Bearded Dragon Obesity

Learn about the causes, signs, risks, prevention, diagnosis & treatment of bearded dragon obesity, plus dietary & exercise considerations.

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Bearded Dragon Obesity: How to Monitor and Combat Weight Gain in Your Pet

Studies show that 75% of pet reptiles die within the first year of them being taken home to live with humans (Benn et al., 2019). Which is alarming because a separate study suggested that no keeper believed their animal was poorly kept, despite only 15% of the study participants being able to identify the 4 essential items of care knowledge they needed to have to look after their reptiles properly (temperature, lighting, diet and refuge) (Azevedo et al., 2021). Bearded dragon obesity is a long term condition caused by lack of knowledge of proper diet and enrichment.

We mention this because no owner deliberately sets out to cause their bearded dragon health problems by over-feeding them. However, with their natural tendency to become obese, it can be hard to keep your bearded dragon in shape. Obesity can lead to a range of health issues for your pet, which we’ll look at below. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help your dragon stay healthy and fit.

First, be sure to provide your bearded dragon with the right diet. Feeding them a balanced diet of insect-based proteins, greens and select fruits can help them maintain a healthy weight. Avoid high-fat foods, processed treats and sugary fruits.

Next, get your dragon moving. Make sure they have plenty of room to exercise, and provide them with plenty of activity-focused toys and accessories. If possible, take them outside for some sun and fresh air.

Finally, keep an eye on your dragon’s weight. Regularly weigh them, and adjust their diet and activity level accordingly. With the right amount of exercise and nutrition, you can help your bearded dragon stay healthy and fit.

Causes of Obesity in Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragon obesity is a serious health issue that can lead to a number of health concerns. It is important to understand the causes of bearded dragon obesity in order to prevent and treat it.

One of the most common causes of bearded dragon obesity is a diet that is too high in fat and calories. Bearded dragons need a diet that includes a variety of vegetables and fruits, as well as protein-rich foods such as crickets, mealworms, and other insects. Feeding your bearded dragon too many fatty foods such as mealworms, waxworms, and other high-fat insects can cause them to become overweight.

Another cause of bearded dragon obesity is not providing enough exercise. Bearded dragons are active creatures and need regular exercise to stay healthy. Allowing your bearded dragon to roam around the house or providing them with climbing toys or branches can help them stay active and healthy. Not providing enough exercise can lead to obesity. It’s important to note that unlike mammals, bearded dragons get their body warmth externally and so they expend almost no energy on staying warm (Khan Academy, 2022). Thus, when a bearded dragon is not moving, it’s not burning calories. Thus, a bearded dragon that isn’t active requires very little food.

Finally, stress can also contribute to obesity in bearded dragons. Keeping bearded dragons in an environment with too much noise, bright lights, and other forms of stress can lead to weight gain. It is important to provide your bearded dragon with a calm, quiet environment to help reduce their stress levels.

Signs of an Overweight Bearded Dragon

The most obvious sign of an overweight Bearded Dragon is an increase in size. You may notice that your pet is looking a bit rounder than usual. Additionally, you can tell if your Bearded Dragon is overweight by observing how they move. If they move slowly or seem to tire quickly, it could be a sign of obesity.

Another sign is that your Bearded Dragon may have difficulty climbing or hanging from branches, which would indicate that they are not able to support their own weight. Finally, you may also notice that your pet is eating more than usual and not getting enough exercise.

By paying attention to the signs of an overweight Bearded Dragon, you can ensure the health and wellbeing of your pet. If you notice any of the above signs, it is important to take action and make sure your pet gets the proper care they need.

Healthy Bearded Dragon Weight

A healthy bearded dragon weight very much depends on their age. For adults – which is pretty much the only time bearded dragons are at much risk of becoming obese – this is around 400 to 500 grams.

Perhaps unfortunately almost all captive bearded dragons are overweight to some extent. Some more than others. In reality, their underbelly should be almost entirely flat. A large bulging belly is a great indicate that either your bearded dragon is pregnant or they’re obese.

