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My Bearded Dragon is Not Eating: What to Do

Head and

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Aka

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.

Feeding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Frankly Man

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.

Basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg5030

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.

Beetle Grub

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by 99of9

Diet

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.

Stress

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.

 

t420Disease, 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.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

 

Atadenovirus in Bearded Dragons

 

Hibernation in Bearded Dragons

 

Collecting Insects as Food for Reptiles

Thawing Frozen Mice and Rats for Snakes and Other Reptiles

Frozen rodents are now widely available in the pet trade and, when used properly, are a safe food source that can save time, space and money. As opinions vary concerning proper thawing methods, I thought it might be useful to outline the procedures that are followed in major zoological parks.  Based on the human food guidelines set down by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture, they have served me well throughout my career as a zookeeper and herpetologist.

 

General Considerations

There are two safe methods that can be used to defrost rodents intended as reptile food – refrigeration and cold water.  Microwave defrosting has certain drawbacks and should be avoided (please see below).
Shared by Flickr user Soregasim

Frozen rodents purchased from a store or breeder should be re-packaged in clean zip-loc bags before being placed into your refrigerator, freezer or sink.  Bowls into which these bags are placed (for warming or cold-water thawing, see below) should be reserved for that purpose…do not use bowls that will also hold your own food, even if the rodents are in clean bags.  My apologies if this seems obvious, but I am continually amazed at how many people place their health in jeopardy while attempting to care for their pets!

 

Thawing Mice and Rats in a Refrigerator

Thawing under refrigeration is the method of choice in professional collections.  It requires a bit of forethought, but is very safe and requires no effort on our part (other than moving the food item from freezer to refrigerator!).

 

Thawing time will vary in accordance with refrigeration temperature (usually 35-40 F).  The USDA uses 8-10 hours per 1 pound of meat as a general guideline; a mouse can be expected to thaw in 2 hours, a rat in 4-5 hours.

 

Fail safe rule: place frozen rodents in a refrigerator for overnight thawing and use them the following day.

 

Thawing in Cold Water

This method is faster than via refrigeration, but requires periodic water changes, and leaves more room for error.  Frozen rodents in zip-lock bags are placed in a bucket of cold water for 30 minutes, after which time the water is dumped and replaced.  An adult rat can be thawed in as little as 1 hour.

 

The bags used should be leak-proof, lest harmful bacteria begin to colonize the food item.

 

Warming and Using Thawed Rodents

After thawing, rodents must be warmed somewhat before being fed to pet reptiles.  This is best done by placing the bagged, thawed rodent in a bucket or other container of warm water.  Timing varies, but plan on 10-20 minutes for a mouse in warm but not hot-to-the-touch water.

 

Use rodents shortly after thawing and warming.  Whole animals contain internal organs, previously-consumed food, and unpassed wastes, and they decay rapidly.

 

Common Mistakes

Do not thaw rodents at room temperature or in hot water (this applies to our own food as well).  Bacteria associated with disease and decay, which can be assumed present in all rodents, begin to reproduce at 40 F.  Such bacteria can take hold on the thawed, outer surfaces of a food item despite the fact that its center is frozen.

 

Rodents should never be thawed in microwaves used for your own food.  Thawing in a microwave reserved specifically for pet food is possible, assuming one can ascertain that the food item is completely thawed yet not partially cooked.

 

Rodents thawed under refrigeration can be re-frozen (if they have remained refrigerated).  Rodents thawed in cold water should not be re-frozen.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank. 

Chameleons as Pets: Breeding Senegal Chameleons

Flap necked Chameleon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lix

Female Senegal Chameleons (Chamaeleo senegalensis) often surprise their owners with eggs…indeed, they are among the most prolific of all lizards. Yet successful captive breeding presents us with many difficulties, and losses of both eggs and gravid (egg-bearing) females are all-too-common. This is a shame, because with proper care these fascinating creatures can provide one with a valuable introduction to chameleon care and breeding. Today we’ll examine the reasons behind most breeding failures, and look at some useful changes we can make to improve this sad situation.   Note:  Photo above is of a Flap-Necked Chameleon, formerly considered to be a subspecies of the Senegal.  Please click here for a photo of a Senegal Chameleon.

