Bearded dragon impaction is probably the most feared health risk for dragon owners. This is probably one of the most talked about subject that I have seen, related to bearded dragon health. Fear of impaction is the very reason the subject of bearded dragon substrate is so controversial.
Certain types of substrates are more susceptible to being ingested and causing a blockage in your dragons intestinal tract. I cannot say, for myself, that I know which ones cause this and which ones don’t, there are plenty of opinions out there.
Some people are very opinionated about what and what not to use, for substrate. These same people probably derive their opinions from having experienced impaction with their dragon’s first hand. They might have even had a dragon die due to impaction.
While I don’t dispute what they have to say, I do dispute how some of them come across with their opinions. There are valid points to what some of them say, but you almost don’t want to listen due to how harsh the points are presented.
Bearded dragon impaction is caused by other things than just ingesting certain kinds of substrates. Feeding food that is too large can also cause impaction.
Feeding too many mealworms or other insects with hard chitinous shells can also cause impaction. Poor basking temperatures can cause this too, by making it hard for a dragon to digest food properly. Dehydration can also play a role in impaction, as well.
Symptoms of Bearded Dragon Impaction
Bearded dragon impaction can occur over a period of time, and can have varying signs depending on the severity of impaction. Symptoms for a mild case will include having a hard time passing waste or being constipated.
As the impaction gets more severe, symptoms can include:
- Trembling limbs
- Having hard time walking
- Visable slight bump on spine
- Paralysis in dragon’s limbs
What Can be Done?
The first thing for a lot of illnesses is prevention. Make sure you keep an eye on your dragon, and observe their behavior every day.
Changes in bowel movements or other things can tip you off before something gets too severe. Watch and see how your dragon handles the substrate you are using. If you don’t think that it is safe, change it out and use something different.
Be careful on the size of prey and other food items you feed your dragon. It is better to feed more smaller items than fewer that are too big.
Don’t feed mealworms to dragons that are too young. The hard chitinous shell will bind up smaller dragons. Also, keep an eye on your dragon and make sure they are getting plenty of water.
If you fear dehydration, you can use a childs medicine dropper to get them to drink. If they are very dehydrated, you can also use Pedialyte to get better hydration. I have also seen a product that is like Pedialyte for reptiles.
If the bearded dragon impaction isn’t that severe you can usually help your dragon pass it. You can do this by making sure they have plenty of fluids and also providing warm baths for them.
When giving a bath, make sure that the temperature of the water is no hotter than what they usually bask in ( 95 degrees). The fluids and baths will help relax your dragon’s body making it easier to pass what is in their system.
Some people will even use small amounts of mineral oil. I am not sure how much mineral oil to use, but here is a great article on bearded dragon impaction that can help you out.
You will want to hold back on feeding crickets or worms at this time, depending on the severity of impaction. You can feed strained baby food that is watered down through a medicine dropper. You can also add calcium and vitamin supplements to the baby food.
These are just some suggestions that I have read. I have not yet had to do any of these (knock on wood). If you are going to attempt any of these, make sure and read the article that I linked to.
With a severe impaction that just won’t pass, you will have to see a veterinarian. Impacted food can start to rot in your dragon’s stomach and cause bacteria to grow. In this case they need medical attention. Your dragon might have to get an enema to help clean them out.
Bearded dragon impaction is one of the most feared health issues that dragon owners face. With proper heating, feeding, and also watching your dragon closely you should be able to prevent this from happening.
As far as substrate goes, I still think that it is a decision that is up to you. I have had good success with substrates that some say are bad and also had poor success with ones that some suggest.
It really is going to come down to what you think is best for your dragon. It is a good idea, though, to use a substrate that is very fine (if using sand), and if you use play sand make sure you screen it before use.
As with most health issues that affect bearded dragons, good husbandry will decrease the chance of them from happening.
Prevention is definitely the key to keeping a healthy bearded dragon.
One last thing, don’t be unwilling to change if something isn’t working. If you always keep in mind the welfare of your pet, you will do well.