The longest time that bearded dragons can go without food is around 2 months. However, this isn’t indicative of the average timespan but the maximum one, which also includes special conditions such as:
- The reptile is a healthy adult with no health problems
- The reptile has considerable fat deposits
- The reptile has access to clean water
Even so, a 2-month fasting period isn’t exactly ideal for bearded dragons because it leaves them vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies, among other things.
Today, we will discuss the effects of fasting, how long lizards can go without food on average, and the typical signs of nutrition-related health issues to consider.
Effects of Fasting on Bearded Dragons
Fasting has multiple effects on bearded dragons, some good and some bad.
Let’s take them one by one:
- Weight loss – Some weight loss will occur, and the effect depends on the fasting period. The longer the timespan, the more drastic the weight loss. This can be good if the reptile is overweight and needs to shed some ounces but bad if the reptile doesn’t need the weight cut. Even worse if the lizard is sick and cannot endure the fasting period, to begin with.
- Reduced activity – The dragon will most certainly become lethargic if it doesn’t have sufficient food. This is because its brain enters an emergency state, forcing the lizard’s metabolism to slow down dramatically. This is to conserve energy and lower the animal’s need for sustenance. It’s a great biological adaptation, allowing lizards, in general, to thrive even in situations when resources are scarce or missing entirely.
- Reduced digestive function – The lizard’s digestive function can either slow down or shut down completely, depending on the duration of the fasting period. This can cause noticeable problems when the situation comes back to normal because it takes time for the digestive system to readjust. So, the lizard may eat normally again, but the digestive system won’t be able to keep up for a while. At this point, the dragon may experience digestive issues like constipation and impaction.
- Behavioral changes – Bearded dragons get crankier and more aggressive when forced to fast. This should be fairly relatable since this is exactly how humans act too.
- Hormonal changes – All bearded dragons undergo significant hormonal changes when lacking proper sustenance. Males who are forced to fast can exhibit low testosterone, rendering them unable to mate. Fasting-related hormonal changes can also impact the lizard’s coloration, which, again, impacts their mating capabilities.
- Allows brumation to set in – Bearded dragons brumate, which is a state similar to hibernation, with the exception that the animal doesn’t render itself unconscious. When brumating, lizards no longer consume any food, which is when fasting is actually beneficial. That’s because the reptile’s digestive system and metabolic rates drop drastically when brumating, making eating obsolete. Instead, the lizard will rely on its fat reserves to survive during the cold season. This wouldn’t be enough in conditions of normal activity, but it’s more than enough in a brumating state when metabolic rates are extremely low.
So, fasting can be both beneficial and damaging in bearded dragons. It’s the reason for fasting, its duration, and the lizard’s overall health status that make the difference.
Factors Affecting Bearded Dragon Survival
Not all bearded dragons can undergo fasting with the same success margin. Some cannot undergo fasting at all. So, what’s the difference, and how can you tell?
Overall, there are several factors that define whether your bearded dragon can undergo fasting safely and successfully:
- Age – The younger the dragon is, the less likely it is that it can undergo any fasting session. That’s because these lizards have high metabolic rates and need all the sustenance they can get. Baby lizards eat 1-3 times per day, while juveniles eat once or twice per day. At this rate, even a day can make a difference and impact your lizard negatively, never mind several days or weeks. Adult lizards can fast for several weeks, though, depending on their age, while older reptiles can go for up to 2 months. Naturally, age isn’t the only deciding factor.
- Duration of fast – Different lizards can fast for different amounts of time. Even the healthiest and most robust reptile cannot fast beyond a certain point. The ability of each lizard to undergo fasting and the timespan they can withstand depends on a variety of markers, including age, health, etc.
- Overall health – Healthy lizards are better equipped to undergo fasting than sick ones. Even lizards with weak immune systems are more likely to deal with fasting-related problems, one of them being the increased risk of infection. That’s because the lack of sustenance will impact the reptile’s immune system even more severely.
- Environmental factors – Unstable environmental parameters like temperature or humidity or poor oxygenation and ventilation can make fasting more taxing than it should be. The fasting process itself already places a lot of stress on the lizard’s immune system. Throwing poor environmental conditions into the mix is simply pouring fuel over the fire.
- Lack of water – When fasting, lizards should still have access to sufficient clean and fresh water. Dehydration is a far greater risk than fasting and is capable of killing the lizard in a matter of hours. Bearded dragons cannot last more than 72 hours without water, but damaging and, sometimes, irreversible side effects occur well before that.
