Bearded dragon tail rot is one of the most common health problems your pet can face.
Because this illness afflicts so many beardies, you’ve probably heard of it but are unsure how to avoid it or spot it quickly and treat it.
I’ve seen this problem many times with worried lizard parents bringing their pets into my clinic.
But don’t worry too much; I’m going to give you everything you need to help you prevent it, spot it, and learn how this worrying illness is treated.
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What is Tail Rot in Bearded Dragons?
Tail rot in bearded dragons is a condition where the tail tissue begins to die and rot. It starts at the tip of the tail, and you’ll notice the region taking on a darkened color due to the necrotic tissue.
The darkened color (black, purple, or blue) results from insufficient blood supply to the affected tail. Beardies need healthy blood flow to all body organs.
An excellent way to visualize this condition is through patches with different colors on your beardie’s tail.
Although common among reptiles, tail rot is not easy to identify.
The condition will affect the rest of your bearded dragon’s body if left untreated.
You can also check out this video.
Related: What is MBD in bearded dragons?
Tail Rot in Bearded Dragons: Know the 6 Common Causes
What causes tail rot in bearded dragons?
Your beardie can injure his tail while exploring or fighting.
Beardies are solitary creatures that are comfortable alone (1). Housing your beardie with another is a recipe for aggression and fights.
The tail, being delicate, can get injured from such fights. Thus, if you own more than one beardie, enclose them separately to eliminate tail injury.
When injured, a beardie’s tail is prone to cracking. The crack provides an entry point for bacteria that results in rotting.
I once woke up and found my beardie’s tail cracked from what was suspected to be a fight. The sight of my beardie writhing in pain heart broke me as I stared at him helplessly.
The pain I went through was intense, and I don’t want you to go through the same. House your beardies separately to prevent such scenarios.
#2 Poor Nutrition
An improper diet lacking vitamin D3 and calcium will expose your beardie to tail rot risks.
Add calcium supplement with vitamin D3 to your beardie’s diet for healthier bone development. Besides boosting the immune system, vitamin D3 aids in proper cartilage development.
You can supplement your beardie’s diet with insects like:
- Phoenix worms
Check out this video of the bearded dragon diet expenses you need to know.
#3 Mites and Parasites
Mites and parasites are tiny creatures that burrow into the skin of their host to feed on blood. They cause intense irritation, leading to your beardie scratching and injuring his tail (2).
#4 Insufficient Lighting
Calcium digestion and absorption in beardies need full-spectrum UVB light.
Without proper lighting, your pet is at a higher risk of developing health problems like metabolic bone disease and tail rot.
Install a UVB light in your beardie’s habitat and have it on for 12 to 14 hours daily (3).
Alternatively, ensure the beardie has access to ultraviolet sunlight from his enclosure.
Although supplementing his diet with calcium is a solution, your pet still needs UVB light for sufficient vitamin D3. Beardies need vitamin D3 for calcium absorption.
#5 Incomplete Shedding
Beardies shed their skin as they grow. The process is known as molting and occurs every few weeks or months, depending on your pet’s age (4).
Molting helps get rid of dead skin cells, parasites, and mites. It also allows for new growth.
If your beardie doesn’t complete the molting process, part of the skin constricts the tail. The constriction leads to a blood clot in the tail, making it rot.
It’s worth noting that helping your beardie to shed can harm him.
To help with molting, bathe your beardie in lukewarm water for 15 to 20 minutes daily (5). The process will help soften the skin and make it easier for your beardie to shed it off.
Embolisms are a result of constricted blood flow to the tail. They occur when your beardie’s tail is trapped, preventing blood circulation.
The most common causes of embolisms are improper handling and poor diet.
If you must handle your beardie, support his entire body, including the tail. Avoid picking him up by the tail as it can lead to an embolism increasing the possibility of tail rot.
ALSO CHECK: Why Does My Bearded Dragon Open His Mouth?
How Do You Know if Your Bearded Dragon Has Tail Rot?
So, why is my bearded dragon’s tail black?
One of the bearded dragon facts is that they change color for several reasons. As a result, it’s not easy to identify tail rot bearded dragon based on tail color alone.
So, what are the actual signs of tail rot bearded dragon?
You need to be aware of physical and behavioral signs to watch for.
3 Physical Signs of Tail Rot in Bearded Dragons
- Change of color: Your dragon may have a color change at the tip of his tail. You may notice a brown or dark tail.
