Impaction is one of the most common health issues among reptiles in general and bearded dragons in particular. It is also one of the most misleading disorders. Impaction looks very similar to constipation, and the confusion can lead to some unwanted outcomes. That’s because impaction is more severe and can aggravate fast and produce more severe health problems.
But let’s analyze this condition more in-depth to assess its symptoms and severity and determine the right approach.
Signs of Impaction in Bearded Dragon
There are several signs of impaction to be aware of. These include:
- Not pooping – This one is more difficult to notice because not all bearded dragons have the same pooping pattern. Some dragons may poop daily, especially babies and juveniles, while adults can poop as rare as once per week. It all depends on the dragon’s age, diet, and overall profile. Some adult dragons will simply poop more often, depending on the effectiveness of their digestive system, the food, and the level of physical activity. Only you know how often your dragon should go to the bathroom.
- Loss of appetite and vomiting – These signs are always associated to impaction because your bearded dragon simply can’t eat anymore. The reptile’s appetite will either turn to 0, or it will regurgitate any food soon after ingestion.
- Straining to poop – You should check your dragon regularly so you can notice it during its attempts to poop. If the dragon appears to strain during to pass the fecal matter but with no success, that’s a sign of impaction. The cloaca may also appear inflamed in such cases.
- Difficulty moving – Depending on the severity of the impaction, your bearded dragon may drag one or both of its hind legs. This is a sign of partial paralysis, which often happens as a result of impaction. The reason is that reptiles do not possess discs between their vertebrae. This means that the compacted abdomen presses against the discs, affecting the nerves and causing impaired movement.
These signs suggest that your bearded dragon is dealing with a severe case of impaction. Immediate treatment is necessary to deal with the problem before it worsens.
Causes of Impaction in Bearded Dragon
I would say that there are 5 primary causes for impaction in bearded dragons and other reptiles in general. These include:
- Inadequate substrate – Bearded dragons are notorious for their predilection for swallowing some of their substrate. This can cause serious problems if the substrate contains small rocks, pebbles, or other elements that can clog the animal’s intestine. Sand, and other similar substrates, can also cause impaction due to repeated ingestion over time.
- Low temperature – The reptile’s digestive system depends on the body’s overall temperature. If the lizard’s core temperature is too low, the digestive system’s activity will drop accordingly, causing any additional food to clog the intestinal tract. In these cases, impaction is but guaranteed.
- Low humidity – Insufficient humidity leads to dehydration, causing the lizard to stop eating. The problem is that the digestive system will also fail to process the food already in the system. The fecal matter will dry out due to the lack of adequate humidity, causing constipation and impaction. However, impaction should be the last of your concerns in this scenario because dehydration is far deadlier. Your bearded dragon cannot survive too long without water and can experience health problems only several hours in.
- Improper food – The food is too large or too dry. Both of these problems can cause impaction in the right circumstances. The first case is most often the culprit because people love feeding their dragons large insects. As with any reptile species, the food shouldn’t be larger than the distance between the animal’s eyes.
- Swallowing random objects – This is also a problem that many dragon keepers overlook with ease. Bearded dragons are curious animals that use their mouths to investigate their environment. They can swallow anything that peaks their interest and fits their mouths. So, don’t drop anything in their enclosure by mistake, and don’t let your dragon roam freely through your home or backyard.
Simply managing these potential causes can keep your dragon safe from impaction in the long run.
Treating Impacted Bearded Dragon
Fortunately, you have several ways to treat your impacted dragon, depending on what caused the problem and its severity. These include:
Adjust the Temperature
You should always turn to temperature first. This works if your dragon experiences impaction due to an ineffective digestive system which is more prevalent in cold temperatures. Make sure that the dragon’s enclosure displays an adequate temperature gradient with around 100 F in the basking zone.
Have a thermometer mounted in your dragon’s habitat to verify the temperature and increase the values if necessary. If the low temperature is the culprit, your dragon’s digestive system will return to normal once you tweak the values. However, keep in mind that this solution doesn’t work if the reason for impaction is other than a slow digestive process.
If something foreign got stuck in your dragon’s intestine, look for another solution to the issue.
A Warm Bath
This also works if the dragon’s digestive system has decided to take a break. This can happen due to consuming too much dry food, in low temperatures, or if humidity levels are subpar. A warm batch can solve the problem in most cases, as it relaxes the muscles and rehydrates the dragon.
You only need a bowl of lukewarm water to bathe the dragon in. Don’t use too much water, or your dragon may become uncomfortable, and don’t keep it there too much. You only need to soak it for 2-3 minutes and maybe massage its belly gently.
A short and gentle massage session can also help with impaction and constipation. The keyword here is gentle because the lizard’s impacted intestine may be pressing against the internal organs and spine. This means that the massage itself can sometimes cause more damage than good.
If you’ve determined that the cause of impaction is dehydration, dry food, or simply a slow digestive system, fasting can help solve the problem. Your dragon will be just fine without food for several days. You only need to increase environmental temperature a bit, ensure proper humidity and sufficient drinking water, and wait it out.
Your dragon’s digestive system will eliminate the residues eventually. After 2-3 days without food, you can provide your dragon with some fruits for a plus of fiber.
Speak to Your Vet
If you suspect that the impaction is the result of the dragon ingesting something it shouldn’t have, there’s little you can do by yourself. In this case, I recommend speaking to your vet to find a solution together. If the object is too large for your dragon to eliminate safely, a surgical intervention may be the right approach.
Prevent Impaction in Bearded Dragons
Prevention is always preferable for obvious reasons. But how can you do that? Consider the following:
- Monitor environmental parameters – Ensure an optimal temperature gradient and adjust humidity levels to the ideal parameters. Humidity needs to remain around 30-40% for bearded dragons, while the temperature gradient should swing between 72 and 107 F throughout the tank. These 2 things alone will keep your dragon’s digestive system in peak condition to prevent any problems in the long run.
- Mind the substrate – Always opt for safe substrates for your bearded dragon. If you’re not that pretentious about you’re the aesthetics, go for paper or newspaper towels. Nothing fancy, but they’re easy to replace and get the job done. You have reptile carpet at the opposite end, providing your dragon with a natural-looking habitat. The problem is that reptile carpet is more difficult to clean. There are other options as well, depending on your goals, including ceramic tiles if that’s something you fancy.
- Check the food – Your dragon’s food should always come in manageable sizes and portions. Don’t overfeed the dragon, and only serve the food in small pieces for ease of ingestion. Whether it’s fruits, veggies, or insects, the food item itself shouldn’t be larger than the distance between the dragon’s eyes.
Finally, you shouldn’t throw any foreign objects in your dragon’s enclosure, especially if they’re small enough for your reptile to swallow them. And always assess your lizard’s health state if it shows signs of constipation or impaction. Early treatment is always the go-to approach for quick and safe recovery.
Veterinary Cost for Impacted Bearded Dragon
The expected costs for treating your impacted bearded dragon vary between $250-300 and more than $1,000, depending on numerous factors. These include your geographical area, the experts available nearby, the difficulty of the procedure, etc. If you need a vet to treat your dragon’s impaction, you should prepare for a surgical intervention.
Fortunately, you can prevent such an intervention by following my prevention tips.
Impaction isn’t a bearded dragon-specific condition. All reptiles deal with this problem at some point or another because of how their digestive system works. Fortunately, you now know how to identify and address the condition properly to keep your dragon healthy over the years.