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Why Is My Bearded Dragon Not Eating?

Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons, or “beardies,” are known to be enthusiastic eaters. A bearded dragon not eating is your pet telling you that something isn’t right.

Don’t panic. There are several reasons why a bearded dragon won’t eat, including normal reproductive activity, a problem with your pet’s habitat setup or an infection. Some of the potential causes of a bearded dragon not eating much can be resolved once you understand the issue. By addressing the underlying cause of your pet’s hunger strike, you’ll be able to get your beardie back to being a healthy bearded dragon once again.

Reaching adulthood

Sometimes bearded dragons’ eating habits change as they mature. Juvenile bearded dragons typically eat every day because they need lots of food to fuel their growth into strong and healthy bearded dragon adults. As they reach adulthood, their energy level and metabolism slow. As a result, they simply don’t need as much food as they did in their younger days. If your bearded dragon is about a year old and is not eating quite as much each day, reaching adulthood could be the reason.

Shedding

If you’ve ever had a bad sunburn, you know that peeling skin doesn’t feel good. The same is true for bearded dragons when they shed. Adult bearded dragons shed about twice a year, and the process may take up to two weeks. Juveniles shed much more frequently, as often as every other week, because they are growing. If the habitat’s humidity is appropriate, it usually only takes a day or two for a healthy beardie to complete a shed. During the shedding period, your beardie may feel itchy and uncomfortable and may eat less.

If you notice your beardie’s appetite has declined while at the same time their skin looks dark and dull and patches of skin begin to loosen and lift off, they are likely starting to shed. Be patient. About a week after the shed, your dragon’s appetite should return to normal.

Brumation

In nature, bearded dragons must go through a hibernation process in the winter called brumation in which their metabolism and activity slow down to preserve energy when food is scarce. As temperature and light cycles and food availability should stay the same year-round for pet beardies, brumation isn’t necessary. As brumation may suppress beardies’ immune system function and predispose them to infection, pet parents should try to keep beardies’ habitat conditions constant despite change in seasons in order to prevent illness. However, if a pet beardie’s habitat temperature or light exposure should change, they may begin the brumation process and their appetite may decline.

Brumation in nature can last up to three months, during which time the bearded dragon will eat little or nothing, and dig into their substrate. While this is a normal process for bearded dragons living outside as seasons change, pet beardies living inside where habitat conditions rarely fluctuate don’t need to go through brumation and risk becoming ill. If you suspect that your beardie is starting the brumation process, check the habitat’s temperature to ensure that it hasn’t changed—even if the room temperature is cooler. If the habitat’s temperature is lower than normal, you may need to add additional heat sources to bring it back up. Also, if your beardie is exposed to natural light through a window and has less light exposure due to shorter days during winter, you may need to add additional lighting to your beardie’s habitat to keep light cycles constant.

Enclosure setup and care

Bearded dragons have specific environmental and dietary needs. Over time, pet parents will learn how to maintain appropriate terrarium conditions and feeding schedules for their bearded dragons. For a new beardie pet parent, however, developing this experience can be difficult and take time. Start by making sure you have all the right supplies—including heat, light, substrate and food—for your pet’s enclosure.

Not enough UVB lighting

In nature, bearded dragons develop vitamin D in response to exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) light from the sun. Vitamin D allows bearded dragons to absorb calcium from their food, which is essential to normal bone development and normal muscle and nerve function. Pet parents can help ensure beardies develop adequate vitamin D by providing them with a full-spectrum UV bulb with 10% UVB output for 10-12 hours per day to mimic a normal day of sun exposure. These bulbs typically produce adequate UVB light for only about six months before they need to be replaced. If they aren’t replaced regularly, the bulbs may not provide enough UVB rays to allow beardies’ skin to make essential vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D will reduce a bearded dragon’s ability to absorb dietary calcium and may lead to the development of a common, painful, life-threatening illness called metabolic bone disease in which bones become soft, deformed and often fracture. Metabolic bone disease typically causes a bearded dragon to stop eating.

Blood testing and X-rays at your vet’s office can show if your beardie has low calcium levels and deformed or fractured bones. In the early stages, metabolic bone disease can be reversed with UVB light exposure, supplemental calcium and vitamins and assisted feeding if a beardie isn’t eating.

