In a healthy reptile, uric acid (a metabolic waste product of protein) is removed from the blood by the kidneys and excreted in the urate. In an unhealthy reptiles, there is too much uric acid for the kidneys to handle, and so it crystallizes in the joints or around the organs. This causes gout, an extremely painful condition that takes the lives of many bearded dragons every year.
Gout used to be a disease of old age, but thanks to basement breeders who don’t know what they’re doing, hatchlings are being diagnosed and euthanized because they have genetically weak kidneys.
- uric acid crystals visible in the mouth
- swollen, stiff, painful joints
- reluctance to move
- enlarged kidneys
- high (animal) protein diet
- kidney disease/failure
- genetic disorder
If you suspect that your bearded dragon may have gout, get him/her to the vet ASAP! The vet will proceed to diagnose through x-rays, a blood test, and/or a biopsy of joint fluid. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the vet will prescribe medication which will be needed for the rest of the dragon’s life. Surgery may be recommended to remove uric acid crystals from the joint, although the joint itself will likely have been severely damaged.
Adult bearded dragons with gout will most likely need a dietary overhaul. Low in animal protein (vegetable protein is fine), with lots of vegetables and fruits for hydration. If the dragon does not readily drink water, administering 5mL of fluid (water, Pedialyte, diluted fruit juice, etc.) daily via syringe will be necessary. Black cherry extract is said to help prevent additional uric acid crystals from forming, although this is not as effective as prescription medication.
Even when you do your best, gout never truly goes away. The best you can do is keep your beardie as comfortable as possible until the day comes when the pain becomes too much.
Hatchling bearded dragons with gout should be euthanized. I don’t say this to be cruel or callous; as stated earlier, gout is extremely painful — like hundreds of tiny knives stabbing you when you move. Older bearded dragons can be medicated and receive a special low-protein diet to counter the effects of this disease, but young bearded dragons need a high-protein diet to live and grow. It is kindest to euthanize the young victims, and curse the breeder whose lazy breeding caused such a tragedy.