Bearded Dragon Examination

Reptiles often represent a few categories for vets
1. Love them, i know so much about reptiles!
2. They’re okay, but I don’t know too much
3. Get them away from me!

If you fall into the first two categories, then this is the article for you. If you’re in the third category, you probably aren’t reading this.
So lets go!


A big HUGE part of getting to the bottom of things. The main challenge here is most GP vets DO NOT SEE that many reptiles, and when you do, the panic ensues.
Mainly the thought is AAARGHH? A reptile ? What do I do!

Well, the aim of this article is not to turn you into a reptile vet, they exist, and chances are your reptile clients already go there. And perhaps, the most daunting part of reptile consults is chances are, the reptile client knows more than you about their reptile species. BUT JUST IN CASE, or if you want to learn more and want somewhere to start, lets start here!

When acquiring a history for a reptile, it comes down to husbandry and deviations from the normal. To know what is abnormal, first you must know what is normal, both for bearded dragons and for this particular bearded dragon.

It comes down to
  • Earth
  • Wind
  • Fire
  • Water
(like the 80’s band, or if you’re a little more nerdy like me – the elements of a fantasy game or world)

Which we can break down into
  • Earth – substrate and food
  • Wind – Temperature
  • Fire – Light supply
  • Water – they need it

Earth – substrate and food

What substrates are your bearded dragons on?
– newspaper, paper cat litter, reptile bedding
What sort of enclosure should they be in?
And food – what sort of food do they eat –
Juveniles – fed every 1-2 days,
Adults – q 2-7 days

Food suggestions for your bearded dragon – Source: Boyer, T. Bearded Dragon Care and Diseases – Wild West Veterinary Conference 2017.

Leafy greens
Feed the insects well! – gut loading > 8% calcium
Or commercial pelleted foods
Fruit not recommended
Juveniles feed daily – 50% plant and 50 % insect
Adults q2-3 days – more plants than insects


  • Basking 35-45 C
  • Cool 15-20 C
  • Humidity – 30-40% preferred

These may also differ at night and during the day.
Get these right, provide a gradient. Let them have a lot of variety!

Fire – Light!

UV B light in very important for beardies (with UV A), as it allows vitamin D3 production in the skin, and calcium and nutrient absorption. Get this wrong and you can end up metabolic bone disease. Yikes!

Keep in mind to have a day:night light cycle of 12 hours light / 12 hours dark, and as is often mentioned – these lights last a lot less time than you would think, needing replacing often every 3-6 months.

Water – They need it

Bearded dragons need at least 20 mL / kg/day to stay hydrated. As they may not choose to drink too enthusiastically. You need to be crafty.
Include multiple sources of water-  a shallow water bowl for bathing, a drip bottle, and misting – including spraying the enclosure so that your bearded dragon can lick up droplets!

Hygiene of the enclosure and water sources is also critical – a good mix courtesy of the Unusual Pet Vets Bearded Dragon Care sheet is: F10 – 1:500 ratio with water

Physical exam

Heliothermic – so their temperature will depend on their environment! Once again, get that sun right!

It’s less likely that you will need to assess heart and respiratory rates in a routine examination of a bearded dragon, but you can still attempt to use your stethoscope and you can use a doppler near the heart and on the tail vein.

Handling – more on this in the future, they may not like being handled. If you do, support their body with the palm of your hand. Do not catch or lift via the tail!

Skin – here we are looking for signs of trauma, including burns from rocks and heat, fractures, cuts and dermatitis! Most of which can be prevented by great husbandry and individual housing! As beardies can be terrritorial!

Head – look at the eyes and mouth, looking for signs of trauma, burns and inadequate shedding.

Cloaca – check for faeces, prolapse and signs of obstipation (constipation). The area should be clean of faeces and look healthy, with no inflammation.

Preventative care

The most important preventative care test which can be performed every 6-12 months is a faecal sample assessment. Perform faecal wet prep/smears and faecal floatation to check for intestinal parasites (coccidia, protozoa and pinworms).

And a thorough education for your reptile clients!

Things really come back to providing the best husbandry and environment possible!


  • Boyer, T. Bearded Dragon Care and Diseases – Wild West Veterinary Conference 2017
  • Johnson, JD. Quick Reference Guide to Unique Pet Species – Bearded Dragon. 2011.
  • Unusual Pet Vets. Bearded Dragon Caresheet.
  • University of Queensland. How to care for your bearded dragon.

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