This stunning lizard is a Bearded Dragon named Geek. Notice the yellow coloration around his eyes and mouth. Is this color normal or is it a sign of yellow fungal disease? Look closely before scrolling down for the answer.
DIAGNOSIS: NORMAL COLORATION – Geek does not have the disease.
Geek is an Inland Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps. Other names include Central or Yellow-headed Bearded Dragon. This species is native to Australia where they live in arid, sandy areas. Beardies, as many people refer to them, are a favorite pet because of their unusual appearance, relatively small size and outgoing personality. Adult males may reach two feet in length. I wish all my patients were as well-behaved as Geek. He allowed me to examine him without any drama.
Yellow fungal disease is caused by Chrysosporium anamorph of Nannizziopsis vriesii (CANV). Quite a mouthful even for those of us conversant in scientific names. CANV is a fungus that starts out as a skin infection and quickly spreads through the rest of the body. Yellow colored skin tags are often the first sign of this disease. As the fungus spreads into deeper tissues, it causes pain and swelling. The animals stop eating and hides. Eventually, the areas undergo necrosis and slough.
Unfortunately, the disease is becoming more and more common in Bearded Dragons. Crowded conditions allow this highly contagious disease to spread quickly. If you suspect yellow fungal disease in your pet seek veterinary attention immediately. Since other problems may mimic this disease, it is important to obtain a biopsy for an accurate diagnosis before starting treatment. ***A word of caution, topical therapy alone will not cure this disease! Successful therapy usually requires systemic anti-fungal medication in addition to antibiotics, soaks and salves.
As with so many diseases, good hygiene is the key to prevention. Disinfect all surfaces with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Allow fifteen minutes of contact before rinsing. Disinfect everything including cages, feeding tongs, cleaning utensils and cage furniture. Quarantine affected individuals in a separate area and work with them last. Although airborne transmission has not been proven, I would not take any chances. Protect yourself when working with infected individuals. It is unclear at this point if the organism is zoonotic or not.