Bearded dragons are quirky little lizards with unusual habits and personality traits. Raising a bearded dragon pet can be much different from raising a pup or kitten because many bearded dragon behaviors are relatively foreign to pet owners. One particular thing many new bearded dragon owners find puzzling is face rubbing.
Why is my bearded dragon rubbing its face – why? If your bearded dragon is rubbing its face, the most probable underlying reason is shedding. In simple words, the bearded dragon rubs its face to pierce the skin and start shedding. However, if shedding season is over, there are three possible reasons – snout rubbing, moth rot, and having an itch. The first two are considered health issues and require veterinary attention, while the third one is entirely normal (we all get itchy from time to time).
If your bearded dragon is obsessed with rubbing its face, you are reading the right lines. This article will explain everything you need to know about the face rubbing behavior in bearded dragons – why does it occur, what does it look like, and what you can do to help.
WHY DOES MY BEARDED DRAGON RUB HIS FACE?
When dealing with a bearded dragon that rubs its face, the first thing you need to check is whether your bearded dragon is shedding. Rubbing the face is the moment that indicates the shedding beginning.
If your bearded dragon already shed and it is early for a new shedding cycle, there are other conditions you need to consider – snout rubbing and mouth rot. Snout rubbing is a stress-related medical issue, while mouth rot is associated with poor enclosure hygiene. Finally, sometimes the most straightforward answer is the right one – if your bearded dragon is rubbing its face, perhaps it is having an itch that must be scratched.
BEARDED DRAGONS SHEDDING – WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE AND HOW TO HELP?
Like all reptiles, bearded dragons shed. Shedding is a naturally occurring cycle in which the old, dead skin changes with a new, healthy layer. In bearded dragons, shedding starts by excessive rubbing of the face – they can rub against the items within the enclosure, the tank walls, or use their legs.
So, where is the connection between shedding and face rubbing? Simply put, face rubbing has one purpose – to break the skin, thus enabling the shedding process.
But why do bearded dragons decide to start the shedding from the face and not the tails? Once again, the answer is simple – initiating the shedding from the face is more practical for two reasons.
First, the bearded dragon’s nose is quite pointy, thus making it more straightforward for the skin to be pierced at this point. Second, the eyes can easily visualize the pointy nose meaning the bearded dragon is well-aware and in control of the skin-piercing procedure.
If your bearded dragon is getting ready to shed, there are some things you can do to make the process simpler and smoother. However, before we explain what you can do, we should mention the one thing you absolutely must not try.
In a nutshell, if your bearded dragon is shedding, it is strictly forbidden to pull the dead skin even if it looks significantly loose. Shedding is a relatively slow process, and the old skin does not come off until the new one is formed correctly. Plus, premature forceful pulling of the old skin can be extremely painful for your bearded dragon.
With that being covered, it is time to describe few ways of speeding up the shedding process.
Warm baths are the best way of helping your bearded dragon shed. During shedding season, it is advisable to let your bearded dragon soak in lukewarm water several times per week (three to four). Each bath should last around 10 minutes.
When bathing your bearded dragon – there are two primary safety considerations. First, ensure the water level within your bearded dragon’s tub is below the shoulders (bearded dragons like water but are not skilled swimmers).
Second, as cold-blooded creatures, bearded dragons depend on ambient temperatures for thermoregulation. Therefore, once the bath is over, you need to carefully dry your bearded dragon and then let it bask for some time.
After the bath is over and the skin is moisturized and soft, you can use a human toothbrush (with soft bristles) to give your bearded dragon a nice brushing.
The brushing has a double role – it helps with the shedding and improves circulation, thus promoting healthy skin. Plus, who does not want a good massage?
If a rough shed is too stubborn to come off, you can help by applying a thin layer of Aloe vera or cocoa butter over the shed. There is no need for pulling; just lightly massage the cream over the shed and leave it for absorption.
When doing this trick, there is one caveat – make sure the oily cream is fully absorbed before letting your bearded dragon spend time under the basking light (oils are flammable and can burn your bearded dragon’s skin if exposed to significant heat).
BEARDED DRAGON RUBBING FACE ON GLASS (AKA SNOUT RUBBING)
Snout rubbing is a condition in which the bearded dragon rubs its face on the enclosure glass so intensely the face eventually becomes raw and bloody. Snout rubbing is a medical problem that stems from behavior issues or stress.
Namely, bearded dragons develop snout rubbing due to stress caused by poor environmental conditions – small tank, lack of environmental enrichment, boredom, poor condition. In simpler terms, the bearded dragon rubs its face on the glass in an attempt to escape because it finds its living conditions rather depressing.
Once there are visible sores on the face, they can quickly become infected, thus aggravating the overall situation.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution – just upgrade your bearded dragon’s enclosure. You can either get a bigger tank or add sources of entertainment (caves, branches, toys) in the current one.
Alternatively, you can let your bearded dragon explore a small part of the yard or the living room while being carefully monitored. Spending time outside the enclosure is an excellent physical and mental stimulation.
Even spending some one-on-one time with your bearded dragon can have a positive effect on its overall emotional wellbeing. Let your bearded dragon sit on your lap while watching.
Just keep in mind that bearded dragons need time to adjust before being able to enjoy such activities. For example, if it poops on you every time you pick it up, it means your bearded dragon finds handling to be stressful. However, this is temporary – bearded dragons learn to become affectionate really quickly.
BEARDED DRAGON RUBBING CHIN (AKA MOUTH ROT)
Mouth rot is a bacterial infection affecting the bearded dragon’s mouth and gums. The medical term is infectious stomatitis. However, if left untreated, the infection progresses, eventually affecting the jawbones.
Mouth rot occurs due to poor hygiene within the enclosure – infrequent cleaning and buildup of feces and spoiled fruits and veggies. As with any other infection, the condition manifests with swelling and itchiness.
Over time, there will be visible and bloody sores. As the sores develop, there will be a foul odor, and the mouth tissues’ consistency will start resembling cottage cheese.
Because the mouth changes, the bearded dragon’s saliva will become extra thick, stopping eating and drinking. This can quickly lead to severe dehydration.
Bearded dragons with mouth rot require urgent veterinary attention. In some cases, antibiotics and regular mouth cleanings are enough to contain the situation. However, in more severe cases, the vet will recommend surgery.
On the bright side, mouth rot is a preventable disease. All you need to do is maintain proper hygiene in the enclosure – regular cleaning and using reptile-friendly cleaning solutions. It is also helpful to monitor the conditions (temperature, humidity, light) within the enclosure as irregularities can increase the risk of developing mouth rot.
BEARDED DRAGON SCRATCHING FACE WITH FOOT
Sometimes rubbing the face can be because of a simple itch. After all, we all get an itch every now and then. Depending on the severity of the itch and your bearded dragon’s personal preference scratching the itch can be done with the foot.
To determine whether you are dealing with a simple itch or something more serious, just observe the overall behavior. If your bearded dragon is acting otherwise normally, eating, and drinking, let it scratch its itch (interrupting it may result in you experiencing a bearded dragon finger bite).
However, if there are other red flags in addition to the scratching, it is advisable to consult with a vet. In bearded dragons, as in most exotic species, things can go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
OUR FINAL THOUGHTS
Face rubbing is not unusual behavior in bearded dragons. However, the circumstances leading to this activity can be either normal or linked with specific health issues.
As a general rule of the thumb, if it is shedding time, the face rubbing is your bearded dragon’s attempt of giving the shedding a little boost. So, basically, there is nothing to worry about.
However, if other unusual signs or behaviors accompany the obsessive face rubbing, it is best to give your favorite exotic vet a call and schedule an appointment.