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Bearded Dragon Breathing Heavy

If you notice your bearded dragon breathing heavy it may alarm you. Especially if you have noticed that in a normal situation, bearded dragons do not breathe very hard or very deep. There are several things you can check when you notice that your beardie is breathing heavily.

Heavy breathing can be a normal thing for your bearded dragon to do, but it could also be an indication that you need to take your pet to the vet. If at any time you don’t feel comfortable trying to self-diagnose your bearded dragon, always err on the side of caution. Either call your vet with specific questions or take your beardie for a visit if you are unsure about your pet’s well-being. 

With that being said, let’s get into why your bearded dragon could be breathing heavily.

Table of Contents

  1. Breathing Heavily
    1. Normal
    2. Abnormal
  2. Things to Check
    1. After Eating
    2. Stress
    3. After Bath
    4. Activity
    5. Respiratory Infection
    6. Enclosure
    7. Shedding
  3. FAQ
  4. Conclusion

My Bearded Dragon is Breathing Heavy, What Should I Do?

When a bearded dragon starts breathing heavily it could be from physical activity like play, or it could be something related to its health that needs the expert advice and care of a vet. The main thing to do is remain calm and assess the situation. We’ll go over the possible reasons, and when you should take him in for a check-up.

Breathing Heavy Could be Normal

Bearded dragon clinging onto a stub of wood
A bearded dragon clinging onto a stub of wood. – Source

As we mentioned before, your bearded dragon could be heaving its sides because of physical activity. Was she running around chasing insects or playing with toys just before? That could be a reason for the heavy breathing and nothing to worry about. 

When you have more than one beardie in a tank, one could be asserting dominance, and in that case, your beardie may puff out or be showing off with a lot of physical displays. Male beardies will also puff themselves out when they are attempting to mate.

Other considerations for normal, but heavy breathing could include helping with digestion after they eat, your bearded dragon could be attempting to regulate her temperature, or maybe she is preparing to shed. If the heavy breathing only happens on occasion or it stops after a short time and doesn’t present any other symptoms, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Keep reading to find out the other reasons for a bearded dragon breathing heavily.

When Breathing Heavy is Abnormal

clear close-up of bearded dragon
A clear close-up of a bearded dragon. – Source

Heavy breathing in a bearded dragon could be in relation to an infection, stress, temperature changes or maybe your bearded dragon is afraid of something. Most of the abnormal reasons for heavy breathing can be fixed or remedied at home, but if you suspect an infection, then your vet needs to treat that with proper medications. 

What to Check When Your Beardie is Breathing Heavy

Keeping a keen eye on your pet will determine what actions should be taken to alleviate the heavy breathing. It may be that you don’t need to do anything, and this is just normal behavior. Continue reading to find out what steps, if any, you should take when you find your bearded dragon is breathing heavy. 

Breathing Heavy Right After Eating

bearded dragon with food in its mouth staring at the camera
A bearded dragon with food in its mouth staring at the camera. – Source

Bearded dragons have a different mechanism for digesting than we do. To properly digest their food, they need extra heat and will bask in the hot zone of their enclosure to aid in that digestion. While basking your beardie could start gaping if they get too warm, or they may start breathing heavily to help the digestion. 

Since beardies are cold-blooded, they cannot regulate their temperature as we can. They need extra heat to digest food, and if they get too warm, they will puff themselves out and open their mouths wide to release extra heat. This is called gaping and is completely normal behavior. 

Alternatively, if your bearded dragon consumes food pieces that are large and difficult to digest, it might start breathing heavily to aid in that digestion. They don’t have the same amount of acid in their stomachs as humans do and large chunks of food are more difficult to digest. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t feed her pieces of food that are larger than the distance between her eyes. 

If you have just fed your beardie and he is laying in the basking area breathing like he just ran a marathon, just keep an eye on him. Normal breathing should resume after a little time has passed. 

Stress Can Cause Heavy Breathing

orange bearded dragon perching on wood
An orange bearded dragon perching on wood. – Source

One thing about beardies is they can stress pretty easily. Think about it, they are relatively small creatures living in a giant world full of dangers, and in their natural habitat, there are a lot of predators. When a bearded dragon is stressed, much like you and me, it can start breathing heavily. 

The major causes of stress to a bearded dragon can include:

  1. Loud noises
  2. Changes in environment
  3. Sudden changes in light or shadows
  4. Larger pets like dogs or cats
  5. Improper handling
  6. Relocation
  7. Crowding
  8. Illness

If something has changed or caused stress to your beardie, take the proper steps to remove or reduce the stress and normal breathing should commence shortly. If you do suspect illness, then you should take your dragon to the vet as soon as possible. 

After a Bath

bearded dragon prepared for bath time
A bearded dragon prepared for bath time. – Source

You may say, ‘A bath is supposed to be a relaxing activity, why would my beardie be stressing or breathing heavily after a bath?’ Some beardies may never acclimate to bathing and not like it. If yours is in this category you could always mist your beardie to help keep him clean and moisturized. 

Heavy breathing after a bath could also be because she got water in her nose or down her throat. If that was the case, a bearded dragon’s diaphragm usually isn’t strong enough to cough out the extra water and she will use heavy breathing to remove the excess water. It may look and sound like a cough or more likely a forceful huffing to remove the water. 

Once the water is removed your beardie should resume normal breathing. Keep an eye on your pet over the next few days to make sure this doesn’t turn into a respiratory infection. 

