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When I first told my partner that I was going to adopt a beardie as a pet, she immediately asked if bearded dragons bite and if their bites are poisonous or pose any danger to humans and pets – mostly dogs and cats. This was not the first time I had to talk to someone about beardies and if they can harm humans. In this article, I have answered these questions and hope you’ll find the answer helpful as well.

What are bearded dragons?

Bearded dragons are a type of lizards that were introduced to the US in the 90s and are native to Australia. They get their name from the spines or “beards” on their chin and throat, which they can puff out when they feel threatened. Their diet consists of insects, plants, and fruits.

Beardies are found in the wild but in the US, you’ll most likely find them in tanks in people’s homes. They are popular pets because they are docile, low-maintenance, and can be easy to handle.

In late 2020 CDC reported of 18 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenster liked to pet bearded dragons were reported in 11 states. While there were no deaths, 11 people got hospitalized with 6 of the ill-being children under age 5.

Are bearded dragons dangerous?

While Bearded dragons are not dangerous to humans and do not pro-actively attack people, they can still bite. These lizards have sharp teeth that can puncture the skin. In addition, their tail is long and if they whip it, it can leave bruises.

Image showing a dragon trying to bite a human hand trying to handle it.
Image showing a dragon trying to bite a human hand trying to handle it.

If you own a Beardie, you are at risk of contracting zoonotic diseases such as Coccidia, Salmonella, and Worms if they bite you or if you handle them and do not wash your hands.

CDC advises that beardie owners should always wash their hands after handling or feeding them as they may pass zoonotic diseases. This pet does not secrete any venom used by other animals in the same family to paralyze prey. They have a mild temperament and is not known to attack or bite humans. The only time a beardie might become aggressive is if it feels threatened or scared.

Are Bearded Dragon Bites Poisonous?

Bearded dragon bites are not venomous enough to paralyze humans, and their bites are not dangerous in that respect. However, their bites can still cause infection if the wound is not properly cleaned and treated. Additionally, their teeth are sharp and can puncture the skin, so you should take care to avoid being bitten.

Bearded dragons rarely bite unless they feel threatened, but if you are bitten, you may see some swelling in the bite area. You should wash the wound immediately with soap and water and should also see a doctor to make sure the wound does not become infected.

Among all lizards related to Bearded Dragons, Monitor Lizards and Iguanias have toxin-secreting oral glands from a clade. It wasn’t until 2005 when a study revealed that Bearded Dragons also secrete venom similar to rattlesnake venom and can cause swelling and bleeding.

Only geckos and skinks which are distant cousins to Bearded Dragons have no venom genes (Source: NY Times).

Beardies are not considered pest species. Pest species are animals that harm humans, agriculture, or the environment. However, in some states, it is illegal to own a beardie without a permit.

Global Invasive Species Database (GISP, 2011 has) has not classified the Bearded Dragon as one of the most invasive species in the world.

Ways of contracting Zoonotic diseases:

  1. From your beardie’s skin: When reptiles shed their skin, the process can release bacteria into the air. If you have a beardie, you’re more likely to come in contact with these bacteria and contract a zoonotic disease.
  2. From your beardie’s food: Reptiles often carry harmful bacteria in their mouths. If you feed your beardie live food, there’s a chance that the bacteria will transfer from the food to your hands and then to your body.
  3. From contact with your beardie’s feces: Reptiles can carry harmful bacteria in their intestines. If you come into contact with your beardie’s feces, you’re at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease.
  4. Through contact with your beardie’s urine and other bodily Fluids (eg blood, regurgitation): Reptiles can carry harmful bacteria in their urine and other bodily fluids. If you come into contact with these fluids, you’re at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease.
  5. Equipment or bedding that has been used by your bearded dragon: Bacteria can live on surfaces that have been in contact with your beardie. If you don’t clean these surfaces properly, you’re at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease.
  6. A body part or sample taken from a bearded dragon (eg swab, blood, or tissue samples: Reptiles can carry harmful bacteria in their bodies. If you come into contact with a body part or sample taken from your beardie, you’re at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease.
  7. You may be exposed to pathogens through open wounds: If you have an open wound, you’re at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease if you come into contact with your beardie.
  8. You may be exposed to pathogens through mucous membranes (eg eyes, nose, or mouth): If you have any mucous membranes that are exposed, you’re at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease.