Tough Lizards that Burn Out Quickly

Senegal Chameleons live fast and die young, with 2-5 years being the average lifespan even for those receiving excellent care. Like most creatures with this lifestyle, they mature quickly and reproduce often. Female Senegal Chameleons can breed at the tender age of 6 months, and even with a less-than-ideal diet can produce 2-3 clutches of 15-75 eggs each year.   Senegals are also quite durable – in the short term – and often feed well and develop eggs even when stressed by collection from the wild and substandard care. This leads to a false sense of security among novice owners, and, in time to frustration, as the new lizard feeds, develops eggs, then then dies along with her clutch.

The Problem

The root of many breeding failures lies in the fact that Senegal Chameleon collection is simpler and cheaper than captive reproduction. Because they breed so prolifically, wild-caught females are usually carrying eggs in some stage of development. Collection and shipment is hard on chameleons, which by nature are stress-prone, and all the more so where gravid females are concerned.   In addition, misconceptions as to their care abound. Many keepers fail to appreciate just how much living space and privacy these (and all) chameleons need, and the necessity of providing a proper nest site. While most understand the need for calcium supplementation and UVB exposure, captive diets still typically lack appropriate variety, and the importance of an adequate water supply is often over-looked.

Katydid (favorite chameleon food)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Vishalsh521

Studies have shown that Senegal Chameleons choose prey in accordance with their nutritional needs, and that other species regulate basking time (under UVB) in tune with their circulating Vitamin D level. This is important research that bears directly on our ability to keep and breed this fascinating lizard…please see the articles linked below, and post any related questions you may have.

Introducing Potential Mates

Although female Senegal Chameleons can reproduce at 6 months of age, pets should be at least 1 year old before being introduced to a male. At younger ages, they are still adding bone mass, which requires ample calcium intake. Egg production presents an additional calcium drain, increasing the likelihood of metabolic bone disease.   Female Senegal Chameleons are generally as territorial as are males, and will attack a potential mate if they are not ready to breed. Always introduce a male by placing his cage near that of the female, and drape a semi-transparent cloth between the cages as an extra stress-inhibitor. Females in good health will show their intentions right away – threatening the male if not receptive but refraining from attack mode if willing to breed. Receptive females will also exhibit color changes and an enlarged or bulging cloaca.   If your female is not ready, relocate the male’s cage to another room and try at a later date. Captive conditions change the normal ebb and flow of reptile hormones, so it’s best to try at various times during the year.

Mating and the Gestation Period

If the female appears ready to mate, allow the male to move into her cage on his own, as handling may stress the animals and forestall breeding. Copulation can last for 1-2 hours, during which time both will likely show some color changes. Remove the male as soon as they have copulated, as the female will likely attack him shortly thereafter.   Female Senegal Chameleons typically lay eggs within 70-90 days after mating. However, much longer and shorter gestation periods have been reported. The confusion may arise from the fact that captive diets, light cycles and such can affect the time it takes for the eggs to mature. Bear in mind also that a single mating can result in numerous fertile clutches, and that unmated females frequently lay (infertile) eggs. To be safe, always have a suitable nesting site available to all females (please see below).   t4291

Common Concerns: Low Calcium and Dehydration

Gravid females have extremely high calcium requirements. A calcium-poor diet will cause metabolic bone disease, a condition wherein calcium is leached from the bones and replaced with fibrous tissue. Calcium also assists in producing the strong muscle contractions needed to expel eggs from the body. Calcium deficient females will retain their eggs (a condition known as dystocia) and will eventually expire from infections (egg peritonitis) or related problems. I favor ZooMed calcium supplements, and always nutrient load feeder insects unless they are wild-caught; please see the article linked below for more on calcium supplementation and diet.   Females fed a high calcium diet may nevertheless retain eggs if they are dehydrated. Senegal Chameleons rarely drink from water bowls, and the water volume they take in when the terrarium is sprayed is often insufficient. Water dripped from a punctured contained set atop the terrarium is more likely to meet their needs. You’ll need to place a container below the drip cup in order to catch excess water. A reptile humidifier will also assist in keeping your chameleon properly hydrated.

