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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11544
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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I think my bearded dragon has an eye infection. What can I

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I think my bearded dragon has an eye infection. What can I use? His eyes are bulging, swollen and he won't open them. He's really lethargic and his eyes were just peeling before this happened.

Some additional information will help me to answer your question.

What substrate do you use on the floor?

What temperatures do you have on the warm and cool sides of the cage?

Do you have a UVB light? If so, what brand, and how old is the bulb?

Has your beardie been eating recently? Passing normal droppings?

Thank you.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I use crushed walnut substrate- the warm side is between 85-110 and the cool side 60-70
He is a horribly picky eater and will only eat live worms and crickets- his stools are normal for him one every 2-3 days
I have a heat emitter light, a red night light, a zoo med 150 watt repti hallogen light and a reptisun uva-b bulb.
Thank you for getting back to me. The first thing I recommend is that you get rid of your present substrate. One of the most common causes of eye irritations that lead to infection is a loose substrate. Bits of it get in the eyes, causing problems. I realize that pet stores recommend these substrates, but they really are bad. They also cause respiratory problems and impactions. The best substrates are solid ones, such as reptile carpet, ceramic tiles, or shelf paper. You can temporarily use paper towels until you can find another substrate.

You can put into each eye a few drops of preservative-free saline solution (the kind made for contacts) twice a day. That will soothe the eyes and help flush out any irritants. If you get rid of the loose substrate and use the saline solution for several days with no improvement, it would be best to see a reptile vet. Infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics may have already set into the eyes. There may also be a vitamin A deficiency since your beardie won't eat greens. It's best to treat that under a vet's guidance because both too little and too much vitamin leads to problems. If you don’t already have a vet, give me your city (nearest larger town if yours is a small one) and state, and I’ll help locate one.

I also recommend that you give your beardie a special soak. Prepare a warm shallow bath of 1/2 Pedialyte (made for human infants and available in discount stores and pharmacies) and 1/2 water. Soak him in the bath for 20 to 30 minutes. This can be repeated once or twice a day. It will help with any dehydration that is occurring.

Don't give up on trying to get your beardie to eat greens. An adult beardie’s diet should be about 80% greens and 20% prey. Variety is very important. Keep trying different ones, and don’t quit offering it if he’s picky. Sooner or later, he may decide to eat some greens. This site has great information on what vegetables to feed, and how often:

It would also be a good idea to increase your temperatures a bit. The warm side should be 110 to 115*F, and the cool side 80 to 85*F. the warmer temperatures will give the immune system a boost, and may improve your beardie's appetite. I'm sending along a care sheet, courtesy of Joan, another of our experts. You can use it as a checklist to see if there's anything else you want to change.

Also, here are some reliable sites for you:

If you have more questions, or need help finding a vet, just let me know by clicking on REPLY. I hope your beardie's eyes will clear up quickly.


Bearded Dragon Care Sheet

    * Bearded dragons should be housed alone.

    * Ages of bearded dragons follow these guidelines:

1. 0-3 months- baby
2. 3-12 months-juvenile
3. 12-18 months- sub adult
4. 18 months + -adult

    * Bearded dragons live as much as 10-12 years if well cared for properly.
    * Bearded dragons have a very good temperament as long as they are cared for and handled.
    * When you bring your baby home, it may be quite stressful to him/her to get use to new home. May not eat well the first 2-3 days. They may not need to be handled the first 2-3 days if skittish and nervous.
    * Never use sand or any other type of loose substrate: Loose substrates can cause impaction (not being able to go Poop) in all ages of bearded dragons- they lick their environment to explore .It is difficult to keep germ free and clean. Ceramic tile, newspaper, non adhesive shelf liner and reptile carpet is what is most recommended. Use paper towels for the little one and as they get bigger you can change to something else.
    * Be sure you keep your beardies home as clean as you can. Clean up by spot cleaning when needed. Clean & sanitize entire tank every 10-14 days. A good cleaning solution is a 20% bleach solution. If you choose to use wood climbing branches etc, these should be soaked in the bleach solution and rinsed well. Then bake in 250 degree oven for 30 minutes.
    * Need a climbing accessory: to bask and to warm up under basking heat light and lower branches or platforms to come down and cool off.
    * A hide of some sort like a cave.
    * A food dish and water dish.
    * Plastic spray bottle
    * Can use artificial plants when they get older- 3 months or so.
    * Digital thermostat and/or temp gun
    * Tank size: Minimal size tank for this age is 20 gallon long
    * Minimal size for older beardie: 4 months of age: 40 gallon breeder is the minimal tank size for older dragon. Can divide a 40 gallon breeder for a smaller dragon. Must have two lights for your beardie.

