Whenever someone gets a new bearded dragon, there are some standard pieces of advice that all pet stores and breeders will give. They’ll almost certainly tell you about the substrate, diet, supplements, regular baths, and how to set up your enclosure.
What they probably won’t tell you is anything about your new beardie’s femoral pores. This is unfortunate as all bearded dragon owners will have to deal with these regularly. Most take their new bearded dragon home not even knowing what they are or that they need to be checked regularly!
At some point, an aware bearded dragon owner will ask, “what is this line of black spots across the underside of my bearded dragon’s legs?”. That’s when the Googling starts. And hopefully, that’s before a trip to the vet is needed.
The black dots that appear in a line across the underside of your bearded dragon’s hind legs are their femoral pores. These pores secret a waxy substance that marks territory and signals possible mates. Over time, if neglected, these pores can become clogged and infected, but regular care can prevent this.
What are femoral pores?
Most animals have a way to mark their territory. Urine and other bodily fluids are usually how this is done. In bearded dragons, this occurs through their femoral pores.
Femoral, meaning “relating the femur or thigh” indicates their location. Many reptiles have these and in beardies, they are located in a line across the underside of their hind legs.
Underneath each pore is a gland. This gland secretes a waxy substance. Bearded dragons instinctively rub their back legs across things to leave this secretion behind. This is how they mark their territory and signal possible mates.
These glands will produce this waxy substance from the time your beardie is a juvenile until their life is complete. It’s a normal part of life for them.
A good comparison are the pores on your nose. Underneath each pore is a gland that produces oil. That oil comes out at some level all the time. That oil also can harden and get clogged in your pore resulting in a blackhead.
The better you clean your face, the less this happens. For people with a lot of oil in those pores, or those that do not wash their faces regularly, the pores can get clogged and even infected. The same can happen with your bearded dragon’s femoral pores.
This isn’t an exact likeness, but it paints enough of a picture so that the care and cleaning needed for your beardie makes sense.
Why do bearded dragon femoral pores get clogged?
There are several reasons that this happens, but they all boil down to two basic things.
- Your bearded dragon is not rubbing their legs on enough rough surfaces to remove the regular build-up.
- Your beardie’s living conditions allow the femoral pore secretion to prematurely harden before it can be rubbed off.
For bearded dragons in the wild, this is usually not an issue. They have plenty of rough surfaces in their life. They also live in an environment that they evolved to thrive in. By definition, the conditions are ideal.
In captivity, this is not always the case. Let’s quickly review the most common causes of femoral pore blockage for bearded dragons in captivity.
- Not enough rough surfaces. Beardies should have rocks, branches, hides, hammocks, and lots of other things to climb on and over. Without these, they lack the places needed to clear their femoral pores.
- Loose substrate. While our top substrate recommendation is a loose substrate (full substrate guide here), that only works if you also have the rough surfaces listed above. Without those things, a loose substrate does not provide enough friction to remove femoral secretions.
- Smooth substrate. The same goes for using newspapers, vinyl tiles, or smooth ceramic tiles.
- Lack of regular baths. See our full bathing guide here, but it’s important that bearded dragons get regular soaks. Clearing and softening femoral pore secretions is only one of many reasons this is important to the health of your bearded dragon.
- Improper humidity. Humidity levels should be between 30-40% in a bearded dragon enclosure. Humidity levels outside this range can cause many problems, including femoral pore blockage.
- Lack of Vitamin A. Please see our full supplement guide here for details on Vitamin A. It’s not safe to give it to your bearded dragon as Vitamin A. It needs to be given as part of a multivitamin in the form of beta carotene (carrots are also a good source of this).
- Brumation. Brumation (full description and care guide here) consists of weeks or even months of inactivity for a bearded dragon. While femoral pore secretions will decrease or even stop over this time, this lack of activity may allow already clogged pores to harden and become infected.
- Enclosure size. A surprising number of bearded dragons in captivity do not get enough movement due to being kept in an enclosure that is too small. A lack of movement can directly contribute to clogged femoral pores. Want to know the perfect sized enclosure for your bearded dragon? You guessed it, we have a full guide for you that you can see here!
How to recognize a problem early
As with most health issues, it’s important to detect and treat a problem early. Once the pores are severely clogged, infected, or otherwise inflamed, it’s often too late for home treatment and an expensive vet visit is called for.
Early detection is simply a matter of being aware. A great practice to get into is a full inspection of your bearded dragon after every bath. Give them a good once over and check all their bits and parts.
As you will see from the images in this article, clogged pores are pretty easy to spot, even in their early stages. If caught early, they are super easy to care for. If not…
When to see a vet for clogged femoral pores
We’ve seen so many forum posts where someone says, “I just noticed this on my bearded dragon’s legs, what do I do?”. In that post is an image of clogged femoral pores that are infected, swollen, and clearly painful for the beardie.
It’s clear that the owner never checks things out and, honestly, is an irresponsible bearded dragon owner. Sure, part of this is that they might not have been told, but if they would simply look at or hold their pet every once in a while, they would have caught things much sooner.
Unfortunately, when things get to this point, it’s time to see a vet (if you aren’t sure how to find one, see our guide here). If you aren’t sure whether home treatment or a vet visit is in order, here are the main signs you need to see a vet first before trying to treat them at home.
