Absolute Mystery Illness- Vets Are Baffled

Beardie name(s)
Perseus "Percy"
Hello,

First of all you can find my husbandry information here:

If I'm missing any info just ask and I'll provide it!

My bearded dragon Percy is a little over 4 years old. He has always been very inactive throughout his life- even when given plenty of space to roam and taken outside of the enclosure - he barely made use of the space he does have. That is until his recent mystery illness that has at least two vets (one a reptile specialist) very confused. This is going to be very long so bear with me.


I noticed him gaping while resting on me when I held him back in May, but I didn't see this as a cause for alarm. I figured I was a bit warm and he was just thermoregulating. He didn't do this in his enclosure either, aside from under his basking spot....until July. This is when he started breathing very heavily and would black beard and gasp. I knew I had to take him in at that point. I could also feel him straining his abdominal muscles when holding him as he breathed.

His symptoms are extremely bizarre to say the least. The gasping and black bearding on its own suggests a respiratory infection, but it's usually combined with frantic running across the cage or digging/ glass dancing in the corners, trying to climb up. Ever since this illness began he's been more active than he's ever been in his life (aside from a hatchling). He even jumps at times!

The vet- who is my main vet but isn't a herp specialist, yet does have decent experience...she's the only one in the area as my previous one retired- initially told me his x-rays were very difficult to interpret. Among the theories were respiratory infection, cardiac disease or failure, or something else. Going with the RI theory she prescribed Baytril 2.27%, at 0.2 mL every 24 hours. He was on the full dose of this from 7/30/2022 until 8/8. His last dose was 0.1 mL on August 9th.

Generally while on the Baytril it seemed like his symptoms got a lot worse. He would black beard not just after every time being medicated but also after eating and pooping. This was always combined with black bearding and gasping. During the last few days he's also been doing a weird cough...his body tenses up and he suddenly opens his mouth with a gasp to let out a little noise like a squeak. It's very alarming... He does it at random, usually during the gasping episodes. Of course every time he gets into his overactive mode (usually after eating or pooping) he's prone to doing this.

On the 9th he went back to the vet. Since his condition was worsening she did a blood draw and he also lost a lot of weight- 455 grams down to 435. So now he's on Omnivore Critical Care. He was also dehydrated - I'm not surprised because he was having up to three runny urates a day! I tried to give him as much water by mouth as I could but he just doesn't ever drink on his own so I use a syringe to give it to him. This also seems to stress him out a lot and he'll eventually try to run away and black beard too.

All the while my vet has been consulting with a herp vet an hour and a half away. Who was also confused by the X-rays. To make everything worse, his blood work came back normal so there were zero answers.

This leads us to now. On Friday I took Percy in yet again. She said the only thing she can really do is take another x-ray. She wanted to see if there was any change in the lung area. She had a theory that the black bearding and gasping is actually due to pain from a digestive issue. Also since beardies don't have a diaphragm if their stomach takes up more room it could cause him to gasp. Sure enough the x-ray showed his GI tract was taking up more space than it previously had. So she's thinking he has some kind of partial impaction that is causing him pain and bloating. That or it's cancer...

The worst thing about this is that there's no way of knowing for sure without exploratory surgery. The vet said he'd need to go to a clinic that's a five hour round trip away...it would be super expensive and if it's cancer I'd just have spent thousands of dollars to get a dismal outcome.

I'm totally at a loss. I'm heartbroken.

I've already grieved and prepared myself for his death as a few days ago he was so black that it went all the way up to his neck and shoulder pads, his entire tail tip, pale yellow all over the rest of his body and gasping frantically. He looked exactly like my previous beardie did when he went comatose and we had him euthanized...that's another story but he died of a bacterial infection despite showing essentially no symptoms of illness and ate enthusiastically all the way up to the day before he passed.

What should I do? I'm worried I'm just putting Percy through needless torture and causing him more suffering as the vets can't get a proper diagnosis. I've also spent $850 on all of these issues so far. As much as I wish I could spend thousands on his care, I can't afford it....when I got him I was a bit better off financially, this recession has really hurt my pocketbook. I'm very much living paycheck to paycheck atm....

