Seeing your bearded dragon gasping for air can be scary. Their mouths gape open as they take big gulps of air, which signals respiratory distress. If you’re short on time, here’s the key point: gasping in bearded dragons often occurs due to low temperatures, respiratory infections, inadequate habitat conditions, stress, or underlying health issues.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the range of potential causes for bearded dragon air gasping, symptoms to look out for, and how to help your beardie breathe easy again.

Common Causes of Bearded Dragon Air Gasping

Low Cage Temperatures

One of the most common reasons for air gasping in bearded dragons is simply that their enclosure is too cold. Bearded dragons are cold-blooded reptiles that require specific temperature gradients to function properly.

Their basking area should reach 100-110°F, while the cool side should stay above 80°F.

If cage temperatures drop too low, it can cause respiratory distress and difficulty breathing. The bearded dragon will start gaping its mouth and gasping for air trying to warm up. To resolve this, adjust heating elements to maintain proper thermal gradients.

Upper Respiratory Infections

Bearded dragons are unfortunately prone to upper respiratory infections (URIs). A URI causes inflammation, secretions, and swelling in the nasal passages, mouth, trachea, and lungs. This leads to wheezing, congestion, and trouble breathing.

Viral and bacterial pathogens are usually the cause, but poor husbandry is also a contributor. To treat mild URI cases, improve temperature and humidity levels along with veterinary antibiotics. More severe infections may need nebulization therapy and injectable medications prescribed by an exotic vet.

Improper Habitat Conditions

Besides low temperatures, other improper habitat factors can also lead to respiratory issues. Excessively high temperatures causes heat stress. And incorrect humidity outside the 30-40% range allows fungal or bacterial growth.

Check that heating, lighting, and humidity are all calibrated for the proper bearded dragon environment. Preferred substrates are reptile carpets or paper towels rather than sand, wood shavings, or cage litter which contain dust or phenols.


Stress weakens the immune system of lizards, making them prone to infections that impede breathing. Sudden environmental changes, inadequate habitat space, uncomfortable temperatures, excess handling, transport stress, malnutrition, and parasitic infections are all stress factors.

Minimizing these disruptions and adhering to proper care guidelines is key. Also monitor for signs of lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, and black beard displays. Address causes of anxiety right away.

Diagnosing the Cause of Gasping

Observing Symptoms and Behaviors

The first step in diagnosing why your bearded dragon is gasping for air is to closely observe its symptoms and behaviors. Look for signs like an open mouth, raised elbows, stretched out neck, rapid breathing, and gulping motions.TIMELY action is critical, as gasping can lead to dangerous health issues if left untreated.

If you spot these concerning symptoms, move your dragon to a safe quarantine area right away for further evaluation.

As you monitor your pet in quarantine, document any patterns to the gasping episodes. Make notes on timing, duration, associated behaviors like unusual positions or listlessness. Also track the dragon’s appetite and bowel movements for clues.

Getting all the details will help your exotic vet pinpoint causes ranging from early signs of infection to habitat triggers like high temperatures.

Testing for Infections

Lab tests are an important diagnostic step to check for infections causing respiratory distress. Your vet will likely collect swab, stool, and blood samples to test for some top illness suspects:

  • Bacterial or fungal pneumonia – Inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs
  • Parasites – Like roundworms or protozoa disrupting organ function
  • Adenovirus – Viral attacker of multiple body systems

Prompt diagnosis through cultures, molecular assays, or antibody tests guides appropriate treatment plans. For example, antibiotics for bacteria, antifungals for fungi, or prescription antivirals. Supportive therapies like oxygen or fluids may also ease gasping depending on test findings.

Evaluating Habitat Conditions

Aside from infections, “environmental causes” related to poor habitat health often trigger respiratory distress in bearded dragons. After ruling out disease, your vet will likely evaluate factors like:

Heat – Basking spot temperature excessively high?
Humidity – Enclosure humidity over 40%?
Hydration – Access to clean water dish always available?
Ventilation – Fresh airflow or stuffiness?
Substrates – Problematic particle types like sand, cedar, pine?

