Tail rot is a medical condition that affects many reptiles, including bearded dragons. But it’s more dangerous for your beardie than any other reptiles because bearded dragons cannot grow their tails back.
But what is tail rot, how can you determine if your bearded dragon is suffering from the condition, what can you do to prevent it, and how can you treat tail rot if your beardie does develop this serious condition?
Read on for everything you need to know about tail rot in bearded dragons.
What Is Tail Rot?
Tail rot is one of the most common medical issues that a bearded dragon in captivity is likely to deal with. It’s when their tail starts to suffer rapid cell death and loss of nerve function. As a result, the tail will eventually rot and fall off due to unhealthy blood flow to the extremity, but the condition can spread to other parts of their body before this happens. Spreading cell death can lead to further serious health conditions and eventually death.
Unlike a lot of other lizards, a beardie will not grow its tail back when it’s lost. They also do not drop their tails as a self-defense mechanism. This means that if they lose their tail, they will be without it forever. This is a problem since they use it for balance, communication, and defense.
How To Identify Tail Rot
As with most serious medical conditions, early detection and treatment can make a big difference to how likely your beloved beardie is to survive. So, look out for symptoms that could indicate that your beardie is suffering.
The most obvious sign is that the tail will start to change color, starting at the tip and working its way up. This is not always easy to identify at first because it will turn a light gray color, similar to the color they turn when shedding. Eventually it will go blue, dark purple, and then black.
The scales on the tail will also become dry due to lack of blood circulation. While scales should normally be firm and glossy, they will be dull and brittle and will crumble off the tail very easily.
The size of the tail can also change, becoming much thinner, and sometimes uneven in width. It might also bend out of shape and even develop a sharp right angle bend.
At the early stages, behavioral changes in your bearded dragon can also be a sign that something is not quite right. The condition is very painful, which can leave your beardie irritable and even aggressive. They will probably be more reclusive and may hiss at you when you try to interact with them. They likely will not want to be touched, especially around the tail, since it’s painful. A loss of appetite can also accompany these symptoms.
Eventually the tail will fall off completely, but this only happens when the condition is very advanced, and it can often be too late for treatment at this point.
Causes And Prevention
A variety of issues can cause a bearded dragon to develop tail rot. Preventative measures to properly care for your beardie can minimize the likelihood of them developing the life-threatening condition.
Tail rot in a bearded dragon often begins with a trauma that injures the tail and allows harmful bacteria to enter the wound and start an infection.
There are a few common sources of trauma for bearded dragons. First is a bite from another reptile, especially if you keep them in the same enclosure or let your reptiles “play together” when outside of their enclosures.
They can also suffer bites from their prey. If you feed your beardie live prey such as grasshoppers, the insect can become stressed when faced with the predator and fight back.
Another common issue is improper shedding of the tail. The dead skin left behind can cut off circulation.
The final common problem can be you accidentally hurting your beardie when handling them.
Any of these activities can cause cracks in their tail. This allows harmful bacteria to enter and start infecting the wound, eventually leading to rot.
So, how can you prevent this kind of trauma?
- Don’t keep multiple bearded dragons in the same enclosure. They are solitary creatures and can become aggressive in the presence of other reptiles, even their own kind. There is also no need to give them play time with other reptiles. Your company is all they need.
- Only feed your bearded dragon dead feeder insects. This is safer for your beardie and less traumatic for the insect as well. Not to mention, freeze-dried insects are much easier to handle than live ones.
- Always check your beardie carefully after shedding to ensure they have fully shed their skin. If you notice any incomplete shedding, do not try to remove it yourself as this can easily damage their skin. Keep their environment humid and give them a daily 15-minute bath in warm water to help them shed it themselves. If this doesn’t work, take them to the vet.
- Be careful when handling your bearded dragon. Always wash your hands first to avoid accidentally transferring harmful bacteria to your reptile.
Avoiding trauma will minimize the chances of harmful bacteria getting into your bearded dragon’s system and attacking the healthy cells in their tail.
Poor Diet And Nutrition
While a poor diet won’t cause tail rot, it will compromise your bearded dragon’s ability to fight off the condition. It can also lead to other medical issues. The most common is a lack of calcium, which can lead to weak and deformed bones and poor scale quality.
Bearded dragons are omnivores and eat a bit of everything, even if they love their insects. But it’s important to give them a balanced diet including fruits and vegetables because this is where they will get their calcium, which is one of the most important elements of their diet and also one of the hardest elements for them to get.
