⚠Warning! Graphic images below⚠

So today I wanted to take some time to talk about reproductive disease in bearded dragons. There are a few conditions which can occur including cloacal prolapse, dystocia (egg binding) and pre-ovulatory follicular stasis. Pre-ovulatory follicular stasis is the one that I want to talk about today because it seems to be the most prevalent in female bearded dragons.

Follicles are produced by the ovaries, but, due to inappropriate husbandry or underlying disease, hormones are thought to become imbalanced and ovulation does not occur. There are some things that can contribute but the reason this condition occurs is not fully understood. Predisposing factors include: sub-optimal nutrition, secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism (metabolic bone disease), absence of males, secondary bacterial infection. In tortoises lack of normal seasonal patterns or lack of hibernation can contribute.

Therefore, because the follicles do not ovulate (to become eggs), they remain on the ovaries and increase in size.  Often animals become anorexic as a result of space occupying masses. Secondary bacterial infection can occur and follicles can rupture which releases yolk. This leads to inflammation and yolk peritonitis which can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Bearded dragon set-up
Patient recovering after surgery

Signs for owners to monitor for include lethargy, anorexia, coelomic (abdomen) enlargement , back leg paresis (difficulty walking), dyspnea (trouble breathing), attempting to nest (hyperactivity or digging) or partially laying a clutch of eggs. Most bearded dragons will lay an average of 16-24 eggs per clutch. Therefore it is important to provide female bearded dragons with a suitable place to nest with a box filled with potting mix and coconut fiber.

Often reptile veterinarians will become suspicious for pre-ovulatory follicular stasis based on history and physical examination findings. To confirm however, coelomic ultrasound is recommended. The image below illustrates the use of ultrasound to visualize and measure the size of follicles (dark circular structures). Additionally, blood work can be helpful to assess blood cell counts (for infection or anemia), organ function and blood calcium levels. Other imaging such as x-rays or CT scan may also be recommended to further help with surgical planning (especially in turtles and tortoises).

Ultrasound image of pre-ovulatory follicles in a bearded dragon
Ultrasound of follicles, the crosses indicate various diameters and sizes of follicles.


Often animals present in very poor condition and may have other concurrent diseases (cloacal prolapse) present. Treatment aims to provide stabilization with fluid therapy, nutritional supplementation (calcium) and providing appropriate husbandry but if there is no improvement and eggs are not laid then surgery (spay) may need to be considered.

In cases where surgery is required, due to animals often being in poor health anesthetic risks are increased. Additionally if egg yolk peritonitis present then this also carries a poorer prognosis. The goals of surgery are to remove the ovaries and any of the yolk material that may be present. The picture below shows ovarian follicles which were removed during surgery. 

Follicles removed at surgery
Follicles removed at surgery.


Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative and should not replace the recommendations made by your reptile veterinarian.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Laura Turner

    Hi my female beardie has just recently died from this, just wanted to know if there’s anyway to prevent this or anything they are able to take to prevent this? Are they born with the disease or is it something they just pick up? If so how long does it take before the patient is critically ill and needs surgery?

    1. Dr Amber Lee

      Hi Laura,
      I’m so sorry to hear you lost your bearded dragon from reproductive disease. This is a really hard disease to prevent in captive females. It’s thought to be linked to poorer husbandry conditions so making sure you provide adequate nutrition, calcium supplementation, temperatures and UVB light are very important. Also being able to recognize signs of illness in reptiles can be difficult as they are very good at masking signs, so noticing any changes in behavior (digging/nesting) or appetite and seeing a reptile veterinarian as soon as possible. Every animal I’ve seen has been different in terms of disease progression but it could only be a matter of weeks before they decline and need surgery, therefore early intervention is paramount to achieve a good outcome.

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