Bearded dragons are known to be overall hardy, but they can experience health problems in some situations. Out of these, digestive issues are the most prevalent, primarily because they are influenced by a variety of factors.
These include insufficient water, parasites, ingesting the wrong type of food, bacterial infections, and many more.
So today, we will discuss one of the most prevalent digestive issues in bearded dragons: constipation.
Even more importantly, we will discuss the most common so-called solution that most people think of when their beardies experience constipation: laxatives.
Are laxatives a good alternative for bearded dragons, or should you just look for another approach? Let’s see!
Natural Laxatives for Bearded Dragons
If your bearded dragon experiences constipation, I recommend approaching the issue from a more natural perspective.
In this sense, you have 2 potential options available:
- Olive oil – Olive oil is a natural product with laxative properties that can lubricate the digestive system and promote bowel movements in bearded dragons and any other animal experiencing constipation. You can add a few drops of olive oil to their food or rub it on their lips to encourage them to lick it off. Olive oil is safe for consumption in moderate amounts, naturally, and has no health risks in reptiles.
- Fruits – Certain fruits can also act as natural laxatives for bearded dragons. These include figs, prunes, papaya, watermelon, and pumpkin, which are high in fiber and can help to soften the fecal matter and promote healthier bowel movements. You can offer small pieces of these fruits to your bearded dragon as treats or mix them in with their regular food. However, generally speaking, bearded dragons aren’t known to refuse fruits when available, especially the sweet and aromatic ones I’ve just mentioned. So, you should have no difficulties in this sense.
These approaches should reduce your beardie’s constipation problem, so long as the issue isn’t severe, to begin with.
If it was, you might need to look into other solutions, so let’s discuss those as well!
Chemical Laxatives for Bearded Dragons
No chemical laxatives for your bearded dragon, I’m afraid. Laxatives are primarily designed for mammalian use (humans), and they’re not ideal for reptiles, given that we’re talking about 2 completely different species.
Reptiles have a very different metabolism and physiological functioning from humans, so they cannot rely on the same treatments.
Instead, refer to the 2 previous natural laxative options that I’ve provided. A constipated bearded dragon needs proper fiber intake, a warm environment to speed up digestion, and even a vet’s intervention, in case the situation is severe.
What it doesn’t need is a medication created specifically for humans, which is bound to produce more side effects than benefits and worsen the reptile’s situation.
Treating Constipated Bearded Dragon
If you’ve determined without a doubt that your bearded dragon is constipated, the following are your 3 best options:
- Warm bath – A warm bath is one of the most effective and safe methods for treating constipation in bearded dragons. Fill a shallow container with warm water and place your bearded dragon in it for 15-20 minutes at a time. Always supervise your reptile during the process to prevent the reptile from panicking. The warm water can help your beardie to relax its muscles and stimulate bowel movements. You can repeat this procedure one or two more times per day, depending on your beardie’s state of mind and behavior. If it appears that the lizard isn’t willing to stay put for the job and isn’t calm enough, respect its wishes; you want to help your beardie, not cause it even more stress.
- Laxative foods – Certain foods can act as natural laxatives for bearded dragons, and we’ve already discussed them briefly at the beginning of the article. These foods are high in fiber content and can help to soften the stool and promote healthier bowel movements. You can offer small pieces of these fruits to your bearded dragon as treats, but don’t push it. If your lizard doesn’t want them, don’t force-feed the animal, as this can actually worsen the situation. Show patience and monitor your lizard to make sure that the problem doesn’t aggravate.
- Enema – An enema is a medical procedure that involves the insertion of a lubricated tube into the rectum to deliver a solution that promotes bowel movements. Enemas should only be administered by a veterinarian who specializes in reptile care. Improper use of an enema can cause serious injury or even death to your bearded dragon, and I’ll go ahead and guess that you’ve never performed one before.
An important note here, you should always contact your vet if your bearded dragon appears bloated, has a hard belly, and stops eating altogether.
It’s always better to be safe about it and allow the professional to handle the situation properly.
Signs of Constipation in Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons usually give away a handful of signs when experiencing belly discomfort.
- Infrequent bowel movements – Bearded dragons should have regular bowel movements, usually once or twice a day. If your bearded dragon has not defecated in several days, it may be constipated. However, don’t rely on this fact alone to conclude your pet’s health status. Maybe the beardie is simply experiencing some other health issue that’s causing it to have a low or no appetite. You should always diagnose the situation more in-depth to make sure that your conclusion is justified. Keep in mind that bearded dragons also refrain from eating when stressed or getting ready to shed.
