Bearded Dragons and Impactions: A Primer for Owners

Intestinal impaction is a serious condition where the intestines get blocked by feces. In Bearded dragons, it is most often caused by the ingestion of sandy or gravel substrates. There are various underlying and husbandry-related problems leading to Bearded dragon impactions.

Ingesting sand and gravel are frequently the cause of impactions in Bearded dragons. Eating mouthfuls of sand or soil (also called geophagia) are often secondary to calcium deficiency, or metabolic bone disease. The metabolic bone disease also leads to the inability of the gut to contract properly.

Accidental ingestion of gravel (or any other foreign body) often leads to impactions and blockages. Other problematic substrates include gravel, pebbles, corn cob, and bark products.

What is Impaction?

Impaction is a medical term that describes a severe case of constipation. It occurs when impacted waste in the intestinal tract prevents bearded dragons from being able to defecate properly, causing a build-up of waste materials inside the digestive tract. If left unchecked and untreated, impaction can be potentially fatal as it can cause serious health issues.

How Bearded Dragons Get Impacted

Bearded dragons can get impacted by consuming substrate in their enclosures, whether it be intentionally or not. Sand is one of the most common culprits behind impaction, but gravel and pebbles can also cause issues.

In some cases, even food that is too large can lead to experienced bearded dragon owners needing to take action in order to prevent a life-threatening situation.

Is There A Difference Between Impaction And Constipation?

There is a difference between impaction and constipation in animals, such as bearded dragons. While they may share similar symptoms, they are caused by different problems.

Constipation occurs when an animal has difficulty digesting its food, which can be caused by dehydration or having a basking spot that’s too cool. This results in the inability to defecate and can be treated with fluids and changing the temperature of their environment.

Impaction is a severe condition in which an indigestible object accumulates and hardens in the animal’s digestive system. The obstruction could come from organic matter like bark, substrate, insect exoskeletons; or even rock or sand. It can become increasingly unbearable for the creature over time if not treated promptly.

What Are The Common Causes Of Impaction?

Impaction is a common problem experienced by bearded dragons, and it can be caused by a variety of factors. The primary contributing factor to impaction is an imbalance between the food, temperature, and substrate in the environment. These elements must all be kept in balance in order for your bearded dragon to have an optimum habitat.


Providing your beardie with a healthy and well-balanced diet is essential to keeping them happy and healthy. The main components of their diet should include protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and most importantly, fresh water. Too little of these nutrients might slow down the digestion process.

In the wild, bearded dragons drink droplets of morning dew or rainwater. To emulate this in captivity, many owners spray their habitat with water. Alternatively, you can set up a flowing source of water to reduce bacteria growth in stagnant dishes.

As for food sources, 80% of their diet should consist of gut-loaded insects such as crickets, mealworms, or super worms complemented with lots of fresh veggies that are full of dietary fiber for healthy digestive systems.

Incorrect Habitat Temperature

Poor temperatures can be extremely hazardous for bearded dragons. In the wild, these reptiles live in hot and dry deserts, where their basking spot should register between 88-100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. At night, you should shut off the lights and allow temperatures to dip down to the 70-75 degrees range.

If your bearded dragon isn’t exposed to these optimal temperatures, it can lead to impaction or other issues caused by a slowed-down digestive system.

Unsafe Substrate

When it comes to the substrate for your bearded dragon’s enclosure, there are certain types of materials that you should avoid. When they catch crickets, they may also ingest some of the substrate or food along with it. Since they cannot digest it, these pieces can get stuck inside them and cause impaction.

So, it’s best to avoid small grain-like particles like dirt, gravel, or sand – which often contain potential sources of infection. Instead, opt for reptile carpets or flat surfaces like newspaper sheets that are easy to clean and free of debris. This not only helps protect against potential health issues but saves you time on cleaning as well.

