Bearded dragons are a great pet to have if you are a lizard enthusiast. While no lizard is exactly easy to care for, bearded dragons tend to be on the easier side of things as long as you get all of the specifications for their enclosure right.
If you do not, this can result in a number of problems ranging from an unhappy bearded dragon to a sickly bearded dragon. The amount of information involved in this can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it will be important to take care of for the sake of your lizard’s health.
Speaking of the health of a bearded dragon, one thing you will want to pay attention to is the way that your bearded dragon is breathing. Bearded dragons are not exactly clear when they are exhibiting signs of distress, so it is important for you to pay close attention to what your bearded dragon’s range of normalcy is so that you can maintain it throughout its entire life.
One thing that owners may encounter is a bearded dragon that seems to be breathing heavily. One may not necessarily think that bearded dragons are animals that are prone to respiratory problems, but the truth is that as with any other animal, they can develop infections and problems.
In fact, bearded dragons are more prone to respiratory problems than some other animals, especially when you consider all of the finer points that you need to care for when taking care of these little lizards.
If you notice that your bearded dragon is breathing heavier than usual, you should take it to a vet who is experienced in handling reptiles as soon as possible. That vet will have the knowledge and resources to help your bearded dragon get back to full health while you remain home and work on remedying the problem that caused it.
Of course, you will want to tackle problems before they occur, but if your bearded dragon has already reached a stage of breathing heavily, then that should take your priority.
As for what situations can cause respiratory issues in bearded dragons, there are more than a few of them. Bearded dragons are susceptible to developing upper respiratory infections and there are several ways that you can try and minimize this occurrence. In addition to this, there are some environmental factors that you will want to consider as well.
Before you begin to panic, there are also some reasons why your bearded dragon may be breathing heavily that are within the scope of normal for a bearded dragon’s routine. These are important to note if you are new to owning bearded dragons, as you won’t want to cause your dragon undue stress by taking it to the vet when it was actually just fine.
Healthy and Normal Reasons for Heavy Breathing in Bearded Dragons
One of the most common reasons why your bearded dragon will be breathing heavily is because it is eating and digesting its food. Bearded dragons, naturally, have a different digestive process than humans do.
This also means that their methods of digestion may not be what you are used to seeing in other animals, specifically warm-blooded animals.
For bearded dragons, heat plays a massive role in the digestive process, rather than the acids that other animals use. For the right environment for digestion, bearded dragons feel the need to bask in the heat, and with this shift in temperature, your bearded dragon might breathe heavily.
This is completely normal and expected, though it won’t hurt to double check and make sure that nothing else is going on that could be causing the heavy breathing. If it is only happening right after you feed your bearded dragon, then it is likely just due to digestion.
Bearded dragons will also breathe heavier if they have eaten something that was too large. You should always make sure that whatever food you have fed your bearded dragon is no larger in width than the distance between the bearded dragon’s eyes.
Within the range of normal, there is also expected to be stressing factors in your bearded dragon’s environment. Naturally, you should try and keep these down to a minimum, but there are cases that you may not be able to avoid, and when your bearded dragon is stressed, it may breathe heavily the same way that people breathe lightly when they are stressed.
Common causes of stress in bearded dragons that fall under expected stressors in its life include loud noises, changes in light/temperature/humidity, being handled too much, being handled improperly, seeing other animals (such as a cat or dog) and being moved to a new location.
The last part is the hardest one for many owners, simply because being moved to a new location is required when cleaning out the bearded dragon’s tank. This means that at least a few times in the bearded dragon’s life, it will be stressed out and it may begin to breathe heavily.
If you notice that the heavy breathing occurs after one of these triggers has happened, it may just be a matter of waiting out the stress as your bearded dragon slowly realizes that everything in its little world is fine and that the cause of the stress has passed or is over now.
Finally, the last cause of heavy breathing that bearded dragons will encounter on a normal basis is a change in temperature. This is often caused by the heated end of the bearded dragon’s enclosure being a bit too hot.
Like many other animals, bearded dragons will open their mouths and breathe heavily to cool themselves down, and this will come across as heavy breathing. You should check the temperature and make sure that it is within the range of 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 35 to 41 degrees Celsius.
Also take note of if the heavy breathing persists after the bearded dragon has left its basking area or not. It may simply be a sign that its basking area is just a bit too hot.
These are all the non-problematic reasons that your bearded dragon may be breathing heavily. They all fall within the range of healthy and acceptable behaviors, and they are not indicative of a serious problem or a respiratory infection.
If your bearded dragon is breathing heavily outside of these circumstances, it may be a sign of something more serious.
Respiratory Infections and Bearded Dragons
While bearded dragons are not prone to respiratory infections from the standpoint of having a delicate set of lungs or a weak immune system, they are prone to them in the sense that there are a lot of causes for them to occur.
When you are caring for a bearded dragon, this is something you will have to be mindful of, and there is a good chance that you will encounter at least one or two respiratory infections over the course of your bearded dragon’s life, especially if you are not used to caring for them.
Again, if you suspect that your bearded dragon has a respiratory infection, regardless of if it actually does, you will need to take it to a vet who is experienced in handling reptiles, as you will want to get the matter of your bearded dragon’s health solved before anything else (when it is at the point of being noticeably bad).
Some of the more common causes of respiratory infections in bearded dragons include high humidity levels, stress, a dirty tank, improper temperatures, bad substrate, improper bathing practices, and being around another bearded dragon with one.
Bearded dragons originate from the arid deserts of Australia. Their lungs simply have not evolved to handle high levels of humidity that the rest of the world experiences, and because of this, they can develop problems if their enclosure is not kept to a relatively dry level.
The humidity levels of your bearded dragon’s enclosure should never exceed more than 40%, and you should always have a reliable hygrometer to ensure that you can read those levels.
As with all animals, stress can cause health issues when the stress is prolonged and bearded dragons are no exception to this rule. If your bearded dragon has been stressed for a longer period of time, it will be even more susceptible to respiratory infections.
You will want to do what you can to minimize stress outside of unavoidable events, such as the first hurdle of adoption and transport, moving them for enclosure cleaning, and interactions with other animals.
As expected, a dirty tank is going to be a breeding ground for mold and mildew, especially with the bearded dragons’ droppings and any potential dead insects left in the enclosure.
This can lead to a respiratory infection if you are not careful. It is often recommended to clean the bearded dragon’s home at least once every three months for a deep clean or once a month if your bearded dragon handles the tank transfers well.
Temperatures play a big role in your cold-blooded companion’s life. You will always need to make sure that temperatures in the enclosure are in the right range.
The cool end of the tank should be no less than around 85 degrees, while the basking end should not be more than 105 degrees for adults and 110 degrees for babies.
For bathing, if you choose to bathe your bearded dragon at all, you will want to keep the water levels below the bearded dragon’s natural vents, or else it may aspirate the water, which can cause a number of different issues.
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house. Growing up, I had pet dogs, cats, deer, sugar gliders, chinchillas, a bird, chickens, fish, and a goat.