Learn how to recognise if your bearded dragon is dying or has died. This post outlines the signs that a bearded dragon is dead or dying
How To Tell If Your Bearded Dragon is Dead or Dying
January 28th, 2023
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Have you noticed that your bearded dragon who has been fit and healthy suddenly display odd behaviour? Is your bearded dragon showing signs of brumation but this time seems different? Is your bearded dragon dying? Has your bearded dragon’s beard turned black and they died suddenly? What are the clear signs of a dead bearded dragon? This post will answer these questions for you.
I have kept bearded dragons for many years now. I have found that bearded dragons are amazing little characterful creatures, each with their own personalities. But at the same time they are all very similar when it comes to growth and development, seasonal and cyclical changes. These patterns make it easier for us to quickly identify when something is wrong with them.
My First Experience With a Dying Bearded Dragon
My first experience of a dying bearded dragon was many years ago when one of my bearded dragons suddenly became very lethargic and uninterested in anything. His skin became dull and he stopped eating. All the signs pointed to brumation although it was a little early for him. I wasn’t convinced that’s what was happening though. I did a google search of what might be happening but my search was fruitless. All I kept getting was posts about bearded dragons being sick but I didn’t think he was sick.
I took him to the vet where she gave him a welfare check and weighed him. She reassured me that he was physically well but he was old. One week later he died aged 9 years old. When another of my beardies (who was also healthy and of similar age) began presenting in the same way several months later I knew that she too would soon pass, and unfortunately she did. 9 years is a reasonable age for a bearded dragon to live.
Clear Signs Your Bearded Dragon Is Dead
The following list gives some clear signs of a dead bearded dragon;
The eyes are closed but not completely closed – they may have lost their shine too.
Their mouth/jaw looks unnaturally limp, possibly partially open too.
There is no movement and they will be unresponsive to any attempt to stimulate them.
They are limp when handled. Although in the first few hours they may be stiff.
It will look like they are sleeping but their appearance is different to how they would look normally when sleeping. See photo below.
Breathing will cease, although this may difficult to tell.
They may have a yellowy colour to their skin and eyes that wasn’t present before. They may look slightly un-natural. Their beard and underside may stay black (though this doesn’t always happen).
Their skin may appear to look waxy and may lose its flexibility. Gently pinch a normally loose area into a small tent shape and watch what happens when you let go. If your dragon is healthy the skin should flatten back to it’s proper shape fairly quickly. If they have died it will be slow, or not return at all.
Some Tests You Can Try
The biggest test will be one of giving warmth and stimulation. First make sure they’re properly warmed up – under their basking lamp. Then, pick your bearded dragon up gently and try to feel for any breathing. During brumation they may breathe quite slowly so be patient. If they’re breathing, put them gently back down where they were originally – if they’re breathing then they’re not dead.
Bear in mind a brumating bearded dragon might only breathe shallowly and as little as once a minute or less. Look for any signs of their sides moving in or out just behind their front legs (sort of where they would have armpits if they had arms!). Look at their sides, not their back as the back won’t move much even normally.
If you don’t think they’re breathing, attempt to stimulate them by gently rubbing them on their tummy or somewhere soft. When, or if they respond to the stimulation, put them gently back down where they were. Response to the stimulation can be simply opening an eye to look at you.
Brumating bearded dragons will still usually respond to some stimulation, whereas one that has died will not.
Remember, don’t take any of the above signs in isolation – one or two of them on their own may simply be something reversible like brumation. But if you have 3 or 4 of them and a heightened reason for suspicion then they may have died. Seek some veterinary advice for more help.
Signs Your Bearded Dragon Is Dying
The following signs can be present with a bearded dragon that is dying. The list isn’t exhaustive and many of these things can be signs of other illnesses, so get those ruled out first.
Their skin looks grey or dull looking but they are not shedding.
They become lethargic, uninterested and unresponsive – but they are not in brumation.
They have stopped eating.
Their eyes appear sunken or droopy.
They may spend more time in the cool end.
If they are attempting to move they may drag themselves along – This can be distressing to witness.
They appear to have “given up”.
Their breathing will become very shallow.
