Egg binding (Dystocia) in Bearded Dragons can be fairly common, most females will develop eggs even without the presence of a mate.
Egg binding occurs when the lizard is unable to lay her eggs whether infertile or not. This may be down to a variety of factors but the most common cause and the most preventable are diet and environment.
You can normally tell a gravid female by her additional size and appetite, her behaviour will also change – she’ll more than likely want to come out of the vivarium more and want to explore trying to find a suitable site for her eggs. You can also feel the eggs around her abdomen, they’ll feel like little bumps but be careful not to squeeze or apply any pressure. If you’re unsure then take her to the vets for an x-ray which will confirm this.
Healthy gravid Bearded Dragons will appear to have a swollen abdomen and when they are due to lay the eggs they will not be eating, however, they will still remain alert and active. Contrary to this, if the dragon is egg bound then you’ll see them become inactive. If you’re unsure as to whether they are egg bound or not and have become inactive, depressed etc… then still take them to the vets as it could be another condition with the same symptoms, such as an infection, swelling of the kidneys etc…
The following section details the most common and also the most easily avoidable/ preventable causes of egg binding. Also read more information here about Bearded Dragon Eggs.
The Causes and Prevention of Egg Binding
The Bearded Dragons habitat may be over crowded, too small or not contain an adequate digging site. To fix this keep your beardie by herself in a tank of at least 4ft long x 2ft deep x 2ft high. For a good digging site create at least 6-8 inches of substrate that can be dug in and retain it’s shape, so don’t just use sand as your dragon will be exhausted from all the digging, instead use a sand/soil mix with some vermiculite and some water and this works perfectly (and it’s cheap to make). Be careful to only create the damp soil in one end of the viv – normally around the heated end. Alternatively a separate digging box can be made – I’ve have tried this but mine seem to be happier creating burrows in their vivs.
Incorrect temperature, humidity or UV. Check that you have the correct basking spot and temperature range. Humidity may be a little bit higher because of the damp digging soil but it shouldn’t be abnormal. Ensure that you’re also giving the right amount of time for heat and lighting e.g. 12 hours on, 12 hours off.
Malnutrition, most commonly a lack of calcium. Eggs need a lot of calcium so ensure to dust a few insects with calcium on every feed to ensure plenty of calcium, otherwise calcium is taken from the bearded dragons bones and will weaken them. If there is a complete lack of calcium then the eggs won’t form properly and will then begin to stick together.
Poor physical condition, such as a lack of exercise, will mean that she isn’t strong enough to push out the eggs or won’t be able to lay them all. Again, good diet and setup will aid this as well as plenty of space. Also make sure your beardie isn’t underweight, obese or dehyrated (none-white urate in their poo).
Egg binding in a Bearded Dragon can also occur if it is either too young or too old to be bred or has been repetitively bred and may also happen if there is an obstruction or swelling that makes it impossible for her to pass her eggs.
Further Treatment for Egg Binding
If you still suspect egg binding and you’ve ensure the above then try also giving them a warm bath to help hydrate them and stimulate the production of the eggs – baths also help if they’ve not had a poo in a while.
When they are ready to lay eggs, they will normally stop eating for a while – mine tries to lay her eggs as soon as she can so she can continue trying to eat everything! If your dragon hasn’t been eating for more than 48 hours and hasn’t laid her eggs, then take them to the vets to get check out as this is an early sign that she wants to lay eggs but is unable to. Again, this shouldn’t arise if the above causes/symptoms were resolved. The vet then will recommend hormonal treatment using oxytocin or arginine vasotocin to stimulate contractions in the reproductive tract and the passing of eggs.
If all else fails then there surgically removing the eggs and the reproductive tract can be done, of course this means that they will never be able to breed but will prevent the problem occurring again.
If untreated, egg binding can result in peritonitis, decreased fertility and in the worst cases it will result in death. If caught early then normally the lizard will make a full recovery.