juvenile bearded dragon attacked

Behaviour, Health & Breeding

The number one cause of illness in captive reptiles, and their subsequent presentation to the reptile veterinarian, is improper husbandry.

Stacey Leonatti Wilkinson (DVM, DABVP)

75% of pet reptiles in the
UK die within their first year.[1]

Reptile breathing by Walter Jahn.

Do Bearded Dragons Bite?

Yes bearded dragons can bite. A bite can break the skin and cause bruising. But your bearded dragon will usually let you know it isn’t happy before it bites you by hissing, puffing, displaying its beard or even trying to run away before resorting to biting.

If you see signs that your beardie isn’t comfortable and is giving the impression it may bite, leave it to calm down first. Consider how to refocus its attention before touching it. There are some tips for helping your bearded dragon to become more friendly in the article on taming.

If you do ever get bitten by your Bearded Dragon, go to your doctor even if the wound is minor. Any broken skin no matter how small from an animal bite should receive medical attention immediately.

Body Condition Scoring

The same body condition scoring used for mammals, is also applied to reptiles. Scale ranges from 1 (emaciated) to 5 (obese) or 9 (grossly obese), depending on the scoring table used. Reptile considerations for body score include girth of the tail and palpability of the ribs.

Body scoring by scales is subjective but useful as a quick guide and for longer term monitoring of body condition.

  1. Emaciated
    Fat is not visible. Bones visible.
  2. Thin
    Limited fat. Ribs and pelvic bones visible.
  3. Optimal
    Bone outline may be slightly visible.
  4. Mildly overweight
    Bones may be slightly visible. Few millimeters of fat over ribs and tail.
  5. Obese
    No bones protrude, nor palpable. Base of tail very thick. Fat is interfering with normal movement including length of stride.

Territorial Behaviours

Wild male bearded dragons control territories, this does not change in captivity. The males will protect their territory from other males. Contact will result in fighting.

Females hold smaller territories within the males territory.

Fecal samples for parasite testing

As more and more online services become available, vets have competition for parasite testing. While this does appear to be quite attractive, it is not necessarily effective and could lead to incorrect results.

Tests are best performed on stools less than 24 hours old to minimize development or destruction of parasites which will inhibit testing. Samples kept between 4 to 8°c will reduce the development or destruction of some parasites, however others, i.e., flagellates are best kept alive at room temperature.

A teaspoon sized sample is sufficient from two or more stools as evidence of parasites can be intermittently shed and may not be apparent in a single stool. Seal the sample in a zip lock bag or sample. If obtaining a sample is not possible prior to visiting the vets, the vets will be able to extract a sample.

References and Further Reading

  1. Diagnosis of gastrointestinal parasites in reptiles: comparison of two coprological methods Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2014, 56:44. Denis Wolf, Majda Globokar Vrhovec, Klaus Failing, Christophe Rossier, Carlos Hermosilla and Nikola Pantchev
  2. Benn AL, McLelland DJ, Whittaker AL. A Review of Welfare Assessment Methods in Reptiles, and Preliminary Application of the Welfare Quality® Protocol to the Pygmy Blue-Tongue Skink, Tiliqua adelaidensis, Using Animal-Based Measures. Animals (Basel). 2019;9(1):27. Published 2019 Jan 17. doi:10.3390/ani9010027
  3. Fry, Bryan. (2105) Venomous Reptiles and Their Toxins: Evolution, Pathophysiology, and Biodiscovery.
    Oxford University Press
  4. Laboratory Diagnosis Of Protozoal Infections In Reptile Feces: Status Quo And Visions Conference: 2012 International Conference On Reptile And Amphibian Medicine, At Cremona, Italy (reviewed by Hnizdo and Pantchev 2010)
  5. Wilkinson, S. L. 2015. Reptile Wellness Management. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice Vol 18 (2) May 2015 pp 281-304. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvex.2015.01.001