What are some of the symptoms of Zoonotic diseases your beardie can infect you with:

The following are bearded dragon diseases that can be transmitted to humans:

#1. Coccidia:

Coccidiosis is a disease caused by the protozoan parasites of the genus Eimeria. Coccidiosis in reptiles is usually asymptomatic, but can cause severe gastrointestinal distress in some animals. Symptoms include weight loss, diarrhea, anorexia, and lethargy.

#2. Salmonella:

Salmonellosis is a disease caused by the bacteria of the genus Salmonella. There are 2,000 types of known Salmonella type is the most recognized disease of reptiles transmissible to man. While not all Salmonella transmits diseases, studies estimate the incidence of salmonella in lizards such as Beadies to be somewhere between 13 to 41 percent.

Your beardy may not present symptoms of Salmonella infection as it has been theorized that the bacteria is a normal inhabitant of their guts.

Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. In severe cases, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause septicemia.

Symptoms may vary from one individual human infected to another. You may have no symptoms at all or can have mild flu for 24 hours or in the extreme, may have bad diarrhea, extreme dehydration, stomach cramps, high fever, and, in rare cases, even death.

In the 2020 cases reported and investigated by CDC, there were no reported casualties. The CDC report linking Salmonella infection in humans to Bearded Dragons was one of the first widespread credible reporting on disease outbreaks transmitted to humans from Bearded Dragons pets kept by Americans in 11 states.

#3. Worms:

Worms are parasitic creatures that live in the intestines of their hosts. Symptoms of a worm infestation include weight loss, diarrhea, anorexia, and lethargy. In severe cases, the worms can block the intestines and cause a life-threatening condition called intestinal obstruction.

#4. Dependoparvovirus:

Dependoparvovirus is a virus that infects the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes of its host. Symptoms include anorexia, lethargy, weight loss, and jaundice. In severe cases, the virus can cause death.

As you can see, bearded dragons are not dangerous to humans. However, they can still transmit diseases if they bite you or if you come into contact with their bodily fluids. It’s important to wash your hands after handling them and to clean their equipment properly. If you have any open wounds, you should avoid contact with your beardie. And if you have any mucous membranes that are exposed, you should be careful not to let the animal’s fluids come into contact with them.

How to prevent zoonotic diseases:

  1. Wash your hands: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your beardie or their equipment.
  2. Clean their enclosure: Clean your beardie’s enclosure on a regular basis to prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria.
  3. Don’t feed them live food: If you feed your beardie live food, there’s a chance that the bacteria will transfer from the food to your hands and then to your body.
  4. Be careful with their bodily fluids: Be careful not to come into contact with your beardie’s urine or other bodily fluids. If you do come into contact with these fluids, wash your hands immediately.
  5. See a doctor if you’re sick: If you start to feel sick after handling your beardie, see a doctor immediately.
  6. CDC advises against kissing or snuggling your bearded dragon: This is because there’s a chance that you could transfer bacteria from their mouths to your own.

Read our full Bearded Dragon care guide here.

Are Bearded Dragons Safe as Pets?

CDC does not recommend Bearded dragons and other reptiles to be kept as pets if you live in a household with children younger than 5, the pregnant person(s), or with senior adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems. These people are more likely to get a serious illness from germs that reptiles can carry.

In summary, below are the people at risk to contract zoonotic disease carried by Beardies;

  1. Children under the age of 5
  2. People with HIV infection or people with any other immuno-suppressive illness.
  3. Anyone who is on any drug or treatment that suppresses the immune system.
  4. Pregnant women.
  5. Senior citizens over the age of 65

Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E) to use when handling a beardie;

  • Latex Gloves: Wear gloves when cleaning the enclosure or handling the animal.
  • Goggles: Wear goggles to protect your eyes from any secretions that may come into contact with them.
  • Mask: Wear a mask to avoid breathing in any bacteria that may be present in the air.
  • Water Proof Apron: Wear an apron to protect your clothes from any secretions that may come into contact with them.
  • Footwear: Wear shoes that cover your feet completely to avoid coming into contact with any bacteria that may be present on the ground.

Many beardie owners with limited knowledge of the health risks associated with handling a beardie with bare hands when trying to assist their beardie to shed off completely.