- State of the tail: The dragon’s tail may become dry, brittle, and flaky with a coarse texture. Furthermore, the tail can become stiff with a slight bend at the tip.
- Foul smell: The tail emits a bad smell. In extreme cases, it can start breaking and falling off.
The video below shows signs of tail rot in bearded dragons:
5 Behavioral Symptoms of Tail Rot
- Lack of appetite: A loss of appetite is one of the first behavioral signs that something is wrong with your dragon. If you notice a change in eating habits, especially a sudden decrease in food intake, it’s time to take him to the vet.
- Lethargy: A sick dragon will be less active due to pain. In some cases, you’ll notice him hiding most of the time.
- Anorexia: You may notice your dragon losing weight or becoming thinner than usual.
- Unusual bowel movements: Diarrhea or constipation can signify health problems in dragons, including a rotting tail. In such situations, a diagnosis will confirm the issue.
- Discomfort with touching the tail: If your dragon flinches or tries to move away when you touch his tail, it indicates something is wrong. A healthy tail is not painful.
Is It Tail Rot or Something Else?
Most pet owners confuse tail rot with shedding. The two conditions share similar symptoms, making it hard to differentiate between them.
For instance, both conditions can cause a change in the color and texture of the tail.
A beardie with a healthy shedding tail is flexible and pliable. When bent, the tail corrects itself by bouncing back to its normal straight posture.
A dry tail that reclaims its straight position is an indication of dehydration. Giving your pet enough water will correct the situation.
A dragon with a rotting tail will have a stiff and rigid tail that remains in the same position even when bent.
I hope this makes it easier for you to differentiate between tail rot and shedding in beardies. Don’t be like my neighbor who wanted to convince a vet that his bearded dragon had tail rot when he was actually just shedding.
Tail Rot in Bearded Dragons: Should You Be worried?
Tail rot is a health condition that begins in the tail and is cause for worry. However, it spreads to other parts.
If left unchecked, tail rot will spread to other vital organs like kidneys over the course of four weeks. The condition becomes life-threatening once it has affected other parts of the bearded dragon.
The bacterial infection causes rapid cell death when it affects other body organs. As a result, these organs are exposed to secondary infections, which can cause septicemia.
Septicemia is a condition when dangerous bacteria from the tail get into the bloodstream. The blood circulates these bacteria to internal organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys.
The bacteria causes organ failure and eventually death.
Suspecting Tail Rot: What Should You Do?
If you suspect tail rot there are a couple of things you can do, like call the vet and ensure your pet is comfortable.
Your beardie can display some physical and behavioral signs that are not tail rot. So it is best to confirm what is actually going on.
For instance, a sudden weight loss can be a sign of parasites or malnutrition. Unusual bowel movements can also indicate other health problems like impaction.
So, how can you confirm whether your pet bearded dragon has a rotting tail?
#1 Contact the Vet
The best way to diagnose a rotting tail in bearded dragons is by contacting your veterinarian. When talking to the reptile vet, be as detailed as possible.
The reptile vet will advise you on the possible course of action. Alternatively, they can visit you to examine the pet.
#2 Keep Your Beardie Comfortable
As you wait for the veterinarian, you can do the following to keep your pet comfortable:
- Increase the temperature in the vivarium to about 77 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place a humidifier in the room to increase the humidity level. You can buy the humidifier from a nearby pet shop.
- Bath him in lukewarm water for about 15 minutes every day. The baths will help to cleanse the affected area and also promote healing.
- Give him a soak in a betadine bath.
When the vet arrives, he’ll conduct a physical examination to check for the presence of tail rot. The vet may order tests like x-rays and blood workups to rule out other health conditions with similar symptoms.
Do not try to treat tail rot on your own. The condition is severe, and only a professional can give you the right advice.
Self-diagnosis and self-treatment can make the situation worse and even lead to death.
What next if your beardie is diagnosed with tail rot?
Now That Your Beardie Has a Confirmed Diagnosis for Tail Rot: What Can You Expect?
There’s no need to worry if your pet bearded dragon has tail rot. The vet will handle the condition based on its severity.
Is Tail Rot Reversible?
With early diagnosis and treatment, tail rot is reversible. The prognosis is favorable for most dragons if the condition is treated in its early stages.
However, if the tail rot has progressed to other parts of the body, the chances for recovery are reduced.
Treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and preventing secondary infections in such cases.
It’s essential to keep the affected dragon comfortable during this time. You can do this by cleaning the tail daily with lukewarm water and betadine.
The good news is that bearded dragons grow their tails back. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about your pet losing his tail to tail rot.
