Table of Contents
My bearded dragon won’t eat or my bearded dragon has stopped eating is something we hear quite often. There are many reasons why bearded dragons stop eating or go off their food. Some are a cause for concern, whilst others aren’t. Read on to find out more.
Why has my bearded dragon stopped eating?
It can be a worrying time if your bearded dragon won’t eat or suddenly goes off their food. There are however a number of reasons that could contribute to the cause. Many of these are easily identifiable and rectifiable. In my experience I’ve found the causes of a bearded dragon not eating are either or combination of: your husbandry, stress, age/life cycle/seasonal changes, illness disease or dying.
If you’re relatively new or this is your first bearded dragon it’s highly likely that it’s something inadvertently to do with your husbandry within the bearded dragons environment. Do not feel too bad as these are common mistakes often made by owners of bearded dragon in the learning stages myself included! Things to check are:
Common causes and reasons WHY A Bearded Dragon won’t eat.
Always go back to the basics. Things to check:
It is vital that your vivarium/tank has the correct gradient temperatures. This will allow your bearded dragon to kick start their metabolism and become active and alert. Without adequate heat your dragon will be unable able to digest any food they have consumed. Prolonged periods of insufficient heat will result in your dragon becoming sick. Conversely if you tank is too hot and there’s no cooler gradient your dragon will have no way of thermoregulating his body temperature and will overheat and ultimately die.
Hot end or basking end should be between 38 – 43 degrees celsius (100 – 110 F) and a cooler end between 22.0 – 27.0 degrees celsius (72 – 80 F).
Has the vivarium heat source stopped working?
This might sound obvious but is something that can be missed especially if the main heat source is not combined with light. If it’s stopped working check the timer is programmed correctly and functioning and that the wall socket is switched on before buying new bulbs! (I’ve been guilty of this one).
Have you recently changed the heating in your Vivarium?
You may need to make some adjustments to achieve the correct temperatures. If the temperatures are correct your bearded dragon may need some time to adjust to the change. You could also move the food bowl nearer to the basking area to stimulate their interest. This can work well with baby beardies.
Is the heat source in the vivarium providing enough concentrated heat?
Is your heat source positioned too high for basking area? You may need to lower your light fitting and/or increase the wattage. Consider adding an extra heat source especially if you have a larger tank. Your basking/spot lamp should provide heat for at least 8 hours.
If your tank gets too cold at night you could add a ceramic bulb that will emit heat but no light so your dragons can sleep soundly. This can also provide additional heating during the day if required.
Are the thermometers in the tank working?
If you only have the dial or strip thermometer consider investing in a digital LCD thermometer these are much more accurate and inexpensive and can be purchased in any pet shop. eBay and Amazon are also a good (cheaper) alternative. Some digital thermometers have a humidity feature which is useful as humidity can also have on affect on your beardies health. The relative humidity should be around 35 – 40%; This is determined by the amount of water vapour inside the tank.
Bearded Dragons originate from the outbacks of Australia where they thrive in the extreme elements, this includes the sun. Bearded Dragons are, as are all reptiles, cold blooded and need the sun to function. They need it not only for its heat source but for the UVA and UVB rays the sun emits especially UVB.
Not having enough adequate UVB can also cause a bearded dragon to stop eating.
UVA have a long wavelength and penetrate deep into the dermis of our skin. UVB has a shorter wavelength and is responsible for the sunburn to the superficial layers of our skin. Both will cause us “sun damage” however UV exposure for bearded dragons is essential and a vital component for growth and bone strength. Vitamin D3 is synthesised through the skin which allows calcium absorption.
Without adequate UVB bearded dragons will develop metabolic bone disease. When setting up our vivarium we want to replicate the inhabitants natural environment as much as is practically possible to keep them happy and healthy. For bearded dragons the correct lighting is equally as important to their well being as the temperature.
Other things to consider:
Are the vivarium lights on long enough?
Lighting should remain on for at least 10-14 hours depending on the season and the age of the bearded dragon. It is important to keep both heating and lighting consistent especially for baby bearded dragons. Constant fluctuations can stress them and contribute to your baby bearded dragon not eating.