Lack of exercise

The lack of exercise for bearded dragons can be detrimental to their health and well-being. Without steady movement, their digestive system will not remain regular which can lead to various issues. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to provide them with plenty of space for exploration within their habitat.

Adding hides, branches, and even a ‘beardie hammock’ will encourage them to move about in the enclosure and keep them active. Regular exercise is vital for a beardie’s overall health so giving them the opportunity to explore can make all the difference.

Symptoms of impaction in bearded dragons

Bearded dragons can’t tell you when they are feeling unwell, but there are some signs you can watch out for that may indicate impaction. These indicators can be both physical and behavioral changes.

No bowel movements

No bowel movements is one of the clearest signs of an impacted bearded dragon. It’s important to note that the amount of waste produced can vary in adult bearded dragons, so it’s important to keep an eye on your pet and recognize how often they typically expel waste. With baby beardies, however, you’ll usually notice a bowel movement every single day.

If your bearded dragon isn’t producing any waste as per their normal routine, then it might be a sign that something is wrong and you should take them to the vet.

Loss of mobility

Loss of mobility is one of the unfortunate potential side effects when a lizard develops an impaction in their digestive tract. Due to their unique anatomy, reptiles don’t possess protective discs between their vertebrae, which means that even seemingly minor bouts of impaction can place immense pressure on the spine.

If this becomes severe enough, you may notice your pet’s gait becoming stiff or awkward. Severe impacts lower in the digestive tract may cause them to drag their back legs, while higher impacts may result in paralysis in one or both of their front legs.

Lump on their back

Bearded dragons may develop an impaction lump, which will cause a slight rise along their mid-to-lower back. If you run your fingers along their spine, you should be able to feel this lump; it may also extend all the way onto their stomach area.

Lack of appetite

Lack of appetite in a bearded dragon is not normal and usually points to a bigger issue. If your beloved pet has lost its hunger, it’s important to take a closer look at the situation right away. There are many potential causes for this lack of appetite, but one potential culprit is impaction.


Lethargy is a common symptom of health problems in bearded dragons. If your pet has too less energy or doesn’t want to explore its habitat or interact with you, it could be a sign of something serious, like impaction. But don’t worry just yet – it’s also possible that it’s a sign of shedding or brumation.

It’s important to recognize normal behavior for your pet so you can identify changes in behavior quickly and decide whether or not a visit to the vet is necessary. If your bearded dragon isn’t eating and seems lethargic, this is an indication that you should look into it further.

Impacted bearded dragon treatments

When it comes to treating impaction in bearded dragons, there are many home remedies you can try if you suspect your dragon is suffering from this condition. If the symptoms aren’t too severe and your beardie has gone a couple of days without any bowel movements, then it’s time to investigate some simple yet effective treatments.

1. Check The Temperature Of The Basking Area

Keeping the basking area of your bearded dragon’s enclosure at the right temperature is essential for its digestive health. That’s why you should check the temperature regularly, instead of relying on a thermometer alone. An inexpensive temp gun is more accurate and gives you a better overall picture.

A difference of just a few degrees can have serious consequences on your pet’s digestive system, so it’s important to monitor the basking zone closely. As your basking bulb loses strength over time, it’s even more important to know the exact temperature in order to make sure that your reptile is getting enough warmth and nutrition.

2. Give Your Beardie A Warm Bath

Giving your bearded dragon a warm bath is a great way to stimulate its digestive system! To do this, it is important to first make sure that the water temperature is at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a temperature gun or thermometer to check and adjust the temperature if needed. Then, fill the bath deep enough so your reptile can swim around in comfort.

You should let your beardie bathe for 20-30 minutes – don’t forget to add more warm water during the bath so that it doesn’t become too cold. This should allow your lizard plenty of time to relax and also do its business! With these tips, you will be able to assume that your beardie is healthy and happy.

3. Give Them A Massage

Giving your bearded dragon a massage is one of the best ways to help them through impaction. Start off with a gentle massage, slowly stroking their side from head to tail. This helps move things along in their digestive tract.

