2 yo bearded dragon labored breathing and bloated. Started today… no cough. Mushu 2 years old

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Customer: 2 yo bearded dragon labored breathing and bloated
JA: I'll do all I can to help. Does this strange breathing happen all the time or only sometimes? Does the Bearded Dragon have a cough as well?
Customer: started today… no cough
JA: And what's the Bearded Dragon's name and age?
Customer: Mushu 2 years old
JA: Is there anything else the Vet should know before I connect you? Rest assured that they'll be able to help you.
Customer: No
Answered by Dr. Caryn – Vet in 12 hours 10 months ago
Dr. Caryn – Vet
Pet Specialist

2,216 satisfied customers

Specialities include: Reptile Veterinary, Herp Veterinary, Exotic Animal Medicine, Amphibian Veterinary

I am sincerely ***** ***** there was a delay in someone responding to your question. (Experts are independent contractors and as such are online based on their own schedules.) However, I am available now and can assist you if you still need veterinary advice.

Hello and thanks for posting your question on JustAnswer.com. My name is***** and I have been a veterinarian in the US for over 21 years, specializing in aquatics, reptiles, amphibians, avian and other exotic species. You may already be aware, but on this platform veterinarians can provide insight and advice, but as this is not considered a legal client-patient relationship, we are unable to prescribe medications, provide medical records or sign documents for your specific pet. For that you would need to make an in person visit with a local veterinarian. I am happy to chat with you via the JustAnswer app via text but if you are interested in a phone call instead that is an option you can choose for an additional charge. In the meantime, I am putting together some questions and/or suggestions to help with your pet’s concern.

I am sorry to hear that your bearded dragon Mushu is under the weather.

Bloating and labored breathing are both concerning signs. I have some questions that may help me try to figure out what may be going on with Mushu:

When was the last time he defecated? Did it appear normal?

Are you hearing any wheezing or other noises when he breathes?

Any discharge from the nose or mouth?

What does he normally eat and does he receive any UVB light and calcium/vitamin supplements?

What is the current tank temperature gradient (cool, warm and basking) and humidity?

Thanks very much for providing additional information, it is very helpful for me to try and figure out what is going on with your bearded dragon and the history information will help me to do that.

I've asked these questions to try and determine if the bloating or the labored breathing are the primary concern. Labored breathing can be caused by a respiratory infection but it can also be caused by discomfort if your bearded dragon is constipated or has a GI impaction, which can cause bloating. Bloating is typically caused by a GI problem such as maldigestion, constipation or impaction or severe parasite infection but if your dragon is having difficulty breathing he may be inadvertently swallowing air causing bloating. Hence my questions.

So from your initial history I cannot tell if this is a likely a primary GI or respiratory problem.

I will provide information on what might be going on with Mushu, provide a guide for proper care of bearded dragons (since many medical conditions are unintentionally caused by improper husbandry) as well as advice on home care. However if the labored breathing and bloating continue, I do recommend a hands on evaluation by a local, reptile experienced veterinarian.

To find a local veterinarian with reptile experience, here is a useful website you can use to search for a local reptile veterinarian:


(please note this site may not work on older browsers like Safari)

These veterinarians are active members of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, which means they have interest and experience in treating reptile patients.

With any sick bearded dragon, it is always a good idea to start by checking that their environment and husbandry are proper for their species. Taking a physical measurement of the temperature gradient within the enclosure and measuring humidity with a hygrometer are a good idea. Making sure the UVB bulb is appropriate for the size of the space and has been changed regularly. Even if they are still producing visible light, UVB bulbs have a limited lifespan and need to be changed every 6-12 months, depending upon bulb type. Making sure diet is varied and the insects have been gut loaded with a nutritious gut-loading diet as well as dusted regularly with calcium and multivitamin powder. Therefore, I am attaching a bearded dragon care (husbandry) reference sheet that I put together. Please review it at your convenience and let me know if you have any questions.

For example, if the environmental temperatures are too low, since bearded dragons are cold-blooded, this will negatively affect their metabolism, appetite, digestion and immune function. So start by checking the temperature gradient in the enclosure and, if it's too low, adjust your basking light or get a stronger watt bulb so you are achieving the proper environmental temperatures.

Respiratory infections or pneumonia in bearded dragons are usually secondary to environmental conditions such as sub-optimal humidity, temperature or environmental irritants. They can be caused by infectious agents such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses. Clinical signs might include oral or nasal discharge, bubble blowing, sneezing, open mouthed breathing, abnormal body posture, increased respiratory sounds like gurgling or wheezing, or crusted nares (nostrils).

Bearded dragons with a respiratory infection may also show systemic signs of illness such as lethargy (depressed activity or energy level), inappetence (depressed appetite), shallow or open-mouthed breathing. Difficulty breathing or abnormal respiratory sounds could be caused by other conditions such as mechanical obstruction of the airways, nares or choanae with material, like pus, mucous or cage substrate or by abscesses in the mouth or tongue, hyperthermia, or exposure to toxins.

So appropriate treatment depends a lot upon the examination by a trained veterinarian to find the cause of the problem. Because respiratory infections and other disorders that present with similar clinical signs in bearded dragons are potentially serious and life threatening, it is recommended that you make an appointment with a local reptile veterinarian. They will perform an examination, may recommend x-ray to evaluate the bearded dragon’s lungs to look for signs of pneumonia and may prescribe oral or injectable antibiotics.

