Owning a bearded dragon comes with a great responsibility and despite them being one of the most straightforward pets to own, many people are still unaware of brumation and what it means.
Brumation is the reptile equivalent to hibernation, which we often see in mammals. This is a process that comes as a natural instinct to the animal and occurs both in the wild and in captivity. However, bearded dragons that are kept as pets are often thought not to brumate; but this is more down to their owners disturbing them.
In this guide, we are going to be giving you all of the information you will need to know about brumation, why your pet does it and how it benefits him as well as how you can help your bearded dragon get the best brumation possible.
What Is Brumation?
One of the things that never ceases to amaze new bearded dragon owners is that seemingly out of the blue, their pet has entered brumation and they don’t know what is going on.
Take a look at any reptile forum on the internet and you will find at least one post from a concerned owner thinking that their beardie is at deaths door when in reality, if they had done their research, they would know that this is a natural process.
Brumation is very similar to the process known as hibernation that we see in a variety of mammalian species such as bears, hedgehogs and squirrels. This is quite simply, the reptilian version.
When they are in the wild, bearded dragons will go through brumation during the winter time. The reason for this is that at this time of year, the temperature drops and it is very difficult for these creatures to remain as healthy as they would in the summer. There is also far less food and keeping their bones in good condition becomes very challenging.
The best way to avoid falling victim to ill health during the winter months is to forego winter altogether and bearded dragons do this via brumation.
As they go through this process, they will totally slow down their body functions but unlike many people think, they don’t just go to sleep. The bearded dragon will move around but these movements will be far less frequent and when they do move, it will be slowly and sluggishly.
This is one of the things that can alarm an unsuspecting lizard parent but also, many owners find themselves shocked that their pet is no longer eating. Their slower metabolism during brumation means that they do not need to eat anywhere near as much.
During a period of brumation, a wild bearded dragon will hide out in dark areas that are cool. You will often find a brumating beardie under a pile of soil; not basking in the sun like he might in summer.
Hiding out in the dirt protects him and means that he can use the moisture from within the soil as a means of hydration rather than having to resurface.
Do Captive Bearded Dragons Brumate?
You could be forgiven for thinking that owning to the continuous UVB light in their enclosure and the lack of distinction between summer and winter, bearded dragons that are kept in captivity do not need to brumate.
And you might be correct; there is not really a need for this process but expecting them not to give in to a natural instinct could be akin to asking a human to ignore their fight or flight mode.
That being said, there are bearded dragons who are kept as pets that never brumate in their entire lives. They may feel an urge but having been bred in captivity, this urge may be suppressed.
But that certainly is not to say that these animals won’t brumate when they are captive; there is always a very real possibility that you might one day find your pet sluggish and without her usual appetite.
Can Brumation Hurt My Bearded Dragon?
One of the main concerns for owners is whether this process is harmful to their pet and this doesn’t come as a surprise. As humans, we are not used to the concept of shutting down our bodies and hiding out for the winter (as much as many of us might love the idea) so seeing their beloved pet behaving in this way can come as a shock.
But fear not! This is a natural process that these animals have been doing for millions of years, long before humans even inhabited the earth so it would stand to reason that they are built to withstand this.
Yes, it’s true that there are some animals who come to harm through processes like this but bearded dragons are not one of them.
The only thing that you may find difficult is that you will need to alter how to take care of your pet.
However, as with all things, there is an exception to this rule; bearded dragons that are below the age of one may not do so well when brumating. Usually, younger beardies won’t go through the process anyway and in some cases, your vet will recommend that you leave them be.
In contrast, there are babies that would need to be brought out of brumation and this is something that your vet will be able to assist you with.
How Do I Know That My Bearded Dragon Is About To Brumate?
Knowing the signs of brumation is a great way to ensure that you are ready when it happens. Furthermore, it will take away the nasty shock of discovering the dramatic behaviour change in your pet.
To begin with, you might think that your bearded dragon has developed a rather lazy persona but this is one of the first signs that brumation is on its way. However, there are other things that you can look out for to determine whether it is time to get prepared for this natural process.
- Pooing less than usual
- A decreased appetite
- Less movement than usual
- Sleeping more than normal
- Spending more time in the cooler end of their tank
- Burrowing in the substrate more often than normal
Many of these things could also be a sign that your pet is not well and it can be confusing to know whether this is the case of whether brumation is starting.
Of course, if you are in any doubt, you should consult your vet who can diagnose any potential health problems. But before you book an appointment, let’s take a look at how you might determine the difference between brumation and ill health.
