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 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 licensed and accredited veterinarian in the US for over 22 years, specializing in aquatics, reptiles, amphibians, avian and other exotic species. JustAnswer is a question-and-answer service, not a veterinary telemedicine or emergency service. On this platform veterinarians can provide insight and advice based on the information you provide, but as this is not considered a legal client-patient relationship and we cannot examine your pet, we are unable to provide definitive diagnoses, prescribe medications, provide medical records or sign documents for your specific pet. For any of those you would need to make an in person visit with a local veterinarian. If your pet has a serious illness or life-threatening emergency, I strongly recommend you obtain hands-on veterinary care with a local veterinarian or veterinary emergency service as soon as possible. I am happy to chat with you via the JustAnswer app via text. For US based clients, 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.
Thanks again for posting your question, I’m sorry that your bearded dragon Tode is under the weather, spitting up saliva and coughing. The most likely causes are choking on something or a respiratory infection, though only a hands on evaluation would be able to determine the exact cause.
Choking is a medical emergency: the animal cannot get appropriate amounts of air due to a blockage of their airway. If the animal is able to breathe on its own, do not attempt to intervene as you may accidentally make a partial blockage into a complete blockage. However, if they appear to be struggling and unable to breathe, you can try to gently to open their mouth to see if they have any food items stuck in the glottis (the opening to his airway at the base of the tongue) or the choanae (the slit like opening to the nasal cavity on the roof of the mouth)? Please be gentle so you don’t hurt or get hurt yourself. If you can see objects blocking the airway in the mouth and are safely able to remove any items blocking the airway (you can use a tweezer) then please do so. You should seek emergency veterinary care for your bearded dragon. Please remember that it is very important to remember to wash your hands after handling any reptile.
If they are still able to breathe, that is very good so at least it is not a life threatening emergency at this point.
You can try to open their mouth and see if you can extract the piece.
You will likely need a second person to help you and you will need a rubber spatula or a credit card (to open the mouth), a pair of tweezers and a bright small flashlight or pen light.
Hold them in one hand and place your thumb and forefinger on either side of the head to prevent them from shaking their head. With the other hand gently introduce the credit card or small rubber spatula between the lips on one side of the mouth and work it back and forth until it causes the mouth to open. Then twist the credit card or spatula 30-45 degrees so it forces the mouth to stay open slightly. The other person can then shine the flashlight in the mouth to see if they can see the foreign object. The entrance to the airway, the glottis, is at the base of the tongue, you should see this open and close with breathing.
If you see a something obstructing the glottis and you can safely grab it without forcing the object farther into the airway, then do so. If it's deep in the airway or you can't see well or are not comfortable doing this, do not proceed as you don't want to inadvertently force the object farther in causing a full obstruction of the airway.
If they are still having breathing difficulty and you cannot remove the object then you will need to get them to a veterinarian for treatment.
If the coughing and spitting up saliva has abated or at least lessened but is still continuing or you are seeing any other signs of disease then I do recommend getting Tode a hands on assessment by a local reptile experienced veterinarian.
To help 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.
In the meantime, I have some questions that will help me get a better idea of your pet’s environment and what may be going on with them:
-When did you first notice this current problem?
-What is the current tank temperature gradient (cool side, warm, and hottest basking temp) and humidity?
-Do they receive any access to UV light? When was the UVB bulb last changed out?
-Have they been eating normally?
-What do you normally feed them? Do they receive any calcium or vitamin supplements?
-Any other signs such as weight loss, lethargy, loss of appetite, straining to defecate, open mouthed breathing, discharge from eyes/mouth/nose, sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, lumps/bumps, etc.?
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.
With any bearded dragon that might be sick, 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.
In the meantime, I will give you some information about what may be causing these signs, a care sheet with recommendations about environment and diet as some common medical conditions are unintentionally caused by improper husbandry (such as too low temperatures, humidity, UVB lighting or calcium and vitamin supplementation) and some suggestions for home care and support of your ill bearded dragon or while you are awaiting a visit to the veterinarian.
Coughing can be in response to choking, airway irritation (dust, toxin, etc.), respiratory infection or GI upset (vomiting or heaving).
So it's a good idea to make sure the environment is clean with good airflow and low amounts of dust and that waste is cleaned regularly from the enclosure.
Respiratory infections are not uncommon in bearded dragons. 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, coughing 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 if a respiratory infection is diagnosed, they will likely prescribe oral or injectable antibiotics.
