If you own or have ever cared for bearded dragons, then you have most likely noticed that bearded dragons tend to have strange behaviors or responses that may have you wondering if they are in good health or not. You may have noticed your bearded dragon behaving in a manner that closely resembles the hiccups.
If your bearded dragon has experienced this phenomenon, you may be wondering if bearded dragons can even get the hiccups. There seems to be quite a bit of confusion when it comes to this topic so we will be taking a closer look at whether or not bearded dragons can get the hiccups.
To put it simply, no, bearded dragons cannot get the hiccups. Bearded dragons lack a very important muscle required to experience hiccups, the diaphragm; the diaphragm is the muscles necessary for lung ventilation.
Since bearded dragons do not have this muscle, their lungs work through the same muscles they use for movement. The diaphragm is the muscles responsible for the hiccup phenomenon that mammals experience and the lack of this muscle is the reason why reptiles, specifically bearded dragons, cannot experience this sensation.
Just because bearded dragons are unable to experience hiccups, they may portray a similar movement to that of hiccups. The different behaviors bearded dragons are likely to exhibit that may resemble hiccups include head bobbing, panting, open mouth display, and respiratory infections.
Bearded dragons will use these movements in order to communicate to other bearded dragons or even to you, which can become worrisome if you are unaware of what these movements are signaling. While these are common occurrences that bearded dragons can experience, there is an immense amount of confusion revolving around these situations that have caused bearded dragon owners to become quite uneasy anytime their bearded dragon experiences one of these occurrences.
So, let’s put some fears to rest and jump right into what could be causing your bearded dragon’s hiccup-like movements.
Reason 1: Head Bobbing
Head bobbing is one of the most common behaviors bearded dragons will exhibit that resembles mammalian hiccups and it is a common form of communication. So, what does this form of communication mean? Depending on the sex of your bearded dragon and the current situation, it could mean any number of things.
Females will slowly and methodically bob their heads to signal that they are ready and willing to mate, although, if you only have one bearded dragon this will probably not be the reason you are searching for. Smaller male bearded dragons will bob their heads in a slow rhythm to show submission to larger bearded dragons, other animals in the home, or even you, and this is completely normal behavior and carries no reason for you to be alarmed.
If you notice your bearded dragon bobbing his or her head in submission towards, sometimes accompanied by an arm wave, it might be beneficial to increase bonding time with your beardie to reassure your dragon that you are not a threat. If you have multiple males in the same enclosure or in extremely close proximity, they could be head bobbing as a sign of aggression and dominance, which could potentially become a dangerous situation for your bearded dragons without your intervention.
It is recommended to keep only one male in an enclosure and a max of two bearded dragons, male and female, to keep stress and aggression to a minimum. If you do keep a male and a female in the same enclosure and your male is still bobbing his head, he could be signaling to the female that he wishes to mate with her and is awaiting her response; this will usually be accompanied by the stomping of feet and arm waving.
Head bobbing is a completely natural and entirely common behavior and is nothing to worry about unless your dragons are having a standoff for dominance.
Reason 2: Panting
Bearded dragons are just like every other reptile, being that they are cold-blooded and require a warm climate and basking areas to raise their body temperatures. Bearded dragons have adapted a behavior that closely resembles panting, that will allow them to adjust their body temperatures while basking under their heat lamp or in the sun.
Bearded dragons have the ability to thermoregulate when they are offered an enclosure with gradient temperatures. If your bearded dragon is panting, it would be wise to check the internal temperature of your beadie’s enclosure to ensure overheating does not take place.
Bearded dragons can experience overheating just like any other animal and it can be just as dangerous and deadly. If you believe your bearded dragon is panting from being overheated, try adjusting the temperature in their enclosure, be sure to provide temperature gradients, and you can even mist your beardie with water to help cool them down.
Reason 3: Open Mouth Display
As we have already mentioned, bearded dragons have an extensive amount of communication techniques, one of those being their open mouth display. This behavior will look strange as it is just your bearded dragon keeping their mouth open; but this behavior is a common defense that bearded dragons will initiate if they are not yet used to being handled or interacting with humans.
Bearded dragons get their name from the spiked flap of skin under their jaw and on their cheeks, when a bearded dragon feels threatened, he or she can inflate this bit of skin with air to make themselves look bigger in order to frighten off any potential predators or threats. This behavior can easily resemble hiccups if done in quick recession and can be quite alarming if you are a new bearded dragon owner or if you have never experienced this phenomenon before while raising bearded dragons.
To ease the fear of your beardie, be patient first and foremost and slowly increase bonding time, such as baths and misting, until he or she is more comfortable with being handled.
Reason 4: Respiratory Infections
Bearded dragons are like any other animal or reptile; they require proper care and an appropriate enclosure in order to maintain their health and well-being. If your bearded dragon is breathing heavily through mouth gaping or forced exhalation, this could be a sign that your beardie is suffering from some sort of respiratory infection.
Improper cleaning and sanitizing measures used for their enclosure, high humidity and a damp or cold climate, stress, and improper feeding habits can all trigger a respiratory infection, like pneumonia, in your bearded dragon. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and all different types of fungi can cause respiratory tract infections in dragons as well.
If you believe your bearded dragon is experiencing and suffering from a respiratory infection or a respiratory tract infection, your next move should be getting your beardie to the nearest herp vet to be diagnosed and treated. Signs and symptoms of a respiratory infection include sneezing, yellow discharge coming from their nose or eyes, bubbles around the nose or mouth, shallow or rapid breathing, breathing with their mouth open, fatigue, and a loss of appetite. This rapid, shallow breathing associated with respiratory infections can be mistaken for and resemble hiccups; it is important to pay close attention to any other signs or symptoms your bearded dragon may be exhibiting to ensure proper action is taken.
The idea of our sweet bearded dragons presenting something as adorable as the hiccups can be quite charming but it’s also unrealistic. Although bearded dragons cannot experience hiccups due to their lack of a diaphragm, they can exhibit certain behaviors that resemble mammalian hiccups.
It is easy to see where all of the confusion comes into play and why this confusion can cause fear among bearded dragon owners. Bearded dragons are known to demonstrate an array of different behaviors and for anyone that is uneducated on the different types of behaviors they may exhibit and the cause for these behaviors, it can be worrisome and cause unnecessary alarm.
The more research you can do and behaviors you can study, the better your understanding of your beloved bearded dragon will be. If you own or plan to own a bearded dragon as a pet and companion, it would be wise to study up on their many different communication methods and strange behaviors that go along with these methods so as to more properly understand what your bearded dragon is trying to tell you.
As long you are paying close attention to other behaviors they may be displaying, keeping their enclosure at the appropriate temperature and humidity level, offering an enclosure area large enough to properly provide temperature gradients, and providing patience and love to your bearded dragon, you are doing what you need to be doing to ensure a happy and healthy bearded dragon. If at any point you become concerned with your bearded dragon’s behavior or health or they are showing signs of a respiratory infection, contact your local herp vet for further analysis and possible treatment.