Bearded Dragon Weight Chart by Age

AgeLengthWeight
Hatchlings 3 inches4-6 grams
Babies (1-3 months)3-9 inches4-20 grams
Juveniles (3 to 11 months)8-24 inches20-400 grams
Adults (12-18 months)Female: 16-19 inches Male: 19-24 inches400-550 grams
Bearded dragon weight chart by age

The Risks of a Bearded Dragon Being Overweight

Being overweight can lead to a host of health complications for your bearded dragon, from a weakened immune system to a shortened lifespan.

To ensure your bearded dragon is living a healthy life, you’ll need to understand the risks of obesity. Being overweight can lead to severe joint pain, arthritis, and even organ failure. It can also cause difficulty with movement, breathing, and digestion, as well as increased risk of infections and parasites.

More serious complications of bearded dragon obesity are fatty liver disease, which causes pain, bloating and digestive issues. Gout is a significant complication of obesity, although is more of a side effect of a diet that’s too high in insect protein (which of course leads to obesity). Breathing problems are more likely with an overweight dragon, which can lead to problems of its own, or creating an increased risk of respiratory infection. Finally, overweight female bearded dragons are at a much greater risk of follicular stasis (also known as egg-binding) (Benn et al., 2019) which can be life-threatening and may require an operation to correct. Unfortunately, obesity carries much higher anesthetic risk too – making the operation to correct the stasis much more risky.

Preventing Obesity in Bearded Dragons

Looking at the complications shown above, and realizing that obesity is one of the leading causes of illness in captive bearded dragons, it’s important to prevent obesity happening in the first place. In this case, prevention is very much easier than the cure. This can be done by following a few simple steps.

First, feed your bearded dragon the appropriate amount of food. For more information on this see our post on how much to feed your bearded dragon and when. It’s super important to offer a balanced diet and avoid overfeeding. If your bearded dragon is gaining more weight than they should then you’re overfeeding them and need to cut back. Usually this is a sign of too much insect based food rather too many greens, but you’ll have to balance that to some extent to suit your dragon.

Second, provide your bearded dragon with plenty of exercise. Bearded dragons will generally stay active if they have a large enough enclosure that allows them to move and explore. Having them catch their insect prey themselves rather than hand feeding or using a bowl can provide enrichment and exercise. You can also provide them with toys to encourage them to stay active. If the weather is warm enough, bearded dragons can go outside and many love it – do watch for predators though.

Finally, monitor your bearded dragon’s weight regularly. A healthy weight can be determined by measuring your bearded dragon’s length and weighing them. Any sudden increases (or unexpected decreases) in weight should be addressed with your veterinarian immediately.

By following these steps, you can help prevent obesity in your bearded dragon and keep them healthy and happy for years to come.

Diagnosis and Treatment for an Obese Bearded Dragon

Diagnosis and treatment of obesity in Bearded Dragons should be taken seriously. Weight loss and proper nutrition are important steps in helping your pet maintain a healthy weight.

To diagnose your dragon’s obesity, your vet may recommend weighing it and measuring its length and width. This will allow the vet to calculate your dragon’s Body Condition Score, which is an important factor in determining if your pet is obese. Additionally, your vet may perform a blood test to check for health issues that could be causing your dragon to gain weight.

Body scoring is used in mammals and reptiles and is a score from 1 to 9. 1 indicates the animal is highly emaciated and needs significant care to improve their health. 5 is considered an excellent body weight and 9 is morbidly obese (Gibbons, 2009).

Once your vet has diagnosed your dragon’s obesity, they will recommend a treatment plan that may include dietary changes, increased physical activity, and medical treatments. A diet change may include decreasing the amount of high-calorie foods, such as insects and fruits, and increasing the amount of leafy greens and vegetables.

Increasing the amount of physical activity can be done by providing your dragon with an enclosure that includes plenty of room to move around and providing items such as branches and rocks to encourage movement. If your dragon is still not losing weight, your vet may recommend certain medication or supplements to help your pet reach a healthy weight.

Dietary Considerations for a Bearded Dragon with Obesity

A balanced diet for a bearded dragon with obesity should include a variety of nutritious foods, such as dark leafy greens and some insects. Feeding your bearded dragon a variety of these items will ensure they get the necessary vitamins and minerals while still maintaining a healthy weight. You should limit treats or sugary items such as fruits as they are not beneficial to your dragon’s health. Additionally, you should be mindful of the quantity of food you are feeding your dragon as well as how often. Bearded dragons should eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.