Please help. :'(

Also I'm not sure if I can get a copy of his x-rays or not if anyone can look at them?
 
Last edited:

ShehzainWyvern

Member
Original Poster
Beardie name(s)
Perseus "Percy"
Sorry it was so long but I already need to add more details that I forgot:

*His interest in food all but vanished, although he will still eat super worms and Dubia enthusiastically. I only fed him three supers and one Dubia in addition to the critical care. I managed to get some collard greens in the side of his mouth and then and only then would he eat them with a lot of reluctance...

* He does seem to like the critical care formula but I'm not sure how much to give him. He ate as much as two teaspoons in a day spread out, but that was prior to the X-rays where the vet said his lungs had less room due to his GI tract...so maybe I overfed him. Due to that she said no food last evening and tonight I only gave him a half teaspoon total. I'm also concerned because it's Omnivore...is he getting too much protein?

* The vet put him on three meds- an anti nausea medication, an anti-inflammatory for the pain, and something to speed up the motility of his GI tract going with the partial blockage idea. I know Reglan and Cerenia are two of the medicine. The vet gave them to me in pre measured syringes. I will need to check the dosages tomorrow.

*He shows no signs of improvement since being on this medication. He passed normal stools and also had another urate at evening which was runny. I think there was a tiny fleck of insect shell in his stool but clearly that isn't what's causing his pain as he still shows gasping and black bearding.

I'm upset at myself, worrying maybe I caused this. He likes to eat his collard greens in big bites and I'm worried maybe a portion of those caused a blockage...or maybe a super worm did ...there's no way he could have ingested anything in his enclosure other than newspaper and there's no signs of that being bitten.
 

Drache613

BD.org Sicko
Staff member
Moderator
Hello,

So sorry Percy is not well!
Do post his x-rays, we will take a look at them.
Can you review your supplementation & nutrition that your insects get? I mean, what type of gutload
do you give your insects prior to him eating?
What type/brand of UVB lighting are you using?
If he truly didn't have an infection then Baytril would definitely cause distress, it can be a harsh drug
on them. Have you used any probiotics yet?
Please post pictures of him along with your tank setup for us. I'll respond more on Sunday.

Tracie
 

Drache613

BD.org Sicko
Staff member
Moderator
Hello,

How is Percy doing today, any improvements at all?
When you are able to, please post a few pictures for us, so we can review everything to be sure
it is all setup properly for him.

Tracie
 

KarrieRee

BD.org Sicko
Beardie name(s)
Hiccup he is 4 and Blaze is 3
Please put the uvb inside the tank approx 6-8 inches directly above the basking decor. How old is the uvb if it's 6 months change it out. T 8 's expire in 6 months I recommend 5 also the uvb rays are not strong enough to go thru screen do this asap please
I also would recommend upgrading the UVB to a Zoo Med w/ a Reptisun 10.0 T 5 or a Arcadia Pro T 5 w/ a 12% bulb these fixtures the T 8 and the T 5 have different placement and distance
 
Last edited:

ShehzainWyvern

Member
Original Poster
Beardie name(s)
Perseus "Percy"
It's unfortunately not allowing me to edit my previous post but the mystery has been solved.

The diagnosis is liver disease. 😢

How it relates to gasping: The fluid from his liver disease is in his abdominal cavity and putting pressure on his lungs.

The vet who did the ultrasound didn't think it was anything I did wrong and instead it could be due to poor genetics. (He came from PetSmart after all.)

However upon researching the issue ( quite a bit on this forum too) I've come to some conclusions, let me know if I'm right or wrong:

One I'm concerned I fed him too many insects. Is approximately 6 mealworms (sometimes superworms) and 6 Dubia roaches spread out over a week too much for an adult beardie? Sometimes he'd only eat four of them as well. I feel like this isn't too much according to common knowledge, but ...I'm worried now for sure.

