Is your bearded dragon not eating? Many factors can contribute to a change in eating habits.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What can you do if your beardie is not eating?
- Why do they stop eating (top reasons)?
- What are their dietary requirements?
- Should you go to the Vet?
Bearded dragons have a slow metabolism that may be affected by a change in their environment. A loss of appetite can be caused by different factors that can eventually affect your beardie’s health. The guide below lists some of these factors to help you figure out why your bearded dragon may not be eating and gives some pointers on what to do about it.
When it comes down to it, there are a few things you can do when your bearded dragon is not eating: check to see if it’s something that you can act on (e.g. something made it uncomfortable) or take it to the vet. The best thing to start with is to observe and look for possible reasons why your beardie may not be eating but when in doubt, always consult your vet. Strike a balance between checking every possible cause before worrying too much and knowing when to bring it to the vet since it’s also important to catch any illness or injury early before it worsens.
11 Reasons Why Your Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat
A loss of appetite is a common response in lizards whose metabolisms are also affected by their environment. Most reasons are minor, like a change in temperature in its habitat or discomfort during shedding which will be relatively easy to address or wait out.
The list below gives you the most common factors experienced by many bearded dragon owners that affect their pet’s appetite. However, this is not an exhaustive list and it’s always best to consult your vet when in doubt when it comes to your beardie’s health.
1. Emotional Distress
Bearded dragons can express their emotional distress by not eating. Think back if you’ve recently done something that may have stressed out your beardie, like a small change in its diet. Sometimes, if you stop feeding it a specific vegetable, it’ll notice and become distressed.
Minor changes in its enclosure like moving certain things around or a small change in temperature and lighting can also contribute to a suppressed appetite. Be sure to check the efficiency of your lamp regularly because temperature and lighting are essential to your beardie’s health.
Big changes like relocating your tank or even giving it a thorough cleaning could also stress your bearded dragon out and cause a loss of appetite. If you have more than one dragon in a tank, check if the other one is being more dominant and is starting to bully the other especially if your male may be in heat and starts to get aggressive with your female. Often, it’s better to house bearded dragons separately as they tend to prefer isolation.
Minor changes will eventually be accepted by your beardie but if it continues to reject food then your new system may not be working or it may be pointing to a different cause.
Always introduce changes slowly and steadily over time.
2. Improper Lighting or Temperature
Bearded dragons are ectotherms (cold-blooded) that need external temperature to regulate their own. Low temperatures and dark environments often signal a bearded dragon to sleep too much causing it to lose its appetite with the opposite being true for lighter and warmer environments. UVB light affects its appetite and they need heat to aid in proper digestion. Poor lighting can also lead to nutritional deficiencies (such as calcium) that can cause metabolic bone disease while low temperatures and high humidity can lead to a respiratory infection.
Always check the heating and lighting in your enclosure. UVA/UVB bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months. UV light testers are also available to check your lamp’s efficiency.
Check your thermometer’s accuracy as well. The temperature of the basking spot should be between 100-110 °F for babies and 96-100 °F for juveniles and adults. The cooler part of the tank should be 80-90 °F for babies and 75-80 °F for juveniles and adults. At night, the tank should be 70-75°F.
Brumation is the equivalent of hibernation in lizards. They don’t completely hide out and sleep but their metabolism will slow down causing them to eat less. During this time, they will still need to hydrate so make sure your bearded dragon always has clean water. Symptoms that your beardie is getting ready for brumation include: lurking or hiding more often, and eating less. This can also be signalled by the temperature in your area getting colder.
This is a normal occurrence and can happen anytime throughout the year. Just make sure your tank’s temperature is within the recommended levels. If your bearded dragon just finished brumation then it may also take it a while to go back to its regular eating habits.
4. Uncomfortable Impaction
Impaction in bearded dragons is similar to constipation in humans so they will not be interested in eating during this time. Impaction happens when there is a build up of undigested material in its intestines or gut. This is caused by an excess of a particular food item in its diet like too many live insects or a diet with a poor ratio of insects and vegetables. Sometimes, impaction may be caused by accidental consumption of substrate that your beardie cannot digest.
Observe closely and take your bearded dragon to the vet if it doesn’t improve as impactions can be quite uncomfortable. If it’s a substrate impaction then it’s best to switch to shelf liners, newspapers, or a reptile carpet to avoid this.
5. An Itchy Dragon
Shedding season can cause itching to your dragon’s skin, giving it discomfort and making it less interested in food. If your bearded dragon’s scales appear pale, dull, or patchy or if its tail starts to turn grey at the tip then it is starting to shed. It’s important to keep your dragon well hydrated at all times through clean drinking water, proper humidity levels, and regular misting to aid in shedding and make it a bit more comfortable during this time.
Never attempt to help your Beardie shed as this can hurt them. Shedding is a natural process; give them time to shed on their own.
