Bearded dragons don’t have health issues specific to their species alone. That being said, they do struggle with the same health problems that affect most reptiles.
Today, we will discuss a specific issue that may be rarer among bearded dragons but dangerous nonetheless: ear infection.
How do ear infections occur, how do they affect the lizard, and what can you do to treat and prevent them? Let’s have a look!
Causes of Bearded Dragon Ear Infection
You have several causes to consider here, including:
- Poor hygiene – Bearded dragons require regular cleaning to prevent bacterial and fungal infections. Neglecting the hygiene of the cage, substrate, and accessories can lead to a buildup of dirt, feces, and other contaminants, which can cause severe health issues. These can introduce harmful bacteria and fungi into the dragon’s ear canal, causing infections, which can then degenerate into even more dangerous health conditions. Poor enclosure hygiene is also responsible for eye and skin infections, respiratory problems, pneumonia, etc.
- Trauma – Bearded dragons can injure their ears by scratching or rubbing them against rough surfaces or sharp objects. This can create an opening in the ear canal that allows bacteria and fungi to enter and trigger an infection. Trauma can also damage the eardrum and lead to a secondary infection, along with a variety of complications to follow. Traumas can originate in a variety of behaviors, including scratching and rubbing the ear during shedding, fighting other beardies, navigating a hazardous habitat, etc.
- Parasites – A dirty enclosure, combined with excess humidity, food leftovers, and residual waste, is bound to create a haven for parasites. Organisms like mites and ticks can infect bearded dragons and cause ear, skin, and eye infections, to only name a few problems. These parasites feed on the dragon’s blood and tissue, weakening its immune system and making it susceptible to infections and more severe health problems along the way.
- Inadequate diet – Bearded dragons require a balanced and nutritious diet to maintain their health and immunity. A diet that is deficient in essential vitamins and minerals can weaken their immune system, making them more vulnerable to infections and extreme nutritional deficiencies. Over time, ear infections will be the least of your concerns. Prolonged nutritional deficiencies have been linked to Metabolic Bone Disease, which is deadly in the final stages.
- Stress – Bearded dragons are sensitive creatures and can experience stress due to various factors such as overcrowding, loud noises, inadequate lighting, and improper temperature. Chronic stress can weaken their immune system, which leaves them vulnerable to health problems and infections. A stressed beardie is always prone to multiple conditions, some of which can aggravate fast.
- Bacteria or fungi – Bearded dragons can contract bacterial or fungal infections from their environment, which is increasingly more likely in a dirty enclosure. However, outside contamination sources are also likely, with the reptiles’ handlers being the ones to blame in most cases. You should always wash and sanitize your hands before and after handling your pet to prevent contamination. Bacteria and fungi can trigger severe infections that can spread to the ears and cause inflammation and pain.
As you can see, you have plenty of causes to consider, many of which are related to poor keeping and maintenance.
This means you have quite a few prevention tactics available to you, which we will discuss soon.
Symptoms of Bearded Dragon Ear Infection
Infections progress relatively fast and they come with several symptoms, which worsen with time. Learning how to detect these symptoms is key for detecting and addressing your beardie’s issue in time.
Here are the main symptoms to look out for:
- Head shaking – One of the most common signs of ear infection in bearded dragons is head shaking. The dragon may shake its head vigorously or repeatedly, indicating discomfort or pain in the ear. Make sure you eliminate any other behaviors that may suggest something different. For instance, bearded dragons tend to shake and bob their heads during the mating phase or when expressing aggression toward one another.
- Scratching or rubbing – Bearded dragons resort to scratching and rubbing to signal their discomfort. The dragon may try to relieve the itching or pain by rubbing its ear against objects or its own body. Unfortunately, this behavior will often make things worse, causing local tissue damage, which can spread or aggravate the infection. The same behavior contributes to the infection’s spread among other dragons, depending on the pathogen responsible.
- Discharge – Any discharge coming from your bearded dragon’s ear suggests a type of infection. The discharge may be clear, yellow, or greenish in color, and it may have a foul odor, which is often indicative of the infection’s type and severity. Usually, if you also sense an unpleasant smell, this is a sign that your vet needs to come online.
- Loss of appetite – Bearded dragons with ear infections may lose their appetite or refuse to eat. This may be due to the discomfort or pain caused by the infection. The loss of appetite can worsen your beardie’s condition because it leads to nutritional deficiencies. This will further weaken the reptile’s immune system and make recovery more difficult.