- Stress – A stressed lizard should never fast because it is more likely to experience drastic side effects during the process. Stress is a common killer in the reptile world, with affected individuals displaying poor mental states, weak immune systems, and increased vulnerability to diseases and parasites. The fasting state will weaken the lizard’s body even more, exacerbating any health issues that the lizard may be dealing with and creating new ones as well.
While the whole fasting thing may seem black and white, it is apparent now (I hope at least) that grey is actually the predominant color.
Normal Feeding Schedule for Bearded Dragons
Your dragon’s feeding schedule should be based on the species and the individual at the same time.
Allow me to explain. How, when, and what your bearded dragon should eat depends on the species’ preferences and your dragon’s unique tastes.
Some bearded dragons have larger appetites than others, all things being equal in terms of size, age, and the type of food available.
So, when creating your bearded dragon’s eating schedule, consider the following:
- Age – Younger beardies eat more food more often than adults. Feed your hatchlings up to 3 times per day, juveniles once or twice per day, and adults once every 2-3 days. These are general recommendations that are subject to change. Some adults may eat daily, while some juveniles may skip meals occasionally. Not all bearded dragons are identical.
- Meal size – Some dragons tend to eat more in one sitting than others. These dragons may need fewer meals as a result because they require extra time to digest the food properly.
- Access to water – The bearded dragon may eat less food less frequently if it lacks sufficient water.
- Health status – Always consider your lizard’s health status when planning its feeding schedule. If your lizard is sick, you may need to adjust the meal plan accordingly.
As a general recommendation, you should always begin with the standard feeding schedule and adjust it according to your lizard’s needs and unique preferences.
Normal Feeding Schedule for Bearded Dragons
The feeding schedule for bearded dragons should be divided primarily based on age, as such:
- Baby dragons – 2-3 feedings per day, each consisting of fitting portions
- Juvenile dragons – 1-2 feedings per day
- Adult dragons – 1 feeding per day / 1 feeding every other day
- Old dragons – 1 feeding every 2-3 days
It’s important to note that, while these are standard recommendations, based on the lizard’s metabolic changes over time, they are not set in stone.
Some dragons may diverge from the pattern and require more/fewer meals, depending on their unique physiological profile.
So, it’s better to have these standard requirements written down, but you should always adjust them to your unique situation.
Signs of Starving Bearded Dragon
Your bearded dragon should never reach the point where it shows signs of starvation.
Fortunately, such a state comes with several markers to help you detect it before it reaches the point of no return.
- Accelerated weight loss – Focus on the tail and the thorax. If the tail appears skinny and thin and you can distinguish the reptile’s ribs through the skin, you’re dealing with a starving lizard. The situation is even more severe if these changes occur over a short period, indicating accelerated weight loss.
- Lethargy and low activity – The lizard may no longer be able to remain physically active and in shape. So, it will become lethargic due to its brain attempting to save resources and energy.
- Sunken eyes – Bearded dragons have healthy, round, and slightly protruding eyes. The sunken-eye effect is due to the animal losing fat and adipose tissue around the eye, which is the result of starvation and dehydration.
- Weakness – You can tell that your lizard isn’t doing so well if it shows signs of physical weakness. This is visible in the fact that the reptile isn’t able to maintain its balance and exhibits poor body control when climbing or simply walking. The generalized weakness and poor imbalance are usually signs of severe starvation and nutritional imbalances.
- Abnormal behavior – The dragon may appear irritable, aggressive, and in a poor mental state. It may also attempt to bite, scratch constantly, and hide more often than usual.
- Metabolic Bone Disease – Prolonged or repeated starvation will eventually lead to nutritional deficiencies, in which case MBD is but assured. You can tell that your lizard is dealing with MBD if it exhibits inflamed joints, a deformed spine, tail, or limbs, and an increased risk of fracture, among other symptoms.
Ideally, your bearded dragon should never exhibit such symptoms, to begin with, so always have a good and optimized meal plan in place.
Health Problems Related to Poor Nutrition
Bearded dragons can experience a variety of health issues due to poor nutrition.
- Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) – We’re putting this one at the top of the list because it is the most impactful. MBD is the result of severe calcium deficiency, which has many underlying triggers. A poor diet is one, but other factors like lack of UVB lighting and vitamin D3 deficiency also play a critical role here. Furthermore, some lizards are simply genetically prone to weak bone density, in which case they are even more predisposed to MBD.