Bearded dragons can get parasites and other bacteria from improperly sourced insects used as live feed. Parasites can cause your beardie to lose its appetite or sometimes gain weight as they compensate for the bugs that are taking up nutrients in their digestive system. Insects and other critters from the wild can have parasites, toxins, and other unknown harmful substances so it’s better to get your live feed from reputable breeders.
8. Infection (Mouth Rot)
Lizards are prone to an infection called mouth rot which can be painful and lead to a loss of appetite. If you notice swelling around the head, pus, loose teeth, increased saliva production, or bleeding then this could indicate that your bearded dragon has mouth rot. It may sound severe but it is treatable with antibiotics that your vet can prescribe. Sometimes you may observe your beardie chasing or trying to “hunt” its food but not actually bite it which could indicate that its mouth is painful.
If you’ve ruled out environmental factors and other obvious health concerns then your bearded dragon may be suffering from an illness that needs to be checked by a specialist vet. If you can, collect some of its droppings with a clean plastic spoon and put it in a clean container. Information from its droppings may be useful for your vet to diagnose your bearded dragon’s illness.
Another cause of poor appetite in bearded dragons is an injury (such as broken bones or a sprain) that may result from mishandling or a fight/being bullied. Pay special attention when your beardie is younger as they have weaker bones. If you suspect an injury, go to the vet immediately.
11. End of Growth Spurts/Age
The end of the rapid growth stage of a bearded dragon can also lead to a loss of appetite. During the hatchling and juvenile stages of a bearded dragon they will need to consume a lot of insects to sustain their growth and eat at least twice a day. As they mature, they will only need this for sustenance, so you may notice a decrease in appetite. You will also need to change their diet at this point to help with their digestion. Mature bearded dragons are fine eating once a day or every other day as their metabolism slows further.
What Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons are omnivores so they eat both meat (insects) and plant matter (vegetables). As with all lizards, a bearded dragon’s diet should closely resemble what they eat in the wild. Take note that bearded dragons need different ratios of live food/insects and vegetables with age. As hatchlings and juveniles, they’ll need more protein from insects (80% insects, 20% greens) and as adults they’ll need more greens (20% insects, 80% greens). Consider giving supplements (calcium, vitamin D3, and multivitamins) as well which can be dusted or gut loaded into insects before feeding to prevent vitamin deficiency.
Beardies can eat live insects such as Dubia roaches, crickets, and worms such as mealworms (as an occasional treat as these are high in fat) and eat most vegetables such as mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, kale, and carrots. Avoid glowing insects (fireflies), beets, avocado, spinach, and rhubarb. Cut their food into bite-sized pieces for better digestion and make sure to source your live insects from reputable stores/breeders to avoid parasites.
How Long Can A Bearded Dragon Live Without Food?
Healthy adult bearded dragons with normal levels of fat storage can go without food for up to two months! However, it is not ideal nor is it encouraged as it can lead to malnutrition and other illnesses. Beardies who are brumating will often go for weeks without eating but will still need water on a regular basis.
Younger bearded dragons shouldn’t be without food for long periods of time since they need to take in a lot of protein and nutrients for their growth. If your young beardie isn’t eating, you should probably take it to the vet.
When Should You Go To The Vet?
Your bearded dragon’s health should always be top priority, so when in doubt, visit your vet. Most health problems will be easier to treat if caught early. You can also do a thorough check first using the list above and monitor your dragon closely so you can start to rule out other factors that may be causing it to lose its appetite.
If you see visible signs of distress or injury such as swelling, pus, or paleness, it’s not brumation time, or your dragon’s enclosure is in tip top shape then you probably need to take your beardie to the vet for a check up.
Common treatments that your vet may prescribe include fluids, electrolytes, a water bath, assisted feeding, and nutritional or environmental counseling.
If your bearded dragon is not eating, do not attempt to force feed it unless you have been instructed by your vet and you know how to properly do it since this can be dangerous both for you and your beardie.
Go here to find your closest exotic pet veterinarian.
There can be a number of reasons why your bearded dragon is not eating, most of which is minor and can be easily addressed. As long as this behavior does not occur frequently or for long periods of time (more than a week) then your bearded dragon should be fine.
Just look out for the factors listed above and monitor your bearded dragon closely, especially if it shows signs of malnutrition or starts to lose too much weight. It can very well be just in a mood or caused by minor stressors such as shedding. However, it’s also best to catch illnesses early so don’t play it too safe. If in doubt, always consult your vet.
A list of common diseases affecting bearded dragons:
Bearded Dragons – Diseases
A quick guide on feeding your bearded dragon:
Bearded Dragons – Feeding
Technical tips on UVB lighting and how it affects your bearded dragon:
What should you do if your bearded dragon is not eating?
Explaining common myths and facts about bearded dragon care:
Myths and Facts about Bearded Dragon Care
A full guide to bearded dragons from taxonomy, history, behavior, breeding, and many more:
Husbandry Manual For Bearded Dragons. Reptilia: Agamidae
Quick guide to the essential needs of a bearded dragon:
Bearded Dragon Husbandry and Preventative Healthcare