The Nest Site

As mentioned, female Senegal Chameleons should always have access to a nesting site. Most will not release their eggs unless provided a suitable place in which to dig a nest chamber. A plastic bin or storage container measuring 18” x 18’ x 18” works well. Some individuals will use smaller containers, but a depth of at least 12” is essential.   The nest box should be filled with a mix of sand and top soil or coconut husk. The substrate should be kept slightly moist…just enough so that it clumps a bit when squeezed. If too dry, the female’s egg tunnel will collapse as it is being dug, and she will abandon the site. The terrarium walls near the site should be covered with cloth or a similar material, and the cage itself should be located in an undisturbed part of the house. The terrarium’s regular basking bulb, or an additional one, should be used to warm the nesting area.   t248523

Incubating the Eggs

Senegal Chameleon eggs have been successfully incubated at temperatures ranging from 72 to 80 F. At 77 F, they typically hatch in 6 months. A high-quality reptile egg incubator is the surest means of assuring a successful hatch.   The eggs can be set-up in vermiculite at a water-substrate ratio of 1:1 by weight. Even for mathematically-impaired individuals such as I, this is easy to accomplish – please see this article for a simple explanation.

Termite (food for baby chameleons)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Esculapio

Baby Chameleons!

Newly-hatched chameleons present a unique set of challenges, especially when it comes to providing a healthful, varied diet. Please see this article on feeding tiny reptiles and amphibians, and those linked below, for more info.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo. Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.   Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.  

Further Reading

Senegal Chameleons: Common Health Problems  Senegal Chameleon Diet Study  The Best Foods for Chameleons The Best Reptile Egg Incubator

Turtle Food: Pellets, Shrimp and other Prepared Diets

Painted turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by US Bureau of Land Management

Today’s commercial turtle foods are, thankfully, light years removed from the yesteryear’s dried “ant eggs” (actually ant pupae). While natural foods remain important, some remarkable advances now provide turtle keepers with an important safety net, and simplify the process of providing our pets with a balanced diet. Today I’ll review some well-researched prepared diets that are valued by zookeepers and experienced private turtle owners alike.

 

Note: The excellent products described below should be used as part of a well-rounded diet….in my experience, up to 50% for some species, more or less for others. We do not, as far as I know, have long-term research concerning diets comprised entirely of prepared foods. Whole freshwater fishes remain the best source of calcium for Sliders, Painted Turtles, Snakenecks and most other semi-aquatic turtles. Depending upon the species, fresh greens, produce, earthworms and other foods may be essential as well. Please see the articles under “Further Reading” and post questions below for information on complete diets for specific turtles. Today I’ll focus on Zoo Med products, as they have an extensive product line that is backed by over 2 decades of research. I’ll cover prepared foods from Tetra, Hikari and others in the future.

 

mediaAquatic Turtle Food

Zoo Med’s Aquatic Turtle Food can be an important building block in the diet of a wide variety of turtles. It was formulated for Sliders, Sidenecks, and Asian Box, Spotted and Painted Turtles, but is also useful for African Mud Turtles, Spotted Pond Turtles and others. I especially like the fact that it is available in both hatchling and adult formulas, with the levels of protein and other nutrients adjusted for each.

 

ReptiSticks

This high protein (35%) floating food contains kale along with other animal and plant products, vitamins and minerals. I came to value kale as a turtle food after discussions with veterinarian co-workers at the Bronx Zoo, but find that it is not widely used by private keepers. Mixing it with the tastier foods included in ReptiSticks is also a great way to induce your “meat oriented” pets to eat their vegetables!

 

Spotted Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dave Pape

Freshwater Shrimp

Shrimp play an important role in turtle diets, but until recently only marine species have been available commercially.  However, the shrimp in Zoo Med’s Sun Dried Red Shrimp is freshwater species (the Oriental River Shrimp, Macrobrachium nipponense) and as such is a great food item for most semi-aquatic turtles. Anecdotal evidence from several of my zoo colleagues indicates that shrimp (and krill) are an excellent calcium source for a variety of turtles…and I cannot recall many that will refuse them!

 

Gourmet Turtle Food

Dried cranberries and mealworms are among the unique ingredients in Zoo Med’s Gourmet Aquatic Turtle Food, which can be used to add variety to the diets of Sliders, Cooters and similar turtles. As always, be sure to feed this and other high protein foods (37% in this product) in accordance with the needs of the species that you keep…please post below for detailed information.

 

Some Other Ideas

t259648Zoo Med’s Floating Turtle Feeder accepts most pelleted foods, is fun to use, and will keep your turtle occupied and active.   Please see this article for more info.

