Bearded dragons do not communicate using noises in the same way that humans and other mammals do. Because they do not have vocal cords, they communicate primarily by using body language. Sometimes your bearded dragon may hiss if he is feeling threatened, but this is about the only “vocalization” you will ever hear out of him.
So why is my bearded dragon making clicking noises? Your bearded dragon is most likely making clicking noises because it has an upper respiratory infection (URI). A URI is a bacterial infection in his lungs and can be caused by a variety of factors.
Unfortunately, respiratory infections are not altogether uncommon in bearded dragons. If you suspect that your beardie has this type of infection, it is best to contact your veterinarian immediately. However, there are a few things you can do to make your beardie feel better until you can get him to the clinic.
Does My Beardie Have a URI?
A bearded dragon can develop a respiratory infection for many reasons. These infections, which include pneumonia, can occur in beardies that are stressed, improperly fed, or are kept in poor, cold, or dirty conditions.1
“Poor” or “cold” conditions, in this case, mean a habitat that is kept below the optimal temperature and above the optimal level of humidity.
Upper respiratory infections can also develop if your bearded dragon aspirates water or food.
In addition to the tell-tale clicking noise, your sick beardie may display some other symptoms, including:
- Lack of appetite
- Mouth breathing or gaping
- Black bearding (displaying their dark beard)
- Sniffing, sneezing, snorting, or wheezing
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing, labored breathing, or unnaturally rapid or shallow breathing
- Runny discharge from their eyes, mouth or nose
- A puffy throat or body
- Change in mood or behavior
The sad fact is that many animals will not outwardly show discomfort or pain. In the wild this makes them an easy target for predators, so they’ve become quite adept at hiding their symptoms.
If your bearded friend is displaying any of the above symptoms, is acting differently than usual, or you have any other reason to think that he may have a URI, call your veterinarian immediately. You can take certain steps to make your dragon feel better before his vet visit, but ultimately he will need a course of medication to rid him of this infection.
How Can I Help My Bearded Dragon?
It bears repeating, if you think your bearded dragon is sick, before you do anything else at all, make a call to your veterinarian.
Once that’s done, there are a few things you can do to help your bearded dragon out before his visit to the doctor.
First, raise his tank temperature slightly (by about 3°-5℉). The daytime temperature on the cool side of your bearded dragon’s tank should always be kept between 75°-85℉°. His basking area should always be kept between 88°-100℉. At night, keep your dragon’s tank temperature between 70°-75℉.
Second, make sure that the humidity level in your dragon’s tank does not fall above the optimal level (20-40%). If the humidity measures above 40%, there are several things you can quickly do to decrease it.
- Increase the ventilation in your dragon’s tank.
- Increase the ventilation in the room in which your dragon’s tank is located.
- Reduce evaporation by moving your dragon’s water dish, or any other sources of water, away from heat sources, such as your dragon’s basking lamp.
- Move any live plants out of your dragon’s tank.
- Place a sock full of rice at one end of your dragon’s habitat.
Next, elevate your beardie. By propping him up on a folded blanket or towel with his face angled downward, you can help to drain a bit of mucus from his throat. You don’t need to prop him too high, about a 10-15° angle is fine.
What to Expect at the Vet and Treatment
Your veterinarian will most likely discuss your bearded dragon’s health history with you, as well as your current husbandry practices. He or she will use X-rays, blood tests, and cultures of your beardie’s eyes, nose, and oral discharges to help diagnose the respiratory infection.
If your beardie’s URI seems more severe, your veterinarian may also do what is called a trans-tracheal wash. This procedure requires sedation or anesthesia and allows your vet to obtain a collection of your beardie’s airway fluid.
During the procedure, a sterile tube is inserted into your bearded dragon’s mouth and down their trachea. Your veterinarian will instill a very small amount of sterile fluid into your dragon’s airway, and then suck it back out for analysis.
Though this may sound like the opposite of what you’d want to do for a reptile with a respiratory infection, the small amount of fluid that remains in your dragon’s lungs is rapidly absorbed and will not typically worsen the infection.
Since respiratory infections are typically bacterial, your vet will most likely treat your dragon with a course of oral or injectable antibiotics. If the infection has progressed and is more severe than usual, or if your beardie has lost a significant amount of weight due to the infection, your veterinarian may hospitalize your beardie for more aggressive treatment and therapy.
Respiratory infections that are caused by fungus, viruses, or parasites can often be treated with drugs other than antibiotics.
In addition to providing the appropriate medication, your veterinarian will also discuss how to avoid future infections by providing the right environment and diet for your dragon.
How to Prevent Upper Respiratory Infections
As previously alluded to, proper care is instrumental in preventing respiratory infections in your bearded dragon.
First, be sure to always maintain the appropriate heat and humidity levels in your bearded dragon’s habitat. Every bearded dragon owner should have two thermometers installed in their dragon’s terrarium — one in the basking area, and one on the cool side of the tank — to constantly monitor these temperatures.
You should also have a reliable hygrometer in your dragon’s terrarium for measuring the humidity level. The level of humidity in your dragon’s tank should never exceed 40%. High humidity levels pose far greater danger to reptiles than low humidity.
Keep in mind that although they are popular and more cost-effective, glass aquariums may not be the best structure for housing your bearded dragon. It is very difficult to maintain proper air circulation in a glass tank.
Although it is not impossible to maintain a healthy habitat for a bearded dragon using a glass tank, you will need to pay extra attention to the temperature and humidity levels within them. Be sure that the tank is well-ventilated and invest in a good dehumidifier, if necessary.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that you reduce the amount of stress in your bearded dragon’s life wherever possible. Beardies are easily stressed and stress can weaken their immune systems.
Changing the location of your beardie’s terrarium, handling him too much, providing insufficient light or heat, moving him to a new tank, or adding a new bearded dragon can all be stress-worthy events.
If your beardie stops eating, is less active than usual, appears darker in color, is not basking enough, decides to start “glass surfing” (clawing and climbing the sides of his tank), or suddenly displays dark markings on his belly and chin, he may be trying to tell you that he is stressed.
You can reduce stress by keeping handling to a minimum, maintaining the proper living environment, reducing outside stimuli, and by giving him a warm bath.
Speaking of baths, you should always bathe your beardie in his own tub. Make sure the bathwater is between 90°-96℉, and that the water level is no higher than his shoulder joints. If the water level in your dragon’s tub is too high, he can aspirate, which can cause a respiratory infection.
In order to prevent respiratory infections, as well as other types of infection in your bearded dragon, make sure that you are regularly cleaning and disinfecting their habitat. Spot-clean your dragon’s home every day and deep-clean it once a month.
A deep clean includes removing all dishes, decorations, and reptile carpet and thoroughly soaking and cleaning them, as well as cleaning and disinfecting your dragon’s tank.
You should also ensure that you are using the most appropriate substrate for your dragon. Some types of substrate, such as bark, can retain humidity (and can also be ingested, leading to impaction). Slate or ceramic tile, newspaper, and reptile carpet are much better types of substrate for beardies.
Lastly, be sure that your bearded dragon is receiving the proper diet. Bearded dragons need both protein in the form of live insects, as well as nutrient-rich vegetables, to stay healthy and happy. You should also sprinkle their food with an appropriate calcium supplement at least 4-6 times per week.
Although a respiratory infection can be very scary for any bearded dragon parent, they are fairly common and can be easily dealt with if treated early. You can also take great steps to avoid these infections altogether by feeding your bearded dragon the appropriate diet, maintaining proper tank temperature and humidity, and reducing stress.