Has your Bearded Dragon lost its appetite? Has it stopped going for the crickets, turned up its nose at the mealworms, or had enough of the greens? While your initial response might be one of frustration, you may then wonder if you should be concerned. The short answer is “yes.”
A Bearded Dragon that isn’t eating is a cause for concern, as several underlying and often inconspicuous health issues can result in inappetence. Examples include stress, cohabitation, malnutrition, illness, and injury. However, other completely normal life events, such as shedding and brumation, can also result in a reduced appetite. Let’s discuss these in more detail.
The 7 Reasons Your Bearded Dragon Is Not Eating
Even if you do everything that you can to take the best care of your Bearded Dragon, there will be times when it becomes stressed. This is part of normal animal life, though some issues can be addressed to reduce stress for your lizard. Stress in Bearded Dragons has a long list of causes.
Relocation stress occurs after moving your Bearded Dragon from the store to its new home or after moving from one enclosure to another. Some Bearded Dragons will not eat while adjusting to their new surroundings. Additionally, stress caused by an inappropriate tank environment can cause loss of appetite. Examples include poor hygiene, temperatures that are too hot or cold, a tank that is too small, or the absence of a place to hide.
Thirdly, things going on outside of the tank can cause stress: loud noises and too much cuddle time or at the other end of the spectrum, boredom and under-stimulation. Lastly, while your lizard is getting to know you, even the action of your hand coming from above to place food in its tank can be seen as a threat from a predator, making your Bearded Dragon less likely to eat. In this case, perseverance and patience are essential.
Bearded Dragons shed as they outgrow their skin. This is a natural process that all Bearded Dragons should go through; initially, it will occur almost weekly, and as they get older, it should occur once or twice a year. The shed can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Among other signs, a Bearded Dragon that is getting ready to shed will probably seem a bit lethargic and show a reduced appetite.
If your Bearded Dragon is shedding, minimize your handling and interaction. Never pull on the skin or peel it off—if it isn’t off, it’s just not ready to come off. It also helps to provide a rough surface for your lizard to rub up against.
If you love your first Bearded Dragon enough to buy a second one, congratulations! Having said that, it’s best not to house two Bearded Dragons in the same enclosure. This is termed “cohabitation,” and it can cause many issues, one of which is reduced interest in food. Bearded Dragons are solitary in the wild, meaning that they have evolved to do things independently. They do not feel lonely or need companionship from another lizard. In fact, they can be territorial and display aggression toward fellow Bearded Dragons.
If two Bearded Dragons live together, they will almost always assume a hierarchy in which one is more dominant, and the lower-ranked lizard will probably not eat. If you have two Bearded Dragons and one is not eating, the first step is to get each dragon its own tank.
If malnutrition is the cause of your Bearded Dragon’s reduced appetite, it will probably be lethargic too. Malnutrition in Bearded Dragons can be caused by a vitamin deficiency or an inappropriate diet. Sometimes, an inappropriate diet will cause metabolic bone disease, in which the bones become soft as a result of insufficient calcium. This is also referred to as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism and is the equivalent of ricket disease in people.
If your lizard is not eating, be sure to assess its diet and address malnutrition. Consulting with an experienced reptile or exotics veterinarian will be helpful. When Bearded Dragons are young, they require a high proportion of crickets and worms and a small amount of greens. As they reach maturity, a larger proportion of greens and fewer insects are more appropriate. However, insects and worms should be gut-loaded with high-calcium foods, ensuring that your Bearded Dragon then gets the benefit of this calcium.
Also, not all vegetables are equal in the reptile world. Greens like bok choy, kale, and spinach are good sources of calcium for Bearded Dragons.
Brumation is a type of deep sleep, or “hibernation,” that Bearded Dragons and other reptiles enter most years. Brumation can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. During this time, your Bearded Dragon will reduce its metabolic rate and “shut off” its digestive processes. As a result, Bearded Dragons in brumation do not eat, but this is not cause for concern!
Burrowing and hiding behaviors can be signs that your reptile is soon to enter brumation. However, it can be difficult (especially for first-time lizard owners) to distinguish the signs of brumation from other signs of illness. Red flags for illness, as opposed to brumation, include weight loss, abnormal skin, incomplete shedding, significant weight loss, and sunken eyes.
If you notice any of these signs in addition to the loss of appetite, brumation is less likely, and you should contact a veterinarian.
A number of illnesses in Bearded Dragons will result in them not eating. Loss of appetite is a sign of many health problems and is not specific to one particular health problem. Metabolic bone disease can cause a reduction in appetite. Other common causes include infectious stomatitis (“mouth rot”), parasites, yellow fungus disease, respiratory infections, dystocia, and impaction (constipation).
So, if your Bearded Dragon has not been recently relocated, is not shedding, and is not entering brumation, loss of appetite could be a sign of illness, and prompt veterinary care should be sought.
Injury causes pain, and pain will result in your Bearded Dragon not eating. Bearded Dragons can accidentally injure themselves, as any other animal can, resulting in cuts, scratches, or bone injuries. More commonly, metabolic bone disease leads to the softening of the bones, which subsequently fracture easily. If your Bearded Dragon appears injured, do not hesitate to contact a veterinarian.
Bearded Dragons make great pets: They are social, intelligent, and relatively easy to care for. However, they are also sensitive creatures, meaning that change causes them stress and that they need time to get to know you.
Most Bearded Dragon owners will have experienced a period of time when their lizard stopped eating. While some causes of appetite loss are natural, others, such as malnutrition, illness, and injury, are more concerning. With experience and care, you’ll learn to differentiate normal from abnormal appetite loss.
If you’re still concerned about your Bearded Dragon not eating, we recommend arranging a consultation with a veterinarian. This is especially true if your baby bearded dragon is not eating.
Featured Image Credit: yophoto90, Shutterstock