Bearded Dragon Impaction: Signs, Causes and Care

Bearded dragon impaction is something that many owners are afraid of and it may cause serious health problems if left untreated. In some cases, it can be fatal and may even cause death. A bearded dragon who suffers from serious impaction will not be very mobile, as one or both legs may be paralyzed and the digestive tract can be blocked by solid masses.

Impaction is treatable in bearded dragons but it may be hazardous if not treated on time. Detecting problems early in your bearded dragon can help you take quick action to save your beardie’s life. In this article, we’ll cover the causes and symptoms of impaction in bearded dragons and how to treat them.

What is impaction in bearded dragons?

When a bearded dragon is suffering from impaction it means that the digestive tract is unable to pass bowel movements or is being blocked by a hard mass or semi-solid mass. This is an extremely serious issue and should be treated immediately.

If your dragon goes too long without going to the bathroom, wastes can be gathered inside the digestive tract and eventually leads to death. Impaction is one of the common death causes in bearded dragons so it is very important to know about the health of your bearded dragon.

What causes impaction in bearded dragons?

Few factors play an important role to cause impaction. Mainly temperature, substrate, and food contribute to impaction if their balance is off among bearded dragons. It is important to keep all the components right to keep your bearded dragon safe from impaction. Have a look at each of the factors that are causing impaction:

Dangerous substrates:

An unsafe and dangerous substrate is one of the most common causes of impaction in bearded dragons. Loose substrates such as Calci sand, play sand, pellets, and several dried plant-based substrates have all associated with impaction and can lead to severe blockage if being eaten over a long period.

Many companies produce substrates that are hazardous for bearded dragons and they make bold and false claims that their products are digestible. Do not believe in their false statements. However, before using a substrate, do some research and use a safe solid substrate. 

The best and most safe substrate options for your dragons are paper towels, newspaper, ceramic tile, excavator clay, rubber shelf liner, and reptile carpet. In addition to their safe quality, they are much easier to clean than loose substrates. Read more on bearded dragon substrates.

Food:

The type of food matters, so any food that is too large to move through a bearded dragon’s digestive tract can block the food and may cause impaction. The best prevention for this is to always remember that offer only such an amount of food to your dragon that should be smaller in size than the distance between their eyes.

Bearded dragons need a diet consisting of 80% gut-loaded insects like crickets, super worms, and mealworms. They also need a diet of vitamins, minerals, and fibers. More importantly, they need fresh clean water to help them in digestion properly and to save from impaction. 

Some foods are very hard for your dragon to digest especially when your dragon is a baby. Never feed a baby dragon these foods like crickets, dubia roaches, and mealworms as they are hard to chew and may cause impaction. Too large feeder insects should also not be given to the adult bearded dragons as they might block the digestive tract and result in impaction.

Read more on feeding bearded dragons.

Poor temperatures:

If your dragon is not living under suitable temperature, then it can cause impaction, too. The dragon may have difficulty in digesting the food also. The bearded dragon’s basking spot for adults should be between 95 and 105 degrees whereas; the basking spot for babies should be between 105 and 110 degrees. That is why a UVB bulb is important.

At night, the temperature should stay between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the dragon is living in too cold a temperature then it can severely cut down their digestive tract and cause mass impaction. Try to regularly monitor the temperature with a thermometer from different spots inside the tank to get an accurate reading.

Dehydration:

If your dragon will not get enough amount of water then its digestive tract will not work properly. The metabolism will not function properly and will not be able to break down the food into small portions.

As result, the colon of your dragon will be unable to absorb water in the body and may cause severe impaction that can be dangerous.

Signs and symptoms of impaction

The two general signs of impaction in your bearded dragon are a mix of physical and behavioral symptoms. Identifying them is a much easier process if you are familiar with your dragon’s behavior and habits. Have a look at the signs and symptoms of impaction in your bearded dragon:

  • Total lack of bowel movements or infrequent bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Trouble in walking
  • Trembling in one or both hind legs
  • Tenderness or discomfort around the stomach area
  • Loss of use of back legs
  • Inability to excrete regularly
  • A swollen belly or hardened vent area
  • A raised bump in the lower spine
  • Lethargy or inactive behavior
  • Straining when attempting to defecate

These are some signs of impactions and should be treated immediately because they may lead to serious health problems like paralysis in your dragon. The paralysis you see in your dragon occurs because the stomach empties into the intestines and puts pressure on the upper spine. 

