Bearded Dragon Impaction: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Impaction in bearded dragons is a common but serious health issue. Bearded dragon impaction is one of the conditions that frequently cause the death of your beloved bearded dragon. Without impaction, the lifespan of the bearded dragon will be longer. In serious cases of impaction, your bearded dragon will be unable to move and his legs will be paralyzed.

In bearded dragon impaction, your dragon’s digestive tract is blocked by a semi-solid or solid mass.

Here’s everything you need to know about bearded dragon gut impaction, including:

Bearded dragon Impaction is a much more serious condition as compared to constipation or bloating. Impaction in a bearded dragon happens when a semi-solid or solid mass collects and stuck in the intestinal tract of your bearded dragon. This mass blocks the tract and also stops anything or any food from passing.

Gut Impaction in bearded dragons is blockage of the digestive tract due to undigested or indigested matter.

Gut impaction in bearded dragons can be fatal in severe cases. You need to be very careful in selecting what your dragon is eating and also you must know the signs of impaction so that you can cure it in time.

Generally, you can say that bearded dragon impaction is a severe type of constipation as in both conditions the digestive tract is clocked, but they both are different. Impaction is a very severe condition that can even cause the death of your bearded dragon.

The difference between impaction and constipation is that in constipation, your bearded dragon will face difficulty with passing stool or passing stool infrequently. Whereas in impaction, the digestive tract is completely blocked and your dragon will not be able to pass the stool, even with difficulty.

So, impaction in the bearded dragon is different from constipation, or it is the extreme type of constipation that completely blocks the digestive tract.

Some of the bearded dragon impaction signs are the same as those of constipation. The mild symptoms are of constipation or early stages of impaction whereas the severe symptoms are of impaction. Let’s discuss them separately:

If your bearded dragon is avoiding the food, it can be a sign of impaction. Avoiding food is a common sign of many diseases including overfeeding, prolapse, stress, brumation, shedding, mouth rot or gut impaction, etc.

Appetite Loss can be a sign of Gut Impaction in Bearded Dragons.

A healthy bearded dragon always has a strong desire to eat, and they eat everything. So, in case your bearded dragon is avoiding the food, there must be something wrong. It can be impaction or any other disease, you need to observe other symptoms or call the vet.

The first symptom of impaction in the bearded dragon is a lack of bowel movement. Lack of bowel movement can be due to impaction or constipation, it’s a common symptom.

No Bowel Movement is the First Symptom of Bearded Dragon Impaction.

To notice this sign, you need to know the typical bowel movement timings of your bearded dragon as every bearded dragon has a different time. Adult bearded dragons have less bowel movement whereas the baby bearded dragon stool frequently.

Again, fatigue or lethargy is a common symptom of many diseases in the early stages including the bearded dragon impaction.

During impaction in bearded dragons, the stuck mass can exert pressure on their spine which causes lethargy.

This stuck mass also affects the posture of your pet dragon, it becomes stiff or awkward. So, if your pet dragon doesn’t move or doesn’t interact with you, or doesn’t explore its tank, it may be the impaction.

During bearded dragon impaction, they suffer from paralysis or partial paralysis. In partial paralysis, they feel difficulty moving one or both rear legs, and in paralysis, they are unable to at all.

Bearded dragon impaction in the lower digestive tract results in partial paralysis of one or both back legs. Your bearded dragon may start dragging those legs.

And if the bearded dragon impaction is in the higher digestive tract, they face paralysis in their front legs.

Paralysis is one of the severe symptoms of bearded dragon impaction and without wasting any further time, you need to take your pet dragon to the vet.

Trembling limbs is another severe sign of bearded dragon gut impaction. The reason for trembling limbs is the same as that of paralysis. In some cases, paralysis occurs after the trembling limbs.

As already discussed, the stuck mass exerts pressure on the bearded dragon’s spine. This can cause a slight rise in your bearded dragon back (mid to lower back). You can feel it if you run your fingers along their back or on their stomach.

Unlike other reptiles, bearded dragons spine has no discs, so they are vulnerable to pressure. And stuck mass exerts this pressure causing a rise in your dragon’s back.

Identifying the bearded dragon gut impaction is not easy as their signs are common with other diseases. The paralysis or trembling limbs is also a sign of metabolic bone disease. Lethargy, appetite loss, etc are signs of many diseases.

So, observing only one symptom will not help you determine if your bearded dragon is suffering from gut impaction. You need to develop a better understanding of your bearded dragon to notice any behavioral changes in them. To be on the safe side, if you notice any of the above signs, you need to call the vet.

Bearded dragon impaction can be caused by many factors, including: 

  • Accidentally eating any inedible item or substance like a piece of plastic plat or substrate, etc.
  • Eating too big bugs or food.
  • Eating insects that have a hard exoskeleton. Especially when eaten in larger quantities.
  • Poor heating or lighting setup.
  • Eating a poor diet.
  • Obesity or overeating.
  • Lack of activity or exercise during the day.

Let’s discuss them in detail.

