Tail rot in bearded dragons and most other reptile pets can easily go unnoticed especially if you’re a new pet owner. The problem is that if not identified early and treated on time, the infection can spread to the bloodstream and can even kill the lizard.
What is tail rot in bearded dragons?
Tail rot is a bacterial infection in reptile pets such as bearded dragons that results in necrosis of the tail. In reptile pets such as bearded dragons and other lizards, you can identify this infection by a darkening tail starting from the tip spreading slowly to affect the whole tail.
The darkening starts as a gray-ish discoloration of the tail, which makes it a little hard to identify especially if you’re a new pet owner. However, close observation of the difference in color between the reptile’s rest of the body and the tip of the tail can reveal the changing shade of the tail.
Necrotic lesions form when bacteria enter and multiply inside the tissue while avoiding local immune responses. This process rapidly destroys cells, which can lead to septicemia and death if not treated promptly.
Can tail rot kill bearded dragons?
Tail rot is dangerous and can kill bearded dragons if left untreated or sometimes if not identified early enough. The danger comes from the infection spreading into other organs in the body leading to more severe health problems. As soon as you see signs of tail rot, take the beardie to a reptile veterinarian immediately.
The best way to make sure your pet remains safe is to address the early symptoms of tail rot as soon as possible. In fact, I’d advise that you
How to Identify Tail Rot in Bearded Dragons
You can easily identify tail rot by looking at the tail of the bearded dragon. Normally, a healthy lizard will have its tail looking like the rest of the body. However, lizards suffering from tail rot will have their tails changing color and appearing as though they are rotting.
Here are the identifying characteristics of tail rot in bearded dragons:
- The dragon’s tail appears as if it is rotting.
- Change of color of the tail to gray or even black.
- Gradual discoloration of the tail that starts from the tip and spreading towards the body.
While these are a few of the physical identifiers, you might want to observe your lizard carefully to be able to identify the earliest signs of tail rot in the pet in order to have a veterinarian treat the condition and prevent amputation of the tail.
Signs and symptoms
While it is not easy to identify the signs of tail rot in bearded dragons, a closer look at a pet that’s showing unusual behavior or weakness can reveal a dying tail.
Here are the signs and symptoms of tail rot in bearded dragons:
1. A rotting tail from the tip
The first symptom of tail rot in bearded dragons is the tail rotting from the top and spreading gradually towards the fat end of the tail. The rotting process usually occurs gradually, but if left untreated for a long time the tail may become deformed or amputated altogether.
At this stage of decay, the rotting tissue will be black in color and emit an unpleasant odor to alert you that something is wrong with your pet.
It is a little difficult to discover this symptom (decaying tail) especially if your bearded dragon is a bit young or has a darker shade. The rotting tissue will not be dry, but moist to the touch and have an almost jelly-like consistency that may resemble a bruise or tumor.
This symptom is often accompanied by swelling in the tail region because of infection. If your pet’s body temperature suddenly increases (to 40˚C) it is also likely to accompany signs of disease elsewhere on its body – feverishness, lethargy.
Lethargy is an extreme lack of energy, and one could notice that your bearded dragon has this symptom if it starts to show a decrease in appetite or does not move around the same as before. Lethargy is often seen with other symptoms such as fever (rising body temperature) especially when it is caused by tail rot infection.
The lizard may start lying on the ground and refusing to move around much, not wanting to climb or perch as high up in trees as they usually would.
If your reptile pet is showing signs of inactivity, it is important to check the tail to ensure the tail doesn’t have signs of decay because the problem can worsen the general health of the pet.
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A pet that is experiencing tail rot will also show signs of irritability. Signs of this would be when they are trying to scratch their own tail or if you try and touch it near the area where there might be rotting tissue.
It can also happen that your bearded dragon has an infected wound somewhere else on its body – a swollen eye, for instance- but it is important to inspect the lizard’s body to rule out anything else that’s making the pet irritable.
