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Reptile Swelling And Infection

The right side of my reptile's mouth, under the chin, has become swollen. His mouth is seeping pus that is slightly pink. What is it?

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We have a 2- to 3-year-old male bearded dragon.  The right side of his mouth has become swollen. The swollen part is under his chin. He can open his mouth, and so far he is acting normal (eating, moving, etc.). His mouth is seeping pus that is slightly pink.

Also, occasionally his head will shake rapidly. He seems undaunted by the shaking; however, he does stop moving when it occurs. I rubbed 3 percent hydrogen peroxide on his mouth and a bit of his skin came off. I thought that sounded like mouth rot, but there is no cottage cheeselike discharge and no spots. Mouth rot doesn’t explain the shaking.  Anything you can offer would be appreciated.


I’m not sure exactly what is wrong with your beardie, but from what you are describing, I would recommend that you make an appointment immediately with your herp vet so that it can be evaluated and treated. Lizards have salivary glands found under the tongue in the jaw area, and while uncommon, infection of the salivary gland can occur. “Mouth rot” is a kind of catch-all term for any kind of problem occurring in the mouth area, but is not a specific disease.

I believe that the head shaking is to try to remove the draining material. This must be distinguished from the territorial head-bobbing that males do in specific situations.

If there is an infection in your lizard’s oral cavity, it will require the assistance of a herp veterinarian, who will most likely want to run blood tests, culture the lesion, perhaps biopsy the lesion and even take radiographs (X-rays) of the head. Antibiotics will be administered if bacterial infection is present, and this may involve repeated injections or oral antibiotic therapy.

You will need to keep the beardie at the high end of its temperature range during treatment for antibiotics to work most effectively. So, make sure you have thermometers in several areas of its habitat, so that you can tell your herp vet the temperature range in the environment. The habitat should have a focal hot spot for basking that is between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the habitat should range from 80 to 90 degrees, and drop 10 degrees lower at night.

Other types of infections including fungal infections can occur, but most infections are usually secondary to poor husbandry, including suboptimal habitat temperatures, malnutrition or overcrowding. Without knowing the specifics about your beardie’s care, I cannot venture to guess what might have gone wrong. Also, rarely, lesions like those you described can also be caused by tumors. Cytology or biopsy of the lesion may help identify these types of problems.


Whatever this problem is, it is one that you should not try to deal with on your own. Find a good herp vet who can help you solve this mystery and hopefully return your beardie to good health.

Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.

Need a Herp Vet?
If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.