will decrease the likelihood of your pet from coming down with infections and becoming sick in general.
Poor nutrition can lead to a lowered immune system where your bearded dragon is more likely to pick up infections more easily.
3. Incorrect Lighting
In the wild, bearded dragons have all the natural sunlight that they could ever want. Domesticated bearded dragons kept as pets, may not get all the necessary sunlight that they need.
So to supplement them, owners will typically add specialized lights and lightbulbs to supply the necessary light that they need.
In order to properly digest their food, dragons need UVB light in order to absorb calcium. Calcium is necessary for strong bones, healthy eggs, and many other vital functions to sustain life as they know it.
4. Incomplete Shed
Sometimes these sheds can even get stuck. All that is usually needed is a nice bath, to help remove the retained skin.
However, if the retained skin is stuck, you will want to make sure that it is removed so that it doesn’t start to constrict and get tightly wrapped around the tail and cut off blood circulation, then creating a tail rot scenario!
It creates tail rot because the compromised blood supply to the tail becomes worse and worse until the tail receives no more blood at all and starts to die, potentially spreading infection to other parts of the body once the tail has been compromised.
5. Poor Care and Maintenance:
A lack of a clean environment can lead to an unclean animal, which can then predispose them to having infections throughout their body, including their tails.
Identifying Tail Rot:
Tail rot will look as if your dragon’s tail is dry and rotting.
The tail usually appears very dry in texture and quite dark in color.
Usually the dark and dry tissue will start towards the tip of the tail and move up, closer and closer to the body.
Some of the more common features (from most commonly seen to less commonly seen) in my bearded dragon tail rot patients include:
When a bearded dragon has tail rot, it will change color to a dark brown or black color because it’s become necrotic tissue, as discussed above.
It usually starts at the tip and the darker color moves along closer to the body of the dragon.
I do want to say that some bearded dragons have a darker tail color normally and that this shouldn’t be confused with tail rot.
If your bearded dragon has always had a darker tail then there is little to worry about – check with your vet to make sure that everything is fine.
If your dragon has not always had a dark tail, then there is much to worry about.
The bearded dragon’s tail usually appears flaky, brittle, coarse and/or drier than normal.
Once the tail rot has set in, eventually it will lead to the tail or part of the tail falling completely off, as it is now completely dead.
This is very serious and can lead to and mean that your bearded dragon is in serious danger of losing more than just its tail! Contact your local veterinarian immediately!
Tail Rot Symptoms:
Along with the physical signs that will help in identifying tail rot, there are some behavioral changes that typically go along with the condition as well, that you may notice your bearded dragon experiencing.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Irritable: Your bearded dragon is acting irritable, impatient, or aggressive, such as trying to bite you or another being.
- Decreased Appetite / Anorexia: When bearded dragons do not feel well and are sick or dying, they will commonly lose their appetite. Bearded dragons stop eating for other reasons too, like brumation. Learn more about bearded dragon eating habits here!
- Hiding/Reclusive Behaviors: Your bearded dragon be found hiding somewhere atypical in their enclosure
- Pain with Touch: May notice discomfort when their tail touches another object
Can Bearded Dragons Die From Tail Rot?
If left untreated tail rot has the potential to spread and can cause other serious health concerns and even death as secondary infections set in and spread throughout the body.
Tail Shedding Versus Tail Rot:
Tail shedding is a natural occurrence in bearded dragons.
Sometimes, especially new bearded dragon owners, may confuse tail rot with tail shedding, and vice versa.
During their sheds, the bearded dragon’s skin becomes dull and may peel, as the skin flakes off.
Sometimes these normal sheds can occur irregularly, in chunks or patches and sometimes may look like a part of their tail is falling off.
A tail with tail rot can be seen, not only as dry, stiff, and friable, but sometimes the area of the tail may be kinked or bent.
In a bearded dragon with a healthy tail that is shedding, the tail will continue to be flexible and bend, but correct itself, bouncing right back to their normal, straight tail.
How to Treat Tail Rot? Treatment:
In my personal opinion, every dragon with tail rot needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Contact your vet clinic immediately and bring your pet in as soon as possible to be examined.
The sooner that your pet is seen by it’s doctor, the better, as this condition can progress quite quickly in some instances.
It is a painful, degenerative condition that always requires medical attention and may even require surgery.
Your vet will likely want to conduct a physical exam, and may even be worried enough to want to run some other diagnostic test to evaluate your dragon’s internal organs as well.
If it is caught in time, your veterinarian may be able to treat your bearded dragon’s tail rot with topical medications and antibiotics.
However, even when tail rot is caught early, this by no means gives you a guarantee that these treatment options will work.
Your bearded dragon may need a tail amputation (at least partial tail removal) if other treatment options do not work or are not an option for your pet.
Preventing Bearded Dragon Tail Rot:
Being a proactive bearded dragon owner is one of the best ways that you can help prevent this progressive disease from occuring in your pet.
Make sure that you supply your pet with adequate space (remember that bearded dragons can grow to be quite big. Make sure that you have an appropriate tank size for your bearded dragon.
Check the enclosure on a regular basis for loose objects that could come falling down.
Make sure rounded edges stay rounded, as sharp edges and pieces can scratch your dragon and cause infection.
Clean the enclosure very regularly.
Provide ample light and high-quality food so that your lizard is as healthy as they possibly can be, right from the start!
Nutrition For The Win
Make sure that your safe enclosure provides plenty of fresh drinking water and high-quality nutritional food choices.
Make sure that you offer your pet a calcium supplement, offer foods with high-quality vitamins, minerals, and protein sources, and enrich their lives with the exhilarating chase of hunting down live food sources too.
UVB lighting is essential for the absorption of nutrients like calcium in your pet bearded dragon.
In the wild, the sun provides enough of this light to the bearded dragon. In captivity, you as the pet owner, must supply it for them.
Failure to provide this may lead to many health issues, some of which were discussed above.