Irritability occurs because the bearded dragon won’t like being touched by people close to painful areas or with decaying tissues as much as other body parts. They often have wounds at these places, which makes them susceptible to infection, so most animals are not happy when someone touches an area that has been injured.
You may notice the beardie try to scratch their own tail and show irritability by trying to avoid being touched near the area where there might be rotting tissue.
4. Hiding all the time
If your bearded dragon has been hiding for days, it may be because they are experiencing tail rot. Signs of this would also be if the pet is not eating or drinking and has a fever (a high body temperature). These signs might have increased because parts of their tail had become deformed or amputated altogether by now.
If you haven’t seen your bearded dragon in the open for a prolonged period, you might want to check to see if the pet is suffering from tail rot that’s probably causing pain and discomfort, making it stay in hiding for too long.
5. Loss of appetite
A loss of appetite is usually the first sign that your pet is ill. Signs of this would be when they don’t eat anything for days, and if left untreated, it can lead to starvation or even death because animals need nutrients to survive just like humans do.
Loss of interest in food can mean the reptile is undergoing serious discomfort such as body aches due to the bacterial infection that’s coming from the tail region.
Tail rot can also lead to anxiety and major behavioral changes that may be the reason why your bearded dragon won’t eat. Therefore, it is important to check the body of the lizard to see if the tail is showing signs of decay or rotten tissue.
Causes of tail rot in bearded dragons
There are quite a few common causes of tail rot in bearded dragons, the major one being trauma of any kind that can provide an entry point for bacteria. A poor enclosure setup or even improper handling can all lead to tail rot problems in bearded dragons.
Here are the causes of tail rot:
1. Injuries (bites)
If a bearded dragon suffers an injury, typically from another animal or even from a fall, the exposed area can be vulnerable and may result in tail rot.
This is because the injury causes damage to skin, muscle and bone. Although the reptile’s immune system reacts by sending infection-fighting cells to this area of vulnerability for protection, the resulting inflammation around the site of injury can contribute to tail rot.
Bearded dragons are very active reptiles that use their tails as a means of balance when climbing or running, so can suffer an injury in any number of ways, including falling off ledges, being bitten during fighting with other lizards (particularly if they try picking on smaller bearded dragons) or even from breaking branches while exploring tree trunks.
No matter how it happens, all injuries will be painful, but those close to where the tail meets the body will often cause more significant tail rot.
A common reason for tail rot in lizards is extremely high humidity in their habitat, especially if your beardie spends a lot of time on wet substrate or moss.
This is because high humidity causes the skin to soften and become more vulnerable, allowing bacteria (such as “Staphylococcus”) into deeper tissues causing tail rot.
If you’re not sure how dry your habitat should be for a bearded dragon’s enclosure, then please consult with an expert reptile keeper or breeder who will know what the correct levels are.
Bearded dragons have thick scales on their belly that help protect them from infection, but if they spend too much time lying flat on wet moss or substrate – even just once every now and again – it can cause problems.
The recommended humidity level in a bearded dragon’s enclosure is between 45% and 60%.
If a bearded dragon is suffering from tail rot, it’s important to reduce the humidity level as much as possible in their habitat.
If you fix bearded dragon humidity issues by spraying water, I recommend using a misting bottle (misting once every day) instead of spraying water on the substrate because it causes less disruption to natural ground-level environments but if done too often, it may cause problems such as mold growth.
It’s also possible your bearded dragon could have mites living on its scales. Parasites burrow into the skin, causing irritation that leads to scratching and bleeding, which causes damage to the tissue and an open invitation for infection.
Biting parasites that affect bearded dragons include the following:
- Mites can be found on the surface of scales, especially around the head and neck. They can, however, bit parts of the tail and cause the skin to break and become the entry point for bacteria that cause tail rot in lizards.
- Fleas are a type of insect that causes irritation, which causes your bearded dragons to scratch their scales and bite them. This can lead to tail rot in reptiles because the tissue is broken from scratching or biting.