Bear in mind also that one or two of these symptoms alone aren’t as likely to be a dying bearded dragon. But if you’ve got 3 or 4, and they’re reasonably old then it could unfortunately just be that their time has arrived. But always get a vet check to be sure.
What Does A Dead Bearded Dragon Look Like?
Below is picture of one of my beautiful bearded dragons after he died. He was showing no signs of illness, was previously healthy but been acting as though he was beginning to brumate. This time however it just seemed different. This was not his normal brumation behaviour. I took him to he vet and explained that he just didn’t seem “right”. The vet gave him a welfare check and weighed him and reassured me that he was not sick, he was just old. Not long afterwards my beautiful bearded dragon died peacefully.
Bearded Dragon Brumation Or Dead?
Sometimes we can get confused about whether a bearded dragon is brumating or dead. This is because during brumation your bearded dragon will likely hide away somewhere cool and sleep very deeply. During brumation their breathing will be very slow and shallow and you’ll wonder if they’re dead.
If you’re wondering if your bearded dragon is in brumation or dead, there is no harm in gently trying to rouse them while they’re brumating. If they respond to stimulus then you know they’re not dead. Often, just a gentle rub on their back or head will be enough to get them to take a breath – and for you to breathe a sigh of relief. You don’t need to wake them up fully, just enough to see some response to your stimulus. If you do wake them up fully (but gently!) there’ll be no harm done – they’ll just go back to sleep when they’re ready.
One of the other giveaways about whether a bearded dragon is in brumation or dead is literally how they look. If they’re dead, their skin will likely look waxy or ‘leathery’ and less supple. They may also appear pale, grey or even more yellow than they used too. They may also have turned black in various spots on their beard and body.
If you’re unsure whether your bearded dragon is dying or going into brumation then take a look at what is bearded dragon brumation? The linked article also gives you some things that you should check before allowing your bearded dragon to brumate if that’s what is going on.
Is My Bearded Dragon Dying Or Is It Sick Instead?
Quite often a bearded dragon that appears to be dying isn’t, and it’s something to do with our husbandry which is fixable. For this reason it’s always a good idea to go back to basics and check the heating and lighting are on point. Replacing basking and UVB bulbs where necessary (noting that UVB lights should be changed at least once every year at most). Consider removing loose substrates as these can sometimes exacerbate health problems. Think about if there has been any changes to their habitat as this can have an affect on their stress levels which will in turn affect their behaviour. Review their diet, has something changed, are you over supplementing?
If your bearded dragon’s beard has turned black and you’re wondering if they’ve died, it’s possible that they have. But check this post too.
There does come a time in the life of your bearded dragon though where they will complete their life cycle and unfortunately die of natural causes. If your bearded dragon is dying this can be a really difficult time for you and your family.
Illness and Disease (Another Dying Mimic)
Illness and disease will change the behaviour and appearance of your bearded dragon. A sick bearded dragon will exhibit some similar signs to a dying bearded dragon and if left untreated in most cases will eventually die. If you’re in any doubt or think your bearded dragon is sick get them to a specialised vet or herpetologist. The longer you leave them untreated the longer your bearded dragon will suffer needlessly before eventually dying.
If your bearded dragon is not experiencing any of the aforementioned events. Or if you are familiar with your beardie’s behaviour, you may be beginning to think that their behaviour appears to mimic brumation but this time it’s different – like it was for me.
Bearded Dragon Shedding
The life cycle of bearded dragons involve periodic changes in their behaviour and appearance. Many of which follow a cycle, for instance shedding and brumation. These changes are often easy to identify because when a bearded dragon is shedding they may go off their food and/or become less tolerant of being handled. However, it is obvious they are shedding because along with these behaviours their appearance will have dulled and their skin begins to flake away. If they’re shedding they’ll usually go grey in patches, if they’re dying they’re more likely to go grey (or just very pale) all over.
In the wild the average lifespan of a bearded dragon is 3 – 4 years and in captivity the average age is around 8 -10 years. Although some have been known to live to 14+ years. If your bearded dragon’s age is above 8 – 10 years and all has previously been well with them, then it is possible that they have just naturally reached the end of their life and are dying of old age. This was the case with George, who’s pictured above.
