Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are among the most popular of all reptile pets and a great choice for both new and experienced lizard enthusiasts. But apparently-healthy specimens sometimes refuse to feed, or lose weight despite feeding, and there is still much confusion as to why this occurs. My work with Bearded Dragons and hundreds of other lizards in zoos and at home has (I hope!) provided me with some useful insights into this problem. When presented with a non-feeding Bearded Dragon, we must check our husbandry protocol (UVB, temperature, etc.) and investigate the possibility of a disease or injury. Other potential problems, such as the effects of circadian rhythms (“internal clocks”), may be less obvious, yet very important.
Is My Lizard Hibernating?
Hibernation (or brumation) is not the neat, tidy process I learned about as a child – there are varying degrees of dormancy. Depending upon where they live within the natural range, wild Bearded Dragons may experience severe winters, and will become dormant for several months each year. However, those in milder regions may remain active (please see the article linked below to read more about their natural history).
Pets sometimes cease feeding in the fall, despite being provided with 12-14 hours of daylight and high temperatures. Although all Bearded Dragons in the US pet trade are several generations removed from the wild, the tendency to hibernate may persist. “Internal clocks”, or circadian rhythms, can cause pets to become lethargic and refuse food during the winter. To confuse matters further, some reptiles enter dormancy when winter arrives in their native habitats…even if it happens to be summertime in their present home! I’ve seen this among captive Indian Gharials (fish-eating crocodiles) and other reptiles.
The Bearded Dragon Habitat
Bearded Dragons vary in their response to crowding. Moving your pet to a larger terrarium may help, and this will also make it easier for you to establish a thermal gradient. Thermal gradients, which allow reptiles to move from hot to cool areas, are critical to good health. A 30 gallon long-style aquarium is the minimum size that should be considered for an adult…a 55 or larger is preferable.
Inappropriate temperatures will cause your lizard to slow down its feeding, and will impair digestion. An incandescent spotlight bulb should be used to create a basking site of 100-110 F. The rest of the terrarium should be kept at a temperature range of 72-85 F.
Like all desert-dwelling diurnal lizards, Bearded Dragons require high UVB levels. If a florescent bulb is used (Zoo Med’s models are excellent), be sure that your pet can bask within the distance recommended by the manufacturer. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well.
Wild Bearded Dragons feed upon a huge array of plants, invertebrates, and the occasional small lizard, snake or rodent. A diet comprised only of crickets, mealworms and a simple salad will not support good health long term. Offering different types of insects can also incite new interest in feeding. We see this most commonly in chameleons, but the enthusiasm your Bearded Dragons will show for novel foods will leave you with no doubt as to their value.
Please see the articles linked below to read more about adding silkworms, house flies, sow bugs, wild-caught insects and other important foods to your pet’s diet. Studies have shown that some lizards will alter their diet in accordance with changing nutritional needs…your pet’s poor appetite may indicate that more variety is needed.
While female Bearded Dragons usually co-exist, males are intolerant of other males and cannot be kept together. If you keep your lizards in a group, make certain that each is able to bask and to obtain enough to eat. Dominant animals can frighten others even without direct aggression…merely seeing a “bully” in another terrarium may be enough to inhibit an animal from feeding. Appetite-suppressing aggression is also common among young lizards that are being raised in groups.
Locating the terrarium in a noisy part of the house, or where there are vibrations from machinery, may also depress appetites and contribute to other health concerns.
Disease, Impactions and other Health Issues
An impaction from substrate (swallowed with meals) is one of the more common reasons that Bearded Dragons cease feeding. While many have been successfully kept on sand, others seem to have problems almost immediately. The exact type of substrate used, composition of the diet, calcium intake, hydration levels and many other factors likely play a role in explaining the differences we see. Washable terrarium liners are the safest substrate option.
Unfortunately, highly-contagious Atadenoviruses are well-established in US Bearded Dragon populations. These viruses are spread via body contact and improperly cleaned tools; afflicted females may also pass infections along to their young. Some of the illnesses they cause, including Wasting Disease and “Star Gazing”, are accompanied by a loss of appetite and/or weight. Please see the article linked below for further information.
Internal or external parasites, and a host of other less common ailments, should also be investigated if your pet stops eating, or if it feeds but continues to lose weight. Please post below if you need help in locating a reptile experienced veterinarian.