- Lethargy – Ear infections can cause bearded dragons to become lethargic and inactive. They may spend more time sleeping and less time moving or interacting with their environment. Bearded dragons are usually active, joyful, and alert creatures, and it’s not natural to see them lethargic or apathetic outside their resting hours.
- Tilted head – The bearded dragon holding its head tilted to one side is a sign of an ear infection. This is because the infection can affect the reptile’s balance and coordination and cause significant local discomfort. Usually, the titled head also comes with a loss of balance and erratic movement, especially if the infection is more severe.
- Swollen ear – In some cases, ear infections can cause swelling or inflammation of the inner ear. This inflammation can be visible on the outside, along with discharge and redness.
One symptom alone may not always be enough to diagnose your dragon’s condition accurately. But if your beardie exhibits more than one of these symptoms, the situation is pretty clear.
At this point, you need to take your beardie to a vet.
Diagnosing Bearded Dragon Ear Infection
Needless to say, infections are life-threatening conditions and even the smallest one can have dire consequences fast.
Infections usually spread between different areas of the body and, depending on the pathogen that’s causing it, can also spread between different reptiles.
So, it’s safe to say that you need to diagnose your reptile’s condition asap to prevent complications.
Here are some good tips for doing that:
- Physical examination – The first step in diagnosing a bearded dragon ear infection is a physical examination. Check the dragon’s ear for signs of inflammation, swelling, discharge, redness, or any visible trauma. If you can’t determine the cause of the reptile’s symptoms, consult with your vet instead.
- Diagnostic tests – To confirm the diagnosis of an ear infection, the veterinarian may conduct various diagnostic tests, such as a culture and sensitivity test. This test relies on taking a sample of the discharge from the ear and testing it for bacteria or fungi. This can determine the type of infection and set the basis for the best treatment available.
- Imaging tests – In some cases, the veterinarian may use imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans, to evaluate the severity of the infection and its impact on the dragon’s ear and skull. Imaging tests can also detect any damage to the eardrum or surrounding tissues, which is ideal if you want to learn the full extent of the problem. Which, you should because surface infections don’t tell you anything about what’s going on inside.
- Blood tests – Bearded dragons with ear infections may also undergo blood tests to check for any underlying health conditions that could affect their immune system and make them more susceptible to infections. These tests can also be used as prevention strategies, helping you understand how to keep your dragon safe from any infections and diseases over the years.
- Behavioral observation – You can use this approach to diagnose your beardie’s condition at home. Bearded dragons with ear infections may exhibit certain behaviors that can indicate an infection, such as head shaking, scratching or rubbing their ear, or holding their head tilted to one side. These are pretty good indicators that something’s not quite right.
Overall, you can diagnose your beardie’s condition, but only to a point. I suggest relying on a professional’s input for a more accurate diagnosis and early treatment.
Treatment for Bearded Dragon Infection
Now that you’ve determined the nature of the infection, you need to look for the right treatment to deal with the problem.
You have several treatment options available in this sense:
- Medication – The most common treatment for a bearded dragon ear infection is medication, which can include antibiotics, antifungals, or corticosteroids. The type of medication will depend on the infection type and the severity of the symptoms. It is crucial to follow the veterinarian’s instructions regarding the dosage and administration of the medication.
- Cleaning – In addition to medication, the veterinarian may recommend cleaning the affected ear with a saline solution or an ear cleaner specifically designed for reptiles. This can remove any discharge or debris and promote healing and faster recovery.
- Pain management – Bearded dragons with ear infections may experience pain or discomfort, and the veterinarian may prescribe pain medication to manage the symptoms. This is paramount for decreasing your beardie’s stress and discomfort during the recovery process. Analgesics can even restore your beardie’s good mood and appetite, which will also contribute to faster recovery.
- Supportive care – Bearded dragons with ear infections may require supportive care, such as a warm and humid environment, to promote healing and prevent dehydration. Make sure that the dragon has access to clean water and a balanced diet to support their immune system.
- Follow-up visits – It is crucial to follow up with the veterinarian regularly to monitor the dragon’s progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed. The veterinarian may recommend additional tests or imaging to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment and recommend different approaches in case the infection returns.
- Preventive measures – Several prevention methods are necessary to keep your beardie safe from infections and any other health issues. We’ll discuss these soon, so keep reading.
Home Remedies for Bearded Dragon Ear Infection
You can always try some home remedies to address your beardie’s ear infection before contacting the vet.
However, keep in mind that these methods are only advisable if the infection is mild and doesn’t threaten the reptile’s life.