- Pores are clearly impacted by large deposits visible around the pores themselves.
- Large nodules of hardened waxy secretion firmly stuck in place.
- Pores are red and inflamed.
- Pores are bleeding.
- Beardie has trouble moving or is clearly in pain when the pores are touched.
It’s very important not to try to forcibly remove the blockages at this stage. The pores are surrounded by a good number of blood vessels and it’s easy to cause a much more serious problem.
While there are a couple of tips below in the home care section regarding attempting to remove the pore blockages, we have to stress that the right person to do this is your vet. Attempting to resolve this on your own, especially if the blockages are severe, could result in serious harm to your bearded dragon.
As with ALL medical issues, please see a qualified herpetology vet for care!
Home care for clogged femoral pores in a bearded dragon
For bearded dragons with mildly blocked or irritated femoral pores, home care consists of daily soaks in warm water for at least 25-30 minutes followed by gently brushing the pores with a soft-bristled toothbrush. The goal is to assist them in naturally expelling the blockage. Finish each treatment with a light application of Neosporin to prevent infection.
Step One – daily soaks
Regular baths should be a consistent part of your bearded dragon’s life. 2-3 times per week is the minimum with many vets and breeders recommending them 4-5 times per week.
We have a complete guide for you here if this isn’t the case in your beardie’s life. The short version, as it pertains to this article, is that the baths should be in warm water (100℉/38℃) and should last at least 15 minutes.
This regular soaking should really help to limit any potential femoral pore issues in your bearded dragon. Not doing this is asking for trouble.
If your beardie’s femoral pores become irritated or clogged, it’s time to up your bath duration and frequency. Typically, the duration will be increased in relation to the severity of the blockages.
When you first notice the problem, we recommend 1-3 days of 60 minutes of soaking per day. To do this, you’ll need to warm up the water every ten minutes or so. Water temperature makes a huge difference here, so be diligent.
After the first few days, dropping to soaks of 25-30 minutes should suffice. You’ll want to continue this until the pores are clear and healed.
If you can, twice daily soaks are even more beneficial. They should still be of the same length, but the frequency may help soften up blockages quicker.
Step Two – Soft brushing
At the end of each soak, take a soft bristle toothbrush and gently rub the blocked femoral pores. Don’t scrub! It will be tempting, but don’t do it. We are simply trying to allow the blockages to clear on their own, not forcibly remove them.
Remember to wash the brush before or after each use. The pores are an open entrance to your beardie’s body and can easily become infected if using a dirty or bacteria-laden brush. The same goes for your hands prior to handling!
Please remember that bearded dragons cannot breathe if placed on their backs. It’s not an issue to do it briefly to access their legs for brushing, but keep this in mind. It’s never a great idea to leave them in this position for long.
We’ve read several reports of adding things like Pedialyte to the water to help soften the blockages, but after asking around no one could confirm that this is or even could be effective. We advise sticking to plain warm water and a soft-bristle toothbrush.
Step Three – Neosporin
As we pointed out, the open pores are an invitation for infection. Preventing this infection is critical at this stage. Once you’ve soaked, brushed, and dried your beardie, apply a thin layer of Neosporin (if you don’t have some, grab some here on Amazon) to the pores.
This quick step will pay dividends in the long run and will hopefully prevent any additional problems from cropping up.
Step Maybe – Removing the blockages
We’ll be honest, we are very reluctant to put this section in the article. Any physical removal of blockages should be done by a qualified vet. That said, we know there are many people out there who will attempt this themselves anyway, so we want to give a few guidelines.
First, NEVER force anything. If the hardened secretions won’t move relatively easily, don’t push the issue. Please, you could injure your bearded dragon and then you’re off to the vet anyway.
If the blockages appear minor or small in relative size to the pore openings, you may be able to remove the blockages yourself. Here’s how.
- Start with a long soak in warm water. Make sure the pores and the secretions have softened up noticeably.
- Try the toothbrush first. Many times that may dislodge the waxy plugs from the pores.
- If that doesn’t work, gently (GENTLY!!!!) squeeze around the pore to see if the blockage will move outward. Again, do not do this with any amount of force. If it won’t move with gentle pressure, stop immediately!
- If the hardened plug is poking out of the pore enough, you can gently (GENTLY!!!) pull on it with tweezers. Just like the squeezing approach, do not do this with any amount of force. If the plug slides out, great! If not, do not tug at it. Leave it be and try again tomorrow.
We cannot stress this enough. Do NOT try to force the blockages out. If they do not clear by the methods listed above, see your vet. Bite the bullet and pay an expert to take care of the issue. Once your beardie is healthy again, make sure you are taking regular precautions to prevent the same issue from happening in the future.
How to prevent femoral pore blockages in bearded dragons
The easy answer to this is to do the opposite of all the things we listed that cause them in the first place! But to recap, here’s a list of things that if done regularly should prevent the issue altogether!
- Regular warm baths 3-5 times per week. Every week.
- Hard, rough surfaces in their enclosure.
- A large enough enclosure to allow them to move around freely.
- Proper diet
- Proper supplementation
- Proper substrate
- Proper humidity (30-40%)
If you do all of these very easy things, you’ll be raising a happy and healthy bearded dragon who will most likely have no issues with their femoral pores in the first place!