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I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 10:01 pm
by jackiegrace
Hi everyone,

I could really use some help and advice. Today i rescued two young bearded dragons from petco. While I have kept reptiles for most of my life, both rescued and purchased, I have never had one with such a severe handicap.

The younger, smaller one is paralyzed from the waist down, and his front legs don’t seem to be very strong at all, as he tends to get stuck on his side. However, he does move around his enclosure and has a good feeding response.

The larger one is paralyzed in all 4 legs, or maybe it’s better to say that he does not appear to have any working limbs, as his legs seem to move from the base if that makes sense? He wiggles his torso to move around and is able to make it around his enclosure, but he definitely struggles more than the other one.

The employees at petco who have been taking care of them said that they both developed issues in the store, but they were mobile when they came in, then started to slow down and they realized there was something wrong. They said the vet they use has looked at them and determined that they have neurological issues, and that the paralysis is not due to MBD. They have had the larger one since March, and the smaller one came in June/July. The employees have been hand feeding them crickets and mealworms supplemented with calcium, and giving them flukers reptiboost twice a day.

Does anyone have any experience with anything like this? I will be taking them in to see my exotic vet but unfortunately due to covid It has been extremely difficult to get an appointment, so I won’t be able to get them in until next month. I just want to make sure I am doing everything I can to keep them comfortable in the mean time. I am very concerned for them as they seem to get stuck on their backs/sides often, and while they are happy to be held, its quite sad to see them struggling to get around on their own, and I’m honestly not sure if they would even be able to access their water bowl without my help. They seem to be kind of underweight as well.

Right now I have them (separately) in 20 gallon longs lined with paper towels. they have uvb, basking spot of 106-110, and I have placed 2 hides that they can easily get in and out of in each of their tanks. I offered them pelleted food softened with pedialyte but they were not very interested in it today, but I did get them to eat a few small mealworms and will offer them more in the morning.

I am fully prepared and willing to do whatever needs to be done to ensure that they are happy and healthy, so I would love to get some more insight.

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 12:23 am
by Drache613

Oh my, that is going to be extremely challenging on your end! Are they physically injured
or deformed, or just paralyzed but appear physically normal?
They have either been injured, are impacted, or have severe metabolic bone disease. It
could also be a combination of things. I am sure that it is most likely not neurological but
probably incorrect or no UVB lighting, among other things. If they were feeding them too
large of crickets & or too many mealworms they might have impaction issues. Do you know
if they were on sand or other loose substrate?
How do you have their tanks setup up for them? I am glad to hear you have them separately
housed as well. Since they both have disabilities, I highly recommend keeping their basking
areas directly on the bottom of their tanks so they don't have to try to climb to get warmed up.
Be sure that the UVB light is at the correct distance, also.
For now, I would not keep any water bowls at all in their tanks to eliminate any risk of them

Let us know how they are doing.

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 9:52 am
by jackiegrace
thanks for the input Tracie!

Physically, they seem mostly normal other than being a bit small for their age. It appears to me that the muscles in their legs have begun to atrophy. The front legs on the larger one are curled backwards, but I assume this is due to his lack of ability to move or use them.

I too had suspected it is probably not neurological, and more likely a Combination of things as you had said, as Petco is not exactly known for its husbandry, but without taking them to a vet it is hard to be sure of anything. It seems that their diet in the store consisted of only mealworms and crickets, and while the employees told me they had UVB, I am hesitant to believe that they were in a suitable setup. To my knowledge they were always kept on repticarpet, so no sand or other loose substrate.

If it were an issue of impaction, is that something that could go on for months? Apparently they have been this way for quite some time. Is there anything I can do on my own other than a warm soak in extremely shallow water and a gentle abdominal massage to help them? I was thinking about giving them a drop of oil to help move things along but I don’t want to do the wrong thing.

In terms of their tank setup, right now I have kept it super simple so that I can easily monitor them. I am using paper towel as substrate so that I can keep track of how often they are going to the bathroom. I do not keep a water bowl in with them as I fear that they would drown or get stuck in it. I placed a hide at each end of their enclosure, and have a thermostat with a probe to ensure that their basking spot is at the correct temperature on the floor of their cage.

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 1:07 pm
by saraho
I'm sad to hear of these little guys. I'll be following your updates and sending my best wishes!

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 11:51 pm
by Drache613

Well, that is good they were not kept on sand or other loose substrate. So maybe they are
not impacted from that at least. The UVB provided, if any, was likely poor quality so they
probably have bone issues because of it. I'm not sure whether or not they will get a lot of
their strength back, but hopefully some.
Water therapy can be helpful for building strength but definitely keep an eye on them because
they could drown easily.
You could consider using a liquid calcium to see if that helps out with calcium absorption.
Has either one of them had a black or darker beard as they would if they were in pain or
Have you gotten them to eat anything yet?

We are all pulling for their recovery. They certainly have a lot better chance with you then
they would in the pet store.


Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 8:49 pm
by jackiegrace
hey! just wanted to give a quick update on my little fighters

I decided to take the boys to my local reptile store, as the owners are extremely kind and knowledgeable, and have many years of experience with all kinds of exotics. After taking a look, he said that he definitely thinks their issues are due to MBD and/or nutritional deficiencies from improper care. Tracie, as you had said, they likely did not have the correct (or any) UVB lighting or access to calcium, which unfortunately is not a surprise to me given the reputation that petco has. He suggested I soak them in pedilyte 3 times a day to make sure they stay hydrated, which I haven begun to do using a small plate so that they are safe.

I’ve been getting them to eat plain organic chicken baby food mixed with a VERY small amount of organic unsweetened apple sauce. I then add pedialyte, reptaboost, 2 calcium supplements, and reptile vitamins to this mixture. The smaller one will even go after a few very small dubia roaches and crickets with a bit of help, but the larger one doesn’t have much interest in them, I think he’s just a bit too weak right now. As their appetite increases I’ll play around with adding some greens to their diet, but so far they’ve been taking small amounts of food from a syringe 3-4x a day without much of an issue, and it seems that they get more excited to eat with every feeding.

Thankfully, they aren’t displaying any noticeable signs of pain or discomfort. They do have some slight stress marks on their bellies; I’m sure that they will fade in time, as although they’ve been through a lot, they seem to be warming up to me/their new home very quickly.

I know I’ve only had them for a little over 48 hours, and I don’t want to get too excited, but I feel like I have already noticed an overall improvement. They seem to have settled in and have definitely been enjoying all of the TLC. They are much more active, alert, and reactive which makes me so happy to see, especially considering that I was told that the larger one barely moved at all and today he was wiggling around and exploring his enclosure. They’re the sweetest little guys and I really couldn’t be happier to have them.

Thanks for the support!

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:42 am
by Drache613

Oh I am so happy that you had someone to assess them at the reptile store! Well, I am
not all that surprised. While metabolic bone does cause neurological issues but it is due
to improper muscle firing from the inability of the body to absorb & store calcium. Metabolic
bone disease leads to a myriad of issues, from nutrition problems to constipation. The primary
reason is causes constipation or impaction problems is because calcium plays a vital role in
the smooth muscle contractions of the GI tract. So when they are deficient, the muscles are
weakened thus causing the problems with constipation & sometimes prolapses.
I would go easy on too much protein & give nice nutritional slurries made of squash, greens,
canned or fresh pumpkin with a drop or two of coconut or olive oil. That can help with softening
up the stools as well as hydration status, too. If they are impacted, it can take weeks or even
months for them to fully pass things through.
Which UVB are you using for them?
Bless them, I am glad you are seeing a slight bit of improvement. that is encouraging! Which
calcium are you using, you could consider a liquid calcium to increase the speed of absorption
for them.
Feel free to post some pictures of them both, when you have a chance. We would all love to
see them.


Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Sat Oct 24, 2020 11:24 pm
by jackiegrace

I just wanted to check in with some updates on my guys, who i started calling Maxx and Nemo. They’ve been with me for almost two weeks, and have continued to surprise me every day with their strength and will to live.

Their appetites have been increasing which has allowed me to add some greens into their diet as they aren’t as picky at the moment. I’ve been feeding them blended squash baby food with dandelion greens, sometimes I’ll add a bit of pumpkin, chicken, cactus pad, or apple sauce, and they’ve been eating a couple BSFL and Dubia roaches. I was able to find flukers liquid calcium and liquid vitamins, so I’ve been adding that to their food along with repashy calcium plus and occasionally some reptaboost. They’ve been going to the bathroom every day/every other day and are always pretty excited to eat. Tracie, I can’t thank you enough for all of the nutritional advice!

Nemo, the smaller one, has more movement in his front legs and seems to be getting stronger as he doesn’t get stuck on his back nearly as often anymore. Max, the larger beardie, who i had originally thought was completely paralyzed, has begun to twitch and slightly move his legs. Everything was going so well until a few days ago when he started acting a little strange at times. He will almost “play dead” and becomes completely unresponsive for a few minutes. He closes his eyes, doesn’t move, and appears to be holding his breath. These “episodes” tend to last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, and it’s been happening a few times a day. Although he quickly revives and opens his eyes, and is still active in his tank, eating, and going to the bathroom, in the moment it’s honestly a little scary to see him that way. I’m wondering if this is how he used to be all of the time before I got him; the petco employees had told me that he never really moved much, and usually was just laying there lifeless. Otherwise he seems to be fine and improving, but I wanted to see if anyone has ever experienced anything like this?

