Imagine what it would feel like if a part of your body started rotting from the inside out. Imagine waking up one day and noticing that this part of your body was only getting more numb and black with each passing day. Pretty scary stuff, right?
Unfortunately, this horrible experience is a fairly common one for many bearded dragons, seeing as often times tail rot can go unnoticed by owners for some time. Thankfully, with a proper education, spotting bearded dragon tail rot is a whole lot easier!
This article will serve to primarily educate readers on a bevy of topics, from how to identify tail rot, how to prevent tail rot, treatment options, and much more!
So, if you’re looking to gain some clarity on a troubling dark spot on your bearded dragon’s tail or are simply trying to learn all that you can in an attempt to be a proactive owner, then just keep reading!
Tail rot is a serious condition in which the tail of a reptile begins to actually rot away, due to an internal infection. The tail will actually fall off if not attended to, and can even spread the infection up into the body, damaging internal organs. If left untreated tail rot, on top of being extremely painful and uncomfortable, can actually lead to death.
In short, bearded dragons typically get tail rot when the tail experiences some type of trauma. If the tail is pinched, crushed, or bitten by another bearded dragon, it can potentially get tail rot. Also, if your dragon is severely malnourished and not getting enough calcium, their bones can become weak and lead to tail rot as well.
Additionally, dragons that don’t receive sufficient UVB exposure can also experience tail rot as they will not be able to properly digest calcium and can weaken their bones as such.
Tail rot will appear as if your bearded dragon’s tail is black, decaying, and dried out. Typically, tail rot starts at the tip of the tail and works its way up. Now, tail rot is not to be confused with dragons that naturally have a dark tail, as this is fairly common and totally normal. A naturally dark tail will not appear decayed or dried out.
Assuming your bearded dragon was healthy when you adopted him or her, the main thing you can do moving forward to avoid tail rot is make sure their enclosure and diet are spot on! If dragons don’t receive enough nutrients and UVB, their bones can become weak, leading to issues such as tail rot.
If your dragon’s habitat and their diet are good, then that’s more than half the battle to preventing tail rot. However, something else to be aware of is the potential for injury to your dragon if they are housed with another dragon. Often times many people will house dragons (especially babies) together.
When this happens, dragons can actually become aggressive and bully one another, often times biting each other in various places, especially the tail. So, as a general rule of thumb just house your dragons separately, even if they were from the same clutch.
Another cause of tail rot is shed that doesn’t come off properly from the dragon’s tail. Rather than pull off shed thinking you’re doing your dragon a favor, check out this article on shedding HERE instead that will explain everything you need to know about bearded dragon shedding.
Lastly, because tail rot commonly occurs after trauma to the tail, make sure there isn’t anything in your bearded dragon’s vivarium that could potentially harm or pinch their tail. Secure all loose fixtures and make sure dragons have plenty of room to move about.
If your bearded dragon is suffering from tail rot then the first obvious sign will be the darkening of their tail. Many bearded dragons can have dark tails naturally, but those that develop a blackening of their tail are most likely either stressed OR suffering from tail rot.
Additionally, bearded dragons with tail rot may also stop eating and show black beard more frequently than what you are accustomed to. So, if your beardie's tail is looking different and he or she is also acting different... take action right away!
If you suspect your bearded dragon has tail rot, the best thing you can do is to take them to a respectable reptile vet ASAP. The vet should be able to tell definitively if your dragon has tail rot just by looking at the condition of the tail, and may even run some tests to be certain of the nature and source of the infection.
Upon diagnosis, the vet will either prescribe your pet antibiotics to try and kill off the infection OR recommend surgery, in which part of your dragon’s tail will be amputated. You can read more about these treatments below.
Now, if you don’t have the money for a visit to the vet, there are some home remedies (discussed in the section below) you can attempt to try and cure the tail rot. However, it is important that you realize the chances of these remedies working will vary on a case by case basis and are more often effective if tail rot is caught early.
There is no guarantee these remedies will work, but it is better to try them than nothing if you can’t afford a vet visit. However, if the remedies do not seem to be providing some relief within one to two weeks… take your dragon to the vet. No ifs ands or buts about it. They need medical help.
Although never my first recommendation, here are some remedies you can try in case getting to the vet isn’t possible at the moment.
Find a shallow dish that will allow you to submerge your dragon’s tail. A good rule of thumb is to be able to submerge the tail about an inch above the visible tail rot to ensue Fill it with 3 parts water and 1 part Betadine.
Mix it until you have a mixture that resembles tea. Grab your dragon and sink the rotting parts of their tail (plus that extra inch) into the mixture for 5 minutes. If your dragon is squirmy, you’ll want to try doing this in sessions until you hit that 5 minute mark.
After you reach the 5 minute mark, dump out the mixture and VERY gently (remember, the tail is already very weak and brittle) dry your dragons tail with a paper towel. After the tail is dry, apply a little Neosporin (do NOT get the kind that provides pain relief) and place them back in their habitat.
Repeat this process 2 to 3 times a day for at least one week, but ideally two.
If you’ve tried any or some of the above remedies to no avail OR if the tail rot is severe, then you will need to take your pet to a respectable reptile veterinarian. The vet may decide to either put your dragon on antibiotics or amputate the tail depending on the severity of the rot itself.
Many of the antibiotics can be quite harsh on your bearded dragon’s delicate internal organs, such as their kidneys. Because of this, it is recommended you ask your vet first about the possibility of running a test or two to determine what the actual source of the infection is, rather than just load your beardie up with an antibiotic that might not even work.
Once your vet has determined the cause of the infection and prescribed the medication, make sure your bearded dragon stays hydrated as this will help keep their kidneys better process the strong medication.
In addition to this, it is advisable to offer a probiotic if your dragon suffers from a repressed appetite after or during treatment.
Although the thought of such a small, delicate creature undergoing surgery is by no means comforting, often times surgery is the only cure for your bearded dragon’s tail rot.
In terms of what you can expect, a vet will typically want to amputate part of your dragon’s tail if the tail rot has progressed enough. Also, in dragons where tail rot is caught early and is seemingly afflicting just the tip of the tail, amputation is a good option because it allows for minimal tail loss while cutting off the infection before further spread.
Typically, you can expect anywhere from half an inch to an inch above the rot to be cut off. However, your vet may advise more of the tail should be cut off depending on what they see in an X-Ray.
Often times, bearded dragon’s bones in their tails can appear wavy or curved in an X-Ray, but this isn’t always a sign of concern, so don’t necessarily let your vet insist on cutting off more than what you’re comfortable with.
In terms of what you can “expect” when your dragon comes out of surgery, definitely be prepared for them to be lethargic for a few days and a little wobbly/awkward when moving about.
You will also likely have to continue giving them some medication here and there, followed up with another trip to the vet to remove any stitches and check on the tail.
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I’m Stacey, the owner of this website and lifelong reptile lover, caretaker, and educator. Here you will find everything from information on how to care for reptiles, to even how to give your reptiles the best fighting chances against a range of common reptile diseases and illnesses, and everything in between!