Are your bulbs providing enough UVB light?
If you’re using a fluorescent tube ensure it is suitable for reptiles providing 10.0 or 12.0% UVB (Arcadia, Exo Terra and Reptisun are reputable brands). Lights should be replaced every 6-12 months depending on type (check manufacturers info). I write the date on the side of my tank so I know when it needs replacing. There are also all-in-one D3 bulbs that provide both heat and lighting. I would advise that these are used in conjunction with the fluorescent tube. This will allow you more flexibility with timing your heating and lighting.
My Bearded Dragon wont eat, Is my bearded dragon Stressed?
Bearded dragon will often stop eating when they become stressed, they may also become withdrawn and there bearded may remain black.
Things to consider:
Have you just bought your dragon home for the first time or changed his housing?
Bearded dragons are very much creatures of habit and having new surroundings or even something that has changed within old surroundings can be why your bearded dragon won’t eat. This seems to affect younger dragons more than older ones.
These changes can stress some dragons just as moving can be stressful for us. Keep a close eye on them but allow them some adjustment time. Baby bearded dragons are particularly sensitive to sudden changes in their environment. If you’re not already, hand feeding live food can be less intimidating than the bugs jumping around the tank. This a good way for your beardie to get familiar with you. If you don’t like the idea of handling bugs you could use tongs. Hand feeding greens can also work but you need to make it interesting for them and “wiggle it just a little bit” until they get used to helping themselves from the food bowl.
Is your bearded dragon too exposed?
What I mean by this; is your tank minimalist? Do they have a varied enclosure and do they have somewhere to hide if they feel threatened? Your dragon will need somewhere to retreat to. Providing them with a varied habit allows them to hide, climb and explore. Rocks and branches and foliage provide great cover but also add height and interest for your dragon. It is not uncommon for bearded dragons to get board which can lead to depression. If you think your bearded dragon might be board see Is your bearded dragon board for some ideas.
Is your bearded dragon housed with other dragons?
Cohabitation may be another reason your bearded dragon won’t eat.
Bullying is not uncommon among bearded dragons, this can occur with all ages. Its advisable not to mix ages as the older ones “pick on” the babies and juveniles. Male adults should not be housed together as they will fight. Females can work well together as does an adult male with females. However, a female can become stressed if the male is constantly hounding for “affection”. It would be sensible to separate them. You may also notice bite marks on the back of the female’s head and neck where the male has been attempting his advances. If you are housing two or more bearded dragons make sure their enclosure is big enough to give them enough space to get away from each other. Also be prepared to separate and rehouse any stressed bearded dragon.
Can Seasonal changes, life cycles or age Be Why My Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat?
Is my bearded dragon in Brumation?
Around autumn and winter you may notice that your bearded dragon is not as active and not eating as much or possibly stopped all together. If your lizard is otherwise healthy do not panic! They are probably entering into semi hibernation this is whats called “brumation”. This can happen at any age although it’s not always as obvious in the younger dragons. Some beardies may not always have the appetite that they once did as they grow older. They can often go a few days without eating. As long as they look healthy their inactivity may not be cause for concern, ensure that they still have fresh greens and water in their tank. Click here for a more in depth article on brumation.
Is my bearded dragon a fussy eater?
It’s not unusual for bearded dragons to alter their eating habits. They will naturally do this in the wild. Babies and juveniles will predominantly eat insects and not much vegetation at all but as they mature they begin to consume more vegetation and less live food. If your beardies diet is limited in variety they may have just become bored or appear “fussy” with their food. You could try to introduce some more variety to their greens and live food to trigger their interest. Have a look at this post for some different ideas for Dragons to eat
You may need to become inventive and even disguise what you are trying to tempt them with in order to “trick” them into eating it. This is similar to what we do with our children when we want them to eat their veg. Mixing some veg in with worms is a good way to get them to inadvertently eat their greens while trying to catch the worms.
Sprinkling bee pollen over their veg has proved successful for many bearded dragon owners. Its thought that they are attracted to the aroma, although the taste can vary depending on the type of pollen. Bee pollen is rich in nutrients including vitamins, minerals, protein and essential amino-acids. It has also been suggested that bee pollen can aid in reducing stress. If this is something worth trying then I would suggest buying human grade bee pollen it will be a higher quality and cheaper than whats branded for bearded dragons. You can also use it to gut load live food too!