1. A UVB light source-best is 10.0 Reptisun that runs the length of your tank. Your dragon must have this light to metabolize calcium. If not he will get metabolic bone disease, a serious condition. You can also take your beardie outside to bask in the sun for 15 minutes each day if your temps are 80 degrees or above outside. You can purchase cages or reptariums from your pet store. Never leave a beardie outside unattended.
2. A basking type light that puts out heat and warmth above basking spot. Your beardie must have warmth to digest food & thrive.

    * Lights should be on for 12-14 hours each day. Follow the seasons and light timers are a great luxury if you can get them. 6 dollars at Lowe's. No lights or warmth needed at night unless your temperatures get below 62 degrees. If they do, there are ceramic heat emitters that put out no light, only heat. Use these at night if temperatures fall below 62 degrees.

    * Temperatures have to be kept at the following ranges during the day:

Babies: Warm basking log: 105-125 degrees F
Cool side: 85-90
Adults: Warm basking spot: 110-115
Cool side: 80-85
Measure temperatures with a digital probe type thermometer or a temp gun-these are most accurate. Stick on thermometers unreliable.

    * Feeding a Beardie: Beardies eat live prey consisting of crickets, roaches and/or silkworms. Never feed any size of mice to your beardie. Never feed mealworms. They also must be given greens/veggies everyday. The younger they are the more live prey they should have. As they grow older the live prey decreases and the veggies/greens should be the major part of diet. Never feed anything bigger, than the space between your beardie's eyes. This includes both live prey and pieces of veggies/greens,
    * A chopper or food processor is a huge help when your beardie is small. Always offer greens and veggies: collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, cabbage, red cabbage, fresh green beans, yellow summer squash, butternut squash, sweet potato, cactus pad. Apricots, strawberries, apples, blueberries, raspberries, cantaloupe- fruits are treats only.
    * What is live prey? The easiest and less expensive live prey is crickets when you have a young or first beardie. The other live preys you can feed are silkworms, and special types of roaches. You can learn to raise your own live prey. Treats can be waxworms, super worms, and tomato/goliath worms. You may find that ordering live prey from the internet is the way to go..... Never leave live prey or greens/veggies in tank overnight. . Crickets can bite your beardie when sleeping.
    * Babies should get 80% live prey, and 20 % greens/veggies. But since the greens/veggies are a must when they are older, get them eating their greens/veggies very early. Give greens/veggies in small pieces everyday. You should eventually start decreasing your older dragon's protein intake when they are about a year to 15 months old. Their protein intake decreases to 20 % live prey and 80% veggies/greens.
    * A baby the size of yours can eat 50-75 crix a day. Never feed crix or veggies bigger than the space between your beardie's eyes. Use this guide when buying crix or chopping your greens/veggies.
    * You must provide calcium dust without D3 and multivitamin dust for your beardie. You should dust the live prey with calcium one time a day, and vitamins 3 times a week. Just collect your live prey into baggie and add enough calcium and vitamin to dust them. Then pour a few at a time into your tank. Some people feed their beardie in a separate tank so that no crickets can hide. Or some take out "furniture" from tank and feed this way. As they get older, 4-5 months or so dust live prey with calcium 3 times a week.
    * Feed the veggies/ greens 1st thing in morning after lights on for one hour at least. Then after 2-3 hours offer crix. Then freshen green/veggies. Then give more crix. Make sure after last crix feeding there is at least 1-2 hours of lights so that they can digest their food before night time.

*Beardies over the age of one year old during the winter months will go into a Brumation like most Reptiles and Herps. It is a form of Hibermnation that is governed by the weather and time of year. The lights should be on a shorter period at this time. Fresh greens should be available during this period. Do not feed live pery during Brumation.

Water: Mist your little one with the spray bottle 3-4 times a day. You can also offer a small dish of water in your enclosure but be sure your dragon is not too small to drown in it. It is recommended that when your beardie is 2 months old you can bathe your baby in a small plastic container with warm water- not hot. It will help them to stay hydrated. As they get older you can move up to the bathroom sink and then to the bathtub. Very important for bath enclosure to be thoroughly cleaned and rinsed prior to bath time. Clean between dragons too if bathing more than one.