Reassess your captive care strategically section by section until you resolve what environment stress may be taxing your pet’s respiratory system. You can reference detailed bearded dragon habitat guides from reptile specialty sites like:

Relief should come quickly once you pinpoint and correct factors making their home hazardous.

How To Help a Gasping Bearded Dragon

Adjusting Temperature

Proper temperatures are critical for a bearded dragon’s health. If the temperature is too cold or too hot, it can cause breathing difficulties. Here are some tips for adjusting the temperature:

  • The basking spot should be 95-110°F. This allows them to properly regulate their body temperature.
  • The cool side of the tank should be 80-85°F. This gives them an area to cool off if needed.
  • Use under tank heaters or overhead basking bulbs to adjust temperatures. A thermometer on each end helps monitor this.
  • During the night, the temperature can drop to 75-80°F to simulate natural diurnal cycles.

Treating Infections

Respiratory infections are common in bearded dragons and can lead to wheezing or gasping for air. Symptoms include bubbly mucus in the mouth or nose. Infections are often caused by poor temperature regulation, high humidity, or unsanitary habitats.

If you suspect an infection, take your dragon to an exotic vet immediately. They can prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. While treating, be sure to thoroughly disinfect their habitat.

Improving Habitat

An improper habitat can also cause breathing issues in bearded dragons. Here are habitat improvements to help your wheezing dragon:

  • Use a large tank, at least 40-50 gallons for adults. This allows for a heat gradient and room to move around.
  • Use loose substrate like sand or tile instead of particulate substrates. These can be accidentally ingested leading to impactions.
  • Include hiding spots and horizontal branches for climbing. This enriches their environment.
  • Keep the tank very clean and dry. Spot clean daily and completely disinfect every 4-6 weeks.

Reducing Stress

Stress can also lead to breathing issues in bearded dragons. Situations that commonly cause stress include:

  • Overhandling – Give your bearded dragon space and only handle them for short periods.
  • New environments – Gradually introduce them to any new cages or areas.
  • Incorrect diet – Feed them a balanced diet with appropriate vitamins and calcium.
  • Other pets – Keep cats, dogs and other animals away from your bearded dragon.

Additionally, check for any bullying from cagemates. Solitary dragons tend to be less stressed overall.

Preventing Air Gasping in Bearded Dragons

Maintaining Proper Temperatures

Keeping your bearded dragon at the right temperature is crucial to prevent air gasping. The optimal temperature range is 90-100°F on the warm side and 80-90°F on the cool side of the enclosure (ASPCA). Use under tank heaters or overhead heat lamps controlled by a thermostat to maintain these temps.

Improper temperatures can cause breathing difficulties, lethargy, loss of appetite and more.

Keeping the Habitat Clean

A dirty habitat can harbor harmful bacteria that leads to respiratory infections. Scoop out feces, leftover food, and urates daily. Every 2-4 weeks, do a thorough scrub down of decorations and enclosure surfaces with a 3% bleach solution or commercial reptile disinfectant.

Rinse thoroughly afterwards and allow to fully dry before allowing your beardie back inside their freshly cleaned home.

Ensuring Proper Humidity Levels

High humidity for prolonged periods can cause respiratory distress in beardies. Ideal humidity is 30-40%. Use a hygrometer to monitor levels and make adjustments as needed. Some helpful tips:

  • Use a screen top on the enclosure
  • Avoid misting the enclosure
  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner in the room during humid/wet seasons

Watching for Signs of Stress

Stressed bearded dragons are more prone to breathing issues. Monitor yours for signs like darkened beard/body color, aggression, hiding more often, lack of appetite or energy. Try to identify and remove stressors.

Give them proper heat and UVB lighting, enrichment items to climb and explore, positive interactions with you, etc. A healthy, low-stress dragon will have minimal heavy breathing episodes.


Seeing your bearded dragon gasping can cause anxiety, but now you have the knowledge to get to the root of the issue. Check their environment temperatures, signs of infection, habitat conditions, and stress levels. Making adjustments to support their health is key to stopping air gasping.

With attentive care and prevention methods, you can help ensure your beardie breathes easy for years to come.

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