Finally, it is important to note that providing your bearded dragon with adequate exercise is also important in helping them maintain a healthy weight. Allowing your bearded dragon to explore their habitat, providing them with toys to play with, and encouraging them to move around will help them stay active. Additionally, decreasing the amount of time they spend in their basking spot will also help keep their weight in check.

Exercise and Activity for a Bearded Dragon with Obesity

One way to ensure your bearded dragon stays active and healthy is to provide them with an environment that encourages movement. Offer a variety of surfaces for your bearded dragon to climb and explore, such as logs, rocks, branches, and other natural features. Make sure to provide enough space for them to move around, as a smaller enclosure can make them feel trapped and more sedentary.

You can bring your bearded dragon out of their enclosure and allow them to roam around the room you’re in which will give them some good exercise. Do make sure they’re not interacting with other pets and are never left unsupervised as they can get into some spaces you may not be able to find them again. Other pets may decide they look like a tasty treat – even our soft dog gets interested when the beardie is roaming. The same goes for kids in the room – don’t leave them unattended with the dragon unless they’re old enough to understand how to handle them properly.

You can also provide them with a shallow pool of water and let them play in it, or even swim if they enjoy it – though many don’t. This helps stimulate their senses and encourages them to move around. With regular exercise and activities, your bearded dragon is sure to stay fit and healthy.

Summary

Bearded dragon obesity is an ever-increasing problem in the pet reptile world, and the causes can vary from owner neglect to improper diet and exercise. Knowing the signs of an overweight bearded dragon and the risks associated with obesity can help owners prevent and properly diagnose and treat the issue.

The most common cause of obesity in bearded dragons is overfeeding. Owners may not realize that their pet is getting too much food, or may not recognize the signs of a healthy weight. Other causes include too little exercise, too much calcium in the diet, and not enough UVB exposure.

Signs of an overweight bearded dragon include a large belly, lack of energy, and difficulty using their back legs to move or climb. If left untreated, the dragon may suffer from physical issues such as difficulty breathing, skin health issues, and heart problems.

Preventing obesity in bearded dragons begins with proper diet and exercise. Owners should be feeding their dragon a balanced diet of insects and vegetables, and providing them with plenty of opportunities to move and explore. It is also important to monitor the amount of food given, and to make sure the dragon is getting enough UVB exposure.

When it comes to diet, it is important to feed the dragon leaner proteins and to reduce the amount of insects offered. Vegetables and plant-based proteins are preferred over fatty proteins like mealworms.

Exercise and activity are also important for a bearded dragon with obesity. Owners should provide the dragon with plenty of opportunities to move and explore, such as providing a large enclosure and offering toys and climbing structures. Additionally, providing a warm surface for basking is important for the dragon’s health, as it encourages exercise and helps to regulate digestion.

Overall, obesity in bearded dragons is a serious condition that can have serious health implications. Knowing the signs and risks of obesity and taking preventative measures is key to keeping your dragon healthy. Additionally, if the dragon is already overweight, it is important to consult with a vet and to make sure the dragon is getting the proper diet and exercise.

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Featured Image by NickNac2030 from Pixabay

References

Academy, K. (2022). Endotherms & ectotherms (article) | Ecology. Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/science/ap-biology/ecology-ap/energy-flow-through-ecosystems/a/endotherms-ectotherms

Azevedo, A., Guimarães, L., Ferraz, J., Whiting, M., & Magalhães-Sant’Ana, M. (2021). Pet Reptiles—Are We Meeting Their Needs? Animals, 11(10), 2964. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11102964

Benn, A., McLelland, D., & Whittaker, A. (2019). A Review of Welfare Assessment Methods in Reptiles, and Preliminary Application of the Welfare Quality® Protocol to the Pygmy Blue-Tongue Skink, Tiliqua adelaidensis, Using Animal-Based Measures. Animals, 9(1), 27. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9010027

Gibbons, P. (2009). CRITICAL CARE NUTRITION AND FLUID THERAPY IN REPTILES. https://www.avianexoticvetcare.com/userfiles/Reptile_Critical_Care_IVECCS_2009.pdf