I have provided a useful link to search for local reptile veterinarians but if you need asssistance, I am happy to help. If so, please provide your zip code so I can search for options in your area.
It’s especially important with a bearded dragon that might be sick 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 105-110F (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.
Warm bathes can also be helpful for beardies with a respiratory infection or inflammation as it moisturizes airways and can loosen respiratory secretions and discharge.
-Limit handling. If they are ill or injured limit handling and limit time out of the enclosure. 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 or any cage furniture.
-Make sure the enclosure is clean as built up waste, dust and other irritants can predispose your animal to infection. Cleaning the enclosure more thoroughly at least once monthly with a reptile safe disinfectant is recommended. F10 Veterinary Disinfectant is a good option, safe with reptiles and comes pre-diluted and ready for use in a spray bottle. You can also consider lining the tank with disposable unbleached paper towels or newspaper while they are ill to make cleaning easier. The papers should be changed out daily or more frequently if they become soiled. Also, since they defecate into their water bowls often, cleaning the water bowl daily with soap and warm water before refilling it and weekly disinfection of the bowl is a good idea while they are ill (normally, it's okay just to do a daily rinse and refill of the water dish with 1-2x per week washing/disinfection).
-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.
Another option is to assist or syringe feed Repashy Superfoods Beardie Buffet Omnivore Gel Premix. It's a diet that is normally mixed with boiling water and then allowed to set up into a solid to make a gel food to feed to omnivorous lizards, like bearded dragons. But if you mix it with room temperature (not boiling) water and a bit more water than the package recommends, it makes a slurry that is thin enough to go through a syringe which can be used for syringe feeding. Or you can make it according to the package directions, using boiling water to make a gel that sets up, then cut the gel into pieces that you can then assist feed (like you would assist feed an insect). This formula is nice because it's based on insect and plant based protein and has a good variety of vitamins and minerals. Treat any gel you make like you would fresh fish, store leftovers in the refrigerator and discard after a day or two.
With any assist or syringe feeding, 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 video 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) video by exotic pet veterinarian Dr. Laurie Hess:
-Calcium and vitamin 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 are unintentionally caused by deficiencies or imbalances in diet, UVB lighting and calcium/vitamin supplementation. If you have any questions about the general bearded dragon care sheet that I shared with you please let me know. Thanks.
I should be notified if/when you respond with additional information so we can connect about your bearded dragon Tode 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, ***** *****
Hello and my apologies about the delayed response. Thanks so much for the additional information. So I agree that it sounds like he might have inhaled some water from the bath and that was the cause of the coughing and spitting up. Keeping water level only shoulder depth to avoid inhaling water or submerging their head is recommended since bearded dragons really aren't made for swimming. I am very glad that he seemed otherwise ok after he was able to catch his breathe!
Enclosure sounds good, though you might want to warm up the cool side just a tad, they are really warm desert lizards so 78-80F for the cool side is a good range. You can either warm up the basking spot slightly (it can go up to 105F) to increase the cool side temps or move your basking light a little more towards the tank's center. Either would help warm up the cool side a little.
Natural sunlight is good though if he spends most of his time inside, then getting your UVB set up so he gets 12 hours a day of fairly intense desert UVB (10% or 12%) is recommended since beardies are full sun basking lizards.
At four years old, he should be eating about 70-80% of his diet as vegetables, mostly dark green, leafy ones. I can provide some tips about feeding picky bearded dragons, if you would like them, to encourage eating his veggies. And although kale and collards are nutritious I like to limit the cruciferous vegetables in the diet as they have high amounts of goiterogens which can interfere with thyroid function. (I provide more specific diet recommendations in the care sheet I shared with you, but feel free to ask questions if you need any clarifications.).
I happen to prefer BSFL and Dubia roaches, but feeding a variety of insects is a good idea. I'm afraid I am not familiar with "Florida Key roaches"....is this a commercially available type or are you talking about wild caught? If wild caught, I don't recommend feeding those as they can carry diseases, parasites or even pesticides. Discoid roaches are another type you can purchase commercially and are legal to purchase in Florida (since I think Dubia roaches may not be allowed for sale in Florida).
This website has a nice review of the commercially available roach species used as reptile feeders:
So if you are no longer seeing any choking or spitting up signs this may have been a one-off event and you don't necessarily need to have him evaluated in person by a vet. But if you are seeing any persistent respiratory signs or other signs of illness then a trip to a local vet for a check up is always a good idea.
My best to you and Tode. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.
Sincerely, ***** *****
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