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Bearded Dragon: Broken Bones – Symptoms And What To Do

broken bones in bearded dragons

Bearded dragons are popular reptile pets due to their majestic appearance, docile nature, and relatively easy care requirements. However, they are still prone to injuries, including broken bones. 

Broken bones or fractures can be caused by falls, improper handling, trauma, and metabolic bone disease. Immediate veterinary attention is needed to assess the extent of the injury, perform the needed medical intervention, and prescribe the necessary recommendations for recovery and ease of pain.

Recognizing the symptoms of broken bones in bearded dragons is important so that immediate action can be taken to provide proper treatment. In this article, we will discuss the common causes and symptoms of reptile fractures, how to address broken bones, and ways to prevent future injuries.

What Can Cause Broken Bones In Bearded Dragons?

Broken bones in bearded dragons can have several causes, the most common of which are traumatic accidents and metabolic bone diseases.


Trauma can occur from falls, accidents with other pets, or improper handling. Often, traumatic incidents lead not just to injury, but also anxiety and shock from such stressful situations.

Falls can happen when bearded dragons are left outside their enclosure unattended or manage to escape from a poorly secured terrarium. They can also occur during careless handling.

Improperly handling your bearded dragon or gripping its body too tight can lead to crushing injury.

This can be very painful and deadly for your bearded dragon, especially if a broken bone, such as a rib fracture, pierces through an organ in its body.

In multi-pet households, freak accidents can sometimes happen, such as a much larger pet preying upon the bearded dragon.

But bearded dragons can also inflict trauma upon each other, especially when they are housed together and fight for dominance.

bearded dragon broken toe
A fall from a table, sofa, or chair can result in broken bones.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Bearded dragons can also experience the weakening of their bones caused by a deficiency in vitamins and minerals. As a result, the bones become fragile and easily break, even in the absence of trauma.

A very common condition among insectivorous reptiles like bearded dragons is nutritional secondary hyperthyroidism (NSHP).

It is also known as the rubber jaw syndrome because, in many cases, the reptile’s jaw becomes soft and rubbery, and the lips droop down to expose the gums.

NSHP is caused by a lack of calcium in the diet and/or low vitamin D3 levels, commonly due to inadequate exposure to ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation. Consequentially, the bones lose calcium and become weak and brittle.

If your bearded dragon is in a bad state and you are not sure if it is dying, read our article on signs a beardie might be dying and what to do now.

What Are the Symptoms of Broken Bones in Bearded Dragons?

The symptoms of broken bones in bearded dragons can vary depending on the severity and location of the fracture. Some common signs to watch for include:

  • Limping or dragging one leg: If your bearded dragon’s gait is off and it is avoiding putting weight on one leg, it could be a sign of a broken bone. (Read this if your beardie’s back legs are paralyzed)
  • Swelling or bruising: Swelling or bruising around the affected area can indicate a fracture.
  • Deformity: A broken bone may cause a visible deformity or misalignment of the limb or joint, or a spinal deviation.
  • Pain or discomfort: Bearded dragons with broken bones may exhibit signs of pain or discomfort, such as vocalizing or hissing when handled or touched.
  • Loss of appetite or lethargy: In some cases, bearded dragons with broken bones may lose their appetite or become lethargic due to the pain and stress of the injury. They may spend most of their time hiding due to stress and fear.

NSHP that commonly accompanies broken bones in bearded dragons can also manifest other signs and symptoms.

  • Tremors and seizures: Jerky movements involving the head and limbs may be observed.
  • Swimming movement: Your bearded dragon may appear to have difficulty lifting its body off the ground to move.
  • Constipation: Your reptile may have trouble expelling waste due to the nutritional deficiency. If your bearded dragon is not pooping, read this article!
  • Problems in egg-laying: Your breeding female may have trouble laying her eggs, or she may lay eggs that have very brittle shells due to the lack of calcium.
  • Stunted growth: If your bearded dragon appears too small for its age, you may suspect a metabolic bone disease. (More on small beardies here)
  • Cloacal prolapse: Organs may protrude from the anus, partly due to straining from constipation.
A severe case of fractures and metabolic bone disease in a bearded dragon. Note the rubbery jaw syndrome, swimming movements, spinal deviation, kinks in the tail and abnormally upturned feet.

How Serious Can It Be?

The type of fracture and area affected can impact the severity of your bearded dragon’s condition. Most reptiles can be tolerant to tail fractures and broken bones affecting the digits. 