Atadenovirus in Bearded Dragons
Hibernation in Bearded Dragons
“To confuse matters further, some reptiles enter dormancy when winter arrives in their native habitats…even if it happens to be summertime in their present home! I’ve seen this among captive Indian Gharials (fish-eating crocodiles) and other reptiles.”
I find this utterly fascinating! Are there any additional studies or research being done to discover why and how this could happen?
Thanks for your interest Mel…it is amazing, and understanding it is the key to breeding many species..i.e. those that need a chill in order to develop eggs, etc. We always work on this when seeking to breed rare reptiles..holds true in other animals as well..i.e. axis deer at the Bx Zoo adjusted to our sessons, whereas Sambar continued to give birth in the winter here in NY.
The gharials were 17 years out of the wild, yet became dormant in tune with winter in N. India, despite being kept warm, long light cycle…they moved about, basked, but did not feed for 3 months, yet lost no weight.
Wild caught temperate zone turtles, i.e wood turtles, often cease feeding in winter when kept indoors, yet the young of these same animals tend to remain active year round…and so on!…lots of room for work in this area,
my 48 week female bearded dragon as gone off her diet food such as peppers lettuce tomatoes strawberries ect
she will still eat live food but thats it
can some one help please ?
If the animal is in winter slowdown as described in the article it may just accept favored foods. Otherwise, changing the types of greens/salad offered and keeping it hungry may help to stimulate interest in food. Well fed animals sometimes choose favorites only…a fast will do it no harm. Please keep me posted, Frank
I have a female bearded dragon who hasn’t eaten in over a week. She sleeps alot is very weak and doesn’t seem herself. Can anyone help
Please send some info on day/nite temperatures and UVB exposure. If it’s not temperature related, then a vet visit would be necessary to diagnose the problem, as those symptoms are typical of just about all illnesses. Best, Frank
I am pretty new to having a bearded dragon I have a 1 year old female beardie, who I have owned 6 months and she wont eat her livefood. she was eating around 10 large locust a day and more if I let her but now I am lucky if she will eat 2!
luckily she does look healthy, alert, colourful and a nice white belly and will eat salads. she is full of energy which is nice to see as since October she has been brumating on and off. I just cant put my finger on why she wont eat insects, I tried her with crickets and she ate about 5 but then no interest again she just looks at the food the me and runs off
It’s normal for them to switch from insects to a largely vegetarian diet as they mature…many pets do not, but in the wild this is what they would do. She may go through periods when insects will be taken more often, depending on her nutritional needs. Try adding different vegetable and greens to the diet, and powder these with calcium and vitamin supplements 2-3 x weekly. You can also try other types of insects (see here for ideas) but no need to worry about the diet change. Best., Frank
I am seeking advice about my baby beardie. I had got him for a valentines day gift and he is about two months old. Every morning I put about 5-6 mealsworms in his cage to eat. I only put so little bbecause he never eats them. I have seen him eat about 3-4.. But not lately. He never eats his greens that are freshly put in everyday. I read that he could just be stressed. I do hold him everyday. For about 10 minutes. Which is what the pet store manager said so he can get use to me. I’m scared he may be starving himself.. Please help!
Can you please let me know what temperatures you are keeping at the basking site, and in the rest of the tank, and also at night? Low temperatures are the most common reason for lack of appetite. Also, what type of UVB bulb do you have?
Stress is also important..the animal should not be handled until it is feeding well; after that, it will be simple to handle if you wish – they take to it well, and do not need to get used to you.
Mealworms should only be offered rarely, if at all. Please see this article for more on bearded dragon care and feeding, and send along the temperature info and I’ll check if any changes may be useful.
1r old male beardie won’t eat. Built outdoor enclosure 2014 with 2 tortoise. Aprox. 12/5/14 went into hiding brumation? Came out of hiding 1/27/15. (Live in south Florida below Orlando) “Spike” hasn’t ate since. then on 2/13/15 he ate 3 super worms! Refuses to eat any greens – tried many different greens to no avail.
I bring him inside his 40gal tank for in climate weather (rain/cold spells) to dry & warm up. Keep temperature aprox. 105Degrees (day time) includes uvb light. He will only take little water from me from a syringe. He gets quite feisty at times trashing his terrarium (assuming he wants outside) but then seems to be desperate to escape outside enclosure at times.
I’m frustrated and concerned. Any advice appreciated.
