‘Mouth rot’ in Bearded dragons

Mouth rot, also called infectious stomatitis, necrotic stomatitis or oral inflammation, is caused by micro-organism infections in the mouths of reptiles. It is a fairly common medical condition seen in reptile pets, including Bearded dragons.

This is what the inside of a normal Bearded dragon mouth should look like. Image Kitenutuk (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Signs of mouth rot in Bearded dragons

A broad diagnosis of mouth rot is made visually by proper inspection of the oral cavity/mouth. This disease can be classified as early-stage mouth rot and late-stage mouth rot. Early-stage mouth rot is evident when there is significant swelling, redness and bleeding spots around the teeth line. During the later stages the mouth edges are lined with mucous, puss/dead tissue and even blood. In severe cases excretions can be seen coming from the nostrils and eyes and the skin of the lips starts to peel.

Bearded dragon with stomatitis. Image James CritterDr Askew DVM (CC BY YouTube)

What to do if your Bearded dragon has mouth rot

If you suspect that your Bearded dragon might have mouth rot, the first two things to do is to isolate it from other Bearded dragons and to consult someone who will be able to help with staging, identification of the cause and proper treatment. The best is to take it to an experienced reptile friendly veterinarian or herpetologist. To see a veterinarian, an upfront booking will probably be required.

It is also important to practice proper hygiene whilst handling infected Bearded dragons. The most important hygiene principle when it comes to handling a sick (or healthy) Bearded dragon is by cleaning/washing your hands and using a proper disinfectant. Also see Bearded dragon owner hygiene for more information.

Treatment of mouth rot in Bearded dragons

Before treatment for mouth rot is started, the type of micro-organism needs to be established. Veterinarians will be able to do swobs and have access to laboratory services to get the exact organism and the best choices for antibiotic and antifungal medicine. Very often, the underlying cause (see below) will also have to be rectified. In the majority of cases, mouth rot will be caused by bacteria, but fungal infections are also known to appear from time to time. These infections are treated with the appropriate anti-microbial medicine in the form of injections, rinses and/or ointments.

Mouth rot in Bearded dragons is very often as a result of stress. Sick, injured and incorrectly kept Bearded dragons are mostly at risk for this disease. A major factor contributing to mouth rot in Bearded dragons is incorrect husbandry, e.g. incorrect humidity/temperatures, overcrowding and unhygienic practicesBite injuries on the lips can also spread to the inside of the mouth. For successful treatment of mouth rot, these factors also need to be addressed.

Apart from treating the disease and the environmental factors, Bearded dragons with mouth rot might also need ‘supportive treatment’. Many of these reptiles will be dehydrated and anorexic (not eating). In severe cases, the mouth rot organism might also spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs or intestinal tract. Because of its potentially life-threatening consequences, guidance from an experienced reptile friendly veterinarian comes highly recommended.