Avian and exotic veterinary expert, Margaret Wissman, says, “Reptiles such as green iguanas and bearded dragons will drop and regrow their tails, while others, such as crested geckos, can lose their tails but will not regrow them (6).”
How Your Vet Will Treat the Tail Rot
Are you wondering about how to treat tail rot bearded dragon? Your vet will devise a treatment plan based on the severity of the condition.
The treatment plan will encompass:
Betadine Soak and Antibiotics
The most common and effective treatment for tail rot is the betadine soak. Mix Betadine solution with water, based on the severity of the condition.
Then soak the dragon’s tail in the solution for five minutes, two to three times a day until it heals completely.
In severe cases of bearded dragon tail rot, the vet may have to amputate the affected part. Amputation is necessary to prevent the spread of the infection to other parts of the body.
You’ll have to keep the pet hydrated with proper nutrition high in calcium and vitamin D3 to help with the healing process. The vet will also prescribe the antibiotics to use post-amputation.
How Do You Clean Tail Rot?
The following is the procedure to clean tail rot in beardies:
- Fill a clean dish with clean water and add betadine until the water turns tea-colored
- Only soak the tail in the solution for five minutes two to three times a day
- Use a cotton swab to pat dry the tail
- Apply Neosporin’s original formula (without pain relief) to the area
Can You Prevent Tail Rot? And How?
Yes, you can prevent tail rot in bearded dragons by:
- Appropriate housing: Do not house your beardies together to prevent fights. Ensure the house is also free of obstacles like sticks that can injure your pet.
- Providing a clean environment: Keep the vivarium clean to prevent infection. Clean the enclosure weekly with water and vinegar to kill bacteria.
- Proper nutrition: A healthy diet helps boost the immune system and prevents health conditions like tail rot. The diet should be high in calcium and vitamins.
- Regular vet visits: Take your bearded dragon for regular vet checkups to detect health problems early.
Is tail rot contagious?
No, tail rot in bearded dragons is not contagious because the issue is internal.
How much does it cost to amputate a bearded dragon’s tail?
It costs between $100-150 to amputate a bearded dragon’s tail. However, the price may be higher based on the severity.
Bearded dragon tail rot is a reversible condition if detected early. The most common treatment is the betadine soak.
You can prevent tail rot in your beardie by appropriate housing, a clean environment, proper nutrition, and regular vet visits.
- 1. LIBEVC. Pet Bearded Dragon Care | Long Island Avian & Exotic Vet Clinic [Internet]. libirdexoticsvet. 2019 [cited 2022 Jun 19]. Available from: https://www.birdexoticsvet.com/post/2019/02/14/your-bearded-dragon-likes-to-watch-tv-and-other-friendly-facts-about-beardies
- 2. Mites And Your Reptile [Internet]. Vets4Pets. Available from: https://www.vets4pets.com/pet-health-advice/reptile-advice/mites-and-your-reptile/
- 3. Caring for Your Pet Bearded Dragon [Internet]. Available from: https://cvm.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Caring-for-your-Bearded-Dragon.pdf
- 4. Bearded Dragon shedding [Internet]. Exoticdirect. [cited 2022 Jun 19]. Available from: https://www.exoticdirect.co.uk/news/bearded-dragon-shedding#:~:text=Probably%20every%20couple%20of%20weeks
- 5. Bathing a Bearded Dragon [Internet]. www.animalcarehospital.org. 2021. Available from: https://www.animalcarehospital.org/2021/01/15/cedar-rapids-ia-vet-bathing-bearded-dragon
- 6. What to do When Your Lizard Loses Its Tail [Internet]. www.petmd.com. [cited 2022 Jun 19]. Available from: https://www.petmd.com/reptile/care/evr_rp_lizard-tail-loss#:~:text=According%20to%20Margaret%20Wissman%2C%20DVM
Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS is a locum veterinary surgeon who has worked in London for the past 8 years. She graduated top of her class in small animal medicine from UCD, Dublin. She is currently a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
Linda is the resident vet for Woman magazine and a frequent contributor to People’s Friend Magazine, the Dogzone website, Vet Help Direct and Wag! Linda also writes content for the CVS veterinary group, Vetwriter and a number of other establishments.
As well as working in clinic, Linda is an online vet for www. JustAnswer.com where she has been providing online advice for thousands of owners since 2018.
In her spare time, Linda enjoys baking, yoga and running around after her young son!
FIND HER ON: INSTAGRAM