The younger bearded dragons must have their food cut into manageable pieces. Bearded dragons don’t really chew their food they swallow it down whole. For babies and young juveniles over sized food pieces can cause digestion issues including impaction. Over sized food can also paralyze bearded dragons due to compressing the spinal nerves. For the younger beardies it is recommended that their food including live feeders should be no bigger/longer than the distance between their eyes.
Remember to regularly lightly dust your beardies food with a good reptile calcium and vitamin supplement powder. Over dusting can be unappetising for your beardies as it would like us eating talcum powder on our salad! I often just dust the live food depending on their appetite. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when using supplements. Over supplementing can be detrimental to your beardies health especially if it contains Vitamin D3. (see Hypervitaminosis D)
Is Your female bearded dragon gravid?
Females may go off their food just before laying their eggs. If your female has become restless, frequently digging or scratching around and not interested in food she may well have a belly full of eggs and looking for somewhere to lay them. They can become stressed and egg bound if there is nowhere suitable to lay
She can lay up to 15-35 egg in one clutch. You can tell this by carefully palpating her abdomen and if she is gravid you should be able to feel several eggs.
If your female has no suitable area to lay her eggs it would be advisable to provide a nesting or egg laying box so she can dig and lay her eggs. If your female can’t find a suitable area to lay her eggs she could become egg bound and will require specialist veterinary intervention.
It takes around 5 weeks for her to lay after mating. Female bearded dragons can still produce eggs even if the haven’t mated, they will still go through the same process as detailed above. Their eggs will not be viable and should be discarded after laying.
After egg laying her appetite should return, she will require calcium rich and high protein foods, additional supplements and re dehydration.
Will shedding affect my bearded dragons appetite?
Shedding is a regular and frequent occurrence in growing healthy bearded dragons. You may have noticed that their appearance have become dull looking and scales are flaking in places. Your male may be doing his impression of Dumbledore or Gandalf with his temporary white beard instead of his impressive black beard! It is not uncommon for your beardies appetite to diminish during this time. It is not usually cause for concern because as mentioned shedding happens because you beardie is growing which means he has been eating.
Shedding can be an annoyance for your dragon similar to when our skin peels after sunburn. The skin becomes dry flaky, tight and can be restrictive. We can assist with shedding and help them to feel more comfortable by bathing them more frequently.
Most beardies enjoy a good soak this will help to soften and loosen their skin. Water should be warm not hot and to a depth where they can submerge themselves but still able to stand up with their head above the water. I use the bath for this an old baby bath is also good.
TOP TIP soak your dragon in a large clean bowl first because they WILL poo in it!! And when they do and they will do, you can scoop them out and pop them in the bath for a good splash about!!
You can read more about how to take care of your shedding bearded dragon by clicking here.
What can I do to encourage my Breaded Dragon to eat?
If your bearded dragon is not eating well or gone off their food here are some tips you can try to encourage them to eat:
- Make the food appetising and keep it varied. see what vegetables can bearded dragons eat and can bearded dragons eat fruit? for some ideas.
- Make sure live foods are suitable for the age of the bearded dragon. No foods live or otherwise, for babies or juveniles should be bigger than the space between their eyes. Not only can this potentially freak them out it poses a high risk of impaction. See what live food can bearded dragons eat.
- Change the veg daily, shriveled and dried up veg is not appealing to anyone. The veg can be moistened but avoid making it too wet as soggy veg is equally unappetising.
- Make sure the veg is cut into manageable pieces, removing all stalk, pips, stones etc. this is especially important for the babies.
- Don’t be discouraged if your baby bearded dragon is not interested in veg, they are interested in eating mainly live food to them if its not moving its not food. You can wiggle the food to mimiic movement this may make the interested.
- Add veg in the feeder bowl with worm, they will inadvertently eat some of the green as the fed on the worms. The worms will also start to eat the greens which will provide some gut loading.
- Do not over dust with supplement powder it would be like you eating a salad covered in talc.
