Tail rot in Bearded Dragons is treatable but needs to be taken care of quickly. Left untreated, it can be fatal
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What is tail rot?
- What does it look like?
- What are the causes of tail rot?
- Can it be treated at home?
- When should you go to the Vet?
What's In This Guide?
What is Bearded Dragon Tail Rot?
Tail rot is a condition in bearded dragons when tissue, usually starting at the tip of the tail, dies or rots, taking on a darkened color.
It’s a common condition in reptiles that can be hard to identify during its early stages and can become dangerous and fatal if left untreated.
The necrotic (dead) tissue at the tail often turns darker in color (blue, purple, black) due to a lack of healthy blood supply. It is usually caused by an infection, trauma, or wound on the tail.
Tail rot should be taken seriously, especially since many fail to catch it during its early stages. Treatment is aggressive. Once it progresses, tail rot can affect the rest of the body leading to internal infection, organ failure, and other serious health concerns. In many instances, the tail can fall off or have to be amputated. Always pay attention to your bearded dragon’s health and bring it to the veterinarian if you suspect tail rot.
How To Identify Tail Rot
Identifying tail rot can become tricky, especially when your bearded dragon has dark-colored skin. Aside from a color change, especially at the tip of the tail (dark brown, black), look for signs of dehydration. A part of the tail that is really dry and has an unusual color are signs of tail rot. Look for flaky, brittle, or coarse textures on the affected parts of your beardie’s tail or even a stiff tail that may slightly bend.
Sometimes, shedding can be mistaken for tail rot and vice versa. Take note that a healthy tail that is shedding will still be pliable and flexible. It will correct itself and straighten out after movement unlike one affected by tail rot which may become stiff or bent. If the rest of your beardie’s skin is flaking off or seems dry, then it may just be shedding. Provide proper hydration for your pet at all times to aid in shedding.
Behavioral Symptoms Of Tail Rot In Bearded Dragons
Non-physical tail rot symptoms point to behavioral changes in bearded dragons that often indicate pain, illness, or stress.
- Your dragon may become irritable and impatient, often hissing or trying to bite which is a sign of distress or pain. Your dragon may also show a black beard because of stress.
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased appetite or weight loss are also signs that your beardie is sick and possibly dying. However, brumation can also cause a lack of appetite, so be sure to check the enclosure’s temperature as well to rule this out.
- Discomfort or pain when the tail is touched
- If you notice that your bearded dragon shows signs of discomfort or pain when the tail hits or touches an object, then it may have tail rot.
- Prolonged hiding and lethargy
- If your beardie seems more reclusive than normal or is hiding for prolonged periods of time in unusual areas of their enclosure then it may be sick or in pain.
What Causes Tail Rot in Bearded Dragons?
1. Fights & Trauma
Fights and trauma are often causes of tail rot. Loose objects in the enclosure can pin your dragon’s tail causing trauma or injury so make sure its enclosure is safe. Bearded dragons are solitary animals that like living alone. If they are housed with another dragon, they often become aggressive and territorial. Fights will be common in bearded dragons housed in one enclosure so it’s best to separate them. In a fight, the tail can become bitten or scratched and such injuries can pave the way for tail rot. Sometimes, the rotting of a dragon’s feet can also occur if they sustain injuries there.
2. Inadequate Diet
Proper diet and nutrition play a big part in a bearded dragon’s overall health especially in its ability to ward and fight off infections. Always provide your bearded dragon with high-quality food and supplements such as calcium and vitamin D3. These vitamins will strengthen its immune system and aid in proper bone and cartilage growth. A lack of calcium in your beardie’s diet can make the onset of tail rot become worse. Always make sure to get your live food (insects) from reputable breeders to avoid parasites and other harmful toxins. Beardies also need the correct ratio of insects to greens so pay attention to what you feed them.
3. Incorrect Lighting
Proper full-spectrum lighting (UVA/UVB light) is essential for your bearded dragon’s digestion and absorption of calcium. Even if you provide a calcium supplement, UVB light is still needed for your bearded dragon to get enough vitamin D3 to aid in calcium absorption. Again, these nutrients will ensure your dragon’s good health (strong bones, healthy eggs, proper cartilage growth). Remember that your UVB lamps degrade with time and will need to be replaced every 6 months.
4. Incomplete Shed
Sometimes, your bearded dragon may not shed completely and a part of its skin may get stuck at the tail and constrict it. This cuts off blood circulation, causing tail rot. However, you should never attempt to help your beardie shed as this can harm them as well. Instead, make sure that your dragon is well hydrated by providing clean water at all times and keeping proper humidity levels (30-40%) in its enclosure. Invest in a good hygrometer so you can check accurately. Misting can help with the humidity levels as well as a nice warm bath to aid in shedding.