Two Percy had always been very, very lazy. There were times he was so lazy he didn't want to even walk to get his roaches! He would also rarely even walk to his food bowl and wanted me to hand it to him all the time. I fed him the veggies, usually collard greens, but sometimes (a lot more rarely) peas, kale, and yellow squash, every day to every other day. The vet did think he looked fat when he came in for a regular checkup in May or so before his issue really got noticeable. (Again I assumed him gaping as I held him was thermoregulation but it wasn't. I'm kicking myself for not getting him in sooner. 😭 )

So my question is how can I get him to be active? I set him down on the floor of my room, my bed, the hallway etc and he mainly just sits there. I went as far as giving him a little push and he'd just let himself be pushed around! 😆 I also tried gently poking his sides and legs, he'd just give me the evil eye...
Thankfully he does like to walk around a bit more since his breathing issues got worse...but he's still pretty lazy....

He also went on a few hunger strikes in the past where he preferred bearded dragon pellets soaked in water to other food...I'm also worried those caused issues. I didn't feed him a ton of them but during those times he preferred that to everything else. Sigh.

So here is my plan. The vet performing the ultrasound suggested euthanasia as an option but...I really don't think he's in constant pain, the gasping episodes seem to be less frequent now and I hope there's a chance he could still get better even though he said " it's a progressive disease with no chance of a cure".


Going forward I'm going to cut out all insects out of his diet aside from black soldier fly larvae ( one or two per feeding max). This is mainly to get him to open his mouth so I can drip water on his tongue and keep him hydrated. Also I gave him one today and put a slice of small collard green up to him and he ate it so enthusiastically! It gives me hope!

Secondly I need to get him moving more, I need ideas for that for sure...

Thirdly they did say there's medication that can slow the disease but they won't have a plan for a few days yet.

Is there anything else I can do in the meantime?
 

KarrieRee

BD.org Sicko
Beardie name(s)
Hiccup he is 4 and Blaze is 3
It's unfortunately not allowing me to edit my previous post but the mystery has been solved.

The diagnosis is liver disease. 😢

How it relates to gasping: The fluid from his liver disease is in his abdominal cavity and putting pressure on his lungs.

The vet who did the ultrasound didn't think it was anything I did wrong and instead it could be due to poor genetics. (He came from PetSmart after all.)

However upon researching the issue ( quite a bit on this forum too) I've come to some conclusions, let me know if I'm right or wrong:

One I'm concerned I fed him too many insects. Is approximately 6 mealworms (sometimes superworms) and 6 Dubia roaches spread out over a week too much for an adult beardie? Sometimes he'd only eat four of them as well. I feel like this isn't too much according to common knowledge, but ...I'm worried now for sure.

Two Percy had always been very, very lazy. There were times he was so lazy he didn't want to even walk to get his roaches! He would also rarely even walk to his food bowl and wanted me to hand it to him all the time. I fed him the veggies, usually collard greens, but sometimes (a lot more rarely) peas, kale, and yellow squash, every day to every other day. The vet did think he looked fat when he came in for a regular checkup in May or so before his issue really got noticeable. (Again I assumed him gaping as I held him was thermoregulation but it wasn't. I'm kicking myself for not getting him in sooner. 😭 )

So my question is how can I get him to be active? I set him down on the floor of my room, my bed, the hallway etc and he mainly just sits there. I went as far as giving him a little push and he'd just let himself be pushed around! 😆 I also tried gently poking his sides and legs, he'd just give me the evil eye...
Thankfully he does like to walk around a bit more since his breathing issues got worse...but he's still pretty lazy....

He also went on a few hunger strikes in the past where he preferred bearded dragon pellets soaked in water to other food...I'm also worried those caused issues. I didn't feed him a ton of them but during those times he preferred that to everything else. Sigh.

So here is my plan. The vet performing the ultrasound suggested euthanasia as an option but...I really don't think he's in constant pain, the gasping episodes seem to be less frequent now and I hope there's a chance he could still get better even though he said " it's a progressive disease with no chance of a cure".


Going forward I'm going to cut out all insects out of his diet aside from black soldier fly larvae ( one or two per feeding max). This is mainly to get him to open his mouth so I can drip water on his tongue and keep him hydrated. Also I gave him one today and put a slice of small collard green up to him and he ate it so enthusiastically! It gives me hope!

Secondly I need to get him moving more, I need ideas for that for sure...

Thirdly they did say there's medication that can slow the disease but they won't have a plan for a few days yet.