Bearded dragons are omnivorous, they eat plants as well as insects. While selecting the food items, you should be careful and select the one that is:

High in nutrition, easy to eat, easy to digest, calcium-rich, and smaller in size.

A well-balanced diet is very important for well well-being of your bearded dragon. For guidance, remember this:

A food item should be smaller in size than the space between the bearded dragon’s eyes, or it stuck and block the tract.

Similarly, some food items are nutrient-rich and small in size, but still, they are difficult to digest due to hard exoskeletons, such as:

While feeding these types of food items, you can limit the quantity so that your dragon can digest them.

A healthy bearded dragon will eat anything that he will find in his cage. In many cases, it is observed that bearded dragons are eating the substrate or the décor items from their cage. Many substrate or décor items are not edible and can cause impaction. For example, if your bearded dragon has eaten some plastic plants, it will stuck in the digestive tract and cause impaction in the bearded dragon. Similarly, Calci-Sand, dried plant-based substrate, plastic-based substrate, etc are also a threat for bearded dragons.

To avoid impaction due to inedible substrate or décor material, it is highly recommended to use the edible items that your dragon can digest them.

Many edible substrate and décor items are easily available in the market or online. You can use them. Do your research and always select the best one for your bearded dragon.

It is another issue that new dragon owners face. They usually feed too much food to their bearded dragon. Feeding too much food will lead to poor digestion which will gradually cause constipation followed by impaction in bearded dragons.

A healthy, well-balanced diet in proper quantity is necessary for the good health of your bearded dragon and to avoid impaction.

An overeating bearded dragon will be overweight and you can easily mark them. If your dragon is overweight, you need to reduce its diet and take him for exercise and enriching activities.

Bearded dragons need proper lighting, UVB exposure, and heating setup to digest their food and extract all the nutrients from their food. The absence of these factors can lead to poor digestion which will gradually lead to impaction in bearded dragons.

To avoid bearded dragon impaction, proper heating, lighting, and humidity setup are necessary. For your guidance, consult the following table.

Regular exercise and movement will help your bearded dragon to digest their food easily and to remain healthy. You need to provide them space in their tank, give them toys, play with them, and do enriching activities with dragons. In this way, they will be more active and more energized. You can also take them for walks, give them braches, hideouts, hammocks, reptile bridges, etc in their tank.

For a mild case of impaction, you can treat your bearded dragon at home. These two following things are recommended:

  • Keep your dragon hydrated. Encourage him to drink some water.
  • Spray water in the tank and on the bearded dragon.
  • Feed him water-rich fruit like watermelon.
  • Give long warm baths to your bearded dragon. A 30-minute warm bath with a gentle abdominal massage will help them fight impaction by moving down the stuck mass to the digestive tract.

If the impaction is severe, these tips will not work. In that case, you need to call the vet. The vet will do the following:

  • To determine the location, severity, and size of impaction, the vet will X-ray your dragon.
  • Based on the results of the X-ray, your vet will recommend laxatives, perform the massage, or do the surgery to remove the blockage.
  • A syringe may be inserted into the cloaca of the bearded dragon to flush out the stuck mass causing impaction in the bearded dragon.
  • Antibiotics might be prescribed after the procedure.

Remember that: Don’t place the impacted bearded dragon on his back. It can exert pressure, damage the spinal cord, and cause difficulty in breathing.

Like all health issues, bearded dragon impaction is also preventable and you can save your bearded dragon from all the pain by simply taking care of them.

Prevention is always a good medicine and it is easier than the treatment.

Here are some key ways to protect your bearded dragon from the risk of impaction.

While decorating the dragon’s tank, always use high-quality decor that won’t break easily. Don’t use flimsy plants or logs as they are easily breakable and your dragon will have a bite of them. You need to make sure that there is nothing your pet dragon could bite or scratch off the basking rock, hammock, or hideaway spots.  

Many loose substrates are dangerous for your bearded dragon. Your dragon might eat them and they can stuck in the digestive tract. You must avoid the following substrate:

  • Pebbles and rocks.
  • Sand.
  • Walnut shells.
  • Anything “edible” such as Calci-sand.

The following substrates are safer:

  • Tiles
  • Excavator clay
  • Reptile carpet
  • Even newspaper is a better substrate than the loose substrate.

Always check the size of the food that you are feeding your bearded dragon. Larger food is difficult to chew and digest and will cause impaction in bearded dragons. Select the food that is not bigger than the space between the eyes of your bearded dragon.

Regular activities and safe toys help your bearded dragon to remain exercised. Exercise promotes good health and helps in digestion. Make sure your bearded dragon stays active. You can provide him with enriching toys like hammocks, reptile bridges, and hideouts, and you can also do many activities with them like taking out them for walks, etc.

Finally, your bearded dragon is a beloved companion who spends a long lifespan with you. Bearded dragon impaction is dangerous and with proper care, you can save him from impaction. But if with all care, impaction happens, you need to remain calm, follow the tips to reduce its effects, and call the vet.

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