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My Bearded Dragon is Not Eating: What to Do

Head and

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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

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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. 

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

Reptile, Amphibian, Scorpion and Tarantula Feeding Tools

t259648Today I’d like to highlight some interesting feeding tools, automatic feeders, live food dispensers and other products designed for herp and invertebrate keepers.  Included are items that can lighten our work load, ensure safety when feeding aggressive creatures, and automatically provide meals in our absence.  I especially favor products that dispense live insects at irregular intervals, and also those which force turtles, newts and aquatic frogs to work for their food.  This concept, known as behavioral enrichment, became standard zoo-practice while I was working at the Bronx Zoo.  In addition to encouraging exercise, such devices add greatly to the range of interesting behaviors we can observe among our pets.

 

Hanging Mealworm Feeder

The perforated bottom of Zoo Med’s Hanging Mealworm Feeder allows grubs to find their own way into the terrarium.  Mealworms that escape detection will encourage natural hunting behaviors.  Animals of all kinds quickly learn to recognize the feeder…if you remove it when not in use most, will respond right away when it is returned.

 

t259647I’ve employed similar feeders in zoos for a wide range of creatures.  Zoo Med’s modal should also be useful to those who keep oscars and similar fishes, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, finches, shama thrushes, and other insectivorous pets.

 

The first worm feeders were designed to provide tubifex worms to tropical fishes.  I still use the same modal I first purchased as a child…and the price hasn’t gone up much!  In addition to being a great fish-feeding tool, Lee’s Four-Way Worm Feeder is perfect for offering blackworms to newts, axolotls, African clawed frogs and small turtles.

 

Cricket Feeders

Available in 3 sizes, Exo Terra’s Cricket Pen takes much of the hassle out of keeping those pesky but ever-present crickets.  Detachable dispensing tubes, which are used as sheltering sites by crickets, are set into a ventilated, plastic cage.  A flap seals the tubes lower end when it is removed, allowing crickets to be added to terrariums with a tap of the finger.  Cricket food and water receptacles are also included.

 

Depending upon the species and terrarium set-up, you may also be able to simply place the Cricket Pen into your pet’s tank and let the crickets escape on their own.  Covering the pen with dark paper will keep animals from trying to reach crickets through the plastic walls…you should notice an increase in alertness and foraging behavior if you use it in this way.

 

Asian Forest Scorpion

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Chris huh

Feeding Tongs

Gone are the days when we had to modify tweezers and cooking utensils for use as herp-feeding tools.  Zoo Med’s 10-inch Stainless Steel Feeding Tongs is perfect for presenting meals to snakes, scorpions, mantids, and tarantulas, and for removing debris from tanks where one’s fingers are best kept out of reach.

 

As most frogs seem to lack any sort of reasonable control over their feeding lunges, I use Zoo Med’s Plastic Feeding Tongs   when feeding mine (this tendency is not limited to pets – I’ve seen wild American Bullfrogs crash into rocks, and one landed so close to a larger frog that it too wound up as a meal!).  Lizards vary in their feeding responses…over-zealous feeders may injure themselves on metal tongs, while others are not at risk.  You might want to stay with plastic tongs for certain snakes also.

 

Feeding tongs can also be used with various fishes and birds…or, if you’ve been as lucky as I. with captive short-tailed shrews and least weasels (two of the most insanely-ferocious creatures I’ve worked with!).

 

Turtle Feeders

The Zoo Med Floating Turtle Feeder is the best behavioral enrichment -type turtle product on the market.  Amazingly simple in design and easy to use, it will keep sliders, musk turtles, map turtles and similar species well-occupied…and their owners very amused!

 

Exo-Terra’s Automatic Turtle Feeder, similar in design to automatic fish-feeders, is a much-needed addition to the turtle-keeper’s supply kit.

 

You can read more about these useful turtle-feeders in this article.

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

Canned Insects and Snails

 

Collecting Insects for Captive Herps

 

My Leopard Gecko Is Not Eating: What To Do

 

 

Adult female

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jerome66

When cared for properly, Leopard Geckos are among the most hardy and long-lived of all reptile pets.  But apparently-healthy geckos sometimes refuse to feed, or cut back on their intake, and there is still much confusion as to why this occurs.  My work with Leopard Geckos and hundreds of other species in zoos and at home has (I hope!) provided me with some useful insights into this problem.  Some involve areas that any good reptile keeper would investigate – environment, stress levels, disease – while others, such as the effects of circadian rhythms (“internal clocks”), are less obvious.

 

Winter’s Arrival and Internal Rhythms Regulate Eating

Leopard Geckos are native to southeastern Afghanistan, western India, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran, where they inhabit desert fringes and arid grasslands.  In some parts of this range, temperatures rise to 100+ F in summer and drop below 32 F during the winter.  Wild Leopard Geckos living in environments that experience severe winters become dormant for several months each year, while those in milder regions may remain active (please see the article linked below to read more about their natural history).

 

While your pet is, no doubt, many generations removed from the wild, internal circadian rhythms may cause it to become lethargic and refuse food during the winter.  This can happen even if your gecko is kept warm and given a photo-period of 12-14 hours.  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 Indian Gharials (fish-eating crocodiles) 15 years removed from the wild, and in many others.  Captive Bearded Dragons also exhibit this type of behavior on occasion; please see this article.

 

leopard geckoUnfortunately, it’s not often possible to be certain that a pet has stopped feeding due to the effects of an internal rhythm, so be sure to check the other possibilities discussed below.

 

Next I’ll mention other things that should be checked if your gecko stops feeding, including husbandry (tank set-up, temperatures, diet, etc.), stress, and disease.  I’ve written on each of these in further detail in the linked articles.

 

Your Gecko’s Environment

As Leopard Geckos are nocturnal, it’s important to monitor nighttime temperatures, especially during the winter, when most people lower their home thermostats.  The ambient air temperature should range from 78-84 F, which can be maintained by a ceramic heater or red/black reptile “night bulb”; a below-tank heat mat should be positioned so that one corner of the tank is warmer (88 F) than the rest.  Be sure also to establish a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) so that your gecko can regulate its body temperature as needed.

 

tPG01794While Leopard Geckos often adapt to smaller enclosures than do other lizards, individuals 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 (small terrariums tend to remain at the temperature of the basking site).

 

And, no matter how well-adjusted or bold your pet may be, it’s important to provide a dark, secure cave or other shelter.  Geckos forced to remain exposed often cease feeding.

 

Diet

Wild Leopard Geckos feed upon a huge array of invertebrates, while pets are often limited to 2-3 food items.  Dietary variety is important for health reasons.  But providing different types of insects can also incite new interest in feeding.  We see this most commonly in chameleons, but the enthusiasm your Leopard Geckos will show for novel foods will leave you with no doubt as to their value.  Please see this article to read more about adding silkworms, house flies, sow bugs, wild-caught insects and other important foods to your pet’s diet.

 

Stress Can Affect Eating

Geckos may be stressed by the mere presence of a dominant cage-mate, even absent fighting.  If you suspect aggression, observe your geckos after dark, when they will be most active (a red/black reptile bulb will prove useful).  Appetite-suppressing aggression is especially common among young geckos 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 and other Health Issues

Impactions from substrate swallowed with meals and Metabolic Bone Disease are two of the more common reasons that geckos cease feeding.

 

Other health concerns that have been identified include Hyperthyroidism, Eyelid Lining Retention (following shedding) and Cryptosporidiosis.  Internal or external parasites, and a host of other less common ailments, should also be investigated if your pet stops eating.  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

The Leopard Gecko in the Wild

 

The Ideal Leopard Gecko Terrarium 

 

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