Possible respiratory infection?

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Possible respiratory infection?

Postby rachelrose » Sat Sep 23, 2017 9:19 pm


I have a beardie that's about 3 months old, and just a few days ago I noticed that hes starting to make these weird noises. He will puff out his beard (doesn't turn black though) and he will gape his mouth and make this weird popping noise, almost like a cough or a wheeze. But he's very active and eats a ton, he's acting fine besides that. My humidity averages at about 32% and basking spot temp is about 100 degrees. Could it just be from shedding or is it a respiratory infection? Need a second opinion before I take him to the vet. Thank you !
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Re: Possible respiratory infection?

Postby EllenD » Sun Sep 24, 2017 6:54 am

Hi! Welcome! First of all, congratulations on your beardie! If you could post some photos of your beardie, your enclosure, and your lighting we can make sure you're starting off right with your husbandry, it's a good idea when you're beardie is still young to get everything worked out...

The humidity inside your beardie's enclosure isn't going to be a big factor, or a factor at all really, on whether or not he has an upper respiratory infection. Beardies can live in a very wide range of humidities, from 20% or lower up to 60% or higher he'll be fine. Humidity isn't a big deal with beardies like it is with tropical reptiles. If a beardie does develop an upper respiratory infection, it's typically due to #1 they aspirated a little water into their lungs during a bath (most common reason), #2 they were wet and cold continuously for a long period of time, or #3 they were exposed to another reptile that had a contagious infection.

Is your beardie in shed right now? They will often puff their beards out when shedding to stretch their skin, that's completely normal. Mouth gaping is also completely normal, it's one way in which they regulate their body temperature, so you'll most likely see him do both of these things often. The biggest signs/symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in a beardie are sounds when breathing, like wheezing and crackling, if they are coughing, and excess mucous in their mouths and fluid coming from their nostrils. Often you'll see thick, sticky strings of clear mucous when they open their mouths. So these are the main indicators of a beardie with an upper respiratory infection...If accompanied by any lethargy, loss of appetite, or excess sleeping, that's for sure some type of illness.

The issue with reptiles (and birds) is that even though they are captive-bred, they have an innate instinct to hide any outward signs of illness or pain (injury) for as long as they possibly can, because outward signs of illness or pain signal predators that they are weak and easy targets (and with birds, because they are flock animals, they are putting their entire flock in danger of predators attacking, and they know that their flicks will dump them and leave them behind to save themselves). So the bottom line is that by the time reptiles and birds do show any visible, outward signs or symptoms of illness or injury, they are usually very, very sick, they've been very sick for quite a long time, sometimes for months, and at this point it's often much more difficult and involved to treat them. Sometimes it's unfortunately too late. Not any fault of the owner, that's just how it is. So getting them to a certified reptile vet (or at least a very experienced reptile vet with lots of bearded dragon experience) upon first seeing any visible signs or symptoms of illness is very important.

With bearded dragons, upper respiratory infections can be caused by a bacteria, a fungi, or both. Unfortunately (and lately it seems every single day) we're seeing more and more people taking their beardies to an "exotics" vet instead of a reptile specialist or certified reptile vet, either because they can't find a reptile specialist locally (we can help you find one local to you), or because the "exotics" vet is cheaper. Usually these exotics vets don't bother doing any tests at all, they just look the beardie over quickly, listen to what symptoms you tell them the beardie has had, and they just go "Okay, he's probably got an upper respiratory infection, I'll give you oral antibiotics", and they prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic, usually Baytril. Then the beardie continues to get more and more sick, from both the infection and the medication, and after they finish 10 days to two weeks of oral antibiotics their beardie is still sick, and they end up having to take them back to the vet, and if they're lucky the vet will finally run the tests he should have run the first visit.

If you're hearing coughing, wheezing, and clicking he most likely does have an upper respiratory infection, and it's best to take him to an experienced reptile vet and get them to run a culture to determine #1 If he in fact does positively have an upper respiratory infection, #2 Exactly what microbe or microbes is causing the infection, and #3 What medication or medications will be effective against the specific microbe(s) the cultures indentified. He may need an antibiotic, an antifungal, or both.
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