However, broken bones in the axial skeleton, such as the spine or skull, can be dangerous. Fractures that affect the spinal nerves may lead to an inability to expel uric acid salts and feces.

This can greatly affect the quality of the animal’s life.

What To Do If Your Bearded Dragon Has A Broken Bone

If you suspect your bearded dragon has a broken bone, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.

If you are unable to do so, there are some things you can do to provide first aid and make your pet more comfortable before transport to the vet:

  • Immobilize the affected area: You can immobilize the affected limb with a soft splint. The front legs can be taped to the body or the rear legs to the tail. However, if you are not knowledgeable about splinting, it is better to leave this to the vet.
  • Keep your bearded dragon warm: Fractures can cause shock and make your pet feel cold. Keep them warm by providing a heat source, such as a warm heating pad or a warm towel.
  • Cold compress on the affected area: Locally applying a cold compress during the first 24-72 hours of injury can help reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. If the injury is just a sprain, you can observe improvements from the cold compress.
  • Avoid unnecessary handling: The more you handle your bearded dragon, the more you may inflict pain.
  • Transport safely: When transporting your bearded dragon to the vet, keep them secure and avoid any sudden movements or jostling that could further injure them.

Remember, first aid is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. If your bearded dragon has a broken bone, it’s important to seek treatment from a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible.

Early intervention can improve the chances of a successful recovery and prevent further complications.

Why You Should Bring A Bearded Dragon With Bone Fractures To A Vet

Fractures in bearded dragons can be serious and require prompt veterinary attention to assess the severity and provide the necessary medical interventions.

Sometimes, what may look like a minor injury can actually mask a serious, painful condition.

bearded dragon broken tail
Make sure to handle your beardie properly to avoid any accidents.

Without proper treatment, your pet may experience complications such as infection, chronic pain, or even permanent disability.

A qualified veterinarian can provide a thorough examination, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment to help your bearded dragon recover from a fracture.

DiagnosisPhysical ExaminationVisual examination
Neurological examination
Diagnostic ImagingX-ray or radiography
Blood WorkComplete blood count
Plasma or serum biochemistry
Treatment InterventionsCoaptationExternal coaptation (splints, bandages, casts)
Internal coaptation (pins, screws, wires)
MedicationsPain relievers
Vitamin D3 and calcium supplementation
Fluid therapy
Home Care RecommendationsEnclosure modificationsLower basking and climbing area
Provide soft floor or cushioning
Husbandry modificationsFeed a nutritious diet
Provide adequate UVB lighting
Lessen handling
A veterinarian’s toolbox for fractures in reptiles.

Proper Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will likely perform a physical examination to assess the location and severity of the fracture.

They can also professionally assess if your bearded dragon is in pain or if muscles and nerves have been affected.

Moving forward, your vet will recommend some lab tests to further investigate the injury.

Diagnostic imaging such as an X-ray will be necessary to determine the extent of a fracture and identify any other underlying conditions that could affect healing, such as NSHP.

Your vet may also recommend blood work to assess your reptile’s overall health.

A complete blood count and biochemistry tests can tell if an animal is sick with something else, such as an infection or stress-induced disease. Blood calcium and phosphorous levels can also be measured to diagnose NSHP.

Treatment Options

The treatment approach for a bearded dragon with a fracture will depend on the severity and location of the injury.

External coaptation or internal coaptation may be necessary to help stabilize and immobilize the affected limb. 

In some cases, surgical approaches such as amputation may be necessary to prevent further complications. Medications will be given and sometimes prescribed to help in the recovery.

External and Internal Coaptation

bearded dragon broken leg

External coaptation involves applying a cast or splint to the affected limb in order to immobilize it and promote healing.

This method is relatively simple and non-invasive, making it a good option for minor fractures or injuries that are not severe enough to require surgery.

External coaptation is ideal for long bones such as the limbs and tail. It has also been used for jaw fracture in bearded dragons with good results

It can also be less expensive than internal fixation, which requires specialized equipment and expertise.

The material used to immobilize the fractured area is typically changed every 2 weeks and kept on for around 4 to 6 weeks or until progressive recovery is examined on the X-ray.

Internal fixation, on the other hand, involves surgically placing pins, screws, or other hardware inside the affected bone in order to induce proper bone healing.

This method is more invasive than external coaptation, but it can be more effective for severe fractures that require a higher level of stabilization.

Generally, external coaptation is more frequently indicated for reptile fractures in consideration of their small, fragile bones.

