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Reptiles/Mountain Horned Dragon


I bought my MHD about two and a half weeks ago at Petco. He was seen by the Petco vet before I purchased him because he had a scar on his tummy and is missing a left toe. His mouth was sticky and dry and the vet said he was dehydrated and needed more humidity.  HIs head is a light white color most of the time due to what I assume was a lack of humidity and inability to shed properly while at the pet store.   

Currently, I have the lizard in a 29 gallon tank with a 9x11 water bowl with a mini water pump and stone to keep the water moving for easy visibility. He has a basking light and under it the temp is about 85*F. He has a hiding log with a heat pad underneath (barely any heat at all) and another heat pad under the water only to keep it a tepid temperature and not freezing cold. The tank has a pretty consistent 70% or above humidity. He's got a UVB100 ExoTerra. The tank is 18" high and by doing some extra research online, I found that it is effective to 14". We brought him home and he has been doing much better until....

Yesterday, after he was on my lap for about an hour while I read (he was relaxed, not breathing heavily and eyes were not wide or stressed), I put him back in his tank and he began breathing hard. I misted him and he started to lick the water off the log so I placed him in his water where he stayed for the next 18 hours. I moved him out of the water into a neutral heated area of the tank and under the UVB bulb. He hasn't stopped breathing heavily and was twitching earlier today almost every five minutes or so for about two to three hours. The twitching has stopped but the heavy breathing has not. He has not moved at all since I moved him from the water except for the twitching.

ANSWER: Hi Cori,

Your set-up sounds fine. You didn't happen to mention whether he has been feeding for you since his arrival and what his diet and supplementation has been.

The reason I mention this is that the two main husbandry related causes of twitching are low blood calcium levels and vitamin B1 (thiamin) deficiency.

Mountain horned dragons are still largely wild-caught. The conditions associated with shipping and then being warehoused at the wholesalers and then shipped again to the store are, well let's just say, less then ideal. They arrive dehydrated and malnourished. The stress associated with shipping can cause parasite flare-ups (wild caughts invariably have intestinal parasites) which further complicates their ability at absorb nutrients. You probably should think about getting him treated or parasites unless that was done at Petco.

Use a calcium with D3 supplement every other feeding and a multi-vitamin once a week for the next few weeks to help boost his calcium and B1 intake.

Heavy breathing is often fear/stress related. Even though he seemed calm in your lap I would question whether the handling required to move him in and out of the cage is setting him off. I would suggest that you put off handling just for a few days to see if the two are indeed related.  

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks so much for responding to me!  I appreciate it!!!  When we first got him, we didn't offer food for the first day and then he started eating between 10-13 mealworms a day.  We sprinkle them with calcium d3 and multivitamins every other day... he has recently stopped eating as much as hasn't eaten in two days.  The last time he ate, he ate 4 mealworms dusted with calcium and vitamins.  He doesn't seem to go for the waxworms and the bait store is out of red worms until tuesday...

I have read that soaking them in half Pedialyte and half water can be beneficial for dehydration... should I give that a try?  

I haven't handled him since, and really have only handled him about three times since we bought him knowing that he might be stressed out because of the change in environment.  I know these little guys aren't movers, but my water dragon and bearded dragon moved sooooo much more that I worry about him!  Even my leopard Gecko moved more than this guy.  Is it normal for him to sit still ALL day long?

Thanks again for your help.  I've never owned a MHD and I just want to make sure I'm doing the right thing for him.

Hi Cori,

Thanks for the additional info. Has your MHD shown interest or been offered any crickets?  Mealworms have a lot of non-digestible exoskeleton and relatively little "meat" in comparision. They are fine as part of a varied diet but I would try to avoid feeding large amounts of them. In worst case scenarios they have caused intestinal blockages. The large mealworm species are actually a better choice if he will take them. I would suggest cutting back on the multi-vitamin use to just once a week. More frequent use can risk overdose with some of the fat soluble vitamins.

You mentioned red worms and I'm not sure if those are exactly the same as red wigglers but I recall reading an article that advised against those in favour of earthworms which are  different. The article is here. It actually pertains to feeding Garter snakes but mentions a toxin found in red wiggler worms.

I do recall that the MHD's that I worked with would also remain quite still for long periods and prompt people to ask if they were real! Lol, they seemed very "Zen" in their attitude. MHDs are forest dwellers and that may be part of their defense, just to stay still and blend in. They are far less flighty and nervous then other similar species like basilisks.

As long as he is actively drinking, being misted regularly and has soaking options in his cage then I don't think the pedialyte soak will provide anything additional. Try to keep the cage humidity up during the winter which can be a challenge.

Keep the idea of parasite treatment in mind, espescially if you notice any weight loss or lack of appetite.  


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I can answer questions on the proper husbandry and diet of Iguanas, bearded dragons, geckoes, skinks, chameleons, tortoises, box turtles, treefrogs, non-venomous snakes and tarantulas. Also the breeding of some species of feeder insects. I have no experience with venonmous snakes and only limited experience with aquatic turtles.


I have been keeping and breeding reptiles for over 30 years. In addition to my regular job in the medical field I also worked for several years in a pet store that specialized only in exotics. The job entailed both caring for and answering questions on innumerable species. It required constant, extensive research into a wide range of reptiles. I have been called to appear on televised national media (CBC, CTV and Life Channel) as well as CBC radio to discuss the proper care of reptiles and other exotics in captivity. I currently own one or more species of those listed under my expertise with the exception of chameleons. I owned chameleons for years but keep none currently. I keep over 20 snakes comprising 5 species, both Colubridae and Boidae. I bred corn snakes for several years. I have a particular interest in treefrogs and currently have 5 different species. I've raised redfoot tortoises for 10 years and have two iguanas, one for 12 years.

A small and now defunct local magazine called "Pet Vue"

Diagnostic medical microbiology with some parasitology experience.

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