Also, I can’t seem to find a dragon vetenarian in my area (Port St. Lucie, FL 34953) can you refer me to one nearby? Thanks so much man.
I’ve forwarded 2 links for lists of reptile experienced vets in Fla; if none are convenient, call the closest and ask for a reference, as there will be others not listed; local herp societies generally maintain lists also.
A vet visit would be your best option. I have kept them and related on natural substrates, but impactions can occur; also, I’m not sure what temps the animal experienced outdoors, but too much of a drop can impact immune system, cause problems when they become active.
Tortoises typically carry a variety of parasites that are not troublesome to healthy tortoises, but which can cause fatalities in lizards and snakes. We’ve had many problems re this in mixed exhibits in zoos, and now test/medicate tortoises before introducing other reptiles…especially common in outdoor situations.
Please let me know how all goes, frank
I would like to ask you about some strange health issues which is my bearded dragon experiencing.
At first I would like to apologise for any mistakes in my English.
I have two bearded dragons females and one of them started to have head tremors (vibrations) after laying eggs. She is also not eating well, I have to help her with feeding, it looks like she can’t aim crickets and roaches well. All these problems started after laying eggs. I give her calcium (every day), vitamins (3 times per week) and green vegetables + crickets. They have UVA + UVB in their tank + daylight fluorescent tube.
I visited our local vet for reptiles and he has done some radiograph to check possibility for eggs retention. I saw that picture and there were still some small eggs, he said there are clumps of sand and told me to hydrate bearded dragon and feed him and that was all. I guess he is some amateur vet. I don’t know any reptile specialist vet here. Anyway, after this visitation, my bearded dragon were laying small eggs, about 3 eggs per every second day for 2 weeks. Strange. She was also twisting to her back (it looked as epileptic fit), stargazing (I thought it could be Adenovirus). After one month, she stopped to have these symptoms (it was 5 months ago) and she was better and better. Still unable to eat by herself.
After next 2-3 months, she was able to eat herself when I was moving food near her mouth, her tongue was still shaking.
Some days ago, she was laying eggs again and she started to have these symptoms again. Do you have any advice what could it be or how to make her better?
My second bearded dragon is fit, without any signs of problems.
Thank you very much in advance 🙂
Thanks for posting here. Unfortunately, adenovirus can elicit a variety of symptoms, and we still have much to learn; see here. Not much that can be done if that is the case. Low calcium levels can cause some related symptoms, and this is especially common in females, which tend to over-produce eggs in captivity. CA gluconate injections may help, but blood CA levels would need to be evaluated. Unfortunately, there are a variety of illnesses about which we know very little, and symptoms are not always useful in diagnosis. Sorry I could not be of more help..please keep me posted, as each observation is valuable, best, frank
I have a two year old female bearded dragon and she mated 3 weeks ago. She’s been trying to eat everything in sight including stuff that’s not edible. She also has gained about 50 grams in 2 weeks. But i can’t feel any eggs. I was told if she is you can feell and see the eggs. Can she still be gravid?
It’s often difficult to palpate and feel eggs, even for experienced vets…many variables. No need to do that, will only stress animal, perhaps damage eggs/repro system. provide a suitable nest site and let her be…please let me know if you need more info on nesting, etc. Enjoy, frank
I have what i think is a male beardie bout 8mnths old ive own him for about a mnth hes was eating dine up to 50/60 libe insets aday and salad pooping normal
But yesyerday refused his morning insects ate a few later in day still poopin and active butnthen refused again this morn should i be worries all temps are correct thanks
It is normal for them to slow down their food intake as they mature. However, if the animal becomes lethargic or seems otherwise ill, it should be seen by a vet, in order to rule out the possibility of illness, parasites, etc. Please let me know if you need more info, Frank
I just bought a beardie recently, and she is about 2 months old. Yesterday she was acting weird. She would try to run out of my hands, very fidgety, and she would not eat a single thing. I went on a trip so I had my sister care for her. She didn’t feed it calcium for a week. (I’m not sure if that is bad). My lizard always attacks her food. She usually eats close to 30 crickets and 3 meal worms a day. She turned down food for the first time. I’m very new to lizards. I’m just nervous I’m hurting my lizard or maybe it’s not feeling well. I need help! Also her tank is a 40 gallon tank and one side is around 95 and the other side is about 75. The humidity is at 35%.
