Bearded dragons are much-beloved reptile pets thanks to their docile behavior, exotic presence, and general ease of care. But there are some significant differences between bearded dragons and other captive-bred lizards, one of them being the diet.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous, which most lizards are; nothing to see here. It’s the feeding frequency that diverges from the norm. Unlike other lizard species like crested geckos, for instance, bearded dragons eat daily. Juvenile dragons even eat 2-3 times per day.
This is primarily due to the dragon’s increased growth rate and overall size, as these reptiles can even reach 20 inches. This often leads to more inexperienced keepers overfeeding their dragons, which is when the problems begin. So, let’s look into that.
Can a Bearded Dragon Be Fat?
Yes, they can. Any animal can become fat in specific circumstances. It’s difficult to encounter a fat or overweight bearded dragon in the wild, though, because nature won’t allow it. Wild dragons need to work for their meals and they don’t have the abundance that captive-bred specimens enjoy.
A well-fed bearded dragon will gain weight fast, primarily due to its insatiable appetite and low activity. Bearded dragons are ambush predators that wait for their meals to wander in their vicinity. If the food keeps coming to them, they don’t see any reason to work out or change their dwelling spot.
While your intentions may be in good nature, the outcome may not. So, let’s discuss the risks associated with weight gain in bearded dragons and how you can reverse the issues.
Average Weight of Adult Bearded Dragon
An adult bearded dragon can reach 0.5 to 1.2 pounds at a size of 20 inches. This is a sizeable lizard that often requires a lot of food. The bearded dragon also grows extremely fast. The juvenile will reach close to a pound in weight by the one-year mark.
This means that you need to feed the lizard carefully, as these markers make it prone to becoming overweight. And the bearded dragon market exemplifies this point fairly well. There are far more overweight than underweight captive-bred dragons available today.
Signs of Overweighted Bearded Dragon
While this is a reptile we’re talking about, the signs of being overweight are, more or less, universal. Here are several markers to consider:
- Visible fat deposits – Check the dragon’s belly first and foremost. The lizard has visible fat deposits on the belly, causing the stomach to appear wide and plump. The dragon will drag it on the ground when moving, which is unnatural for this species. A slim and in-shape dragon should be able to lift its belly off the ground when walking. You should also look for fat pads behind the legs, neck, and around the head. These are also clear indicators that the beardie is overweight.
- Difficulty moving – Bearded dragons aren’t exactly the most active animals, but they should be able to move with agility when necessary. If your dragon appears sluggish and moves around with difficulties, dragging its belly on the floor, there’s too much weight going on.
- A fat tail – Bearded dragons store fat in specific areas around the body, including the tail base. The heavier the dragon gets, the thicker the tail base becomes, informing you that there’s a weight-related issue that needs addressing.
The double chin is another relevant sign that many people know all about. This being said, make sure you consider all of these points when diagnosing your bearded dragon. Many lizards only appear fat due to constipation, pregnancy, or a large and fulfilling meal that inflates their bellies past the normal limit. You can eliminate these possibilities by properly assessing your dragon’s condition and exerting patience.
Problems Caused by Overweight
Being overweight is never good, no matter the species you belong to. Bearded dragons also experience health problems when overweight which include:
- Skeletal problems – The extra weight will eventually affect the dragon’s bones and joints. That’s because the lizard has no option but to drag its massive body with it. It’s not uncommon for bearded dragons to experience joint-related problems with time due to the accumulating weight. These problems can persist long after the weight is gone and sometimes become permanent.
- Fatty liver disease – In laymen’s terms, the lizard’s liver accumulates unnecessary fat, causing fatty liver disease, which is deadly. The treatment is not easy, and other health problems may arise along the way.
- Insufficient oxygenation – Your lizard will struggle for air with each move, further incentivizing it not to move as much. This will exacerbate the problem, causing an even more accelerated weight gain.
- Dystocia – Dystocia translates to difficulties laying eggs. In short, the eggs get stuck inside the body, rendering the female unable to complete the reproductive process. Excessive weight gain is one of the primary causes of dystocia, both in bearded dragons and other reptiles.