But, if you think they are dying, and they are not being their usual self, even if they are 8 or above, there could still be a simple explanation and a trip to the Vet is usually a good idea. They may just be overloaded with parasites and a quick dose of medicine will perk them right up again. Just because they’re old doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dying – so rule out the illnesses before losing hope.
Bearded Dragon Died And Came Back To Life
If you’re thinking that your bearded dragon died and came back to life, you’ve been given another chance. Of course, they weren’t dead and then came back to life because that’s just not going to happen unfortunately. So something else must’ve happened.
There are stories from people where their bearded dragons have experienced some sort of trauma or been sick, then appeared to be dead and even had their diagnosis confirmed by a vet. It’s important to make sure you speak to a vet that understand reptiles, as this will give you the best chance of getting a proper diagnosis.
Generally though, if you follow the clear signs of a dead bearded dragon listed at the top of this article you’ll be unlikely to have one that you thought was dead but actually isn’t.
Do Bearded Dragons Play Dead?
Generally speaking no, bearded dragons don’t play dead – not in the same way that perhaps Chinese Water Dragons do. It’s not unheard of though – and some owners do state that theirs play dead. But the key, when wondering whether your bearded dragon has died or is simply playing dead is the question ‘Have they done this before?’.
If you’ve got a new bearded dragon this could be a difficult question – because you won’t know the answer. But if you’ve had them a few years or more, and they’ve never played dead before, then there’s a much stronger chance that they’re actually (unfortunately) dead.
If they’ve played dead before then you’ve got a cheeky one – and a harder time figuring out whether they’ve actually died this time or are just worrying you again. Observe them from a distance if you think they are playing dead. Playing dead is a defence mechanism against being hunted, so if they’re feeling stressed or hunted they’re more likely to do this. Observing from a distance without interaction – and without the dragon being able to see you should bring them out of that state quicker and let you see them breathing again.
Do Bearded Dragons Die With Their Eyes Open?
Sometimes bearded dragons do die with their eyes open. It largely depends on what they were doing at the time. If they were sleeping when they died then they’ll probably have their eyes closed, but if they were awake they may well have them at least partly open.
Is A Dead Bearded Dragon Stiff?
Not always. You can’t rely on whether or not your bearded dragon is stiff to tell if they are dead. The stiffness is caused by a process called rigor mortis, whereby the muscles of the deceased stiffen after a period of time shortly after the bearded dragon dies. This is usually around 6 hours after they have died. However, the stiffness wears off again after a time, usually around 24 to 48 hours later. So if you have found your bearded dragon dead and he/she has only been gone for a couple of hours they won’t yet be stiff. Likewise, if they’ve been dead a couple of days they too won’t likely be stiff. But if they dare stiff then this is, unfortunately, fairly solid evidence that they are dead.
Is A Dead Bearded Dragon Cold?
Bearded dragons are ectothermic creatures, which is also known as cold blooded. This means they do not generate their own body heat but instead rely on the heat from their environment. This means that a dead bearded dragon will be exactly the same temperature as an alive one. You cannot use a bearded dragon’s temperature to determine if they are dead or not. To clarify, a bearded dragon that is too cold for too long will die. But if you’re thinking that your bearded dragon may be dead, but can’t be sure because they are still warm, then unfortunately that will not help. If they die underneath their basking lamp they will remain warm, but will still be dead. You will need to rely on other signs that we list above to determine this for sure, not their temperature.
There are many signs that a bearded dragon is dead or dying, which we’ve gone through in this post. From them turning black and dying, through to whether bearded dragons die with their eyes or mouth open. We’ve looked at things you can use to tell if your bearded dragon is in brumation or dead – and noted that it is OK to try to rouse them from their brumation if you’re worried.
If your bearded dragon has died we feel your pain and we’re genuinely sorry for your loss. We have lost many to old age in our time and it never gets any easier.
Expect to feel the pain of the loss and don’t be too hard on yourself. Grief will come in different ways for everyone and needs to be dealt with differently by everyone. Reach out to someone who’ll understand that the death of a pet is a significant thing. Cry on their shoulder if you need to. Be sad, but remember the good times you had. It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all – and so it is with our gorgeous bearded dragon pets too.
If you need to, there is a vet available you can chat to using the small ‘chat head’ at the bottom of the page.
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