It’s hard for them to get calcium because many calcium-rich foods are also high in phosphorus, and phosphorus leeches calcium from the body. So foods that seem healthy can actually be problematic for your beardie.
Look for vegetables that have a 2:1 calcium-to -phosphorus ratio, such as collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, raw bell peppers, butternut squash, carrots, peeled cucumber, endive, raw okra, spaghetti squash, pumpkin, and parsnip.
You can also sprinkle their food with a calcium supplement such as this Exo Terra Calcium Powder.
Read more about proper nutrition and feeding for your bearded dragon here.
Good terrarium conditions for your bearded dragon should replicate the natural habitat as much as possible. This means exposure to lots of natural light every day. This is important because your beardie needs lots of vitamin D, which they mostly obtain through basking in the sun and soaking up UVB rays.
Vitamin D is important again because of calcium. Reptiles can’t do anything with calcium in their bodies without vitamin D. So, if they aren’t getting enough UVB light, they won’t be benefiting from their calcium-rich diet and won’t have the nutrition they need to fight off tail rot.
Make sure your bearded dragon has access to a UVB lamp for 12-14 hours a day. Also remember that lamps need to be changed every six months to remain effective.
Read more about creating an appropriate habitat for your bearded dragon here.
Poor Tank Hygiene
The other big risk factor for your bearded dragon developing tail rot is poor tank hygiene. This is the main culprit for the breeding and transfer of the harmful bacteria that can enter and attack your beardie’s tail.
The biggest problems are leftover food not being removed and instead left to rot, fecal matter not being removed, and old substrate that has been soaked with waste being left in the tank for too long. This alone can cause major issues, but combine this with overly humid temperatures and you’re creating a breeding ground for bacteria.
Uneaten prey and fecal matter should always be removed as soon as possible. You should spot clean your beardie’s tank on a weekly basis, and perform a deep clean every two to three months, which is also when you should change your terrarium substrate.
How Is Tail Rot Treated?
In the unfortunate event that your beardie does develop tail rot, how can the condition be treated?
At the very early stages, some home remedies can be effective to kill the bacteria and let your beardie heal on their own. The most common treatment is with Betadine, which is iodine.
Wash the infected tail gently with warm water. Prepare a solution that is one part betadine and three parts warm water, and stir to make a dark tea. Immerse the tail in the tea for five minutes. Dry the tail with a paper towel or cotton before returning your beardie to their clean habitat. You can repeat this twice a day for a week.
There are other infection-fighting solutions that you can use. You can also use one part white vinegar with two parts warm water, or one part apple cider vinegar with two parts warm water.
If that doesn’t resolve the problem, it’s time to talk to your vet. They may prescribe oral or topical antibiotics, which are much stronger bacterial weapons than the home solution.
However, if the condition has progressed too far, the vet may need to amputate part of their tail or their entire tail. While this does leave your beardie without a tail, it’s important since it prevents the cellular death from spreading to the rest of your bearded dragon’s body and causing further harm.
Bearded Dragon Tail Rot FAQs
What causes tail rot?
Tail rot is caused by gram-negative bacteria entering your bearded dragon’s system and attacking it, starting with their tail. The bacteria can spread quickly, so once it’s advanced, it can be difficult to stop its spread throughout the body.
Can a bearded dragon survive tail rot?
If the problem is identified quickly and steps are taken to prevent the spread of the bacteria, then your bearded dragon has a good chance of surviving tail rot, though they may lose part of their tail.
Do bearded dragons’ tails grow back after tail rot?
Unlike many other reptiles, bearded dragons cannot regrow their tails. While the tail will heal, if part of the tail has been lost it will heal over into a stump. The tail will not get longer.
Is tail rot an emergency?
Tail rot is an emergency since you need to stop the bacteria from spreading as quickly as possible. If you catch the condition at the very early stages, you may be able to apply home remedies. If the tail is already starting to look black, make an appointment with your vet immediately.
Preventing Tail Rot In Beardies
It’s not only a little sad if your bearded dragon’s beautiful tail drops off. Unlike other reptiles, this tail will never grow back, leaving them without a vital limb for balance, communication, and defense. The underlying condition that caused the loss of their tail can also spread to the rest of the body causing cell death, organ failure, and eventual death for your bearded dragon.
The best way to avoid tail rot in a bearded dragon is prevention. This means maintaining an appropriate and clean habitat, ensuring they get the right nutrition, and preventing injury that can act as an opening to infection.
You should always keep an eye on your bearded dragon for changes in behavior and appearance that could be a sign that something is not quite right. Early detection is vital for a cure, so when you notice these things, contact your vet immediately.