Bearded dragons are easy-going reptiles that make for perfect beginner pets. They can grow in excess of 24 inches and can live more than 10 years with optimized care. But, sometimes, they can struggle with health issues requiring fast and precise intervention. One of the basic signs that something’s not right with your bearded dragon is its lack of appetite.
Why is your bearded dragon not eating, and what can you do about it? That’s exactly what we will discuss today.
9 Reasons Bearded Dragon Is Not Eating
Bearded dragons can refrain from eating for a variety of reasons. The following are 9 of the most popular to consider:
This is a problem that most reptile owners face when bringing their pet home for the first time. The bearded dragon isn’t used to its new habitat, so it will feel uncomfortable and unsafe for several days to a week. This causes the animal to spend more time in hiding and even avoid eating for a while.
This is normal during the accommodation period, so you should give your lizard the space it needs to adapt to its new environment. Creating a natural-looking layout will also help tremendously in this sense. Some branches, driftwood, rocks, and bark will provide the dragon with the climbing and hiding support it needs to regain its sense of security.
If your bearded dragon still doesn’t accept food within the following days, try to feed it by hand. You should first place the food next to its favorite dwelling area, and if that doesn’t work, hold it between your fingers and lead it to the dragon’s mouth. The reptile will eventually resume its normal eating habits once the accommodation period is gone.
Fortunately, bearded dragons don’t shed as often as other pet lizards like crested or leopard geckos. The latter usually shed once every 2-6 weeks, depending on their age. Bearded dragons shed once every 2 weeks as juveniles but then jump at once every 8 weeks as adults, past the 12-month mark.
Bearded dragons complete their muscle and bone growth by the time they reach 18 months of age. Past this point, bearded dragons only shed approximately 2 times per year. You can tell that the dragon is about to shed by its duller colors, hiding behavior, and lack of appetite. It’s normal for bearded dragons to refrain from eating for a couple of days before and during the shedding process.
If everything goes well, the dragon will return to its normal eating habits soon after.
Make sure you provide the lizard with the space it needs during this time. Don’t handle your dragon when shedding, and don’t intervene to speed up the process. The dragon will handle the shedding by itself, so long as it has the proper conditions. Temperature and humidity are critical during this time, and so are rugged surfaces around the enclosure so that your lizard can rub against them.
Don’t worry about your dragon starving or experiencing nutritional deficiencies despite not eating anything. It will eat its own skin to replenish its lost nutrients.
Bearded dragons require a specific temperature range and gradient, the same as all reptiles. The dragon’s enclosure needs to be divided into 3 areas in relation to the temperature profile, as such:
- Basking area – 104-107 F
- Normal area – 77-95 F
- Cold area – 72-77 F
This temperature gradient allows the dragon to migrate to different areas of the tank to regulate its body temperature accordingly. You shouldn’t allow temperatures to go above 107 F or below 72 F, or the dragon will experience health problems in the process. If the temperature is too high, your dragon can experience heat stroke and dehydrate at an accelerated rate. It will soon experience organ failure and death.
If the temperature is too low, the dragon will experience digestive problems because reptiles require higher temperatures to aid in digestion. Get a reliable thermometer and manage the dragon’s temperature properly.
Disease or Parasite
Bearded dragons are at risk of encountering a variety of diseases and parasites. Bacterial infections, flatworms, respiratory infections, digestive problems, injuries – all these will affect the dragon’s behavior and health accordingly. Some conditions are more aggressive and dangerous than others, but they can all turn deadly if help doesn’t arrive soon.
The first sign that there’s something wrong with your bearded dragon is the lack of appetite. Adult bearded dragons should eat at least once a day, while juveniles below the age of 18 months should eat at least 2-3 times per day. If your dragon doesn’t eat as it used to, assess its condition immediately.
The lack of appetite alone isn’t enough to diagnose its condition, but it’s a good start. You should also rely on other indicators such as visible injuries, discoloration, bacterial growth around the mouth or anywhere on the skin, bloating, deformed tail or spine, etc.
If you still can’t diagnose your dragon’s condition accurately, you’re better off speaking with a vet. The professional will also assist with treatment recommendations for fast and risk-free recovery.
Impaction is a notorious problem among captive-bred reptiles. The main trigger is the inadequate substrate containing rocks and pebbles that the lizard can ingest by mistake.
These can get stuck in the colon, clogging the digestive system and leading to severe constipation and intestinal blockage. The dragon won’t be able to poop anymore and will experience bloating, visible discomfort, lack of appetite, difficulty moving, etc.
Severe dehydration can also cause compaction due to the lack of water leading to the fecal matter drying out. Fortunately, the condition is fairly easy to detect and address in its initial phases. If your dragon appears bloated, doesn’t eat, and has a hard belly, increase environmental humidity, massage its belly gently, and place it in a sauna-like enclosure for 2-3 minutes at a time.
Contact your vet for immediate assistance if the lizard’s condition doesn’t improve within 24 hours. Some lizards even require surgery to eliminate the problem.
Brumation is the mild equivalent of hibernation. In short, the lizard will reduce its metabolic rates dramatically, entering a semi-conscious state. The dragon will spend more time resting, only move around to drink water, and remain in hiding for most of the process.
The problem is that you can’t really know whether your dragon will brumate or not and when. Some dragons brumate once a year, others brumate once every 2 years, others only brumate once in a lifetime, and others won’t brumate at all. The latter are very rare since most bearded dragons will brumate at least once.
