Tail Rot in Bearded Dragons: All You Need to Know

Bearded dragons can suffer from a condition called tail rot, which is caused by an internal infection. They can end up losing the tail, and unlike other lizards, they cannot grow it back. We will take a look at what causes this condition, its treatment, and how to prevent it from happening to your beardie.

Vet checking bearded dragon tale

Tail rot in bearded dragons can start mild and become very serious if not addressed quickly. The internal infection can spread to the rest of the bearded dragon’s body and harm the internal organs. Listed below are known causes of the condition, as well as treatment, and some notes on prevention. If you catch tail rot early enough, you may be able to save your bearded dragon’s tail.

What Does Tail Rot Look Like on a Bearded Dragon

Tail rot primarily affects the tail, but can also affect toes of bearded dragons. The tail, or toes, will gradually begin turning black and become dry and brittle due to lack of blood flow. There may also be no sensation left in the tail. This is dying tissue and the infection will continue to progress up the tail, and if left unchecked, to the rest of the body.

Can Tail Rot Kill a Bearded Dragon?

Yes, tail rot in advanced stages can eventually kill your bearded dragon. As the infection spreads up the tail, it will enter the body and start to affect the vital organs. The best thing you can do is be vigilant and either catch it early, or make an effort to prevent it in the first place. The sooner you address the problem, the less pain your beardie will have to suffer.

Early Signs of Tail Rot

  • Tail not shedding
  • Tip of tail turning black
  • Dry, brittle appearance
  • When shedding, the skin of the tail will slowly turn whitish, or transparent. This is normal and shouldn’t be confused with tail rot

Causes of Tail Rot

There are two main causes for this condition that are known. The first is usually trauma from either bites from other bearded dragons (often when they are housed together as babies), or bites from insect prey left in the cage. Incomplete sheds can also lead to tail rot, as the old skin can remain and slowly cut off blood flow. Rarely, an abscess may cause the same issues.

Some other causes for tail rot are lack of UVB exposure and malnourishment. UVB lighting is of utmost importance to day-active lizards like bearded dragons, and they should receive 12 hours a day. This helps their bodies metabolize calcium and keeps their bones strong and healthy. Don’t forget that these lights need to be changed every 6 months.

Conversely, if fed an improper diet, your beardie may be getting unbalanced levels of calcium to phosphorus ratios. Try to avoid foods in the cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) family of vegetables which are known to bind calcium in reptiles. Here is a great feeding chart to follow with nutritional information for bearded dragons.

If you are at all unsure of the cause, or not sure what to do, take your bearded dragon to a qualified reptile vet ASAP.

Bearded dragon basking

How to Prevent It

Housing – First and foremost, try not to house babies together. These early life stages are when potential injuries can happen that can eventually lead to tail rot. They are known for biting each other’s tails and toes. Housing adults together can be just as dicey. Though some beardies can get along, it doesn’t mean they will forever. Be prepared with extra setups if you plan to try this. I also suggest supervising them closely.

> Further reading: The bearded dragon tank setup

Cleaning – Whenever I clean my own bearded dragon’s tank, I use a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar to spray down the glass and hides. This is a non-toxic solution that kills most bacteria, but is safe for reptiles. Let the solution sit for a few minutes before wiping down. Just make sure you let it air out a few minutes before placing your lizard back inside.

If you have any concerns over more serious pathogens, you can always do a monthly disinfect with bleach water. Use 1 part bleach to 2 parts water to spray down the tank, and hides. Let sit for 15 minutes, and then rinse very well. I suggest letting the tank and other items air dry for about 2-3 hours before placing your beardie back in. By then, any harmful fumes should have dissipated.

Bedding – For my own peace of mind, I have never used loose substrate or bedding for my bearded dragon. It poses challenges to keep clean and isn’t completely safe if accidentally ingested. Plus, loose substrates can harbor bacteria and fungi that can do more harm than good. I use paper towels, which are easily disposed of when soiled, and inexpensive. Newspapers are another option that is reasonably steril. If you want something nicer looking, you can get a piece of vinyl flooring cut to your tank size, or tiles. Both are cheap and easily cleaned.

> Further reading: What is the best bearded dragon substrate?

Tail Rot Treatments for Bearded Dragons

Home Remedies

Let me just say that a home remedy will only be of use if you have caught this early on and if the spread has actually stopped. Anything further should be seen and examined by a vet. More progressed cases will likely require antibiotics that are only available through your vet. Don’t put off getting your beardie seen.

The only method I would suggest using is the one displayed in the video above. Again, this is only if you have caught the disease early on.

  • Clean the tail daily in lukewarm water to free it from any debris. (if you haven’t already, I would strongly advise using paper towels as a substrate when treating this condition.)
  • Use a small cup/dish and fill with water, then add a small amount of Betadine (just enough to make the water tea colored.).
  • Soak the tail ONLY, not the body, in the solution for 5 minutes daily.
  • Pat dry with cotton swab and apply Neosporin original formula (*with no pain relief) to the affected area.
  • Continue this treatment for a few days and monitor the tail until you notice the tail rot isn’t spreading toward the body.
  • I would still be very wary of keeping the housing VERY clean for the following weeks just to be sure it doesn’t start again. Keep the vet’s number handy if you notice things not looking good.
Note
Neosporin with Pain Relief contains a compound, which is known to be harmful to reptiles and amphibians.

Surgery & Cost

The amputation of the tail will vary depending on which veterinarian you choose. Though the average pricing seems to run around $100 – $200. This includes any medications that will be going home with your pet.

Take care!

Did you enjoy this article? Did this help alleviate some worry about your beardie’s health? If so, comment down below and let me know what you think!

As a bearded dragon owner myself, I hate to see them suffer at all. If education can prevent it before it starts, that’s what I’d like to continue to do with the articles I write. There are unfortunately a lot of preventable mistakes in reptile keeping, but by building on our collective experiences we can make the changes our beardies need us to.

You as a fellow reptile owner should also be willing to share and learn for the sake of your bearded dragon’s well being. We all hope to have many wonderful years with these cheeky lizards, and when we face serious health concerns, it’s heartening to know we can help each other with knowledge and support.

Be sure to drop a comment and let me know what you beardie owners think!

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Angela DeRiso

Angela DeRiso

Angela is passionate about exotic animals, especially reptiles. A life long Florida native, she has kept birds, invertebrates, and reptiles. She is an advocate for educating the public on proper care and husbandry of exotics, and for rescuing those in need.

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Angela DeRiso
Angela DeRiso
Angela is passionate about exotic animals, especially reptiles. A life long Florida native, she has kept birds, invertebrates, and reptiles. She is an advocate for educating the public on proper care and husbandry of exotics, and for rescuing those in need.