Bearded dragons, just like us, can sometimes have trouble with their bowel movements. But for them, impaction is a much more serious problem than just constipation or bloating, which usually goes away quickly. Unlike us, they can’t just take an antacid or eat a banana to fix the problem. So, if your bearded dragon is suffering from impaction, don’t worry, this guide will help you both prevent it and find a cure.
What is Bearded Dragon Impaction?
When a bearded dragon has impaction, it means there is a solid or semi-solid mass blocking its digestive tract. This is a very serious issue and can even be deadly for a bearded dragon.
The problem with impaction is that it can prevent your bearded dragon from being able to have a bowel movement. You need to take action right away to fix this problem.
What Causes Bearded Dragon Impaction?
There are several reasons why bearded dragons can get impacted, including using unsafe substrate, feeding them hard-to-digest food, having incorrect temperatures in their tank, and more.
Let’s discuss the most common reasons below.
1. Loose Substrates
It’s important to know that not all substrates are safe for your bearded dragon. Loose substrates like Calci-Sand, play sand, and pellets can lead to impaction. Over time, if your bearded dragon eats too much of this type of substrate, it can cause blockages in their digestive system. This can happen if they accidentally eat it while hunting their food or eating their greens if they’re not kept in a dish.
Also, be aware that some manufacturers may make false claims on their packages, saying their product is “digestible” or “safe.” Don’t be fooled by these false claims! Unfortunately, there is little regulation on reptile products, allowing manufacturers to make irresponsible claims.
Read More >> Best Bearded Dragon Substrates
2. Incorrect Habitat Temperature
If the temperature in your dragon’s tank is not right, they may have trouble digesting their food. That’s why it’s important to always keep the temperature under control.
Your adult bearded dragon’s basking spot should be between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
For a baby dragon, keep the basking spot between 105 and 110 degrees.
It’s also important to remember to let your bearded dragon bask in the light for at least an hour after they eat. So, it’s a good idea not to feed your dragon right before bedtime. Instead, feed them at least an hour or more before you turn off the lights for the night.
3. Difficult to Digest Feeders
There are two things to watch out for that can make it hard for your dragon to digest the feeders and cause impaction.
The first thing is the size of the feeder. A good rule of thumb is to never feed your dragon a feeder that is wider than the space between its eyes. This way, your dragon will have an easier time digesting the feeder.
If you feed prey items that are longer than the width of between the dragon’s eyes, this will cause impaction and a build-up/ blockage, which may even lead to paralysis and death.
The second thing to watch out for is the type of shell that the feeder has. Some insects, like big crickets, mealworms, and superworms, can be hard for your dragon to digest if they eat too many of them.
Note: If like me you let your dragons out from time to time to roam the house and windowsill, make sure there’s nothing that they may be tempted to eat, a few times I have had to remove a long hair that they’ve managed to eat it up along with something else for whatever reason.
Signs And Symptoms Of Impaction in Beardies
Providing they’re not in brumation/ hibernation, the symptoms of impaction include:
- Lack of appetite
- None or bloody feces
- Lack of energy
- Dull/sunken eyes
In case of impaction, these symptoms will occur and stay for a course of a few days.
The most obvious sign of impaction in bearded dragons is when they stop going to the bathroom. Usually, bearded dragons have a bowel movement once or twice a day. If your dragon hasn’t gone to the bathroom in a while and seems different, you should be worried.
Another serious symptom of impaction is when your bearded dragon has trouble moving their hind legs. If you notice your pet dragging their back legs as they move around, it’s important to find out what’s causing the problem.
Lastly, in more severe cases you will be able to see that the spine will be deformed, this is caused by the blockage building up in the gut and putting pressure against the spine. So, keep an eye out for these signs and make sure to take care of your pet.
How to Treat Impaction in Bearded Dragons
If your bearded dragon has missed a few bowel movements and you think it might be suffering from impaction, there are a few things you can try at home. But, if the symptoms are severe, it’s best to take your bearded dragon to the vet.
Here are a few options:
1. Check The Basking Area Temperature
It’s important to keep your bearded dragon’s basking area warm, as a cool temperature can harm their digestive health. Use a thermometer or temp gun to check the temperature regularly, as even a small difference in temperature can make a big impact.
Note: Your adult bearded dragon’s basking spot should be between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. For a baby dragon, keep the basking spot between 105 and 110 degrees.