Yesterday I was finally able to get them in to see the vet, and while he gave me a lot of great advice, we unfortunately had to have some pretty tough conversations. Traveling is especially rough on my little guys, and after being in the car for 30 minutes to get to the office, and waiting to be seen, they were understandably stressed, which seems to make them kind of shut down. So when my vet first went to examine them, they weren’t very reactive and he suggested that I consider putting them to sleep. As he continued to look them over, we went on to discuss their quality of life, and he said that they aren’t suffering or in any pain. I told him that I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of euthanasia just yet, I want to give them time to heal as I have already noticed so much improvement, and they truly seem to be comfortable and happy. About 10 minutes into their exam they began to settle in and “wake up” and he then seemed to have more faith in their recovery. He checked their limbs to see it they have any feeling in them, and both of the boys showed a bit of reaction in all 4 legs which was awesome!! He said that the weakness and paralysis issues are due to MBD, which has left Maxx with a bit of scoliosis. In Nemo’s case, he thinks that his back was likely broken at some point in the past from an injury of some sort, or that his vertebrae collapsed due to weakening from a lack of calcium and nutrients, as his back legs and tail are pretty much stagnant. He said that there really wasn’t much he could do for them in terms of further treatment at this point, but that as long as they’re willingly eating and going to the bathroom on their own, which they are, that they’re heading in the right direction. He told me to continue supplementing their food with liquid calcium, make sure they have a strong uvb (I’m using a powersun for their hot spot+ a reptisun 10.0 strip) and to soak them in warm water to encourage digestion.

I know some may think I’m selfish for deciding not to put them to sleep, but if I thought for a minute that they were suffering, I would do what is best for them. After a long conversation with my vet we decided to closely monitor them and give them some time. Like I said before, he determined that they are not in pain, which is what allowed me to come to my decision. I know that I basically have them on life support as they are still very weak, but I never have to force them to eat, and overall they seem to be happy and improving. They spent so much of their life without the proper care I think that it’s only fair to give them a fighting chance.

I know this post is super long, which I apologize for but I just wanted to make sure I didn’t leave anything out! I’ll make sure to post some pictures soon. Thank you to everyone following along with our story and rooting for their recovery!

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Sun Oct 25, 2020 12:08 am
by Drache613

Terrific update, thanks!
So you have named them Maxx & Nemo, that is very cute. I don't think you are selfish at
all. It doesn't sound like they are in pain, just having physical problems from poor care,
previously. I think oftentimes vets are too quick to suggest putting them down, without giving
them time to heal. Reptiles heal very slowly, thus, they become ill very slowly which is why
they don't always show signs of becoming sick very quickly until they all of the sudden are
Metabolic bone issues cause paralysis both temporary & permanent because of the neurological
damage. It sounds like to me that they are responding pretty well so as long as you enjoy them
& they don't seem to be suffering then there is no reason at all they can't have a happy life with
When they have seizures or episodes, their muscles can freeze up so they just don't respond or
don't want to try to move if they aren't able to. It probably does cause some pain but mostly just
the inability to move because of improper muscle & nerve firings.
The lighting should drastically help out for them! I totally agree that it is very fair to give them
more time, they do deserve that. I am happy to hear that they both have good appetites & are
going to the bathroom regularly, too. Hopefully Maxx's episodes will subside & completely go away
eventually. I'm glad to hear Nemo isn't flipping on his back as much either. I know this is a very
hard situation but keep working with them.
Let us know how they are doing & you can post updated pictures anytime!


Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2020 1:14 pm
by jackiegrace
Thanks Tracie! I feel very lucky that I’ve had so many good days with them, and while I’m still optimistic about their recovery, today has been especially hard. Maxx has been very slow the past two days, his episodes seem to be leaving him completely wiped out, and while he was still eating a little and going to the bathroom, he seems to be doing a bit worse today and I’m extremely concerned. At first I thought he was slowing down a little because he’s shedding right now, but he’s been pretty lethargic all morning and hasn’t been very willing to eat or drink. His eyes have been closed for most of the day and he seems to have periods where he doesn’t breathe normally, as it looks like he’s breathing deeply and holding it in. When I picked him up to try to syringe feed him, he was very still, and then all of a sudden his body began to curl a bit and he puffed out his beard and just stayed like that for a little while. He’ll have brief moments where he will “wake up” and act normally but overall he’s been pretty unresponsive. I will say that he doesn’t look uncomfortable, just very tired. I wanted to know if anyone has any advice on this situation? Is there anything I can give him or do for him that could help? I have a feeling that if I call the vet, he’ll probably advise me to just put him to sleep, but these “episodes” are very worrisome and I’m concerned about his lack of appetite. I know that it’s crucial for him to eat but i don’t want to force the syringe into his mouth as I’m afraid he could aspirate or something. I’m hoping that he’s just having a bad day, I know that recovery isn’t a linear process but I love these guys so much, so it’s breaking my heart to see Maxx this way. I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can for him, so any advice at all would be great!

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2020 11:27 pm
by Drache613

That has to be rough, having to see Maxx go through those. Are they essentially seizures?
Is his beard darker than normal right now?
You can definitely keep trying with feeding, but just drip the food onto his little nose so you
don't have to worry about him aspirating so much by putting a syringe into his mouth.
Remind me again, how much liquid calcium do you give? Since you are giving a liquid calcium,
I would give only that without a powdered calcium supplement. That can put too much calcium
into their system & be hard on their kidneys. The calcium liquid, is it gluconate or glubionate?
Which UVB are you using again?
I hope Nemo is doing well! Let us know how things are going.


Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2020 2:39 am
by JaDiNick
You did the right thing!

Re: I rescued two severely handicapped juveniles

PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2020 10:56 pm
by Drache613

Just wondering how things were going for Maxx today, any changes thus far?