As a result, lower impaction occurs and displays a slightly raised area along the abdominal side. In this condition, do not push along the spine right now or force your pet to open his legs, otherwise, an injury can occur and may cause permanent damage to your dragon’s legs.

How to clear impaction in bearded dragons at home?

In early cases of impaction, you can help your dragon to have a bowel movement by acting quickly. If you think that your dragon is impacted, then give them a nice warm bath and allow them to sit in the warm water for up to 30 minutes.

Keep a close watch on your dragon and observe that your dragon is happy with the bath or not. You can gently massage their stomach to encourage easy bowel movement. Make sure to gently rub the stomach because it may help to break the solid mass.

Encourage your dragon to do exercise at home. Give them things to do like ask your dragon to chase a ball for a few minutes each day inside the tank. It will help your dragon to move regularly and may save from impaction. You can purchase a small Reptile Hammock where they can play and rest. 

If despite your best efforts your dragon is not passing bowls, then you should take him or her to the vet immediately.

Treatment for bearded dragon impactions

You can treat your bearded dragon impaction by taking the necessary steps:

Portion food correctly:

It is very important to feed your dragon in bite-friendly bits. Avoid giving them food in large quantities or avoid feeding them feeders as it may only increase impaction. Fill their diet with soft foods that can be easily digestible.

Here is a list of soft foods:

An impacted dragon will not like to eat such soft foods at first but you have to persuade them to eat this new food by applying a little puree on their nose. When they will lick it, they may intend to eat it. A syringe can also be used to put a bit of puree in their mouth or nose.

Read more on Bearded dragon diet.

Offer plenty of fresh water:

An owner should make sure that he is giving the right amount of water to his dragon. Too little water can cause the digestive tract to slow up or may cause dehydration. It is suitable to mist your dragon’s tank two to four times per day.

It is also recommended to place a water bowl for your dragon in the tank so the dragon may drink water easily and save it from impaction.

Avoid loose substrates in the enclosure:

Avoid using loose substrates like sand, gravel, and dirt in the enclosure because your dragon can break down the particles easily. It can make solid mass waste in the intestines and can be life-threatening to the dragon. 

Provide an adequate amount of light source: 

Bearded dragon needs lots of UV light. Their habitat should be set up with basking bulbs to ensure proper lighting but the lighting needs are different for day and night. At night, the lights should be out to make sure that UVB needs are met.

Otherwise, too much lighting can cause digestive tract problems and may cause impaction. Read more on bearded dragon lighting.

Check the temperature of the basking area:

It is recommended to check the temperature of the tank to save your dragon from any health issues because a cool basking area may be harmful to your dragon’s digestive health. You should regularly monitor the temperature of the basking zone to save your dragon from impaction. 

A thermometer with a general idea of the temperature or a temperature gun can also be used to determine temperature accurately.

Bearded dragon impaction surgery

If your dragon does not get better with home treatments and is unable to produce a bowel movement easily, then it is advisable to take your dragon to the vet immediately. Your vet will first X-ray the abdominal area to know the severity of the impaction. The vet will then come up with a clear treatment plan.

If the blockage is more severe, he or she might try an enema or laxatives. If neither enema nor laxatives work, then surgery might be done. It can be costly but your pet’s life is more important than expensive surgeries. 

Is there a difference between impaction and constipation?

Although both impaction and constipation can be used in place of one another and display similar symptoms and treatments there is one difference between the two. A common issue of constipation occurs when there is difficulty in digesting the food caused by a hard build-up of food. It then results in the inability to defecate.

In bearded dragons, there are many reasons for constipation like dehydration or basking area too cool that can result in digestive difficulties. Impaction is more serious than constipation and it results from an indigestible solid mass that accumulates in the gastrointestinal tract. The mass grows over time and becomes more uncomfortable.

Learn more about bearded dragon poop.

Final thoughts

When you finally find out that your dragon is impacted so treat them as soon as possible. There are so many home remedies that are worth looking to get your dragon back on track. If you think that home remedy is not working, get your dragon to a vet for treatment. 

Impaction can be life-threatening for your dragon but with suitable treatment, it can be treated easily. Just be patient and wait for better results.

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