- Obesity – This condition finds itself on the opposite side of the spectrum. This time, the lizard is dealing with excess nutrients, causing excessive weight gain and obesity. Obesity is just as dangerous as nutrient deprivation for reptiles, but for different reasons. This condition is known to lead to liver disease, diabetes, and joint problems due to the extra body weight.
- Vitamin A deficiency – Vitamin A is responsible for keeping the animal’s skin, eyes, organs, and skeletal system healthy. Vitamin A deficiency will produce a variety of health issues, including some of respiratory nature.
- Weak immune system – Starving beardies have a weaker immune system, which makes them prone to parasites and infections.
- Gastrointestinal problems – These have a lot to do with the type of food your beardie is getting. Too much or too little fiber can cause constipation or diarrhea. Diarrhea is also the result of too much fructose, while excess protein leads to constipation.
Add to this the stress that the lizard will experience as a result of starvation, which will impact the animal’s immune system even more, and the conclusion is grim.
Reasons Bearded Dragon Is Not Eating
If your beardie has suddenly stopped eating, consider the following explanations:
- Illness – While this may not be the most common reason, it’s definitely the one you should be investigating first. Any health issue causing your beardie stress and anxiety will result in poor or lack of appetite. Get to work and diagnose your dragon’s condition immediately to prevent the issue from aggravating.
- Mouth issues – Bearded dragons can experience mouth rot, which is a bacterial infection that can aggravate fast. The discomfort associated with the condition may prevent the dragon from eating properly. Dental issues are also of concern, as well as mouth injuries due to fighting other lizards or attempting to chew the wrong stuff.
- Improper parameters – If temperature or humidity is either too high or too low, the lizard will become stressed out and will refuse to eat. It will also exhibit several other symptoms, depending on the situation, so you should be able to diagnose the problem fairly easily.
- Stress – We’ve already discussed the impact of stress on bearded dragons and lizards in general. Your job is to identify the triggers and eliminate them before the situation aggravates any further.
- Impaction – Impaction can result from several issues, including ingesting large food pieces, ingesting things not meant for eating, ingesting sand, lacking sufficient water, etc. The result is always the same: solid matter congesting the intestine and causing intestinal blockage. Impaction often requires the assistance of a vet to correct and prevent complications along the way.
- Improper food – Maybe things are as simple as your bearded dragon not liking the food. Maybe it’s not something that the lizard would normally eat, or maybe the food is spoiled. Maybe the lizard simply doesn’t like the taste. This is also something you might want to dig into.
Tips on Feeding Bearded Dragon When Going on Vacation
If you cannot postpone your vacation and taking your dragon with you is not an option, you need an alternative approach.
You can’t just leave your reptile behind without any food or water until you get back, even if it’s for like 1-2 days. You never know what may happen in the meantime or how you may be forced to extend your vacation, whether you want to or not.
So, you must have a backup plan, just in case. Here are some recommendations on how to keep your beardie well-nourished in your absence:
- Plan ahead – Know when your vacation will start and plan everything ahead of time. Consider the right person to care for the lizard while you’re gone and write a detailed list with daily feeding and maintenance tips.
- Create premeasured food portions – Portion your lizard’s food properly and categorize it into separate meals and days. This provides the temporary caretaker the clarity, resources, and structure it needs to care for your beardie properly.
- Automatic feeders – I wouldn’t recommend automatic feeders for keeping your reptile well-nourished while you’re gone. Especially if you already have someone on the job. However, an automatic feeder may be necessary if the reptile sitter doesn’t have a loose schedule to juggle with.
- Hire someone – If you simply cannot get a family member or a friend to look after your pet while you’re gone, just get a professional instead. Make sure that the person can be trusted and check their qualifications and experience before hiring. Also, maybe someone in your family can spare a couple of minutes to check on the situation briefly as a plus of safety.
Bearded dragons are fairly resilient and adaptable reptiles that can go without food for weeks or months in some cases. However, as we’ve seen, this isn’t exactly ideal for them outside the brumation phase.
There may be situations when you want your lizard to starve (brumation, constipation, impaction, other digestive issues), but those are exceptions.
The rule is that bearded dragons require a stable, varied, and nutritious diet at regular intervals to remain healthy and happy over the years to come.