I wouldn’t be too concerned about a beardie missing a couple of meals. 30 crickets and 3 meal worms every day is quite a lot. Bearded dragons are opportunistic feeders and will eat as much as they can when offered unlimited food. Think of it this way: in the desert scrub-lands it would be a pretty rare occurrence for a meal to come by, so a beardie’s instinct is to eat as much as they can while its available. I reccomend only allowing her to eat what she can finish in about 5 minutes, once a day. She might just be full, they are capable of fasting for several days and being perfectly fine. As far as calcium supplementation goes, provided that you are using a good UVB light source, you should really only need to supplement once per week. I would try to bump her heat up a little bit. Ideally you want about 100-110 degrees in your basking area.
I hope that this helps,
I have a 3 year old female beardie who has quit eating fruits and vegetables. She will still eat crickets/worms when put in her tank. She’s in a 75 gal long tank with sand. She has a basking spot, uvb light, warming pad under a dome log, and night light. Day time temp is 95-100/75-85 and night time stays around 60-65. She shed about three weeks ago and usually stops eating a lot during that time but she hasn’t started up again. She pooped a few days ago and stays awake on her log most of the day. I have tried hand feeding, feeding her outside her tank, dropping food into her bowl younger her attention, pushing it around with a stick (she’ll cock her head and watch but not approach), and all her favorites(berries, pineapple, pea pods, carrots, turnip greens, even kale which she only gets occasionally). I’ve even purchased moist food that is supposed to be an appetite stimulant. She took a blackberry from me about three days ago but when offered another she closed her eyes and turned her head. She was at the vet three weeks ago for a nail trimming and vet said she looked great. She’s losing weight now and isn’t as active in her tank. She’ll still walk around when we take her out but prefers to be in her tank right now. Any ideas??
I wouldn’t be too concerned at the moment since she is still eating insects. It could be that she just needs more protein at the moment. Make sure that you are dusting the insects with a good multivitamin such as Zoo Med’s Reptivite and hopefully she will start with veggies again soon.
Hello, I suspect that the reason my bearded dragon (Draco for future reference) isn’t eating is because he is trying to brumanate (?) but I want to have some confirmation. He is currently about 1 and 3 quarter years in age and I came into possession of him about a year and a half ago. He is 19 1/2 inches long and has a stable diet of mealworms, super worms, collard greens, dandelion greens and the occasional bout of crickets (often freeze dried), squash, pellets, and wax worms (as a rare treat). His basking reaches 100-115 degrees F on average and his cool side is usually 75-80 degrees F. His lights are a mercury vapor bulb from All Living Things (4 months) and his uvb light is unbranded (9 months old). He is also on a repti carpet for his substrate. Now the problem that I am experiencing is that he seems to be loosing his appetite and hasn’t pooped in about 10 days. He hasn’t experienced any weight loss and every time I check his stomach is cream colored. Now I am giving him 1-2 warm baths a day in which I rub his stomach and am trying (and usually failing) to get him to run. He is often ramming his head into objects and scratching the area as if to fluffen. This would be the reason in which that makes me believe that he is bruminating but I wanted your expert opinion. If you have any additional questions just ask, and I look forward to hearing from you.
I wouldn’t necessarily jump to the conclusion of Brumation since your beardie seems to be remaining active. Is he ramming his head into the side of his tank? or is he ramming it into cage decorations (rocks, hides, etc.)? If he is ramming it into the glass, might be time to upgrade your enclosure. What type and size enclosure is he currently in? Many people keep adult beardies in 40 gallon breeder tanks, however I usually recommend a 75 gallon.
If he is ramming his head into objects inside the enclosure, he could merely be scent marking. It could also be a sign of skin irritation, stuck shed, or possibly even an underlying health issue such as a bacterial infection. Be sure that you are regularly washing or replacing the terrarium liner- They protect you animal from potential compaction, but they can also become breeding grounds for bacteria and parasites if not well maintained.
Lastly, he could just be bored with the food that you are offering him. Beardies are very visual creatures: try offering live insects as opposed to freeze dried. Moving prey items can help to trigger a feeding response.
The best thing to do would be to consult a reputable veterinarian in your area who specializes in reptiles, they should be able to run some tests to rule out any potential malady.
Hopefully this can get you moving in the right direction, let me know if you have any other questions.