Is there anything else I can do in the meantime?
Your uvb is up to par please no coils- surface basking temps are being taken w a digital probe thermometer-
 

ShehzainWyvern

Member
Original Poster
Beardie name(s)
Perseus "Percy"
Here's some pictures of him and the basking and UV lights.

My cage is 48" long, I know this is too small but the problem is Percy has been so lazy throughout his life (aside from as a hatchling and he's gained somewhat more energy lately...he was super hyperactive after the Baytril though).

It's also a very old cage so it doesn't have any place to mount the lights inside like the modern cages have. ☹️

Should he start to improve and survive this ordeal I'll invest in a new enclosure for sure, can you give me some recommendations please?

Another thing of note: He's missing all but part of his longest toe and the "pinky" toe of his left hind foot. I discovered at night in 2018 as a hatchling that he had ripped his claws on a previous basking stump somehow...or so I assume, unless he tried to bite his own claws?! Either way there was no way they could be saved so the vet had to amputate them sadly. (And I got him in like 16 hours after the accident which was the soonest possible.) I do wonder if this is a cause for his laziness although he never shows any signs of pain when I touch that foot and it healed very well.

In the mean time I guess I could remove more of the screen...I have supports on top so that the lights aren't resting all on the screen since I'm paranoid it will collapse. I'm hoping the increased light would help him recover better then.



Again I know this isn't ideal but thanks for trying to help me I will listen and do my best. 😟

His enclosure is pretty bland due to his injury and due to how little he moves around... 😢

Again would be happy to invest in a better one I just want my little guy to show some significant improvement as I've read horror stories of them dying so fast from liver disease. 💔 I do think he's a bit better but he's far from out of the woods. That and I don't plan on getting another beardie for a while after he does go.... definitely not from PetSmart, I'd probably wait for the right breeder or even a rescue with a good prognosis.


As for the bulb it's from this June. Both of them.. so they're pretty new. According to the packaging the T8 reaches a greater distance for the light so I'm wondering why the other one is better?


Um I should.add the perspective makes it look like it's not centered over the hole but I can assure you it is lol.


His sclera also always shows more for some reason he's always been like this as an adult .


And yes his basking spot is stacked books because I'm not sure of the safest alternative to those stacking stones and such as I worry about him causing more injury to himself. 😢


But he looks so healthy and alert, I'm so distraught that the vet just wanted me to euthanize him..would you?! If he was yours?
 
Last edited:

smaugthebeardie3756

Hatchling Member
Beardie name(s)
Smaug
It's unfortunately not allowing me to edit my previous post but the mystery has been solved.

The diagnosis is liver disease. 😢

How it relates to gasping: The fluid from his liver disease is in his abdominal cavity and putting pressure on his lungs.

The vet who did the ultrasound didn't think it was anything I did wrong and instead it could be due to poor genetics. (He came from PetSmart after all.)

However upon researching the issue ( quite a bit on this forum too) I've come to some conclusions, let me know if I'm right or wrong:

One I'm concerned I fed him too many insects. Is approximately 6 mealworms (sometimes superworms) and 6 Dubia roaches spread out over a week too much for an adult beardie? Sometimes he'd only eat four of them as well. I feel like this isn't too much according to common knowledge, but ...I'm worried now for sure.

Two Percy had always been very, very lazy. There were times he was so lazy he didn't want to even walk to get his roaches! He would also rarely even walk to his food bowl and wanted me to hand it to him all the time. I fed him the veggies, usually collard greens, but sometimes (a lot more rarely) peas, kale, and yellow squash, every day to every other day. The vet did think he looked fat when he came in for a regular checkup in May or so before his issue really got noticeable. (Again I assumed him gaping as I held him was thermoregulation but it wasn't. I'm kicking myself for not getting him in sooner. 😭 )

So my question is how can I get him to be active? I set him down on the floor of my room, my bed, the hallway etc and he mainly just sits there. I went as far as giving him a little push and he'd just let himself be pushed around! 😆 I also tried gently poking his sides and legs, he'd just give me the evil eye...
Thankfully he does like to walk around a bit more since his breathing issues got worse...but he's still pretty lazy....