Some underlying factors that may contribute to constipation are poor diet (poor quality or not enough leafy greens) or insufficient dietary calcium, inappropriate temperature (too cool), lack of access to or insufficient intake of water, trauma or stress from changes in the environment such a recent move, unusual activity in/near the cage, or the presence of new tank-mates. However, there are a number of conditions that may cause similar signs which include, but are not limited to, parasite infection (e.g., coccidia, protozoa or amoeba), dehydration, impaction or foreign material in the GI tract, metabolic bone disease, infection/abscess or cancer.

It's a good idea to start by looking at husbandry practices (e.g., temperature, diet, calcium supplementation, etc.) to make sure they are appropriate. Re-examine your tank to rule out our environmental causes, e.g., using a good quality thermometer and a hygrometer, or even better a data logger that records current, minimum and maximum temp and humidity over time, so tank conditions can be accurately measured and monitored.

At home, you can help with hydration by soaking them in shoulder depth, warm (85-90F) water for 15-30 minutes once or twice day. You can encourage defecation by gently massing the belly from front to back every 5 to 10 minutes during the bath.

If they are eating, top dressing their salad with 1/8 teaspoon of methylcellulose fiber (“Citrucel”) for a few days may help loosen stool so it will pass.

If your bearded dragon is showing any other clinical signs, such as decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, etc. or if they continue to be constipated, then scheduling a physical examination with a local, reptile experienced veterinarian to try and find the cause for the abnormal elimination is a good idea. They will likely do a physical examination and may also do a fecal analysis to look for parasites and might do some imaging (x-ray or ultrasound). They can also give your bearded dragon fluids and medications to help the underlying cause and to treat any secondary symptoms they may have.

It’s especially important with a sick bearded dragon to make sure that their tank is clean, food is fresh and prepared hygienically and that the temperature is appropriate and that your UV-B bulb is in proper working condition. Here are some additional recommendations of how you can support your bearded dragon while they are under the weather or awaiting veterinary care:

-Healing and normal metabolism are linked to proper environmental temperature. Provide a daytime temperature range with a cool side at 77-80F (25-27C), a warm side at 85-90F (30-32C) and a very warm, focal basking area of 95-105F (35-41C) for adults and juveniles and a slightly warmer basking spot 95-110F (35-44C) for babies. A nighttime temperature range of 70-75F (21.5-24C) should be provided. 30-40% humidity is recommended.

-Keep them warm. If your bearded dragon is not moving around much on their own, or are unable to move around at all, place them in a location in their enclosure where the temperature is warm but not super hot: 85-90F (30-32C). This will ensure proper metabolism but they won't overheat or chill at this temperature range. Do not put them on a hot rock or under the basking light hot spot if they cannot move off by themself, as they might get overheated or burned.

-To prevent or treat dehydration, especially when/if they are not eating, you can give your bearded dragon a soak in a shallow dish of warm water (85-90F or 30-32C) for 15-30 minutes once or twice a day. The water should only be shoulder depth and please monitor them while in the bath so their head doesn't submerge. Dry them off after the bath so they don't cool off too much from evaporation.

If they may be having some GI issues, you can help promote GI motility and defecation with gentle tummy massage during the warm water soak. Be gentle and stroke the tummy from front to back a few times every 5-10 minutes during the warm water soak.

-Limit handling. If they have an injury, infection or metabolic bone disease (which puts them at increased risk of injury due to weakened bones), limit handling and limit time out of her enclosure to avoid injury. If you must lift or remove them from their tank, go slowly and support their weight from underneath with your palm.

-Make sure you always wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling your bearded dragon.

-Offer food, even if not eating. If your bearded dragon is having difficulty reaching or getting to their food, put the food dish next to them or you can also hand or tong feed them. Place an insect gently against their lips and if they are hungry, they will bite at it. If not, don’t force it.

If needed for prolonged appetite loss, you can assist feed them an insect (I recommend removing the head first to prevent injury to the bearded dragon) or syringe feed them a replacement formula like Fluker’s ReptaBoost, EmerAid Intensive Care Omnivore, Oxbow Animal Health Critical Care Omnivore. Outside the US if these options are not available you can try Vetark Critical Care Formula (not ideal as a long term replacer as it is grain based) or you can make a slurry out of Repashy Superfoods Beardie Buffet Omnivore Gel Premix but go slowly and don't feed too quickly to prevent choking. If you’ve never done this before there are some good online videos that you can watch first such as these ones:

How to assist feed an insect by hobbyist Curtis Lasane (2:50 to 3:50 in the video). Note, I recommend if assist feeding insects to a lethargic bearded dragon, that you dispatch the insect first by pinching off it's head.


How to syringe feed (slurry, water or medicine) by exotic pet veterinarian Dr. Laurie Hess:


-Calcium supplementation. It is important to still offer calcium and vitamin supplements if they are eating. This is usually done by gut loading insects with a diet that provides a good source of calcium and vitamins as well as dusting insects with powdered calcium and multivitamins. There is more specific information about how to properly supplement your bearded dragon in the care sheet I have shared with you.

It is also a good idea to re-evaluate your current husbandry practices as some common disorders, such as metabolic bone disease, are unintentionally caused by deficiencies or imbalances in diet, UVB lighting and calcium/vitamin supplementation. Therefore, I have already attached a general bearded dragon care sheet that I put together as a reference for you to review. Thanks.

I should be notified if/when you respond with additional information so we can connect about your bearded dragon Mushu but, in the meantime, I hope this information is helpful and I wish you both the best. Thanks again for posting your question to JustAnswer.com. Sincerely, ***** *****

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Dr. Caryn – Vet
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Dr. Caryn – Vet
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