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Why is my Bearded Dragon Not Eating?

by Apr 3, 2019Care, Food0 comments

One common sign of illness in your bearded dragon is if you find they are no longer eating or drinking regularly, however the good news is that there are some less worrying reasons as to why your bearded dragon might not be eating well, it’s not advised to jump to conclusions and arrive at the direst of circumstances right away.

Let’s take a logical look into some of these common reasons, but remember if you are in any doubt then please take your bearded dragon to a professional vet who can help with reptiles as soon as possible, it’s never worth the risk if your bearded dragon seems particularly unwell and it’s always recommended to seek the correct help to ensure your bearded dragon is healthy and happy.

Why is your bearded dragon not eating?  Here are some of the common reasons why your bearded dragon may not be eating properly, some of these are more serious than others, but I will go into more detail below.

  • Brumation
  • Shedding
  • Changing Enclosures
  • Incorrect Lighting & Heating Setup
  • Impaction
  • Infection

Our bearded dragons can be quite particular with the above aspects of their care, and some are much more serious than others, however there are some scenarios where a small tweak to their environment may make the world of difference.

If you have just purchased a baby bearded dragon then a lack of appetite can be quite normal, your bearded dragon may need a few days to adjust and you simply need to give him a little space and make sure he has food and water available.

Let’s take a further look into each of these potential reasons.

Brumation

Brumation is the term used to describe when your bearded dragon goes into a state which is similar to hibernation with mammals, it’s totally natural and absolutely nothing to worry about, you just need to be aware of it and understand what is happening and how to help and support your bearded dragon through this period.

In the wild, a bearded dragon will go into brumation instinctively, usually when temperatures are cooler or when there is a lack of food, however since in captivity they have a controlled environment which will provide for them all year round, then it’s important to realise that brumation can happen at any time, not just the winter months.

You may notice that your bearded dragon is just moving a lot slower, not acting his usual self and just seemingly being a lot lazier from day to day, you may also notice that he isn’t eating quite so much, or in some cases at all, either way it’s important to not force feed your bearded dragon, but instead provide him with what he needs, even if he refuses it.

Brumation is 100% natural and part of a bearded dragons normal life, usually a bearded dragon will only go into brumation when they are over 12 months of age, and this period can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

As pet owners, our first instinct is to assume the worst, and worry that our bearded dragon has impaction or infection, however, I would refrain from doing this, if you suspect your bearded dragon is going into brumation then it’s always advised to pop him to the vet for a quick routine check-up.

A professional vet will be able to check for anything else like infection or impaction which will put your mind at ease but will probably also confirm that your pet is indeed entering brumation.

Once you know your bearded dragon is actually in brumation, then you simply need to respect this process and let it play out, understand that you will be handling him much less, and he may seem a little more cranky towards you.

Once a bearded dragon is into a brumation period, they essentially just want to be left alone and preferably have a dark place for them to snooze all day and hide away from the heat and light.  You may notice them being on the cool side a lot more and seemingly spending much less time at the hotter end of the enclosure.

It’s also advised to give them a little less heat and light during this period, a typical 12 hour period of UVB and basking spot can be reduced to around 8 or 9 hours each day, generally, in this period they prefer to be slightly cooler.

Another tip is to keep them hydrated, once per week its nice to give them a little 15 to 20 minute soak in a warm bath, this will give the obvious benefit of giving them a nice warm relaxing environment, but also if they need to hydrate then they can easily do so during brumation, be very careful though and keep an eye on your bearded dragon when bathing him, bearded dragons can also fall asleep in the bath and drown just like humans, so never leave him alone in the bath during this period.

When a bearded dragon comes out of brumation, you may notice they show their beards off quite a bit and do some head bobbing as well as turning black and just generally being a teenager, again this is part of the process and is caused by elevated hormone levels, they usually come out of this period after a few weeks so you may want to handle them a touch less until they are fully back to themselves.

So to summarise, in general handle them just a little bit less than usual, give them the food and water they need but don’t force it on them, and give them a suitable place where they can hide from heat and light a little more than usual, and above all else just respect this as part of the process, understand what is happening and provide for them even if they don’t want it.

Shedding

Another completely natural process your bearded dragon will go through is something called “ecdysis” or more commonly known as “shedding”.

During this time you will notice your bearded dragon is eating a lot less and will have almost no appetite, again this is perfectly normal.

You may also notice that your bearded dragon is a bit more irritable, shedding is an incredibly frustrating process, so you may see them being a little more grumpy and a bit more resistant to being handled.

A baby bearded dragon from 0 to 6 months of age will shed their skin almost weekly since they are growing incredibly fast.  A juvenile bearded dragon will shed a little less frequently and shed every few weeks, however, once our bearded dragons become adults at around 18 months you can expect them to shed only a few times each year.