A Lot of Activity

yellow beardie sitting on a rock
A yellow beardie sitting on a rock. – Source

Playing with toys, running around, and chasing insects can all be considered a high activity in your dragon. Just like us after strenuous exercises, your bearded dragon will be breathing heavily, and there is nothing to be worried about.

Do you have more than one dragon inside an enclosure? Your bearded dragon could be breathing heavily because he or she is attempting to be the dominant one. They expend a lot of energy head bobbing, running around, and showing off. 

Male bearded dragons, when they are attempting to mate, will puff themselves out sometimes to show they are dominant, and they are big, strong contenders. Again, just keep an eye on your pets to make sure there isn’t something serious happening with them.

Could be a Respiratory Infection

yellow beardie holding smaller beardie on its back
A yellow beardie holding smaller beardie on its back. – Source

A respiratory infection will include other symptoms, but a major sign will be heavy, rapid breathing. If you don’t suspect stress, digestion aids, activity, or other normal reasons for heavy breathing, check for a respiratory infection. A respiratory infection can become serious if not treated effectively, so take your bearded dragon to the vet if you suspect an infection.

Along with heavy breathing, these other symptoms are associated with respiratory illness:

  • Coughing sounds or huffing. 
  • Mucus or discharge around the nose and mouth. 
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Lethargy.
  • Gaping and black bearding.
  • Irritation.
  • Bubbles from the nose and/or mouth.
  • Shallow, rapid breathing.

Prolonged heavy breathing can be a sure sign of respiratory infection. For most of the heavy breathing causes above, normal respiration should resume after a short time, but with a respiratory infection, it’s not going to get better on its own. Curing a respiratory infection requires the aid of a veterinarian. 

Check Enclosure Setup 

light-colored beardie chilling in its enclosure
A light-colored beardie chilling in its enclosure. – Source

Something could be off in the enclosure that could be causing your dragon to breathe heavily for a long time. If the humidity is too high or low, this could cause your beardie to start breathing heavily to accommodate the changes. The humidity for bearded dragons should be between 20% to 40%. You can check using this hygrometer from Amazon–REPTI ZOO Reptile Terrarium Thermometer Hygrometer Digital Display

Temperature extremes could be a cause as well. Ideally, you need two temperate zones for your beardie, a basking area that stays between 85℉ to 110℉ and a cool-down area that is normally between 70℉ to 80℉. If the tank gets too hot for some reason, then your beardie could start breathing heavy and gaping to try and release some of the heat. 

To quickly check the temperature zones in your enclosure you can use this infrared thermometer: Etekcity Infrared Thermometer 800 Non-Contact Digital Thermometer

Could Be Shedding

young beardie shedding in its enclosure on wood
A young beardie shedding in its enclosure on wood. – Source

When a bearded dragon is about to start shedding, the process can be irritating to your little dragon. Sometimes they will start huffing, taking deep breaths, or gulping air to start stretching the skin before shedding begins.

Do you see white patches of skin, especially around the limbs, tail, or head? If so, then most likely your bearded dragon is about to start shedding.

If it does not appear to be shedding and your beardie continues huffing or breathing heavily, just keep an eye on your pet. It could just be a quirky behavior or the beginning of a respiratory issue.

If you notice over the next few days symptoms getting worse, then you should see your vet. If everything is fine, and your dragon continues to eat well, poop without any problem, and be his normal self, then your beardie should be fine.

FAQs

Q: What are the signs of respiratory infection in bearded dragons?

A: Signs of respiratory infection in bearded dragons can include heavy breathing, rapid shallow breathing, bubbles and mucus from the nose and mouth, gaping, lethargy, and loss of appetite. If you notice these symptoms, consult with your vet to find out if you need to bring your pet in for treatment. 

Q: What is normal breathing for a bearded dragon? 

A: Bearded dragons do not breathe very fast or deep. Normal respiration counts for beardies tend to be between 6 to 10 breaths a minute. This will change if they are active, stressed, or sleeping. During sleep, a bearded dragon’s respirations can reduce to 3 to 4 breaths a minute. This is because their metabolism slows down, and they usually cool off when they sleep. 

Q: Why is my bearded dragon full of air?

A: Bearded dragons will puff up or puff out for different reasons. When they flatten themselves out, they are attempting to make themselves bigger and more of a threat. This means they could be frightened. If they are puffed out it could be because they are stretching the skin before they shed or to attract a mate. This behavior is more common in males attempting to mate. 

Q: Can a bearded dragon catch a cold from humans?

A: Human colds are only transferable to other humans, and bearded dragon respiratory infections will not infect humans. Bearded dragons can carry salmonella, along with other reptiles, so make sure you wash your hands after handling any reptiles.

In Conclusion

There could be several reasons your bearded dragon is breathing heavily. Most reasons are temporary and will clear up on their own but being a diligent pet owner will help you to recognize normal behavior that will work itself out, and abnormal behavior that requires the aid of a vet.

If the heavy breathing is related to enclosure set up, temperature or stress, do what you can to alleviate these problems. If your dragon was simply very active or puffing out then sit back and enjoy the quirky show your beardie is putting on for you. But if you notice more serious problems or other symptoms, then get to the vet quickly so they can get your little companion back on the road to health.

We hope this article has helped you find the answers you were looking for. If you have more questions about bearded dragons check out our other articles about bearded dragons.

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