Humidity and heat

Along with UVB light, your bearded dragon needs to be housed at an appropriate temperature and humidity. Bearded dragons are ectotherms, meaning their body temperatures are controlled by their environmental temperatures. To stay healthy, your beardie must be provided with a range of temperatures in their habitat so that they can regulate their body temperature as needed. Their enclosure should have a temperature gradient ranging during the day from 75-80°F at the cool end to 95-100°F at the warm/basking end (under the UV light), with temperatures not lower than 70°F at night. The habitat’s humidity level should be maintained between 30% and 40% so that beardies stay hydrated and shed properly. If the temperature gets too low in the habitat, your bearded dragon’s digestion and metabolism may slow and their immune system may become suppressed, predisposing them to illness.

Monitor habitat temperature and humidity with at least two thermometers and a humidity gauge, and check your thermometer and humidity gauge several times a day to ensure the temperature and humidity remain within a proper range. Add or remove heat to keep temperatures constant as the temperature of your home changes. Keep humidity at appropriate levels by ensuring proper tank ventilation—with a screened top—and by misting the enclosure with water as needed.

Poor diet

Bearded dragons are omnivores—meaning they consume both plant and animal matter—and are healthiest eating a varied diet. Beardies must eat both insects and vegetables, along with smaller amounts of fruit, to get the nutrients they need. Young bearded dragons need more animal protein (insects) to grow properly, while full-grown adults should be fed more vegetation (greens, vegetables and fruit). Giving an adult bearded dragon too many insects or a juvenile too many vegetables may lead to nutritional imbalance—calcium and phosphorus should ideally be at a ratio of 2:1 in a bearded dragon’s diet—and ultimately the bearded dragon not eating due to illness.

Additionally, even though it may be tempting to feed your bearded dragon a little bit of everything to vary their diet as much as possible, there are some foods that beardies should never eat. For example, beardies should never be offered fireflies as they are toxic to bearded dragons. Also avoid onions, chives, leeks, garlic or other veggies in the onion family. Iceberg lettuce and celery should not be offered as they are essentially all water with no nutrients. Avocados, beet greens, spinach and rhubarb all contain oxalic acid that binds up calcium, making it unavailable for beardies to use. Consult your veterinarian before adding any new foods or nutritional supplements to your pet’s diet.

Vitamin and mineral deficiency

Bearded dragons can’t get all the vitamins and minerals they need simply from their food. They require daily supplements, including calcium and vitamin D3, to grow normally and stay healthy. Pet parents can purchase individual or combination calcium and D3 powders at Petco and sprinkle them on your bearded dragon’s food. Without proper vitamin and mineral supplementation, bearded dragons are prone to developing deadly metabolic bone disease. Speak to your veterinarian about the best schedule for providing supplements to your beardie.

Another way to provide required nutrients to bearded dragons is by offering “gut-loaded” Vita-Bugs crickets, as they are raised on a feed that has been proven to maintain increased vitamin and nutrient levels throughout their growing process, making them high in vitamins A and E, beta-carotene and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Vita-Bugs or other gutloaded insects provide more balanced nutrition to a bearded dragon. If your bearded dragon has not been getting vitamin and mineral supplements and isn’t eating, your veterinarian should perform blood tests and X-rays to check for metabolic bone disease and start treatment right away, if necessary.

Injury, illness or stress

Besides changes in eating habits due to maturity, inappropriate habitat light, humidity or temperature or lack of essential nutrients, there are other possible reasons why your bearded dragon is not eating much. This includes injury, gastrointestinal obstruction, impaction or parasitic infection, stomatitis (mouth infection or “mouth rot”) and environmental stress. If your beardie isn’t eating and you suspect one of these causes, schedule an appointment with your vet.

Injury

If your bearded dragon is injured, they may stop eating—especially if the injury is painful or there is an obvious wound. Injuries can happen in numerous ways. A beardie—especially a juvenile—may be injured due to rough handling or being dropped. In addition, they may get hurt if their habitat is knocked over or they escape. They may sustain a cut from a poorly constructed enclosure or the sharp edge of a terrarium decoration. Choose an enclosure and décor specifically designed for reptiles to help avoid preventable injury, as well-designed stands and covers for your terrarium can help prevent accidents. In addition, avoid feeding beardies insects too large for them, as large crickets have even been known to bite and injure bearded dragons’ toes and tails. Small wounds from insect bites can easily become infected and develop into a much more serious issue.

Give your bearded dragon a visual review on a regular basis, making sure to check their toes, tail and soft underbelly. What looks like a small injury may actually be a more complicated problem. If you see a wound or other lesion on your beardie, have them checked out by your vet.