If that doesn’t work, you can use a bit more pressure during the second massage by pressing down gently on the chest.

Executing this technique can effectively eliminate a large number of feces, especially if it has been stuck for some duration. However, be sure not to force it or overexert pressure!

Remember to keep your pet standing upright and supported while giving the massage and make sure the dragon isn’t lying on their back either – as this will cause difficulty breathing for them.

4. Try Some New Food

If your dragon is suffering from an impacted gut, you should avoid feeding them live animals and provide them with easier-to-digest soft foods instead. Fortunately, there are plenty of options out there that would be a perfect fit for them.

Warm baby food purees are a great option to try, such as pumpkin, apple, prunes, or even watermelon. If your dragon needs softer foods, you can dilute canned pumpkins with water or feed them 100% sugar-free fruit juice.

Getting your dragon to eat the new food may be difficult at first so if they’re hesitant to eat it you may have to do some coaxing. Try placing a bit of puree on their nose and they will likely lick it off instinctively; you can also use a syringe and squirt some puree onto their nose or even in their mouth if necessary.

5. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a great choice when it comes to looking after your dragon. Adding a few drops to their nose will not only help them groom but also provide essential nutrients that are needed for their overall health and well-being.

It’s essential that you use only genuine olive oil, as opposed to vegetable oils, which do not have the same properties or benefits as olive oil.

6. Take Your Bearded Dragon To The Vet

When your pet bearded dragon isn’t doing well, it’s important to take them to the vet right away. If home treatments don’t give you visible results within a week or if their symptoms are more severe (like being unable to move, regurgitating food, or dragging legs), then it’s time to go to your vet. This should be an animal specialist who is familiar with exotic animals in particular.

Your vet will likely start off by taking an X-ray of the abdominal area in order to gain a better insight into the severity of the impaction. Then they will come up with a clear plan for treatment (this might include different types of laxatives). Even if this doesn’t work, your vet might try administering an enema as well as other procedures.

In some cases, surgery might be recommended by your veterinarian but keep in mind that this could come at a great cost and may involve financial sacrifices for pet owners. However, it is necessary sometimes in order to save the beloved life of your pet bearded dragon!

Diagnosing impactions in Bearded dragons

When an impaction is suspected, it is wiser to consult a reptile-friendly veterinarian. A Bearded dragon with an impaction is very often lethargic, will eat less, produce no or little stool, and have sand in the stool. In severe cases, they will often not eat at all, vomit, and have distended abdomens with a hard mass palpable.

A diagnosis of impaction is made with radiography, which is also a good modality to confirm the metabolic bone disease. Taking radiographs will also help tell the severity of the condition and guide the veterinarian with treatment options.

Preventing impactions in Bearded dragons

Sand impactions can be prevented by using proper ultraviolet lighting in combination with adequate calcium supplementation. Substrates such as gravel and sand, even so-called digestible sand, should be avoided.

Treating Bearded dragon impactions

Before treating any impaction, the underlying cause must first be identified and rectified. In the case of sand impaction, the possibility of metabolic bone disease must be investigated and treated with calcium supplementation and the correct husbandry. The treatment plan will be according to the severity of the condition.

Milder cases can respond to conservative treatments such as laxatives, careful force feeding and lukewarm baths. Severe cases justify hospitalization for intensive treatment. In the hospital, drips, medication for vomiting, antibiotics, and force-feeding might be used. Some impactions will also benefit from enemas.

Surgery, i.e. an enterotomy or a gastrotomy (opening of the intestines or stomach), is risky, but can be life-saving and can be considered a last resort.

When to See a Vet

When it comes to taking care of your beloved bearded dragon, one of the most important things to remember is when it’s time to see a vet. Even if you have tried taking care of your pet at home without success, it’s important to visit a qualified exotic veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure the health and well-being of your beardie.

