Egg Bound Bearded Dragons
Egg binding is a very common disorder in female bearded dragons and is another disorder seen in captivity, that is not seen in wild bearded dragons (Melidone, et al., 2008). When a bearded dragon cannot pass its eggs, it is egg bound, also known as dystocia (postovulatory stasis).
Egg binding occurs where the eggs formed from the follicles on the ovary cannot be passed and are retained in the oviduct (reptiles version of the uterus). The retained eggs are easily broken which will cause infection or worse.
Dystocia can happen to any females as bearded dragons do not need a male to produce eggs, only to fertilise them.
Dystocia may go over a period of weeks or more before illness becomes obvious. However, it can very quickly become life threatening.
Around 9% of reptiles are believed to be afflicted by dystocia (Raiti, 1995).
Dystocia can occur to females even under one year of age (Campbell as cited in Melidone, et al., 2008), where they have become sexually mature early. Early maturity is common with bearded dragons in captivity as the care and diets tend to promote unusually rapid growth. Size is the determining factor for maturity rather than calendar age. Rich diets can be causing unusual growth and hence early sexual maturity.
When bearded dragons are egg bound the follicles die off and form a necrotic mass within the coelomic cavity. The combination of pressure placed on the internal organs, combined with the inflammation caused by the decaying mass make the animals feel very sick. This condition requires surgical intervention; no medical treatment alone will cure these individuals.
Causes of egg binding will vary. Some cases are simple, but many involve several inciting factors as well as serious secondary conditions. Dystocia (egg bound) can be obstructive or non-obstructive.
Obstructive Dystocia (egg binding)
Obstructive dystocia is where something is ‘obstructing’ the passing of the eggs. These are often out of our control although husbandry could be a leading factor and include:
- Eggs are too big.
- Restriction or obstruction due to body conformation (pelvic canal size, prior scarring of oviducts, etc).
- Genetic factors, and
- Individual behaviour.
Non Obstructive Dystocia (egg binding)
Non obstructive egg binding is where there is nothing that is obstructing the passing of the eggs. Here are 9 causes of non obstructive dystocia in bearded dragons that you can remedy:
- Lack of a suitable place to lay eggs.
- Unsuitable housing. Provide large housing that is stress free.
- Poor nutrition. Diet is important, not just for adequate nutrition but also not overdoing nutrition, allowing for natural growth.
- Inadequate hydration. Bearded dragons are kept in hot and confined environments often without a means to drink that they can relate to. Some fluids are needed.
- Inadequate UV.
- Low temperatures.
- Poor condition.
Causes of Egg Binding
Here are 7 conditions suspected of causing egg binding:
- Not providing an appropriate nesting site including substrate for laying eggs.
- Inappropriate environment including temperature gradient and humidity.
- Poor condition, weak muscles.
- Fat condition.
- Nutrition including malnutrition, excessive nutrition and lack of calcium.
- Eggs unable to pass through the passageway due to injuries or eggs are too large.
Symptoms of an Egg Bound Bearded Dragon
The symptoms of being egg bound in bearded dragons can be vague, and there is not one pattern that every female follows.
A bearded dragon will be diagnosed as being egg bound when the behaviours of the condition are shown, not by how long the female has been gravid. One, or several of the following signs may be observed:
- Eggs laid over multiple attempts. Some of these attempts may have resulted in some eggs passing.
- A history of a low number of eggs being passed may be an early sign that there is a problem.
- A excessively swollen abdomen. In extremes this can get so bad that it can become difficult to breath.
- Initially be quite unsettled.
- Nonresponsive and/or lethargic.
- Straining. She may dig a hole and back up to it, strains as if to pass eggs but does not.
- Prolapse of the cloaca or oviduct as the condition progresses.
Treating an Egg Bound Bearded Dragon
There is very little you can do for an egg bound bearded dragon, it will likely require your vet. If she is not showing great discomfort or prolapse then here are 3 things you can do before you call your vet:
- Your bearded dragon needs an environment that she sees as suitable for laying. Provide a large egg laying box.
- If the environment is cold, then get the area warmed up.
- Provide her a warm bath. This will also help with dehydration if that is an issue. If the bath does not help her lay eggs within hours, speak with your vet.
Just in case someone told you to give your bearded dragon olive oil to help an egg bound bearded dragon, it won’t help. Providing oil does not lubricate any passage as if it were a machine that oil can be poured on to make things move. It may cause further discomfort though and could wind up as diarrhea.
