You scoop up the roaches and drop them back into their bin for the third time this week. Or you remove a full, wilty salad from your bearded dragon’s cage...again. Your usually ravenous pet has been snubbing food lately and you’re not sure why.
Whether it’s a bug lover who suddenly lost the thrill of the chase, a juvenile on a salad strike, or a baby who simply won’t eat anything at all, you’re probably worried sick, asking yourself frantically, “Why won’t my bearded dragon eat?”
If this is going on, know that you are not alone! Appetite loss and refusal to eat are common problems with bearded dragons, and they can be caused by many things—some serious and some not so serious.
9 Possible Reasons Your Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat and what to do about it
CAUSE #1: Your bearded dragon is stressed.
SOLUTION: Determine the source of the stress and remove it if possible.
Is your dragon new? Then the best thing to do is be patient and persistent. Continue to offer food daily, whether or not it is refused.
Sometimes new dragons, especially babies and rescues, view your hand as a predator as it enters the tank from above. So even though you are offering food, they are scared, and uncertain if they can trust you. Get them comfortable with your hand by letting them look at it for a while. Then, gently stroke them as long as they will let you. Your dragon will eventually realize that your hand belongs to someone who loves them, not a predator.
Have there been any changes in lighting, temperature, or diet? If you have a bearded dragon you should also have a thermometer gun to make sure his tank is never too hot or too cold, as this can cause a variety of health problems.
Daytime temperatures should always be between 95 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit at the basking spot, with cooler areas on the other side of the tank. Nighttime should be between 65 and 75 degrees.
Pro Tip: Replace your UV lamp every 6 months to ensure optimal performance so your dragon gets that all-important Vitamin D3. If you’re in the market for a new lamp, consider a self ballasted mercury vapor lamp which provides heat as well as rays.
Was there a recent change in your dragon’s environment? This could be something as simple as a new tank decoration that is frightening your dragon (in which case just remove it), or something a little more difficult like a new dog whose barking is causing an issue. If the stressor is something you can’t remove, like a dog, street noise, or a new baby, be patient with your dragon and try some de-stressing methods until she gets used to the change. Wrapping your dragon in a blanket or giving him a warm bath can help.
Not sure what’s causing your dragon's stress? Much like people, every dragon experiences stress in their life at some point. But if your dragon seems to be experiencing ongoing stress and you can’t figure out the cause, it’s best to talk with your vet. Ongoing stress can cause serious health issues for your dragon.
CAUSE #2: Your bearded dragon is growing.
SOLUTION: Make sure the tank is the right size.
Much like children, some dragons will refuse to eat when they are growing because they just don’t feel good. They also may be feeling stressed if they are getting too big for their tank. If your dragon is:
- Under 16 inches long: a 40 gallon tank should be the perfect size.
- More than 16 inches long: you’ll need a 50 gallon tank.
Is your tank is the right size already? Maybe there is too much decor in the tank. Your dragon should be able to move around the tank comfortably, without feeling overcrowded.
Pro Tip: If your dragon is going through a growth spurt, it's important to keep offering a good source of protein, like Dubia roaches. That way, the bugs are available for your dragon when he wants to eat again.
CAUSE #3: Your bearded dragon is shedding.
SOLUTION: Be patient, provide warm baths, and never, ever pull skin off.
Shedding is really uncomfortable for dragons, and most don’t want to eat much until the process is done. If your dragon is having a particularly rough time, just remember, never pull off any skin. Warm baths help make her more comfortable and encourage the skin to fall off more quickly on its own. Misting the tank daily while your dragon is shedding can also help.
CAUSE #4: Your juvenile bearded dragon is transitioning from more insects to more greens.
SOLUTION: Be patient and continue offering greens mixed with insects or fruit as an incentive.
Baby dragons eat mostly insects, and adult dragons eat mostly greens. So there is that in-between phase where your juvenile dragon wants to eat mostly insects but you are transitioning him to eat more greens. This can be difficult. Patience and consistency are your best bet here.
If you have a juvenile dragon who is refusing their greens but still eating insects, this is probably the cause. The best thing to do is to be patient and keep offering greens as well as insects. Sometimes hiding insects in a salad or topping it with berries helps your dragon get used to eating more greens.
Pro Tip: Bearded dragons have taste preferences just like we do. Offer your dragon a variety of greens to see what she likes best.
CAUSE #5: You have two dragons in the same tank.
SOLUTION: Get another tank as fast as possible.
Cohabitation is really not a good idea for bearded dragons. They are naturally territorial and the less dominant dragon will eventually starve to death.
CAUSE #6: Your dragon is suffering from malnutrition.
SOLUTION: Reassess your dragon’s diet and make any necessary adjustments for optimal nutrition.
Oftentimes lethargy and appetite loss go hand in hand. Whether it’s a vitamin deficiency or poor diet, a dragon can lose their appetite if they are not feeling well.
CAUSE #7: Your dragon is injured.
SOLUTION: Contact a vet immediately.
Is your dragon struggling to move? Do you notice any cuts or scratches on his skin? Are any of his limbs crooked, or do you notice lumps on his back? If your dragon somehow hurt himself or has developed metabolic bone disease which resulted in broken bones, then he is likely not going to be eating and you should get in contact with a vet as soon as you can.
CAUSE #8: Your dragon is ill.
SOLUTION: Contact a vet immediately.
Just like humans, bearded dragons lose their appetite if they are sick. Illnesses include:
- Mouth rot (infection)
- Gut impaction
- Metabolic bone disease
If your dragon is ill, you’ll need to consult with your veterinarian to work out a treatment plan. How do you know if your dragon is sick? Sometimes the signs can be fairly obvious, such as vomiting, bulging eyes, stunted walking, or difficulty breathing. Others can be more subtle, like prolonged diarrhea and lethargy. It’s important to know your dragon’s normal behavior so you notice right away if anything is amiss.
CAUSE #9: Your dragon is going into brumation.
SOLUTION: Confirm this with your vet and make sure your dragon’s tank is ready for brumation.
Your dragon may be refusing food because he is getting ready to brumate. During brumation, a dragon is in a type of deep sleep. Because his digestion system will shut off during this time, he does not need to eat. Many domestic dragons go through this natural process.
If your dragon is about to brumate, you may notice other signs, such as:
- Burrowing or hiding more
- Avoiding you or other people more than usual
- Sleeping more or acting very tired
- Going to the bathroom less often
Check with your vet to make sure this is brumation. If it is, it’s best to leave your dragon alone and make a few preparations for the tank. Your dragon should resume eating—gradually—after he wakes up.
In some cases, you may not notice all of the signs of brumation and you find your bearded dragon not eating or moving (aside from breathing, of course), apparently sleeping day after day. In this case, your dragon may have already gone into brumation. It’s still worth a call to the vet to be sure.
Still Asking Why Won’t My Bearded Dragon Eat?
Sometimes, even with all the information you can find online, it’s difficult to determine exactly why your bearded dragon won’t eat. That’s one of many reasons to have a good vet for your bearded dragon so you have someone to call and help when you can’t find an answer. At the same time, keep in mind that loss of appetite is extremely common among bearded dragons; chances are, it's nothing serious.
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