Brumation vs Illness
The signs that your bearded dragon is beginning brumation will usually be behavioral; things like changes in appetite, sleeping and toileting. Conversely, a bearded dragon who is sick may also display various physical symptoms.
The list of physical symptoms that can affect an ailing bearded dragon are somewhat limitless but there are some that are more common.
If you notice any of these along with signs that could be related to brumation, there is a chance that your pet might be suffering from a medical issue and this needs to be promptly addressed by your vet.
- Tail rot
- Dramatic changes in weight
- Darkened beard
- An all-over color change
There have been some very unfortunate cases where bearded dragon owners have assumed that their pet is brumating when in fact, they have been ill and ultimately, died.
A great way to determine whether your bearded dragon is brumating or has passed away is to pick him up and gently place him onto his back. A brumating dragon will try to get out of this position, albeit slowly.
Brumation Time Frames
The first thing that makes brumation much more complicated in captivity than it is in the wild is that in the wild, you can guarantee that the process will occur during the colder winter months.
In captivity, the bearded dragon has no sense of when the seasons change and there is certainly no change in the amount of food that is available to them.
As a result of this, if your dragon is going to go into brumation, it could happen at any time. More often than not, the animal will feel the urge to brumate and go with the flow, regardless of whether it is winter or the searing height of summer.
Aside from this, you will want to consider the age of the animal. In the main bearded dragons under the age of ten months tend not to brumate. This is because their bodies are still developing and going through the process would do more harm than good, in most cases.
As we mentioned earlier, if your baby dragon does decide to brumate, your vet will help you to decide the best course of action.
Owners also regularly get confused over the length of time that the bearded dragon will brumate and this can vary greatly from lizard to lizard. There are some dragons that will go through the entire process in a matter of weeks whereas others might spend months in brumation.
It can be something of a kick in the teeth if your beloved family pet is suddenly out of action but this is something that you must think about when taking on a bearded dragon.
Furthermore, the best thing that you can do for your reptilian sidekick is to support him through the process and be there for him when he comes out the other side – which he will.
Will My Bearded Dragon Lose Weight When Brumating?
During the brumation process, a bearded dragon will eat far less than she usually would. This is as a result of a slower metabolism that means that they don’t need to eat as frequently, not because they don’t want to eat.
There will be times when you will see your bearded dragon taking a few bites of some food but it is important not to immediately presume that she has finished brumation. She will still eat little morsels.
So, it would stand to reason that your bearded dragon might lose a little weight as a result of this, right? Not necessarily.
It may surprise you to learn that your pet won’t lose as much weight as you might think. She may not be eating as much as normal but since she isn’t moving around, she won’t be burning anywhere near as many calories either.
One of the signs that your pet may be ill and not brumating is if she loses a significant amount of weight; this is not normal and should be checked by a vet.
How To Care For A Brumating Bearded Dragon
When your pet is brumating, it is important to alter their care so that they are properly looked after and safe throughout the process. The good news is that, unlike their day to day care when they aren’t brumating, you will get some time off as you won’t be required to do as much. But that doesn’t mean to say that you should omit caring for them altogether.
There are several things that might be slightly different to what you are used to and these include the following:
- The lighting in the tank can be turned down slightly since your bearded dragon will not need as much light as usual. Turning your UVB lamp down a little, to begin with will work well and you can reduce this more as time goes on. While this isn’t an essential aspect of brumation care, it is a good way to ensure that the animal is given conditions that are similar to those in the wild.
- Your pet will still need a constant supply of freshwater and even though he might not seem to be interested in it, you must ensure that it is there.
- Similarly, feeding your pet is still important, you just won’t need to offer as much. If your dragon wants food, do give it to him but one important thing to keep in mind is that he must not go back to sleep directly after eating as this will prevent him from being able to correctly digest his meal. Giving him a bath can help to keep him awake for a sufficient amount of time.
- Continue to clean the tank as you would normally to prevent a build-up of bacteria that could potentially threaten the health of your pet.
- When your dragon finishes the brumation process, you need to do nothing more than return to your previous care schedule and spend lots of time handling your pet and making up for those bonding sessions you missed out on.
Brumation is a natural thing for many types of reptiles and bearded dragons are no exception. This process is done in the wild to prevent the animal from having to face the perils of winter. However, they will sometimes go through this in captivity, much to the horror of new owners.
It is important to determine whether your bearded dragon is indeed starting brumation or whether they are ill and the best way to find this out is to look at whether they have any physical symptoms.
If your pet is brumating then you will need to adjust the way that you care for them but this won’t require too much. Once they emerge from brumation, you are ready to resume business as usual.