Is It Possible for Bearded Dragons to Develop Skin Cancer

Is It Possible for Bearded Dragons to Develop Skin Cancer?

Bearded dragons are among the most popular reptiles kept as pets. They have become a favorite because of their friendly personalities and easy maintenance requirements. They have a wide range of colors, from light brown to rich yellow, and have a long lifespan of up to 10 years.

With their popularity, there are a number of questions that have arisen about their care, especially when it comes to their health. One of the most important questions is whether it is possible for bearded dragons to develop skin cancer.

Skin cancer is a serious health concern for humans and animals alike. In order to understand whether bearded dragons are prone to this disease, we must first understand what skin cancer is and the risk factors associated with it.

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the skin and can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. Exposure to UV rays, an unhealthy diet, and airborne pollutants are all risk factors associated with skin cancer.

Causes of Skin Cancer in Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragon Lizard
Credit: Keith L’Amour

Bearded dragons are particularly susceptible to skin cancer due to their unique biology. Exposure to ultraviolet light is a major contributing factor, as it can cause chemical changes in the skin which can lead to malignancies.

Age and genetics also play a role, as older dragons and those with genetic mutations are more likely to develop skin cancer.

Exposure to Ultraviolet (Uv) Light

The sun’s rays are a powerful force, and many creatures, including bearded dragons, are at risk of developing skin cancer when exposed to them.

In particular, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is a major cause of skin cancer in bearded dragons. UV light is part of the sunlight spectrum that is invisible to the human eye. It can penetrate the skin of a bearded dragon and cause changes in their cells, leading to the development of skin cancers.

Bearded dragons are particularly susceptible to UV light because they lack the protective layers of fur or scales that other reptiles have.

The skin of a bearded dragon is thin and delicate, and it is even thinner in certain areas, such as around their heads and necks. This means that exposure to UV light in these parts of the body can be particularly damaging.

UV light can also cause damage to a bearded dragon even if they are kept indoors. This is because some artificial lights used for indoor terrariums produce UV light, and if these lights are not filtered or blocked correctly, the UV rays can still reach the dragon and cause skin cancer.

To prevent this from happening, it is important to use UV-filtering lamps to provide your dragon with the right amount of light and to keep them away from any sources of unfiltered UV light.


As the age of a bearded dragon increases, its risk of developing skin cancer increases as well. Many studies have been conducted to assess the correlation between age and skin cancer in bearded dragons.

The results of these studies are consistent and demonstrate a clear link between age and the development of cancer.

Aging plays a significant role in the development of skin cancer in bearded dragons. As they grow older, they become more susceptible to the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, an environmental factor that is known to contribute to cancer in reptiles.

This radiation can damage the skin of a bearded dragon and lead to an increased risk of cancer. Additionally, the natural aging process weakens the body’s immune system, making it less effective in fighting off harmful cells.

Furthermore, some of the skin cells of older bearded dragons become abnormal and can develop into cancerous cells. These cells can spread throughout the body and cause the development of tumors.

As a result, older bearded dragons are more prone to developing skin cancer due to their weakened immune system and increased likelihood of abnormal skin cells.

Overall, age is a significant factor in the development of skin cancer in bearded dragons. With age, they become more susceptible to the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation and abnormal skin cells, increasing their risk of developing cancer.


It is important to consider the genetic make-up of a bearded dragon when assessing the risk of skin cancer. While the majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, there are still certain genetic predispositions that can increase the chance of developing the condition.

In particular, some bearded dragon species are more prone to developing skin cancer than others. For example, the Pogona vitticeps species is particularly prone to developing squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Genetics also play a role in the severity of the cancer and the speed at which it can spread. This is why it is important to understand the genetic history of a bearded dragon before making any conclusions about health.

For instance, if a bearded dragon is from a lineage that is known to have a higher risk of skin cancer, then it is more likely to develop the condition than a bearded dragon from a lower-risk lineage.

In addition, there are certain genetic mutations that can increase the risk of skin cancer in bearded dragons. For example, the mutant gene “glioblastoma” has been linked to an increased likelihood of developing squamous cell carcinoma.

Therefore, it is important to assess the genetic make-up of a bearded dragon before making any conclusions about the potential risk of skin cancer. By understanding the genetic history of the animal, it is possible to make more accurate assessments of the risk and provide better care.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer in Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragon, Perth, WA
Credit: Bernie Marchant

Bearded dragons may exhibit various symptoms of skin cancer, such as lumps or bumps on the skin, changes in the skin color, and irregular shedding.

These symptoms may be the result of a malignant tumor or an infection, and should be monitored for any signs of further development. Shedding patterns should be monitored closely for any unusual changes, such as patches of skin that are difficult to remove.

Lumps or Bumps on the Skin

One of the most common symptoms of skin cancer in bearded dragons is the presence of lumps or bumps on the skin. These lumps or bumps can vary in size, but they are typically raised and may have a rough texture. They may also have discoloration, such as patches of black, brown, or red.

The lumps or bumps may appear anywhere on the bearded dragon’s body, but they are often found in areas of frequent sun exposure, such as the face, legs, and tail. These lumps may be painless, but they can also be painful, itchy, or tender to the touch. In addition, they may get bigger over time as the cancer progresses.

In some cases, the lumps or bumps may contain fluid that can ooze and create a sticky texture on the surface of the skin. This fluid can be yellow, green, or black and may have a foul odor.

In addition, the lumps or bumps may bleed or become ulcerated, meaning the skin breaks down and forms a sore. If any of these symptoms are present, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.

Changes in the Skin Color

As a result of skin cancer, bearded dragons may experience changes in the skin color. At first, there may be a slight discoloration, typically a lighter or brighter color than their original scales.

