Written by Alex Sleeis on February 20, 2006
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Many people have come here freaked out because of a behavior that their bearded dragon displayed. Okay, there are many that freak their new owners out, but this one in particular even freaked me out when I first saw it. This is the behavior commonly referred to as "Eye Bulging." People are often concerned that this is some sort of eye problem or an eye infection.
I have yet to see any definitive answer as to exactly what this is, so I will tell you the dominant explanations, and offer my opinion. Keep in mind that my opinions are not that of an expert, just someone who, at the time of this writing, has cared for his own three dragons for the last seven years.
One belief is that bearded dragons bulge their eyes as a form of yawning. While I can't prove or disprove this to be true specifically, I am less inclined to buy into it. For one, we don't even know for sure (last time I checked) why WE yawn. In my case, I tend to yawn more when I'm hungry and also when I'm tired. But others yawn during other times and for other reasons. Many believe that we yawn due to insufficient levels of oxygen in our blood. I am inclined to believe this for many cases, but it doesn't address how yawning seems to be somewhat reliably contagious.
The prevailing belief is that bearded dragons bulge their eyes in order to stretch the skin around their eyes during a time of shedding. This is the explanation that makes the most sense to me. Although I have seen my dragons do this when they had already recently shed, I did notice them doing it more often when they were ready to shed. I have seen this much more frequently when my dragons were younger, although they still do it on a rare occasion as adults. This may also support the shedding association, since beardies shed much more often during their first year of life.
Okay, so now that the main ideas that surround this topic have been put out there for you to read, I'm sure you're asking yourself, "So, just what IS eye bulging?" Well, before we get to the pictures, I'll offer what I have found to be the more common and believable explanation about what it physically is.
Some reptiles have an ability to increase the blood pressure behind their eyes. The reasons they do this varies. In the case of some varieties of the horned lizard, they will build up the blood pressure in their eyes until it squirts out. This is done as a defense mechanism when being threatened by a predator. I once saw this on Animal Planet and thought that was WAY freakier than what my bearded dragons would do.
Other reptiles suffer from high blood pressure. According to some vets, this happens in some chameleons. The high blood pressure can cause their eyes to bulge. In this case, it could be a risk to their health and sometimes a change in diet is needed. If your bearded dragon displays eye bulging for more than an hour or so, consider seeing an experienced herp vet. While eye bulging is a common behavior and may have other reasons/uses, if it goes on for an extended period, it could be an indication of other problems. Some people have experienced their beardie's eye bulging for several days straight. When going to the vet, it was believed to be related to high blood pressure related to their diet.
Just to note, eye bulging is also commonly mispelled as "eye buldging", so if you search for information, be sure to check both if you don't find your answer with the correct spelling.
Alright, alright... so, now you've heard the ideas about why they do it, and the explanation about what causes it, but you are still wondering, "what does it look like?" So, without further ado, some pictures of the freaky behavior known as eye bulging... Click to page two to see the pictures!