Bought a juvenile bearded dragon about a week ago. Ate fine first 2 days. Since then has only eaten 1wax worm. Temps are 90’s on hot side with basking light and 80 on cool side. Has hot rock on cool side. Have Uvb light on during day with basking light. Night time temp about 70. Took him back to pet store they said he looked fat and probably over stuffed himself before he was bought. Spends most of the day basking in hammock under light. Poops are very small now. Seemed happier after a soak which is when he also ate. What could be going on.
Sorry to hear about your new Dragon!
One thing you’ll want to do is make sure that his living temperatures are reaching the levels they need to. One common mistake is to look at the thermometer on the cage wall to determine correct temps – when in reality, the temperature 12 inches down where your pet actually is is considerably lower. You’ll want to definitely make sure that he has access to a basking area reaching a level of 95-110F – as well as the ability to move off into an area around 75-85F. Here is a care article Frank wrote that has some more specifics – http://www.thatpetplace.com/bearded-dragon-article. Sounds like your basking temp may be a little low and this could affect appetite.
In regards to UV – how long have you had your UV light – and how close is your beardie able to get to it? Most UV bulbs only have an effective range of 6 to 12 inches for their UVB output – so you’ll want to make sure your pet is able to get that close to it to receive its full benefit. Also, how old is your UV light? Their effectiveness typically degrades after 6 months or so – and sometimes just replacing the UV can cause a dramatic change in your pet’s appetite and condition. These bulbs – http://www.thatpetplace.com/reptisun-10-0-high-output-uvb-bulbs – offer an effective range of approximately 20in. and are used by a lot of beardie keepers.
Also, in terms of diet, you mentioned that your pet had only eaten a single wax worm. Have you tried offering additional insects? Wax worms are great as a treat (they’re like candy due to their high fat content), but species like crickets, superworms and hornworms contain a more balanced diet. Mixing in additional prey options may help spur activity as well.
That Pet Blog
I have a beardie that is about a year old. He was thriving until recently-about a month or so ago. I noticed that he wasn’t eating and pooping that much but figured that it was a seasonal thing. I took him out of his cage yesterday and noticed that his front leg is limp and he is not using it. I thought maybe he was impacted. I gave him a bath and he pooped today. But I am still concerned. I tried to hand feed him today and he was not interested at all. I usually feed him squash, collard greens and mealworms. He is in a 40 gallon tank with both a UV light and heat lamp (on opposite ends). I am not sure what is wrong and what I can do to help.
I have a leopard gecko also who had MBD and I was told there was no hope. I then began hand feeding him and putting using calcium powder on the crickets and he is now very healthy and has gotten big and strong.
I appreciate any help/insight you could provide.
Hey TripleC –
I would definitely have a veterinarian take a look at your pet’s front leg – that is definitely out of the ordinary, and as you noted, may be a sign of MBD.
In terms of appetite, as you mentioned, beardies sometimes go into what is known as Brumation in the cooler months. One thing you’ll want to do is make sure that his living temperatures are reaching the levels they need to. One common mistake is to look at the thermometer on the cage wall to determine correct temps – when in reality, the temperature 12 inches down where your pet actually is is considerably lower. You’ll want to definitely make sure that he has access to a basking area reaching a level of 95-110F – as well as the ability to move off into an area around 75-85F. Here is a care article Frank wrote that has some more specifics – http://www.thatpetplace.com/bearded-dragon-article
In regards to UV – how long have you had your UV light – and how close is your beardie able to get to it? Most UV bulbs only have an effective range of 6 to 12 inches for their UVB output – so you’ll want to make sure your pet is able to get that close to it to receive it’s full benefit. Also, how old is your UV light? Their effectiveness typically degrades after 6 months or so – and sometimes just replacing the UV can cause a dramatic change in your pet’s appetite and condition. These bulbs – http://www.thatpetplace.com/reptisun-10-0-high-output-uvb-bulbs – offer an effective range of approximately 20in. and are used by a lot of beardie keepers. In addition, your beardie will be naturally drawn to the heat lamp-side – I would do your best to put both the heat and the UV on the same basking spot.
Finally, another thing to try would be trying to add a few additional types of insects to his diet. Though a solid food source, feeding exclusively mealworms for the insect-portion of the diet is not ideal as they are fairly high in chitin versus similar species. We would recommend adding some crickets, appropriately-sized superworms, hornworms, or other small invertebrates to the diet as well for variety and nutrition.
Thank you thatpetblog,
That is very helpful