Atadenovirus (ADV)

Atadenovirus (ADV)

If you are new to owning a Bearded or Rankin’s Dragon, this is a disease of which you should be aware. Atadenovirus or Adenovirus (ADV) is a highly contagious virus that is circulating in the “dragon world.”

Terms to Know:

ADV: Adenovirus or Atadenovirus. The common names are “stargazing disease” or “wasting disease.” 

Clutch: Fertilized eggs laid by the same mother and father. Usually, the mother will lay about 20 eggs per clutch. 

Asymptomatic: No outward signs of symptoms. 

Critical Care: Reptile version of the supplement drink Ensure. Critical Care has everything a reptile needs to survive. 

Neurological Problems: Includes seizures, rolling, twitching and involuntary leg movements.

ADV is a virus that can be contracted by either direct or indirect exposure or if one of the parents of the clutch has ADV. Of the 20 eggs that the infected mother will lay, only a small percentage will actually hatch. These surviving hatchlings will have the virus. Of the ones who do hatch, only a small number will live past three months old. The hatchlings will either be carriers of the disease (meaning they are asymptomatic) or they will have symptoms from a very young age. The ones who are asymptomatic are more likely to make it to adulthood or even “old age” without ever having symptoms, although the symptoms may show up at any time without warning. A dragon can get infected with this virus through exposure at any age. 

Smaug, my personal dragon, is ADV positive. We are unsure at what age he contracted it, but he started showing symptoms not long after we adopted him at two to three months. 

What are the symptoms of this potentially deadly disease? 

Honestly, the common names are a few of the symptoms: “stargazing disease” or “wasting disease.” Stargazing is when a dragon seems to be looking up at a spot when there is nothing there. It appears that they are “staring off into space,” hence the name “stargazing.” The more intimidating common name is “wasting.” This refers to the symptom where the dragon is unable to gain or maintain a proper weight so he begins to waste away. Other symptoms include a weak immune system, lethargic demeanor, diarrhea and neurological problems. One way to help determine if the dragon has a weak immune system is if there are recurring health issues such as infections or parasites. 

Smaug's main symptom is a weak immune system. We discovered this when I fed him a small superworm his second week with us and after that he stopped eating completely. He started getting thinner, acting lethargic and having diarrhea. One morning, he was in his hide and he looked like he was about to pass away. I was on my way to my college classes, and my husband called to say he didn’t think Smaug would live through the day unless we did something. I drove home and took him to the vet immediately. The vet ran a fecal test, swabbed Smaug’s mouth for infections and took another mouth sample to be sent off to a lab to test for ADV. Smaug did not have parasites, but he did have a bacterial infection in his mouth. The doctor was also worried about how small he was. I left the vet with antibiotics, Critical Care, a tiny syringe, a small sickly dragon and the lingering thought of “What if he does have that ADV thing?” 

I had to force a tiny syringe in the mouth of my dragon that was .4oz (10 grams). I had to do that twice a day for 14 days. The vet visit 14 days after the initial one would ultimately change the way we viewed and cared for Smaug. Thankfully, the bacterial infection was gone, and Smaug had gained three grams! But after that good news came the bad news: Smaug had ADV. The internet told us that this ADV diagnosis meant he was going to die - possibly immediately or he would die a death that would take weeks and would be extremely painful for him and us. BUT, our vet had a different view. He said that the diagnosis did not mean a death sentence, but it did mean that Smaug would need special care. If we kept him alive and gaining weight over the next six months, then he would be “out of the woods.” 

Although they have not found a cure for ADV, it can be managed. Some dragons will need extra care and medical attention while others can live a fairly normal life. We are thankful that Smaug is currently living a normal life!


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