If you have more questions, or need help finding a vet, just let me know by clicking on REPLY. There's no additional fee for such follow up questions. I hope your gecko's eyes will quickly return to normal.

Anna and other Reptile Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.
ok thanks for your help
I don't like the carpets they seem so unnatural and artificial.
I live in mason city iowa 50401 and the only "reptile vet" told me that he "didn't know a lot about bearded dragons" and went into the back office to search the internet for advice! I've tried everything I can and unless its moving he won't eat it. There is a vibrating bowl for reptiles maybe I should try that. My tank is 125gallons and I have a ton of lights that cost a ton of money not sure how I can increase the temp any more.
Customer: replied 8 years ago.
ok thanks for your help I don't like the carpets they seem so unnatural and artificial. I live in mason city iowa 50401 and the only "reptile vet" told me that he "didn't know a lot about bearded dragons" and went into the back office to search the internet for advice! I've tried everything I can and unless its moving he won't eat it. There is a vibrating bowl for reptiles maybe I should try that. My tank is 125gallons and I have a ton of lights that cost a ton of money not sure how I can increase the temp any more.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of reptile vets in Iowa. The closest one to you is in Ames, at the veterinary teaching hospital. He is

Michael Doolen
Small Animal Teaching Hospital
Iowa State University
Ames 50010 (NNN) NNN-NNNN

However, you wouldn't necessarily have to drive there. The vet you already saw could phone him for a consultation. Dr. Doolen could guide your vet in choosing the best treatment. I happen to live in Iowa, too, and my own vet has worked in consultation with vets in Ames. The process worked very well. The antibiotics you'll need are available by prescription.

The easiest way to warm your tank would be to lower the basking light. just be sure it's not so low that your beardie can touch it and be burned.

The vibrating bowl might be worth a try. I know the reptile carpet looks very artificial. Maybe you'd like ceramic tile in a sand or clay color. The loose substrates truly are dangerous. The safest of them is clean play sand (the kind you can buy for kids' sandboxes. It's still not as good as a solid substrate, but is safer than walnut or calcium sand.

Please don't click on accept again. Thank you for accepting above.
If you need anything else, don't hesitate to ask. I hope the vet situation will work out for you.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
So a quick recap: I should change the basking light w/ the UV one that's lower to increase the temp, bathe him in pedialyte and water solution, buy some preservative free saline (can't find any)and call vet in ames for script for antibiotic eye drops. I'll try the substrate change even tho Merl loves to dig in the walnuts. I've been syringe feeding him squash and carrot baby food mixed with calcium powder and bathing him in a warm bath in the sink almost daily.
Yes, that sounds good. Your vet will have to talkt o the one in ames, though, and then give you the prescription. The vet in Ames won't give you one directly. If you can't fine the saline solution, it's not a big deal if you can contact your vet soon. The saline is only a first aid measure. I hope Merl will be fine. I can tell you care a great deal for him.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I've done everything you suggested except change the substrate. I was looking at the ceramic tile at menards and I am nervous that it will get too hot and burn Merl like the hot rocks (which every site warns against using any warmers because beardies get burned) and thought he would slip and slide all over the place like he does on my kitchen floor. Are you sure the ceramic tiles are safe??
Many ceramic tiles have a slightly rough surface, so they're not slippery like vinyl tiles. As for the temperatures, the tiles won't get as warm as a hot rock. Light colors don't absorb as much heat. You'd want to monitor the temperature to make sure it isn't getting too warm. However, I don't feel that a pet owner should ever do anything that makes them uncomfortable. You're clearly not comfortable with this. You may want to consider using the washed play sand.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I've been looking through some forums and it seems that tile is actually a very common substrate and it may even help me get my temps up in my cage that I'm struggling with. Some sources say that bacteria gets trapped in the ceramic tiles and recommend slate or porcelain. I like the look of grouting it together but it seems like it'd make more sense to be able to take them in and out. Thankfully Merl is doing great with the saline drops and I added a waterfall by zoo med to increase the moisture a bit. His right eye is back to normal and the left one still seems a little sensitive. I think he'll be fine he's due for a substrate change anyway! Thanks!
Yes, tile is pretty commonly used. I just didn't want you to try it if you weren't comfortable with using it. I'm so glad to hear that Merl is improving. I hope he continues to do so.