The brumation process is the dragon’s way of protecting itself during the cold season. They will enter brumation when temperatures remain low for several days, signaling the dragon that the seasons have begin changing. In that situation, the dragon will drop its metabolic rates, its heart activity will slow down, and it will stop eating.
You should always monitor your bearded dragon to identify the first signs of brumation. In that case, you should keep the temperatures low and provide your lizard with water, proper hiding and resting places, and peace and quiet. The dragon may brumate for a period between 2 weeks and 3 months, depending on the species and the environmental conditions.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous animals but eat more fruits and veggies than other omnivorous lizards. Crested geckos, for instance, consume more insects than fruits and only eat veggies when nothing else is available. The diet of an adult bearded dragon consists of 80-90% fruits and veggies and 10-20% insects.
Captive-bred dragons require a balanced diet consisting of fruits, veggies, greens, insects, commercial food, and vitamin supplementation, specifically calcium and vitamin D3.
These are necessary to provide the reptile with all the necessary nutrients for a healthy and strong body. If your dragon isn’t eating, it either doesn’t like the food, or it’s experiencing nutrient deficiency due to the poor diet plan.
Calcium deficiency is the most popular diet-related problem since all reptiles are prone to it. To prevent that, gut load the insects and add calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation in your dragon’s diet. UVB lights are also necessary for proper D3 synthesis during the day.
If you have 2 or more bearded dragons in the same enclosure, you should expect them to undergo their typical mating season at some point. This usually takes place during summer and spring when temperatures are adequate for incubation. If your dragons aren’t eating, assess their behavior. You should be able to tell whether they’re mating quite easily.
The male will circle the female and bob its head up and down to make its intentions known. The male’s beard will also get darker during this time. The female will return the bobbing motion, and the 2 may go back and forth for a while until the female gives in.
Your dragons will refrain from eating during the mating phase, which can last for several days, depending on the case. Most dragons lose some weight in the process, which they will gain back once everything’s over.
This is a dangerous one because reptiles are particularly sensitive to dehydration. Most lizards only last approximately 24 hours without water and will experience severe health problems almost immediately. A dehydrated dragon may exhibit dried-out skin, sunken eyes, sticky tongue, low activity, lack of appetite, and even respiratory and skin infections.
Soon, the organs will begin to fail, which can send the dragon into a coma and death. Always keep your bearded dragon’s environmental humidity between 30-40% to prevent that. This is significantly lower when compared to other reptile pets like geckos that need humidity in excess of 60%.
To prevent dehydration, spray your dragon’s enclosure regularly and have a bowl of clean water available at all times. The dragon can drink and bathe whenever necessary to keep its hydration within the optimal parameters.
What to do When Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat?
If your bearded dragon isn’t eating for some reason, assess its condition immediately. You first want to look for signs of dehydration or any potential health issues that could jeopardize the reptile’s life. Once you’ve identified the problem, resort to the right approach or treatment to solve it.
Many issues are easily manageable when tackled in their initial phases. If the health issue is too advanced, contact your fed for advice.
Can You Force-Feed a Bearded Dragon?
Yes, you can, but whether you should do it depends on the circumstances. You don’t want to force-feed your dragon if the reason isn’t eating is compaction, constipation, general stress related to a new habitat, or shedding or mating. In other words, it’s normal for the bearded dragon not to eat, and some fasting can actually be beneficial, especially in cases of constipation.
If it does come to force-feeding, make sure you’re gentle about it. You should first hold the food next to your dragon’s mouth to see if it feeds on its own. If not, you can open its mouth gently and place the food item on its tongue. Most dragons will eat the food automatically out of pure instinct.
How Long Can Bearded Dragons Survive Without Food?
An adult and healthy bearded dragon can survive without food up to 1-3 months, depending on the case. However, this long timeframe is only possible when brumating. Even if not brumating, bearded dragons can survive without eating for up to 1 or 2 months, but only if they have some serious fat reserves.
Juvenile bearded dragons won’t come anywhere near that timespan. They most likely won’t survive more than 2 weeks without food due to their higher metabolic rates. Baby bearded dragons may only last for several days.
As a general rule, the bearded dragon’s resilience to fasting depends on its age and health state, among other factors. Plus, you should never test your dragon’s limits, even if you do have a healthy adult.
If you’re required to leave your home for a while and can’t feed your dragon in the meantime, consider having someone check on your pet lizard regularly. Even 2 meals per week can make a difference compared to complete fasting. Also, your bearded dragon should always have sufficient water. The reptile may survive without food for several days but cannot survive without water.
Will Bearded Dragon Starve to Death?
Yes, bearded dragons can starve to death, which can happen sooner or later, depending on the reptile’s age, size, fat deposits, health, and all of the other factors we’ve mentioned. So, you should always feed your bearded dragon properly to avoid that.
Plus, it’s not even starvation that you need to worry about, but nutrient deficiency. Bearded dragons can experience calcium deficiency when deprived of nutrients for prolonged periods which can become deadly in its own right.
Bearded dragons are astoundingly adaptable animals that can go without food for extended periods. However, it’s worth noting that wild bearded dragons are generally more adapted to nutrient deprivation than captive-bred ones. You shouldn’t test your dragon’s limits.
Provide your pet reptile with proper food and have someone feed it if you can’t do it yourself for whatever reason. Feeding your bearded dragon properly will prolong its lifespan and keep it healthy and strong for longer.