He also went on a few hunger strikes in the past where he preferred bearded dragon pellets soaked in water to other food...I'm also worried those caused issues. I didn't feed him a ton of them but during those times he preferred that to everything else. Sigh.

So here is my plan. The vet performing the ultrasound suggested euthanasia as an option but...I really don't think he's in constant pain, the gasping episodes seem to be less frequent now and I hope there's a chance he could still get better even though he said " it's a progressive disease with no chance of a cure".


Going forward I'm going to cut out all insects out of his diet aside from black soldier fly larvae ( one or two per feeding max). This is mainly to get him to open his mouth so I can drip water on his tongue and keep him hydrated. Also I gave him one today and put a slice of small collard green up to him and he ate it so enthusiastically! It gives me hope!

Secondly I need to get him moving more, I need ideas for that for sure...

Thirdly they did say there's medication that can slow the disease but they won't have a plan for a few days yet.

Is there anything else I can do in the meantime?
I have heard of milk thistle extract being good for the liver. Tracie (drache613) sells some on her website, bug-de-lite.com. Silkworms are also a really healthy feeder if you are going to go to only one kind. Soft-bodied, well-balanced nutrition and good stuff like serrapeptase. They can be expensive and hard to find sometimes, but worth it in my opinion.
 

Drache613

BD.org Sicko
Staff member
Moderator
Hello,

Oh so sorry about your dragon having liver disease. If he is not suffering & it doesn't sound like he
is at all, definitely don't put him down! He deserves the chance to get better. Liver tissue can actuall
regenerate over time.
Were they going to prescribe a medication or supplement for him?
I totally agree about silkworms being used as a feeder, the enzyme is great for the liver & for overall
health, too.
Let us know how things are going.

Tracie
 

KarrieRee

BD.org Sicko
Beardie name(s)
Hiccup he is 4 and Blaze is 3
Here's some pictures of him and the basking and UV lights.

My cage is 48" long, I know this is too small but the problem is Percy has been so lazy throughout his life (aside from as a hatchling and he's gained somewhat more energy lately...he was super hyperactive after the Baytril though).

It's also a very old cage so it doesn't have any place to mount the lights inside like the modern cages have. ☹️

Should he start to improve and survive this ordeal I'll invest in a new enclosure for sure, can you give me some recommendations please?

Another thing of note: He's missing all but part of his longest toe and the "pinky" toe of his left hind foot. I discovered at night in 2018 as a hatchling that he had ripped his claws on a previous basking stump somehow...or so I assume, unless he tried to bite his own claws?! Either way there was no way they could be saved so the vet had to amputate them sadly. (And I got him in like 16 hours after the accident which was the soonest possible.) I do wonder if this is a cause for his laziness although he never shows any signs of pain when I touch that foot and it healed very well.

In the mean time I guess I could remove more of the screen...I have supports on top so that the lights aren't resting all on the screen since I'm paranoid it will collapse. I'm hoping the increased light would help him recover better then.



Again I know this isn't ideal but thanks for trying to help me I will listen and do my best. 😟

His enclosure is pretty bland due to his injury and due to how little he moves around... 😢

Again would be happy to invest in a better one I just want my little guy to show some significant improvement as I've read horror stories of them dying so fast from liver disease. 💔 I do think he's a bit better but he's far from out of the woods. That and I don't plan on getting another beardie for a while after he does go.... definitely not from PetSmart, I'd probably wait for the right breeder or even a rescue with a good prognosis.


As for the bulb it's from this June. Both of them.. so they're pretty new. According to the packaging the T8 reaches a greater distance for the light so I'm wondering why the other one is better?


Um I should.add the perspective makes it look like it's not centered over the hole but I can assure you it is lol.


His sclera also always shows more for some reason he's always been like this as an adult .