Beaded Dragon Diseases:

Dysecdysis:

If your beardie has dysecdysis make sure you use gloves when handling them. Dysecdysis is when a bearded dragon sheds its skin in patches or incompletely. When this happens, the new skin underneath is exposed and susceptible to infection. If you’re not careful, you could transfer bacteria from your hands to their skin and cause an infection.

Adenoviruses:

Bearded dragons are also known to contract viruses, specifically the adenovirus. The most common symptom of adenovirus is a respiratory infection, which can lead to pneumonia. This virus is contagious and can be passed from one beardie to another through contact with secretions from the nose or mouth. It can also be passed from an infected animal to a human through contact with secretions from the nose or mouth.

Symptoms to watch out for;

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Respiratory distress
  • Pneumonia

If you think your beardie may be sick, it’s important to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to a successful recovery.

The known case of adenovirus resulted from beardies’ mating bites. As part of the mating ritual, females bite males on the neck, and males bite females at the base of the tail. The known case of Agamid adenovirus 1 resulted from this mating bite and is common in captive beardies in the US.

Microsporidia:

Another disease that can affect bearded dragons is microsporidia. This is a type of protozoal infection that can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and dehydration. It is important to see a veterinarian if you think your beardie may have this infection so they can be treated with the appropriate medication.

Symptoms to watch out for;

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

If you think your beardie may be sick, it’s important to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to a successful recovery.

Daily Health Checks for Bearded Dragons:

According to Green and Larson, you should have your Bearded Dragons examined in the following instances;

  1. before adopting them,
  2. during quarantine,
  3. before and after brumation,
  4. monthly regular checks

Below are things to look out for during health checks;

  • Excessive weight loss/ emaciation or weight gain/ obesity.
  • Lumps, bumps or swellings.
  • Signs of trauma such as scratches, abrasions, or bites.
  • Sores that are not healing.
  • Discharge from the nose, mouth, or eyes.
  • Unusual behavior such as listlessness, aggression, or lethargy.

If you find any of the above during your health check, it is best to take your bearded dragon to the nearest reptile vet for further examination.

Are Bearded Dragons Dangerous to Dogs and cats?

Bearded dragons can be dangerous to dogs when they bite, but it is very rare. When they bite, they secrete venom that may not cause your dog or cat’s bite area to swell but are unlikely to require medical treatment. The venom secreted by beardies has blood-thinning toxins that they use to paralyze their prey(mostly insects) by reducing their blood pressure.

These toxins are, however, not effective to paralyze humans or pets such as cats or dogs but can result in bleeding, swelling or even infection.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, while bearded dragons may carry some diseases that can be passed on to humans, they are generally considered safe pets. With proper care and regular health checks, you can enjoy many years with your beloved beardie.

FAQs

Q: Do bearded dragons carry salmonella?

A: Bearded dragons can carry the bacteria salmonella, which can cause an infection in humans. It is important to wash your hands after handling your beardie or their enclosure, and to avoid contact with their mouths or feces.

Q: Can I get sick from my bearded dragon?

A: You may get sick from your bearded dragon if you contract a zoonotic disease such as Salmonella, Dependoparvovirus, Coccidia, worms, or adenovirus. It is important to wash your hands after handling your beardie or their enclosure and to avoid contact with their mouths or feces.

Q: How often should I have my bearded dragon checked by a veterinarian?

A: You should have your bearded dragon examined by a veterinarian at least once a month. For conditions such as diarrhea, weight loss, or respiratory distress, your pet should be seen by a reptile vet as soon as possible.

Q: Are bearded dragon lizards?

A: Bearded dragons are lizards in the genus Pogona. They are native to Australia and live in arid, semi-desert regions.

Q: What do bearded dragons eat?

A: Bearded dragons are omnivores and eat a diet of both plants and animals. In captivity, they should be fed a variety of foods such as vegetables, fruits, insects, and meat.

Q: Are bearded dragons omnivores?

A: Yes, bearded dragons are omnivores and eat a diet of both plants and animals. In captivity, they should be fed a variety of foods such as vegetables, fruits, insects, and meat.

Q: Can I hold my bearded dragon?

A: You can hold your bearded dragon, but it is important to be gentle and support their body. Bearded dragons are delicate creatures and can be easily injured if they are dropped or handled too roughly.

Q: Are bearded dragons nocturnals?

A: Bearded dragons are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. At night, they will sleep in their burrows or hideaways.

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