- Straining – Bearded dragons that are constipated may strain when trying to defecate. They may assume a position with their tail elevated or their legs stretched out as they try to pass stool. You can easily observe this behavior in other pets dealing with constipation, like cats and dogs. The posturing is very similar, so this should be a pretty good indication of what’s going on. Plus, the cloaca may inflate during the straining due to the beardie being unable to pass the stool.
- Lack of appetite – Constipation can cause bearded dragons to lose their appetite. They may refuse to eat or show a lack of interest in their food, which is actually a welcome behavior. The brain is simply preventing the lizard from eating anymore, as this gives the animal’s digestive system time to process the food already present in the stomach. Needless to say, this is a pretty good indication of what you should do to help the lizard overcome its condition. A couple of days of fasting should help tremendously in this sense. Just make sure your lizard is allowed to fast. Old or already sick bearded dragons may experience health complications when forced to fast, so tread carefully.
- Lethargy – Bearded dragons that are constipated may become lethargic or inactive. They may spend more time than usual basking or resting and show less interest in their surroundings. This is also indicative of other health issues, so you should always corroborate with other symptoms on this list to be sure.
- Swollen abdomen – Constipation can cause the beardie’s abdomen to become swollen or distended. This may be visible when looking at your bearded dragon from above, allowing you to observe the abdomen stretching sideways. An important note here: severe and sudden bloating can also be associated with impaction, which is an even more severe condition. Impaction is practically an aggravated form of constipation but can also occur due to the lizard ingesting something that’s not food. A rock or any other hard and uneatable piece could fall into this category. In this case, your beardie may require the assistance of a professional vet.
- Small, hard stool – Even if your bearded dragon does pass stool when constipated, the fecal matter may be small and hard. The stool may also be discolored or emanate a foul odor, which can also suggest an internal infection.
I would say that if you’re not sure of your beardie’s condition or if the disorder looks rather severe, you need a vet’s assistance.
The professional may even recommend a surgical intervention to save your beardie’s life.
Tips for Preventing Constipation in Bearded Dragons
Naturally, you want to prevent your beardie from becoming constipated in the first place. But how exactly can you achieve that?
Here are some tips in this sense:
- Provide a balanced diet – Bearded dragons require a balanced diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, and protein sources. A fiber-rich diet can promote healthy digestion and prevent constipation in the long run. Leafy greens such as collard greens, kale, and mustard greens are great sources of fiber and will serve your beardie well. However, keep in mind that too much fiber can have the opposite effect. In essence, too much of anything can hurt, so discuss your beardie’s meal plan with a more insightful professional with experience in the matter.
- Offer a variety of foods – Bearded dragons may become bored with their menu if they’re only getting the same foods every day. Offering a variety of foods will keep them interested in their diet and promote healthy digestion. Try providing them with a mix of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources and cycle them regularly from one week to the next.
- Ensure proper hydration – I cannot stress the importance of adequate hydration for beardies enough. Bearded dragons, and reptiles in general, require access to clean water at all times. Proper hydration is essential for healthy digestion and the prevention of constipation. A shallow dish of lean and fresh water should always be available in your beardie’s enclosure. Make sure you change the water at least once a day, depending on how dirty it gets and how fast.
- Create a suitable habitat – A suitable habitat for your bearded dragon should include a basking area, a cool area, and a suitable substrate that allows for easy digestion and improved peace of mind and comfort. The habitat’s overall parameters, like temperature and humidity, should also be appropriate for your pet’s needs. If the temperature is too low, for instance, the beardie’s digestive system will slow down dramatically, increasing the risk of constipation. If humidity is too low, the reptile will become dehydrated, with constipation being one of the many health issues to impact the animal.
- Provide opportunities for exercise – Bearded dragons are active creatures that require regular exercise to maintain their health. Providing opportunities for exercise, such as a spacious enclosure with plenty of climbing opportunities, can promote healthy digestion, prevent constipation, and keep your beardie in a comfortable and active state. Make sure the enclosure is large enough for your beardie because these animals could always use the extra space to explore their ecosystem.
- Monitor your bearded dragon’s health – Regular health checkups with a reptile-knowledgeable veterinarian can identify any potential health issues early on. It is important to address any health issues promptly to prevent them from becoming more serious as time passes. You should also gauge your beardie’s health status yourself occasionally to detect any irregularities in time.
As you can probably tell, these are more like common sense recommendations that should be part of the normal care routine.
Unfortunately, bearded dragons will experience constipation at one point or another. This is a reptile-specific problem, so there’s little you can do about it.
What you can do, though, is to prevent and address the issue as best you can and contact your vet for professional guidance. Most cases of constipation are mild and will go away with some basic care.
Others are more complicated, but nothing an experienced vet can’t handle.