Gastrointestinal tract obstruction or impaction

In the event the temperature in the habitat is too low and a bearded dragon eats too many insects with a hard chitin outer shell, they may have trouble digesting these insects and develop obstructions or impactions of their gastrointestinal tracts. These obstructions are painful and typically require medical or surgical treatment from a veterinarian.

Another common cause of GI tract obstruction or impaction in bearded dragons can be when the temperature in their habitat is too low and theyingest substrate from their enclosure. While occasionally some bearded dragons intentionally eat substrate, most of the time it is accidentally swallowed when eating their food. To reduce the chance of this happening, consider not using small-particle size, loose substrate like sand and gravel that is easy for beardies to accidentally ingest. Instead use digestible, commercially available, paper-based substrate or reptile carpet.

Parasites

Gastrointestinal parasites, such as microscopic coccidia, very commonly infect bearded dragons and may cause a bearded dragon not to eat and have diarrhea. If you notice your dragon is lethargic, losing weight, has loose or poorly formed stool and isn’t eating, a parasite might be the cause. Have your beardie and theirstool checked out by a veterinarian to get appropriate medical treatment.

Stomatitis (“mouth rot”)

Stomatitis is an infection of the mouth commonly referred to as "mouth rot" that can cause painful swelling around your beardie’s mouth, inflammation and redness of their gums and even tooth loss. The infection makes it painful for your bearded dragon to eat, and as a result, they often lose weight. If you notice any signs of mouth rot, bring your beardie to the vet so your pet can get treated with the appropriate medications.

Stress

If your bearded dragon stopped eating and there are no obvious causes such as injuries, nutrient deficiencies or inappropriate habitat conditions, stress may be the culprit.

Some beardies get stressed by change. If you’ve recently put them into a new enclosure, changed their daily routine or altered conditions or décor in their habitat, they may need some time to get used to the new state of things.

Another cause of stress for a beardie is excessive handling, especially if they are newly acquired pets. Bearded dragons can be wonderfully social animals, but socializing them takes time and patience. Handle them gently and begin with short periods of handling.

Overcrowding or threats from aggressive tank mates could be another cause of your beardie’s stress. Male bearded dragons can be highly territorial, and two males should never be placed in the same enclosure.

Finally, make sure your enclosure is the correct size. Baby and juvenile bearded dragons can be stressed by enclosures that are too big or don’t have adequate hiding places. On the other hand, adult beardies can become stressed in enclosures that are too small or overcrowded. Ideally, you’ll want to house your adult bearded dragon in a terrarium that is 55-gallons or larger.

FAQs about bearded dragons not eating

Bearded dragons come from Australian deserts, where food can sometimes be difficult to find. As a result, they can go for long periods without food—especially in nature during brumation when their activity levels, digestion and metabolism slow down in response to the seasonal lack of available nutrients. In nature, bearded dragons can go as long as three months at a time with little to no food. While this situation may be necessary in the wild, pet bearded dragons’ habitats should be kept under constant temperatures, light cycles and humidity levels and they should be offered food regularly so that they don’t have to go more than a day or two without eating. 

Bearded dragon not eating greens? If you’ve recently started the transition from a juvenile diet—based predominantly on insects to provide higher protein levels for growth—to an adult diet that features far more plant matter such as veggies, greens and fruit, this could be the answer. Most bearded dragons prefer insects to veggies, and your beardie may just be holding off on eating veggies in the hopes of getting the insects they find more desirable. In this case, consider slowing down the transition, gradually increasing vegetable matter while reducing the number of insects fed. You can also try feeding your beardie several different types of vegetables to allow them to find ones they prefer. Food variety is key to having a healthy bearded dragon.

When a bearded dragon refuses to eat, it can be scary. To entice your pet to eat, consider offering brightly colored foods like pumpkin, butternut squash, red peppers, yellow squash and strawberries. In nature, many bearded dragons’ favorite foods are colorful—bright color may help stimulate a picky beardie to eat.

When a bearded dragon won’t eat, especially if a bearded dragon is turning black and not eating or is lethargic and losing weight, you may be tempted to force-feed your pet. Instead, take your bearded dragon to a reptile veterinarian who can diagnose any underlying illnesses and prescribe proper medical treatment. You should only syringe feed your bearded dragon under the supervision of a veterinarian.

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Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is a passionate group of experienced pet care experts dedicated to supporting the overall health & wellness of pets. The ACE team works to develop animal care operations and standards across the organization and promote proper animal care and education for Pet Care Center partners and pet parents, while also ensuring regulatory compliance.