- Ticks are not very common, but they can still bite your bearded dragon and cause tail rot.
If you’re not sure if your pet has a parasite, then please consult with an expert reptile keeper who will be able to diagnose what type of parasites they may have.
A bearded dragon’s shedding process occurs over a period of days. Incomplete shedding causes tail rot because the old skin remains stuck on the body, causing irritation that leads to bleeding especially if the stuck shed on the tail is removed forcefully. This then leads to infection starting from the part of the skin where the shed was torn.
Shedding is, however not the most common problem that leads to tail rot as most healthy beardies will shed successfully without even the need for human intervention.
If you’re not sure if your pet has incomplete shedding then please consult with an expert reptile keeper who will be able to diagnose what causes tail rot in your bearded dragons.
Another possibility is a fungus from moist conditions, which manifests as dark patches under scales with balding spots on top. This causes irritation and itching, which leads to scratching. Scratching causes open wounds that can easily attract an infection on the site.
It’s important to note the difference between fungus on a bearded dragon’s skin from tail rot: Fungus starts as small patches under scales with balding spots on top while tail rot has swollen or blackened tissue in one area of your pet’s tail. This also indicates if there are other problems nearby such as parasites because it usually occurs when these issues are present too.
It might not always be possible to tell what causes tail rot in reptiles by looking at them but if you think your beardie may have fungus then consult with an expert reptile vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
If your bearded dragon is suffering from embolism (blood clots) in the tail, there’s a risk of developing tail rot. Blood clots in the tail can result from a number of causes such as:
- Injuries to the spinal cord, or reduced blood flow due to heart disease causes occlusion (blockage) of arteries within the circulatory system that supply nutrients and oxygen to tissues including those on your lizard’s tail.
- Diseases affecting red blood cells all cause defective production of healthy red blood cells that cannot carry enough oxygen for effective bodily function.
If the tail is not receiving oxygen and nutrients, it can start to die from the tip, which is how tail rot starts to develop. Keep in mind that if embolism is the problem, you might want to check the reptile for other areas that may be suffering from clots to prevent more complications.
A dirty environment harbors bacteria and other pathogens that are dangerous for your bearded dragon. If the beardie’s enclosure is not regularly cleaned, the bearded dragon may ingest or come into contact with these bacteria that cause infections.
Poor hygiene can be caused by a number of reasons such as:
- Sparse enclosure cleaning intervals
- Rotting food such as mealworms, dubia roaches, etc
- Poor cleaning of the enclosure
You’ll want to make sure your beardie’s enclosure is kept tidy and disinfected before bringing your new pet inside to prevent the possibility of tail rot and other diseases. Always remember to do a thorough cleaning after shedding too since during this time, your pet is a lot more vulnerable.
Tail rot is a serious condition that causes severe bacterial infection to the tail and surrounding membranes. Tail rot causes some very ugly symptoms such as inflammation, pus discharge, necrosis (tissue death) and ulcers on the skin of your bearded dragon’s tail.
The bacteria responsible for this condition are usually either Staphylococcus sp or Streptococcus pyogenes which can be transmitted through direct contact.
So, how is tail rot in bearded dragons treated?
Treatment usually involves topical application of antibiotics with repeated treatments until healing is complete. Treatment is usually confined to the tail, but it can be extended up to the body if necessary.
CAUTION: Do not try to treat the bearded dragon yourself. Consult a reptile veterinarian for help as you will need a proper diagnosis and the right application of medication to get rid of tail rot. Your reptile’s veterinarian may recommend the following in the treatment plan:
- Isolate your bearded dragon from its cage mates and wash their living area with a disinfectant that kills bacteria. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely before returning them back home.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment or cream on affected areas such as five days in a row every day until healed.- Put some of these treatment options into use:
- Administration of anti inflammatory medication
- Applying cold compresses to soften skin ulcers and reduce swelling.
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