Typically, if your bearded dragon stops eating, this could be because he is about to shed, this is common and is nothing to worry about, in theory, a bearded dragon can survive without food for months but I would never encourage or try to test out this theory.

Another sign of this pre-shed stage is if your bearded dragon becomes much more lethargic and slow, you may also notice that their skin turns white in the areas that they are shedding, and they may even bulge out their eyes in an attempt to shed faster.

All these points above are signals that your bearded dragon is about to shed, so if he stops eating for a while and exhibits this behaviour then he may be about to go through this process.

You can also try to bathe your bearded dragon or mist him if he allows it then this will help loosen the skin and provide a mild form of relief, this will also speed up the shedding process if you were to do this a few times each week.

One final point about shedding, if your bearded dragon does have loose skin, never pick at it, as ugly as it looks just let the process happen naturally as picking at him could cause damage to important nerve endings in his skin and body.

Changing Enclosures

Bearded Dragons are extremely sensitive to change, if you are bringing a bearded dragon home for the first time then more often than not you will find your new pet will not eat for a few days.

Again, this is perfectly normal, bearded dragons become extremely stressed when being moved into a new home, and this is very often a cause for concern as they simply won’t eat.

The best course of action here is to just offer food daily as per usual, don’t try to pick up the bearded dragon, just let him adjust to his new home and provide some hiding places for him.

This one just requires a little time and patience and he will come back around to your way of thinking.

Lighting and Heating Setup

Not providing enough UVB lighting is another cause of a bearded dragon to lose his appetite.

Bearded Dragons need up to 12 hours per day of UVB lighting, and failure to provide this can have some pretty serious ramifications such as loss of appetite, metabolic bone disease and potentially some further health complications.

Make sure you have the correct lighting setup and replace bulbs regularly, checkout this article for further reading.

If your bearded dragon is not eating then it may be the case that the UVB lighting would need to be checked and possibly replaced.

As with lighting, heating is also incredibly important to keep your bearded dragon healthy, bearded dragons need to regulate their temperature using their climate as they are unable to do this alone, this is why a cool end of the enclosure is required as well as a warm end and a basking spot.

Bearded Dragons need the heat, light and varying temperatures to digest their food and use all the nutritional value in whatever they eat, without this they can develop a multitude of deficiencies.

So keep a close eye on your enclosure temperatures, and make sure you are providing a range of available heat for your bearded dragon, also make sure that your UVB light source is fully functional and optimal for your pet.

Impaction

Impaction is probably the most feared word on this list, and probably the first problem a new owner will assume is happening if their bearded dragons behaviour starts to change.  Impaction is a blockage in your bearded dragons gut, this is caused most commonly by eating loose substrate or any loose material inside your bearded dragons enclosure, in most cases impaction is fatal.

One of the first signs of impaction is when you notice big changes in their toilet behaviour, or if your bearded dragon no longer defecates regularly, however before we panic let’s look at impaction a little more.

The best way to prevent impaction is to not use a loose substrate that your bearded dragon can eat, they are fiercely hungry and will pretty much attempt to eat anything they can, including loose substrates.  This is particularly the case with a baby and juvenile bearded dragon which is why I never recommend a substrate like sand.

For more information on substrates for bearded dragons then be sure to check out this article where we investigate this topic in much more depth.

Another cause of impaction is by eating insects that are just too big for them, never feed them an insect that is bigger than the space between there eyes, if you spot an undigested insect in their poop then this is an early sign that they were unable to digest this, in this case just feed them much smaller insects.

If your bearded dragon has failed to defecate in the last 4 or 5 days, and at the same time isn’t eating, then I would suggest taking him to a professional vet immediately.

Infection

Infections can be another cause for a bearded dragon to lose his appetite, infection usually occurs in the form of parasites, these parasites essentially feed off of your bearded dragon and steal nutrients from the food your dragon is eating.

Usual signs that your bearded dragon might have some type of infection or parasites are.

  • Decreased Appetite
  • Rapid Weight Loss
  • Problematic Poop
  • Irritability
  • Lethargic

As with the advice on impaction, if you suspect your bearded dragon may not be eating because he has some form of infection then please get him to a professional vet who can deal with reptiles immediately.

Related Questions

How Long Can Bearded Dragons Survive Without Eating?

Adult bearded dragons can go a long time without food, in theory, this could be months, however, don’t encourage this, just know that they will not starve if they decide to not eat for a week or two.

If however, your bearded dragon does go for longer than 5 days without eating and is showing any of the signs mentioned previously in this article then please take him to a vet.

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