As you can tell, there are virtually no benefits to excessive weight gain but plenty of downsides. With this obvious fact out of the way, let’s look into the best ways to reduce your beard dragon’s weight problems.
Weight Loss Tips for Bearded Dragons
Reduce the Amount of Food
This seems like an obvious one because it is. It is also the first line of attack. There’s no mistake about it: if your bearded dragon has weight problems, it’s clearly eating too much. So, reduce the dragon’s calorie intake as the first step and go from there.
To achieve that, you should first assess your dragon’s nutritional needs. You don’t want to cut the reptile’s nutrient intake too severely, as this can swing the problem in the other extreme; your dragon can become underweight and experience nutrient deficiencies.
As a general rule, feed your bearded dragon once per day, provide it with a varied diet, and only feed it what it can eat with relative excitement.
If the dragon appears to eat slower and keeps dragging on, remove the food and end the meal time. If the dragon doesn’t appear to lose weight fast enough or not at all, reduce the feeding frequency.
Most dragons do just fine with one meal per day, but this isn’t always the case. Some dragons simply have a slower metabolism, so they could use less frequent meals. Feed your dragon once every 2 days and see how that goes.
Change the Diet
Most reptile keepers feed their pets gut-loaded feeder insects to ensure proper nutrient intake and high-protein meals. I understand the excitement of seeing your dragon hunt and consume live insects, but maybe that’s exactly the problem. Alternate insects with veggies and greens.
These types of foods are lower in calories, higher in fiber, and will make your dragon feel fuller. Veggies like zucchini, carrots, squash, and romaine lettuce are good options in this sense. As a general rule, your bearded dragon should eat 30% animal protein and 70% veggies which doesn’t sound as exciting, but it’s clearly healthier for the lizard.
This is another easy hack since reptiles undergo brumation whenever environmental temperature drops low enough. The brumation phenomenon is similar to that of hibernation, except the lizard is still semi-active during this time.
The difference is that depending on the brumation state itself, the lizard may eat less or not at all, sleep considerably more than before, move slower, and spend more time in hiding.
Most lizards enter brumation during the cold season, which allows them to survive the uncomfortable period. If your bearded dragon is overweight, you may consider brumation as a valid solution.
To force your dragon into a brumation state, turn off the UV light and lower the environmental temperature gradually to 68-67 F during daytime and 60 F during nighttime. Don’t drop the temperature suddenly, or your dragon may experience stress and temperature shock. Aim for a daily decrease of one-two degrees at a time.
Just make sure that your dragon is at least one-year-old before even considering brumation as a good option. Juvenile dragons have higher metabolic rates, so they can’t withstand brumation at that early age.
Construct a natural-looking environment that would incentivize the reptile to explore and move around it some more. You need to keep in mind that bearded dragons are naturally lazy animals, as is the case with most ambush predators. So, it won’t exert any unnecessary movement if not challenged in some way.
You can achieve that by adding branches and various climbing structures that would both intrigue and force the lizard to put in effort to traverse them. This will keep it constantly on its toes, sort of speak, forcing it to change its dwelling spot more frequently.
Another good way of forcing your dragon to exercise more often is by feeding it live insects. Allow the reptile to work for its food the same way it would in the wild. This not only keeps the lizard in good physical condition but will improve its spirit along the way too.
Bearded dragons need to hunt to feel happy and fulfilled, so you can use this to help them remain in shape over the years.
Fattest Bearded Dragon in the World
There are no clear winners in this sense, but some reports suggest that the heaviest bearded dragon ever recorded weighed in excess of 12 pounds. This is a morbidly obese reptile with more problems than it can handle.
In reality, bearded dragons are prone to obesity and overweight-related issues due to their lifestyle and hunting behavior. The dangers are even higher when placing the solitary and lazy animal in a closed ecosystem with more food than its species should eat daily.
Fortunately, you can control your lizard’s weight, and you should, no matter how much you like to see it eat.