- Try a small amount of bee pollen sprinkled over the veg.
- Gut load all live food this way if they only eat a few bugs you know they are all full of nutrients.
- Persevere and don’t give up, some bearded dragons take time.
- Adult bearded dragons won;t need or always want to eat every day especially if you let them binge eat.
- If you think they are not eating due to illness see next section and refer to a specialised reptile vet for advise.
For more infomation on bearded dragons eating habits have a look at How much should I feed my bearded dragon and when This article will give you advice as to how much is enough.
Has my bearded dragon stopped eating because they are sick, diseased or dying?
If your bearded dragon has gradually gone off his food or suddenly stopped eating and is not his usual active and alert self and / or presenting with any abnormalities, this should give you cause for concern. The cause for refusal of food may be much more serious. The reason sometimes being that they’ve become sick, diseased or dying.
It is imperative that you seek medical advice for your beloved bearded dragon immediately,
DO NOT DELAY in taking them to a herpetologist or vet that has special interest in reptiles, if your local vet does not have a reptile specialist they should be able to advise you where to go.
If you think there’s something up with your bearded dragon, you don’t think he is sick but cant quite put your finger on it see is your bearded dragon dying.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Sadly this is probably the most commonly seen health problem for bearded dragons in captivity. It is a complex disease and often multifactorial. Caused by a diet that is too high in phosphorus and low in calcium and/or a deficiency of vitamin D3 cause by insufficient UVB light or exposure to natural light (see lighting section in this article)
Common signs of MBD: swelling of the back legs and or lower jaw, softening of facial features, bone fractures that occur with minimal force in advanced stages loss of appetite, lethargy, muscle twitches and seizures.
Treatment: immediate medical treatment of vitamin and mineral therapy is required to begin the replenishment of calcium that is deficient in the bones. Long term treatment requires a balanced diet and lighting with a high UVB %.
Mouth rot is a bacterial condition affecting the mouth. It is more common in other lizards but can occur in bearded dragons. Any bearded dragon with mouth rot will have difficulty eating and will eventually stop trying.
Signs are: Bleeding and swollen gums. There may be an excessive amount of mucus that is thick in consistency which can resemble cottage cheese. Mouth rot can be mistaken for MBD because it causes swelling of the jaw.
Treatment will require antibiotics, severe cases will need injected antibiotics.
What is Impaction?
Impaction is caused when a section of the intestinal tract become blocked or obstructed. This can become a life threatening condition. If it is not medically treated the bearded dragon will almost certainly die.
What is the cause of impaction?
Impaction is caused when the bearded dragon has ingested something that it is unable to digest and often inadvertently. This could be when feeding or you may have noticed that the bearded dragon frequently lick their environment. They do this to check out their surroundings but could easily ingest a foreign body in doing so. If a bearded dragon has become impacted he will eventually stop eating he will also stop pooing.
Regular warm bathing helps with bowel movements and could help if the impaction is not too serious. However if your Beardie doesn’t open his bowels during a bath and hasn’t pooped for a while. How long this is depends on your Dragon’s own personal pooping habits! If you’re concerned that he hasn’t been for a while and think he may be impacted then an urgent visit to the vet is required to have the obstruction removed.
Impaction is preventable and is often caused by the substrate (material covering the floor) of the vivarium. Large particle substrate is often the culprit and should be avoided as a substrate until they are at least a year old. This allows time for their digestive tract to develop to enable the sand to pass through without incident. Although it is not impossible for the beardie to accidentally ingest foreign objects while scampering around your home. These could be any indigestible material including beads, lego, buttons small pieces of plastic etc. Other substrate choices are discussed here.
Hypervitaminosis D develops when the bearded dragons food has been overdosed with vitamin and mineral supplements.
Signs are lethargy, vagueness and loss of appetite.
Treatment involves Intensive veterinary intervention and fluid therapy in order to lower the calcium level safely.
Please note: Do not attempt to force feed your bearded dragon unless you have been advised and shown how to by a specialist reptile vet.
Also see My Bearded Dragon Looks Sick – What Could It Be? for further information.
If you’ve found this article useful, or have further questions, please drop us a comment below.