Bearded dragons are arguably the most common pet lizards. They’re known to be great for beginner reptile owners, mainly due to their docile nature and being remarkably easy to care for in regards to feeding and husbandry.
Every year, bearded dragons go through an experience known as brumation. Brumation can confuse new owners, especially because bearded dragons sleep a lot, move less, and refuse to eat during this period. So, if you notice these signs, chances are that your beardie is in brumation.
So, how can you tell the difference between a bearded dragon in brumation and one that is sick? How long does brumation last? What should you do? Can you prevent it from happening?
All these are valid questions. Fortunately, we have put together this complete guide to help you learn everything about bearded dragon brumation.
What is bearded dragon brumation?
During winter, cold-blooded animals (e.g., reptiles) are disadvantaged compared to warm-blooded animals (e.g., mammals). When the temperature is low, their metabolism won’t work properly because all chemical reactions slow down. As a result, they become dormant. That’s why you notice fewer active cold-blooded animals during winter.
When this happens, brumation occurs.
Brumation is like a hibernation state. These terms are often used interchangeably. But, brumation is for cold-blooded animals, while hibernation happens in warm-blooded animals.
In bearded dragons, brumation is a natural process. It’s a state of dormancy and inactivity.
Can we say that brumation is just a long (sometimes really long) sleep?
During this period, most bodily functions shut down. Their metabolic processes slow down; their heartbeat slows down, they breathe more slowly, and their body temperatures drop.
In the wild, food is scarce during winter, and there’s no sunlight to give them warmth to help them digest food effectively. So, they hide in burrows and caves and sleep through this challenge without needing food and water, while still avoiding freezing to death until the temperature gets better.
This process is essential for their survival.
Why do bearded dragons brumate in captivity?
In captivity, we provide bearded dragons with food and water and regulate their heat and light all year round. So, brumation doesn’t seem like it’s necessary, right?
Bearded dragons have instincts and behaviors that don’t change in captivity. Therefore, it’s normal for your beardie to enter into a state of brumation during certain times of the year.
It’s important to know that not all bearded dragons brumate. In fact, some will never brumate, while some will still instinctively brumate during winter.
At what age do bearded dragons brumate?
This question doesn’t have a clear answer.
According to some people, bearded dragons under one year shouldn’t brumate. The reason is, young bearded dragons may lack the nutritional reserves and full body mass to help them go through the process.
But that’s not entirely true.
Bearded dragons can’t avoid brumation in the wild just because they’re young by our standards.
This is something internal… A survival instinct.
There’s no set age to tell when a beardie will brumate. Some bearded dragons brumate earlier, while others wait until they’re older.
If your beardie shows signs of brumation, albeit young, seek medical advice from your vet.
When does brumation occur?
Bearded dragon brumation time will depend on your location, although they mostly brumate during colder seasons.
Those living in the southern hemisphere (e.g., Australia) may start brumating from May through September. On the other hand, those living in the northern hemisphere (e.g., the U.S, the U.K, etc.) may brumate from September through March.
Typically, you can expect your beardie to begin brumating when the temperature drops in your region.
It’s important to note that not all pet beardies will begin and end brumation at the same time each year.
How long do bearded dragons brumate?
All beardies are different.
Furthermore, brumation can vary from year to year.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to predict how long this process will last. Some will brumate for a couple of weeks, and others will last a couple of months (usually four months).
Also, some will fall into one long sleep until the process ends; others may take on and off naps; others may never sleep.
It might take you two or more periods of brumation until you figure out what to expect from your pet.
Bearded dragon in brumation signs
So, how can you tell if your beardie is in brumation?
Understanding the signs to look out for is essential to this process. First-time owners unaware of this state might panic as these signs may seem like a health concern. But as serious as these signs seem, bearded dragons are often just fine.
You can tell if your beardie is in brumation if it exhibits the following signs:
- Earlier bedtime
- More sleeping time
- Less interest in food
- Slow and less movement
- Producing less poop
- Spending more time in hiding
- Staying on the cool side of the enclosure
- Aversion to being handled
It’s important to notify your vet as soon as you notice these signs to make sure it’s the brumation that’s causing them.
How can you tell if your bearded dragon is sick or in brumation?
As you can see, these signs are similar to those of some illnesses, such as parasitic infections. So, sometimes the signs can tell us that there’s an underlying condition.
Are you worried about your beardie being sick?
One thing for sure is that brumation is behavioral. Therefore, you shouldn’t notice any physical changes.
Regardless of whether your pet is beginning brumation, physical changes mean that something else is wrong.
Some changes to tell you that your beardie is unwell include:
- Weight loss
- No movement at all
- Change in color
- Diarrhea or constipation
These signs are not associated with brumation; you must contact your vet immediately.
What to do if your bearded dragon is in brumation
There’s not much you can do during this period. However, there are a few things you can do before, during, and directly after the experience to make the transition easy.
What to do before brumation
When you notice signs of brumation, here are some things you can do to make the process smooth.
- Go to the vet for a health check and a fecal test for parasites. Parasites could cause serious illnesses or death during brumation.
- Set up a hiding spot for privacy.
- Set the heat and light to winter cycles.
- Ensure your beardie poops to prevent food from rotting in the stomach.
- Provide water.
- Provide food but don’t force feed. Force-feeding can cause health issues.
- Weigh your beardie to be able to track their progress.
What to do during brumation
Once your beardie is in full brumation, you can do the following:
- Reduce UVB light and heat to mimic the cooler conditions in their natural habitat.
- Offer fresh and clean water always, just in case they need it.
- If your beardie is in deep brumation and is sleeping all through, don’t disturb or try to wake him up.
- During active periods, offer food but don’t force-feed. However, ensure that they don’t return to their hiding spot immediately after eating. Instead, adjust temperatures and UVB light back up to normal for a bit to allow digestion to happen.
- Avoid handling your beardie because it can cause panic.
- Monitor their weight and overall body condition to ensure there are no health concerns.
- When active, you can bathe them. Baths are essential for hydration purposes and to stimulate bowel movements.
- Keep their enclosure clean at all times.
What to do after brumation
This is the easiest part.
Once your beardie wakes up, everything should return to its regular schedule.
- Adjust heat and light to normal
- Offer food as usual.
- Continue offering water for hydration.
But how can you tell if your beardie is completely out of the brumation period?
Bearded dragons that are out of brumation resume their activities. You’ll notice more activity around their enclosure and more movement.
Keep in mind that it might take a few days for your pet to get back to his schedule. But one thing is for sure, he’ll return to normal.
If you notice abnormal behaviors, consult with your vet.
Should you wake a bearded dragon from brumation?
More often than not, there’s no good reason to wake a brumating bearded dragon. It’s a natural process that you shouldn’t interfere with. All you can do is try and make the process smooth to help them get through it.
Avoid disturbing them until they wake up on their own.
Finally, have patience and allow your beardie to do what is natural to them.
Bearded dragon brumation is a period of inactivity and dormancy. It’s a survival instinct for bearded dragons to survive winter.
During the experience, their body functions slow down and it can last anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months (usually four months). You can expect bearded dragons to eat less, move less, poop less, and sleep more.
Although it can be stressful and frustrating, especially for new owners, you shouldn’t try to prevent or speed up the process. If you have a healthy beardie, all you can do is support it, be there for it, and let nature take its course. You can make it a healthy experience by turning off heat and light to mimic conditions in the wild.
All in all, bearded dragons often get through this process successfully.