This discoloration may be localized to one area or spread over a larger part of the body. The discoloration can range from grayish to light yellow, pink, or white. This is usually a sign that the dragon is not healthy and requires a vet visit.

The discoloration of the skin can also be accompanied by raised or bumpy areas. These bumps and lumps can be hard to the touch and may be found on any part of the body. As the cancer progresses, these bumps and lumps will become more and more noticeable.

In addition, the discoloration may become darker and more pronounced. In extreme cases, the entire body of the dragon may become discolored.

In some cases, the discoloration of the skin can be a sign of other health issues in bearded dragons. It is important to be aware of any changes in the skin color of your dragon and to consult a veterinarian if you have any concerns. Early diagnosis and treatment can mean the difference between life and death for your beloved dragon.

Irregular Shedding

The tell-tale sign of a bearded dragon with skin cancer is irregular shedding. This can manifest in a few ways.

The dragon may experience prolonged bouts of molting, where they shed their skin in patches over a period of weeks or months. Alternatively, they may experience delayed molting, where the shedding of their skin fails to occur and the old skin lingers for extended periods of time. Bearded dragons may also exhibit a combination of prolonged and delayed molting.

Molting is a natural part of a bearded dragon’s life cycle; however, when it begins to occur irregularly, it could be a sign of skin cancer. It is important to pay attention to the shedding patterns of your bearded dragon and to consult a veterinarian if any changes are noticed.

In some cases, the shedding may be related to a vitamin deficiency or another underlying medical condition. It is essential to have a full examination of your bearded dragon to determine the cause of the irregular shedding.

In the event that skin cancer is diagnosed, your veterinarian will likely recommend a course of treatment. Common treatments for skin cancer in bearded dragons include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

In addition to medical treatments, the environment of your bearded dragon should be closely monitored. It is important to ensure that the temperatures in the enclosure are ideal for your dragon, and that the humidity and lighting levels are also appropriate.

Treatment for Skin Cancer in Bearded Dragons

Surgery is a common treatment method for skin cancer in bearded dragons. It involves removing the affected area to prevent further spread and reduce pain.

Radiation therapy is another treatment option, which uses targeted radiation to stop the cancer cells from growing and spreading. Chemotherapy is a third option which involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells.


The lingering thought of surgery can seem unnerving, but it is a necessary step to treat skin cancer in bearded dragons. With a skilled and experienced surgeon, the procedure can be conducted with the utmost accuracy to ensure the safety of the reptile.

The process begins with the surgeon conducting a thorough physical exam to examine the dragon’s external skin and internal organs. This assessment is vital to determine the size, shape, and depth of the tumor.

The surgeon will then mark the area with a scalpel or laser before administering an anesthetic. The area of the tumor is then surgically removed until the edges of the surrounding tissue are clear of cancer.

The surgeon will also check for nearby lymph nodes to make sure they are clear of cancer. If they are not, they may need to be removed as well. The entire incision site is then closed and sutured up with absorbable sutures.

Surgery remains an effective and reliable treatment for skin cancer in bearded dragons. With the proper care and follow-up visits, the reptile can make a full recovery and live a long, healthy life.

Radiation Therapy

In recent years, radiation therapy has become an increasingly viable option for treating skin cancer in bearded dragons. By targeting the malignant cells with x-rays or other forms of radiation, it is possible to destroy them and thus limit the spread of the cancer.

The process is carried out in a specialized facility, where the patient is carefully monitored for any adverse reactions. The radiation is carefully calibrated to ensure that the amount of energy absorbed by the affected area is just right, to ensure that it is effective without damaging any healthy cells in the process.

The treatment itself is painless and relatively noninvasive. It requires no surgery and there is no need for anesthesia. The patient is exposed to the radiation for a short period of time, usually no more than a few minutes, during each session.

Depending on the type and severity of the cancer, the total treatment period may last a few weeks or months, with sessions occurring on a regular basis.

Radiation therapy is typically used in conjunction with other treatments for the best results. It is important to note that the effects of the radiation may not be immediately visible, as it takes time for the malignant cells to be destroyed.

Over the course of the treatment, however, the patient should start to see a decrease in the size and number of tumors. In some cases, the cancer may be completely eradicated, although this is not always the case.


Having discussed the various surgical options available to treat skin cancer in bearded dragons, it is important to consider the possibilities of radiation and chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is a medical treatment that uses powerful drugs to reduce the growth of cancer cells in the body. It is an effective form of treatment, as it can target cells that have spread to other parts of the body, and help to reduce the size of tumors.

When it comes to chemotherapy in bearded dragons, the drugs used are administered orally, through injection, or through a topical application. The drugs work by targeting the cancer cells and preventing them from growing and spreading.

Depending on the type of cancer, the dosage and frequency of treatment may vary. Common chemotherapy drugs used for skin cancer in bearded dragons include doxorubicin, cisplatin, and cyclophosphamide.

The most common side effects of chemotherapy are nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue. These side effects usually improve over time, but can be very uncomfortable for the lizard.

Additionally, chemotherapy can weaken the immune system, making the dragon more susceptible to illnesses and infections. It is important to monitor the dragon closely and provide supportive care during the chemotherapy treatments. This may include providing a healthy and balanced diet, as well as providing a comfortable and stress-free environment.


Bearded dragons are susceptible to skin cancer, just like any other creatures. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer in order to identify it early on and take appropriate action.

Fortunately, there are treatments available for skin cancer in bearded dragons that can help to improve their quality of life and potentially reduce the severity of the cancer. With the right care and attention, it is possible for a bearded dragon to lead a happy and healthy life.