 

I’ve long offered commercial turtle foods to various newts, African clawed frogs, shrimp, crayfish and hermit and fiddler crabs. When moistened, many are also readily accepted by millipedes, roaches, crickets and other invertebrates.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Feeding American Box Turtles

Slider Map and Painted Turtle Care and Feeding

Leopard Gecko or Bearded Dragon? Choosing the Best Pet Lizard

Bearded dragon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by André Karwath

Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons have stellar reputations among lizard enthusiasts. In fact, they come as close to being perfect pets as any reptile can. However, there are major differences in their habits, activity levels and care needs, and it’s important to be aware of these when choosing a pet. When an animal is active, how much its care will cost, the space it needs and other factors will affect your pet-keeping experience and your new lizard’s quality of life. In the following article I’ll compare Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons in all relevant areas. Detailed care information is provided in the articles linked under “Further Reading”; as always, please also post any questions or observations you may have.

Reptile Handling
Most lizards are best considered as “hands-off” pets, but both Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons break this rule. Although individual personalities vary, both adapt well to gentle handling, and are not stressed by human contact.

Activity Levels
Neither is overly active, but both have fascinating behaviors that are well-worth watching for. Bearded Dragons are out and about by day, at which time they bask (their most common “activity”!), feed, and display to tank-mates.

Leopard Geckos, being nocturnal, are ideal for owners who are “night owls”. They will become active in a dimly lit room, or you can equip the terrarium with a black or red reptile night bulb (lizards do not sense the light produced by these bulbs). Leopard Geckos sometimes emerge during the day as well, especially if food is offered.

Life Span
A Leopard Gecko in the St. Louis Zoo’s collection lived for a record 28.6 years. The published longevity for a Bearded Dragon is 15 years, but there are unofficial reports of individuals approaching age 20.

Leopard gecko

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jerome66

Lizard Reproduction
Both species breed reliably, and a wide variety of color morphs are available. Please see the articles linked below for detailed information.

Cost
Bearded Dragons require larger terrariums and higher temperatures than do Leopard Geckos, and must be provided with a source of UVB radiation (Leopard Geckos and other nocturnal lizards get along fine without UVB bulbs). Therefore, Leopard Geckos are the less-expensive pet, in terms of supplies and electricity use.

Terrarium Size (single adult)
Leopard Gecko: 10-20 gallon (larger is preferable)
Bearded Dragon: 30 gallon

Temperature
Leopard Gecko: 72-85 F, with a basking site of 88 F
Bearded Dragon: 75-88 F, with a basking site of 95-110 F

Lizard Diet
Leopard Geckos are carnivorous. Young Bearded Dragons feed largely upon insects, adding plants to the diet as they mature.

Both require highly varied diets comprised of vitamin/mineral supplemented roaches, silkworms, crickets and other invertebrates. Bearded Dragons also need various greens and, perhaps, a high quality commercial food.  Mealworms and crickets alone, even if sprinkled with supplements, are not an adequate diet for either lizard. Please see the articles linked below for more information on diet.

Bearded Dragon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Frank C. Müller

Health Concerns (Pet and Pet Owner)
Intestinal impactions that result from the ingestion of sand and gravel are perhaps the most commonly-encountered health concern (both species). This can be avoided by the use of cage liners, or by feeding your lizards in large bowls, via tongs, or in a separate, bare-bottomed enclosure. Young lizards, being clumsy hunters, are more likely to swallow substrate than are adults.

Diseases related to poor nutrition are common among lizards maintained on crickets and mealworms alone, and in Bearded Dragons that do not receive adequate UVB exposure (Vitamin D3 is manufactured in the skin, in the presence of UVB). Both species sometimes refuse food in the winter, even if kept warm (please see this article for further information).

If a moist shelter is not available, Leopard Geckos sometimes retain the eyelid lining after shedding. Please see this article.

Atadenovirus infections are becoming increasingly common among Bearded Dragons. Unfortunately, the resulting “Wasting Disease” or “Star Gazing” is incurable. Please see this article for further information.

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Please speak with your family doctor concerning details, and feel free to post below if you would like links to useful resources.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Further Reading

Complete Guide to Bearded Dragon Care

Complete Guide to Leopard Gecko Care

Breeding Leopard Geckos

 

 

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