2. Warm Bath for Your Beardie
Many bearded dragons like to defecate in water, so give them a warm bath. Make sure the water temperature is around 100°F. Fill the bath deep enough for your reptile to swim around comfortably. Let them soak for 20 to 30 minutes, adding warm water if needed.
Pro Tip: Even if your bearded dragon is feeling great, give them a weekly bath. They will love it and it can keep them healthy by preventing impaction issues!
3. Massage for Your Pet
While your bearded dragon is taking a bath, you can try two massages to help relieve impaction. The first massage is a bit gentler and involves gently stroking your pet’s side from head to tail. This should help move any blockages along its digestive tract.
Note: Remember to be gentle, as impaction can put pressure on your pet’s internal organs or spine.
The second massage involves a bit more pressure on the abdomen. Gently press downwards on the chest, repeating the process. This could help pass a lot of feces, especially if the impaction has been going on for a long time. But don’t force it.
Always keep your pet upright and supported when giving either of these massages. Don’t let it lie on its back as bearded dragons struggle to breathe when in that position.
4. Try New Foods
When your dragon is impacted, it’s crucial not to feed them live insects, which are part of their normal diet. Instead, give them soft and easy-to-digest food that won’t be tough on their digestive system.
Some good options are:
- Warm baby food like pureed pumpkin, apple, prunes, or watermelon
- Diluted canned pumpkin mixed with water
- Sugar-free 100% fruit juice
If your dragon is reluctant to eat, you can try placing a little puree on their nose. They may lick it off without realizing it, and if they still refuse, use a syringe to squirt the puree on their nose or directly into their mouth.
Pro Tip: Another way to get them to eat is to put a couple of drops of olive oil on their nose. They will likely lick it off, which acts as a laxative and can help clear things up. Only use olive oil, not any other types of vegetable oil.
5. Take Your Pet to the Vet
If your beardie’s symptoms are not getting better after a week of home treatment or if they are showing serious signs like not being able to move, throwing up, or dragging their legs, you need to take them to a vet as soon as possible.
In severe cases, the impaction can cause paralysis in the hind legs and deform the spine causing further nerve damage. It can also cause a prolapse – your dragon literally poops his guts out.
It’s best to find a vet who has experience with exotic animals. The vet will do an X-ray to see how severe the impaction is and then work with you to figure out the best plan of action. Usually, the vet will prescribe some sort of laxative.
If the laxatives don’t help, the vet might try giving your pet an enema.
If neither the laxatives nor the enema clears the impaction, surgery may be the only option left. While it can be expensive, it’s important to remember that your pet’s health and life are at stake. Some vets offer payment plans that can help make the cost easier to manage.
Preventing Impactions in Bearded Dragons
Prevention is the best treatment for impaction and this is fairly easy, maintain the correct temperatures in the tank along with a well-balanced diet, don’t feed oversized prey, and minimize the chance of them eating up the substrate/ foreign objects – if you’re that paranoid about it then always hand feed, using a food dish along with plenty of areas off of the substrate will minimize them eating up the dirt as well as the food.
As a side note, I had a young Rankins/Lawsons Bearded Dragon that had been kept from a hatchling on calci-sand, needless to say, it died of impaction – you can’t blame calci-sand, just the fact that it was kept on the sand to start with and probably ingested the substrate due to careless feeding.
In the wild, most prey will be caught off the floor in bushes, trees, etc… so why feed them on the sand in the first place?
If you are worried about impaction, stop reading this and go to the vet, at the very worst you get a nice x-ray that shows if your dragon has healthy bone development so treat it as a checkup.
Difference Between Impaction And Constipation?
Constipation and impaction may seem similar, but they are actually two different things. Constipation happens when an animal has trouble digesting their food and can’t poop. In bearded dragons, this can happen for various reasons like not having enough water or having a basking spot that’s too cold.
Impaction is much more serious and happens when there’s a buildup of something that can’t be digested in the animal’s gut. This buildup gets harder and bigger over time, causing discomfort for the animal. The blockage could be anything from organic materials like bark, insect shells, or substrate, or inorganic materials like rocks or sand.
It’s crucial to understand that impaction doesn’t have to spell disaster for your beloved bearded dragon. Even though impaction can be fatal, there are a lot of treatments and home remedies that are worth trying. Just be patient, try everything, and if nothing works, don’t be afraid to go to the vet. If you’re determined to help your pet, they’ll probably recover quickly.