Do not try to massage or manipulate the eggs. This could result in an egg rupturing and subsequently death of the animal.
Your vet will examine your bearded dragon and likely take x-rays, ultrasounds and / or perform some blood work. The action from there will be dependent on the situation. Your vet may try to encourage laying (may use hormones), manipulate the eggs or perhaps surgery.
Preovulatory follicular stasis
Another reproductive condition female bearded dragons are vulnerable to is preovulatory follicular stasis.
As a normal part of vitellogenesis the females follicles grow and the yolk forms. The follicles may be reabsorbed if the conditions for the female are not favourable.
Preovulatory follicular stasis is where the ovarian follicles do not cycle as they should. In this condition, the follicles developing on the ovary fail to mature into eggs. In some cases when this happens, the tissue is resorbed, but problems arise when the follicles fail to resorb. Sometimes the mass becomes too large for the body to resorb. This is essentially just fragile egg yolks (haven’t developed enough to be eggs) in the abdomen.
These delicate masses may rupture and can results in serious infection, inflammation, illness and even death. The cause of preovulatory follicular stasis is not fully understood.
Here are 5 causes believed to trigger preovulatory follicular stasis:
- Absence of males. Lack of stimulation to develop ova and ovulate are a potential cause of preovulatory follicular stasis in reptiles. Being able to see, touch or smell a male may prevent preovulatory stasis (Knotek et al, 2017; Jekl, 2017).
- Inadequate UVB.
- Diet. Inadequate diets are not the only problem. Diets which result in early maturity including too rich Insufficient calcium which lead to the inability to develop ova and ovulate.
Egg binding (dystocia) and preovulatory stasis are conditions not found in wild reptiles but are common in captivity.
By the time you see the symptoms your bearded dragon has probably been unwell for some days. Excess handling should be avoided as these conditions are incredibly painful.
The signs shown by an egg bound bearded dragon can be very similar to those with preovulatory follicular stasis. The treatments for these conditions are potentially very different, so it is best to seek professional veterinary advice.
Providing the right conditions is important to prevent these reproductive disorders. Here are 5 things you can do, or check right now, to help prevent your bearded dragon becoming egg bound or vulnerable to preovulatory stasis:
- Provide suitable housing that is stress free. (Enrichment article.)
- Provide adequate nutrition but don’t overdo it. Poor growth and accelerated growth are both potentially culprits of bearded dragons becoming egg bound. (More on diet here.)
- Provide calcium supplementation where needed. More on that in the article on simplifying calcium.
- Keep your bearded dragon adequately hydrated. They don’t require a lot of fluid, but they do need some. Bearded dragons are kept in hot and confined environments often without a means to drink that they can relate to. More on identifying dehydration in the article and getting your bearded dragon to drink here.
- Get the lighting and heating setup right.
- Aspley Pet Centre. Reptiles – Egg Binding (Dystocia). Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. http://www.aspleypets.com.au/index.php?id=reptiles-egg-binding-dystocia
- Avian, Reptile and Exotic Pet Hospital. Sydney, New South Wales. Australia http://www.avianreptileandexoticpethospital.com.au/blog/egg-retention/%20/
- Reptile Prophylactic Desexing. Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Service, Brisbane Queensland https://bbevs.com.au/reptile-prophylactic-desexing/
- Knotek, Z. (DVM, PhD, DECZM (Herpetology)), Cermakova, E. (DVM), and Oliveri, M. (DVM). 2017. Reproductive Medicine in Lizards. Veterinary Clinic Exotic Animals 20. 2017. Pages 411-438. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvex.2016.11.006
- Lewis. W. Approaching lizard coeliotomy. Veterinary Times: 10, 18-22, 2010
- Melidone, R. (Dr. med. Vet.); Knoll, J. S. (VMD, PhD, DACVP); and Parry, N. (BSc, MSc, BVSc, DACVP). (Nov, 2008) Preovulatory stasis and dystocia in oviparous lizards. Clinical Exposures. Veterinary Medicine. Pages 595-598
- Rivera, S. DVM, MS, DABVP, and Flemming, G. To Breed or Not to Breed; Reproductive Tract Disease Of Reptiles. 2019.
- Raiti, P. (DVM) (1995) Reproductive Problems of Reptiles. Proceedings Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians. p101-105
- Induction of the oviposition in bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) with postovulatory egg retention (dystocia) – a case report 2019 https://doi.org/10.24099/vet.arhiv.0300
Dr. Donald Buchanan (DVM), companion animal veterinarian practicing in Nova Scotia, Canada.