Impaction can lead to serious consequences for your bearded dragon, so finding a good vet before you even consider any at-home treatments is essential. Calling around to different clinics will help you find out which ones specialize in reptilian care, as well as provide an understanding of pricing and availability.

Beardies are prone to impaction-related ailments, so being prepared and knowing when it’s time to call the vet is key for the longevity of your pet. Don’t hesitate – always err on the side of caution when it comes to seeking professional help!

Bearded Dragon Impaction Surgery

Bearded Dragon Impaction Surgery is a difficult but necessary procedure that sometimes has to be performed in order to ensure the health of your dragon. If you cannot get your dragon to poop, it is important to take them to the veterinarian immediately.

The vet will attempt to clear any blockages via enemas or laxatives, but should they feel the severity of the blockage requires more urgent action, surgery may be the only option. This can be quite an intensive surgery and there are risks involved, so it is important that it’s carried out by a medical professional with experience handling bearded dragons and their particular needs.

Surgery Cost

When it comes to the cost of surgery, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The cost of the surgery can vary from $300 to $1200 based on the veterinarian and location you choose.

This may be expensive for some people, but most vets offer very affordable payment plans that make even costly surgeries accessible. With these options available, surgery doesn’t need to be something that’s outside your budget.

Prevent Your Bearded Dragon From Becoming Impacted

Preventing bearded dragon impaction is a must for all beardie owners. To start, make sure you create the right temperature gradient in the habitat. There should be a basking area between 95 and 100°F (38°C), an ambient temperature of 85°F (29°C), and 80-90°F (32°C) in the cool, dark area.

For juvenile and baby bearded dragons, these numbers are slightly higher. At night, the enclosure should cool off to 70-75°F (24°C) for them to rest properly; temperatures below this can affect your beardie adversely.

UVB Lighting May Help

In addition to proper temperatures, you must also provide UVB lighting above your bearded dragon’s enclosure as this allows them to synthesize vitamin D3 which helps aid in calcium absorption.

Also, you will want to avoid loose particle substrates such as sand, pellets, or crushed walnut shells- particles that are easily mistaken by a dragon while they hunt for food- by choosing smooth substrate options like reptile carpet, rubber shelf liner, or ceramic tile.

Be sure to choose a heat-absorbing tile rather than one which reflects light and heat and never allows the substrate to become cold to the touch.

Feeding Advice

In terms of feeding habits to prevent impaction, never give feeder insects larger than the space between your beardie’s eyes. This includes crickets, mealworms, and super worms–keep those as an occasional treat!

You should also provide a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables with each meal such as collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, grapes, bananas, watermelon, and blueberries. It should be about 75% veggies/fruits and 25% live gut-loaded insects.

Lastly remembering to give them anyone accesses to clean fresh water is absolutely necessary, otherwise, their digestive system won’t work efficiently leading to possible impaction situations

This table provides an overview of potential impaction issues in bearded dragons and their remedies.

Cause of ImpactionSolution
Accidental ingestion of loose substrateChoose a smooth substrate such as a reptile carpet, rubber shelf liner, or ceramic tile made for bearded dragons.
The improper temperature inside the enclosureKeep the ambient temperature of the enclosure at around 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C), with a basking area of 95-100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C), and a cool side at 80-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C). Monitor the temperature regularly and never let the enclosure go below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).
Feeder insects too large/hardFeed larger insects with hard shells or exoskeletons such as crickets, mealworms, and super worms very sparingly.
DehydrationAlways provide fresh, clean water in a shallow bowl within the enclosure.


In conclusion, Bearded Dragon Impactions can be a dangerous health issue if not identified and treated early. It is important for a pet parent to stay informed and aware of the signs that may indicate their dragon has an impaction.

If your Bearded Dragon experiences any of the above symptoms, it is important to seek the assistance of a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible. With regular care and monitoring, Bearded Dragons can live long happy lives.