Being a responsible bearded dragon parent means differentiating between normal and abnormal behaviors. One frequent behavior that puzzles owners are gasping for air – is this normal? Or concerning?
Why is my bearded dragon gasping for air? A bearded dragon might be gasping for air for several reasons – some normal, and some indicate a health issue. For example, your beardie may be gasping for air after eating a heavy meal, but it can also gasp because of a respiratory infection.
This article will review the most common reasons for gasping in bearded dragons and offer solutions for each scenario.
WHY IS MY BEARDED DRAGON GASPING FOR AIR?
If your bearded dragon is gasping for air, do not panic. Stay calm and try to evaluate the overall situation – pay attention to your beardie’s behavior and try remembering whether it showed something unusual in the past few days.
To make things simpler and help you get to the bottom of your bearded dragon’s air-gasping, we will divide the possible causes into two groups:
- Normal reasons for gasping for air
- Abnormal reasons for gasping for air.
Normal reasons for air-gasping in bearded dragons
Breathing heavily or gasping for air is nothing to be concerned about in the following situations – eating, stress, and thermoregulation.
Reason number 1: Air-gasping after eating
It is not uncommon for bearded dragons to breathe heavily or even gasp for air after having a meal. This is because, unlike mammals, reptiles need heat for normal digestion processes. Therefore, most beardies will stay in their basking areas after eating, and the heat will make them gasp.
Interestingly, bearded dragons are more likely to gasp if they eat something that is too big for them. To avoid such issues, keep in mind that the foods you are offering must be smaller than the space between your beardie’s eyes.
Reason number 2: Air-gasping due to stress
Just like people during a panic attack, bearded dragons in distress are likely to breathe heavily and eventually evens start gasping for air. Beardies are very prone to stress primarily due to environmental changes.
Common stress-triggering factors include rough handling, loud noises, changes in the humidity, lighting, or temperature, moving the tank to a new spot, adding another beardie in the enclosure, and contact with other pets.
Reason number 3: Air-gasping for thermoregulation
Remember how you gasped for air the last time you were hot? Well, the same principle applies for bearded dragons – when the ambient temperatures are higher than the recommended, beardies start breathing heavily to cool down their bodies.
Bearded dragons need a temperature gradient in the enclosure with a heat range of 95° – 105° degrees Fahrenheit (35° – 41° C) in the warm end of the tank. To ensure the ambient temperature does not go higher than this, make sure you use a digital thermometer and frequently read its numbers.
Abnormal reasons for air-gasping in bearded dragons
Sadly, air-gasping is a serious red flag in some situations and indicates your bearded dragon needs urgent veterinary attention. The most common abnormal reasons for air-gasping are respiratory infections (RI) and dying.
Reason number 1: Air-gasping due to respiratory infections
Respiratory infections (RI) in bearded dragons are pretty common and usually much more life-threatening than they are in other pets. Plus, they are easily spread among bearded dragons.
Common causes of respiratory infections include:
- Temperature extremes (too high or too low temps in the tank)
- Excess humidity levels in the enclosure
- Lack of adequate ventilation (common in tank cages with the closed ceiling)
- Poor dietary choices and lack of vitamins and minerals
- Bad hygiene within the tank.
The telltale sign of respiratory infections is gasping for air. However, the condition is also accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including:
- Puffing up the throat
- Shallow breathing
- Coughing noises
- Sneezing and snorting
- Mucus discharge from the nose and mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy and disinterest in everyday activities.
Respiratory infection cases in beardies require prompt and adequate veterinary attention. The mainstream for managing respiratory infections is antibiotics. Since bearded dragons cannot cough, the vet will recommend slightly increasing the temperature within the enclosure to support open-mouth basking and dry out the secretions. The vet will also suggest keeping your beardie on an inclined pillow with the head facing downwards to help the mucus drain out.
Reason number 2: Air-gasping as a sign of dying
The hardest part of being a pet owner is the notion one day, you will have to say goodbye. There are several signs indicating your beardie might be at the end of its journey. Here are some commonly reported symptoms of a dying bearded dragon:
- White, gray, or yellow patches around the mouth
- Lethargy, depression, and disinterest in everyday activities
- Unusually sunken eyes
- Labored and shallow breathing or gasping for air
- Loss of appetite, inability to catch prey, and weight loss
- Muscle tremors and leg twitching.
WHEN TO TAKE MY BEARDIE TO THE VET FOR AIR-GASPING?
Deciding when to take your bearded dragon to the vet’s office can be challenging, especially if you are a first-time reptile parent. Therefore, we suggest going in whenever you are in doubt – hopefully, everything will be alright, and the visit will put your mind at ease.
However, before rushing to the vet, pay attention to two factors:
- The environmental conditions
- The presence of accompanying red flags.
If the conditions within the tank are within the normal ranges and there are additional signs and symptoms, we recommend making an urgent trip to the vet’s office.
On the other hand, if there are no additional issues and the parameters (temperature, lighting, humidity) have been slightly off, we recommend modifying them and seeing how your beardie responds.
Gasping for air alone cannot tell a lot about your bearded dragon’s health status. This is because depending on the circumstances and accompanying signs, it can be either normal or a sign of severe ailment.
If your beardie is gasping for air and you have trouble determining the underlying issue, do not hesitate to talk to your vet. In bearded dragons, things can get from bad to worse in no time, meaning it is necessary to seek professional help the moment you notice something worrisome.