It is also recommended whilst internal coaptation is discouraged in patients with NSHP because the bones will be too weak to accommodate the pins and screws.

Surgical Amputation

When the injury is severe, does not respond to medications, or has led to further complications such as infection and chronic inflammation, your vet may recommend surgical amputation to remove the affected part and stop further damage to your bearded dragon’s body.

The tail, toes or digits, and limbs such as the arms and legs are common sites of amputation.


Your veterinarian may prescribe painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication to help manage your pet’s pain and reduce swelling. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if there is a risk of infection.

If your bearded dragon is diagnosed with NSHP, your vet will also prescribe vitamin D3 supplementation and recommend some changes in diet and husbandry to corret the nutritional deficiency.

It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely and provide your pet with proper aftercare, including rest, nutrition, and hygiene.

With proper treatment and immediate care, most bearded dragons can recover from a fracture and regain their mobility and quality of life.

Home Care

broken arms in bearded dragons

After receiving veterinary care, your bearded dragon will need a comfortable and supportive environment to recover. Your veterinarian may recommend enclosure setup modifications to help your pet heal and prevent further injury.

For example, if your bearded dragon has a leg fracture, you may need to provide a lower basking area or ramps to help them move around. A soft substrate such as towels or foam padding can help provide cushioning for any falls.

It is also important to avoid overhandling your pet or allowing them to climb, jump or do strenuous activity until they have fully healed.

What Happens If I Just Leave It to Heal On Its Own?

If a bearded dragon’s fracture is left to heal on its own, the results can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous for the pet.

Without proper medical care, the fracture may not heal correctly. Without coaptation like splints, bandages, or bone pins, there will be a poor alignment of the bone fragments.

Letting the fractured bone heal on its own can lead to deformities or loss of function. Additionally, the bearded dragon may experience chronic pain, infections, and other complications that can impact their quality of life.

How Long Does Fracture Recovery Take?

The length of time it takes for a bearded dragon’s fracture to heal depends on several factors, including the location and severity of the fracture, the treatment approach used, and the age and overall health of the bearded dragon.

Generally, bone healing in reptiles takes longer than in mammals and birds.

While most mammals can recover from broken bones in 4 to 8 weeks, and avian species in 2 to 6 weeks, reptiles like the bearded dragon can take anywhere from several weeks to more than 5 months for full fracture healing.

During this time, your veterinarian may recommend regular follow-up consults to continuously monitor your bearded dragon’s progress and adjust treatment as necessary.

Interestingly, bone healing in reptiles also occurs differently from mammals and birds, but it is the least understood.

How To Prevent Broken Bones in Your Bearded Dragon

bearded dragon broken ribs

Preventing broken bones in your bearded dragon starts with providing a safe and appropriate environment. Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of fractures in your pet:

  • Provide a suitable enclosure: Provide a spacious enclosure that includes a basking area, hiding places, and a variety of substrates for digging and climbing. The enclosure should be free of hazards such as loose rocks or climbing surfaces. (We recommend this tank)
  • Ensure proper nutrition: Provide a balanced diet of a variety of gut-loaded insects, vegetables, and fruits. Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements can help support bone health and prevent metabolic bone diseases especially in juvenile and breeding females.
  • Handle your pet with care: Bearded dragons should be handled gently and supported properly to avoid any sudden movements or falls. It’s also important to supervise your pet during playtime outside of the enclosure to prevent any accidents.
  • Provide adequate UVB lighting: Bearded dragons require broad-spectrum UVB light (290-300 nm) for 10-12 hours daily. Fluorescent UV lights should be installed 18-20 inches from the basking site, and mercury vapor bulbs a bit farther. (We recommend these UVB bulbs)
  • Avoid housing bearded dragons together: They are solitary reptiles by nature, so housing dragons alone helps prevent territorial fights and injuries arising from physical attacks.

Handle Your Bearded Dragon Properly

Learning proper handling and restraint techniques of bearded dragon is essential to avoid future accidents and injuries.

When handling a bearded dragon, you should fully support the body with the palm of one hand, with the fingers gently curved over its back.

Bearded dragons prefer to be held on their bellies, and most would not appreciate being held on their backs.

Do not pick bearded dragons up just by their tail, limbs, or feet.

Tip: In this article, we show you how often you can handle your bearded dragon.

How to properly handle bearded dragons

By following these tips, you can help reduce the risk of fractures in your bearded dragon and ensure that they live a healthy and happy life.

Pierre And The ReptileCraze Team
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