If your lizard is expressing severe symptoms like lack of appetite, prolonged lethargy, and visible tissue inflammation and damage, contact your vet instead.
However, if the symptoms are mild, but you’re positive it’s an infection, try the following:
- Warm compress – Placing a warm compress on the affected ear can reduce inflammation and promote healing. Dip a clean cloth in warm water, wring out the excess water, and apply it to the affected ear for a few minutes. If your beardie doesn’t like the sensation or the touch, limit the sessions to several seconds each, depending on your pet’s discomfort level.
- Saline solution – A saline solution can clean the affected ear and remove any discharge or dirt. Mix a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water, dip a clean cloth or cotton ball in the solution, and gently wipe the ear. I cannot stress ‘gently’ enough, given that you’re dealing with a potentially very painful inflammation.
- Aloe vera – Aloe vera comes with potent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can reduce inflammation and fight infection. Apply a small amount to the affected ear and gently massage it in. Write down the words’ small amount.
- Coconut oil – Coconut oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties that can fight infections and promote faster tissue healing. Apply a bit of coconut oil to the affected area and massage it gently to almost complete absorption.
- Probiotics – Probiotics can help boost the immune system and promote the development of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These are especially useful if your beardie is getting an antibiotic treatment, as prescribed by your vet. Add a small amount of probiotic powder to the dragon’s food or water, as recommended by the vet, for the best results.
Again, these approaches are only allowed if your beardie isn’t experiencing severe ear infections.
If it does, skip any DIY remedies and contact the vet instead.
Preventing Bearded Dragon Ear Infection
Prevention always rules supreme when it comes to keeping your beardie healthy and happy over the years.
Especially when discussing the risk of ear, eye, skin, or respiratory infections, which can quickly turn deadly.
Here are the main preventive approaches you should consider:
- Proper hygiene – Bearded dragons require a clean and hygienic environment to prevent bacterial and fungal infections. You should clean the enclosure, substrate, and accessories regularly to prevent the buildup of dirt, feces, and other contaminants that can introduce harmful bacteria and fungi into the dragon’s ear canal.
- Diet and nutrition – All reptiles, beardies included, require a balanced and nutritious diet to preserve their health and immunity. A diet that is deficient in essential vitamins and minerals can weaken their immune system, making them more vulnerable to infections. Keep your bearded dragons well-fed and provide them with access to fresh and clean water and a nutritious and personalized meal plan.
- Stress management – Bearded dragons are sensitive creatures and can experience stress for various reasons, such as overcrowding, loud noises, inadequate lighting, and improper temperature. Chronic stress can weaken their immune system and make them susceptible to infections and numerous other health problems. Keep your beardie in a stress-free environment that meets its physical and emotional needs, and this alone will preserve the animal’s health and comfort over the years to come.
- Parasite prevention – Parasites such as mites and ticks can infect bearded dragons and cause ear infections and skin. Check your dragon regularly for any signs of infestation and take measures at the first sign of contamination.
- Regular check-ups – Regular veterinary check-ups can help detect any health issues early and prevent complications. Pet owners should take their bearded dragons for regular check-ups to ensure that they are healthy and free from any infections or illnesses.
To be fair, preventing infections isn’t always a smooth road, but it’s manageable and considerably easier than most people think.
Even if you can’t prevent them, you can at least take appropriate measures early on to prevent complications at least.
When to See a Vet for Bearded Dragon Ear Infection
I would say you have to see your vet if the situation appears severe and your beardie is experiencing visible discomfort and low quality of life.
Here are some parameters to help you decide in this sense:
- Visible discharge – If you observe visible discharge, no matter the color, it’s best to contact your vet. This is a sign that the infection is fairly severe and you don’t want to risk your beardie’s life in the process.
- Extreme discomfort – Your beardie is scratching and rubbing the affected area incessantly throughout the day. This can cause additional tissue damage, which will only spread the infection and worsen the condition as a whole.
- Drastic behavioral changes – Your beardie isn’t coming out of its hiding spot pretty much at all, and it doesn’t eat anymore. It may also refrain from drinking water, which is a sign that the situation is fairly severe. You should, ideally, act before it gets to this point.
If I were you, I would contact the vet at the first sign of trouble rather than wait for the situation to aggravate.
Bearded dragon ear infections aren’t as common as skin or eye infections, but they’re equally as dangerous.
Don’t gamble with your pet’s life; if your beardie shows signs of ear infection, contact your vet and lay out a recovery plan together.