If you are new to the world of Bearded Dragons then welcome – it’s a wonderful place to be! If you’re worried because your Bearded Dragon has a swollen/puffy neck, then our first advice is to relax.
A Bearded Dragon may have a swollen/puffy neck for something as simple as shedding or fat storage. However, they may be puffing because they feel threatened or on guard. There are also possible health reasons such as an abscess, infection, or even being overweight.
We’re going to explore the possibilities in a little more detail so that you are better informed and will have a good idea of what your next steps should be. Let’s talk about puffing up and what it means with your Bearded Dragon!
Why is My Bearded Dragon’s Neck Puffy?
That’s the magic question and to keep things nice and organized, we’re going to divide up our answers into two sections, those being the ‘normal reasons’ which are simply part and parcel of owning a Beardy, and then we’ll go into ‘Health reasons’ why puffiness or swelling of the neck might occur.
Normal Reasons for a Puffy Swollen Neck
Starting off we have the 3 most common reasons for puffiness or swelling, as there are some perfectly natural reasons why your Bearded Dragon might be swollen in the neck area. If you are a new owner, then these first two reasons are something that you will need to get used to because you’ll see them from time to time.
Everyone likes a new set of clothes, and your Bearded Dragon is certainly no exception. While there are no ‘hard and fast’ schedules, a juvenile Bearded Dragon is going to shed its skin approximately every 6 to 8 weeks until they reach around 18 months of age.
Once they reach 18 months, they will shed about twice a year, as they’re pretty much fully grown, but until then they will need to shed their skin regularly to keep up with their frantic growth cycles. During this time, their neck can look puffy or swollen, but this is simply because it is very loose right now.
During this time, they are often skittish about handling, and sometimes it’s easy to miss that they are shedding because they tend to eat up the old skin as it loosens and falls. Look for raised patches on their skin and look for ‘larger-than-life’ eye-bulging – when shedding begins, they ‘bug’ their eyes out to shed this skin first.
Bearded Dragons are often hearty eaters, gobbling up as many as 40 crickets right before your amazed eyes. How do they eat so much at one time? The answer is simple.
When food is plentiful, Bearded Dragons have the ability to gobble up extra that they can save for later, which they accomplish by storing it in fat. As you’ve probably guessed, they store it in their necks, much the same as you or I might put a few pounds in our hips or in our bellies.
It’s a neat trick, but until you know that they can do this, it’s easy to assume that they’ve got half a dozen crickets stuck in their throat. Technically, they DO, just not in the way that you were thinking!
If you’ve just gotten your Bearded Dragon home recently and they haven’t had a chance to warm up to you yet, then a puffy/swollen throat is actually quite common. Watch their body language and see if your Beardy looks apprehensive – this is the key to knowing if they still feel a little threatened by you.
As a natural defense, these reptiles puff up their bodies to appear a little bit larger than they really are, and it tends to scare predators off so it’s a ‘feature’ that they’ve got hard-coded in their DNA. Don’t worry – this is usually quite temporary. So put a webcam on your Beardy or hide in the distance and watch.
You might just see that puffiness relaxing quite a LOT when your Dragon thinks that you can’t see them.
Health reasons that can cause a puffy neck
Now that we’ve gotten the ‘everyday’ reasons for puffiness out of the way, it’s time to take a look at the possible health issues. While these are hardy animals, they can and do occasionally get sick, so it’s good to know what to look for so that you can get them in for a checkup at the first sign of trouble.
In the sections below we’ve collected some of the most common issues.
Abscess or Infection
If your Bearded Dragon has a large, puffed-up neck, but a very small and skinny belly, then it’s possible that it might have an abscess or an infection. If your Beardy lets you handle them, check their neck for stiffness, as this can be a sign that something is amiss. Feel for lumps as well while you are checking.
If they’ve recently become lethargic, have lost their appetite, or are experiencing diarrhea then these are also possible signs of an infection and you’ll want to visit your vet right away. These are strong animals but whenever you are unsure, it’s always best to err on the safe side – things can go downhill very quickly!
That fat-storing feature that we’ve mentioned before is pretty useful for your Dragon, but it can also be useful for you as well. When it gets overly swollen, this is sometimes a sign of overfeeding, and learning to recognize this can help you to adjust their diet so that you won’t have to worry about obesity issues.
To give you a general idea, let’s look at eating habits from your Dragon’s different life stages:
- Baby – Babies will typically eat 5 times a day, with 3 of their food servings being 100%, while the remaining two should be a 50/50 mix of insects along with fruits and/or veggies. They eat a LOT while they’re growing.
- Juvenile – Juveniles have built up a little fat from their happy life with you and so should have more fruit/vegetable options than you would give a juvenile. At this stage, it’s recommended to feed them 3 times a day, each serving being 50% insects and 50% fruits and/or veggies.
- Adult – Remember when your Beardy hated those fruits and vegetables? As adults, they will crave and need more of them, so you’ll have to worry less about them skipping straight to the tasty bugs. A 75% to 25% (or a 70/30) split of fruits/veggies and insects is best at this stage, fed once or twice a day.
If you’ve been feeding your Bearded Dragon quite a bit more of giving them lots of snacks, then it’s best to switch to a strict diet for a space to see how your Beardy takes to it. As with us, they can get too much of a good thing, and that can be a problem down the line if you don’t manage it now.
Insufficient UVB lighting
Your Bearded Dragon needs a vitamin called D3, which they normally get the same way that we do and that most animals do – via sunlight.
As they live in a controlled environment, your Dragon will get their D3 by means of UVB lighting, so if you don’t have one of these lights already, you need to get one for your Beardy’s enclosure.
Aside from this, don’t forget to dust their crickets with their calcium and D3 supplement – without this and proper lighting, your Beardy won’t have strong bones and can develop deformities and other health issues. These are easy to avoid with proper UVB and Vitamin D3/Calcium supplements.
What Can I Do to Help?
When in doubt, it’s best to get the vet involved. Don’t worry about seeming too ‘green’, as there is a bit of a learning curve in the beginning as you get to know these amazing reptiles.
If you’ve reviewed the reasons that we’ve listed today and none of them seem to fit, then don’t panic – just get your Beardy in for a checkup.
Will My Bearded Dragon Be Okay?
Your Bearded Dragon is a tough animal and is probably going to be okay, just be sure to use our tips from today to see if you can get focused on what the issue might really be. Check for skin patches to rule out shedding and watch from a distance to make sure your Dragon isn’t just trying to ‘puff you away’.
Following this, check for stiffness in the neck and any behavioral changes that might indicate an abscess or infection. If they seem to be perfectly happy, just a bit on the round side at the neck, then consider their diet. It’s fun to watch them eat but easy to overdo it if you aren’t careful.
Finally, make sure that they are getting their D3 through UVB lighting and a healthy dusting of their crickets with your favorite calcium/D3 supplement.
Don’t worry – this sounds like a lot now, but in time you’ll check all of these things mentally in a matter of seconds. It’s just one of those habits you’ll develop while you’re hosting your own amazing little Dragon!