5. Poor Care and Maintenance
It goes without saying that proper care and maintenance of your bearded dragon’s enclosure ensures that they remain in top health. A poorly kept cage can harbor bacteria and other parasites that will harm your beardie and make them prone to infections. Don’t forget to maintain the required temperature, humidity, and lighting levels for your dragon’s habitat. Hypothermia, or when your dragon’s body temperature is kept too low, can also cause tail rot so make sure that the temperature in the enclosure is the correct range. Invest in an accurate digital thermometer. Keeping your dragon in good health is the best remedy against tail rot and other diseases.
Blood clots or embolisms in the tail can restrict blood flow and cause tail rot. Prevent this with proper diet and nutrition and by keeping your bearded dragon healthy and stress-free.
How to Treat Bearded Dragon Tail Rot From Home
Some home remedies can help with tail rot but it’s always best to take your beardie to the vet, especially in advanced cases since tail rot can progress quite fast and turn fatal. However, you can try to treat it at home for minor and early cases with a betadine soak and topical medications.
Make a 1 part betadine to 5 parts water mixture and soak the tail gently for 5 minutes. After soaking, dab the area with an absorbent paper towel or clean cloth then apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin (the kind without pain relief – pain relievers are known to be toxic to lizards). Remember to do everything gently.
Repeat these steps every day for about 1-2 weeks. However, the betadine soak should only be done for a maximum of 3 days as this can dry out your beardie’s skin making the condition worse. Again, if in doubt, always consult your vet.
When Should You Consult A Vet?
Always keep in mind that tail rot is a painful and degenerative condition that can be fatal for your bearded dragon if not treated properly. In most cases, a trip to the vet is the best thing you can do for your beardie. If this can’t be done then some first aid listed above can be administered.
Consult a specialist vet when initial home treatment did not improve the condition or when you only noticed the tail rot at its advanced stage. If the tail rot is accompanied by behavioral symptoms such as lethargy, lack of appetite, and pain then it is a sign that the tail rot has progressed and your beardie requires medical attention.
The vet may recommend amputation to make sure the decaying tissue does not progress to the rest of the body. Though this might sound extreme, it may be the only thing that will save your bearded dragon. Hydration, proper nutrition, and antibiotics are usually the prescribed aftercare post-amputation as well as keeping a clean environment for your beardie.
The vet may also require other physical exams and scans to check the internal organs of your dragon. At best, only a betadine soak and some antibiotics will be prescribed.
How To Prevent Tail Rot In Bearded Dragons
Preventing tail rot from happening will always be better than treatment, and it usually steps that all bearded dragon owners are familiar with. These prevention measures are what you have to do to take good care of your bearded dragon anyway. At the very start, ensure that you get your bearded dragon from a responsible breeder to ensure that your dragon will not be prone to illness.
- Provide your beardie with up to 12 hours of UVB exposure daily.
- Maintain proper feeding habits and nutrition.
- Maintain clean enclosure conditions.
Ensure that your beardie’s enclosure has adequate space and is the appropriate tank size to ensure healthy growth. Keep your tank furniture simple yet functional – make sure that there are no sharp edges or loose objects that can cause injuries. Always keep your tank clean with the proper habitat conditions (temperature, humidity, heating, and lighting). Keep only one bearded dragon in a tank to prevent fights.
Proper diet, nutrition, and hydration will keep tail rot at bay with quality food and supplements. Ensure that your UVB lamps are in good shape and replace them every six months. If your dragon is shedding, do not help it, and make sure it is well-hydrated. A warm bath may also help. The best prevention of any sickness, including tail rot, is to ensure your bearded dragon is healthy and stress-free.
Tail rot is a serious and possibly painful condition for bearded dragons caused by trauma or constricting blood supply to the tail. Some home remedies are available such as an antiseptic soak and topical antibiotics, but it is often best to consult your veterinarian before the condition worsens.
Can tail rot kill a bearded dragon?
Yes, a tail rot can kill a bearded dragon if the necrotic or dead tissue and the infection spreads and affects the bloodstream. Other organs can also be affected.
Do bearded dragons grow back their tails?
No, this is a common misconception. Unlike other lizards, bearded dragons cannot drop their tails to escape predators when threatened (an ability called “autotomy”) and regrow them after.
How much does it cost to amputate a bearded dragon’s tail?
Amputation of a bearded dragon’s tail will cost anywhere from $100-150 but can go as high as $300 depending on the severity. This includes surgery, consultation, medicine, and aftercare. Never attempt to perform an amputation on your own!
Is tail rot contagious?
No. Tail rot is not usually contagious as the problem is often internal.
A list of common diseases affecting bearded dragons:
Bearded Dragons – Diseases
Quick info on toe, tail, and limb necrosis in lizards:
Toe, Tail, and Limb Necrosis in Lizards
Explaining common myths and facts about bearded dragon care:
Myths and Facts about Bearded Dragon Care