And yes his basking spot is stacked books because I'm not sure of the safest alternative to those stacking stones and such as I worry about him causing more injury to himself. 😢


But he looks so healthy and alert, I'm so distraught that the vet just wanted me to euthanize him..would you?! If he was yours?
The tank size is good ---- but please get the T 8 unobstructed - take your screen off or cut a hole in it - the mesh is blocking 30% of the rays and its not doing any good really --- the distance needs to be 6-8 inches directly above him - I would invest in a 24" Zoo Med fixture w/ a Reptisun 10.0 T 5 or a Arcadia Pro T 5 w/ a 12% bulb --- this is going to really help his liver issue --- the Lucky Herp MVB I dont recommend them -- and the UVB coming from MVB's is usually pretty weak - both of those bulbs need to be changed out every 6 months - I would start using a regular solid bright white basking bulb one of the UVB's I posted for you- I can send links to them if you like -- but I would do this as soon as possible
 

xp29

Gray-bearded Member
Beardie name(s)
Zen , Ruby & Snicker Doodle
Be careful if you try to get him to swim, they use the same muscle group for walking and breating, they cannot do both. So if you put him in water make sure it is shallow enough to stand on the bottom.
Lazy dragons can be downright hard to motivate. My first dragon never became active , and the male i have now is pretty lazy also. Luckily i have 2 females and they are great motivators. Both will display mating routines at him, so i set him across the room and he hauls azz across the room to try to get to them. Thats the only thing i have found that will get him active of his own accord. If you have a laptop or tablet maybe you could load videos of a female displaying. Keep it out of his reach so he doesn't learn she isn't real. "Shrugs" it might work. Another thing you could try is adding enrichment to his setup, dragons get bored and they get depressed. Try taking him out in the actual sun light for an hour or so (supervised) let him explore if its safe. Take him on car rides, all my dragons love that. (Anything new will stress them a little at first but they get used to it pretty quicky and start to enjoy it)
Btw your dragon does not look obese in that pic. And I'm sorry to hear he is sick. If you can, get a 2nd opinion. Any vet that suggest euthanasia first thing is not trying to help and does not have you pets best interest in mind.
 

Drache613

BD.org Sicko
Staff member
Moderator
Hello,

I agree, it can take a lot of motivation for some absolutely! I definitely wouldn't consider putting
him down at all. He seems happy so keep working with him. As suggested, try to encourage him
to swim around in a shallow bath or outdoor time is helpful, also. A lot of vets simply don't take the
time to go the extra mile to try & help figure out harder cases.
Let us know how he is doing.

Tracie
 

ShehzainWyvern

Member
Original Poster
Beardie name(s)
Perseus "Percy"
Hello,

Thank you for the advice everyone!

I cut the screen off so that the Reptisun is now unobstructed. I did this on Thursday since that was the soonest I saw the reply.

What white basking bulb do you recommend? I wasn't aware that the LuckyHerp isn't any good.

The good news is Percy only black bearded a couple times this week! But I haven't the time to observe him 24/7 so I don't know how accurate my observations are... ☹️

The bad news is that the vet still hasn't gotten back with me about medication and it's been an entire week now. This is frustrating. The other bad news is that he still gasps sometimes.

He especially does this after I try to get him to walk around. ☹️ I've been able to get him to walk around on my bed at times as well as in the bathtub when I spray his back...but other times he puffs up his body so I stop. I worry it causes him stress. The other thing I've been able to do is put him on a long cardboard box and tilt it. This will force him to move but he also starts gasping more even when he barely moves! What should I do?!

I tried taking him outdoors in a netted pen made for puppies and kittens to get some sunlight. (I opened the top so the sun would be unobstructed.) He immediately started gaping and puffing out his beard and then breathing heavily. So I took him in after a few minutes. That wasn't successful.

Also tried a video of another beardie waving...he started breathing heavily...lol...why would the waving stress him though? He's so weird.

As for swimming he doesn't really swim at all, just sits there. I never let it get too deep because he moves so little and I'm scared he would drown on accident. So I'm always extremely extremely careful....

Finally I got some silkworms and Milk thistle extract. He ate four small silkworms today and I put some of the other worms- the phoenix worms (BSFL) in the extract powder and he ate them that way.

How much of the extract should I be giving him? He didn't even get half a pill. (They are capsules so I take them out of the coating and so it's just powder. It's not actually a pill don't worry.) They say take two a day for adult humans.

I don't want to give him too much.

I just hope the vet gets back to me soon. I also don't know the severity of his disease.
 

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