If you have a bearded dragon, there are a lot of things that you need to know about your pet, how it behaves, and what phases to expect – and brumation is a particularly critical one to anticipate and understand before you get a bearded dragon.
Not recognizing what your bearded dragon is doing could be a major issue for your pet, because you won’t know how to deal with it when its behavior changes – so let’s learn about brumation in a bearded dragon.
For anyone who doesn’t know a lot about bearded dragon brumation, it can be an alarming experience the first time it happens, and that’s why it’s important to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible so you know what’s going on.
This will help you to ensure that your bearded dragon receives all the care that it needs throughout the process. Without a good understanding of what brumation is and why it happens, there’s a risk that you’ll do something during this period that won’t help your dragon out.
Your bearded dragon’s behavior is going to significantly change during the brumation period, and you will need to change how you look after it too. Knowing what to do and how to do it will help ensure everything goes smoothly.
What Is Bearded Dragon Brumation?
Bearded dragon brumation is rather like a version of hibernation, and like hibernation, it occurs during the winter, when the sunlight is weaker and there is a lot less of it.
Reptiles, which depend on sunlight to power their bodies, need to slow down during this period so that they can conserve their energy and survive – and if they don’t go into brumation, there is a risk that they will die.
While a bearded dragon is in brumation, it slows right down, with its metabolism dropping to a fraction of its usual rate, and all of its body processes switching to low power mode.
This helps the bearded dragon reserve its energy at a time when it can’t hunt for and digest food effectively because the weather is too cold for it.
When you bear in mind that bearded dragons need sunlight to find, catch, and even digest their prey, brumation makes a lot of sense – in the wild.
You might be wondering why this matters in a manmade habitat; your bearded dragon isn’t going to get cold with its heat lamp on, so what does it need a brumation period for?
Unfortunately, bearded dragons do still need this period because they have evolved to depend on it, and your bearded dragon will instinctively brumate.
They sometimes even do this in the spring and summer in the northern hemisphere, because they are native to Australia and this is the time that their bodies would usually shut down for winter.
Do You Feed A Bearded Dragon During Brumation?
On the whole, your bearded dragon will not show much interest in food during the brumation period, and its appetite will drop when it is preparing to go into brumation.
However, this isn’t a fixed rule; some bearded dragons will be prepared to eat, and you can offer food to them if they seem interested. There is an important caveat, however: you must then keep them awake while they digest their food.
If your bearded dragon retreats straight back to its cold spot after a meal, it will go back to sleep, and its digestive processes will not work as they should to break down the meal, extract the nutrients, and get rid of the waste.
This will result in the food sitting in your bearded dragon’s stomach for potentially weeks, and it will rot there, which could be dangerous.
You need to keep your bearded dragon under some UVB, give it a bath, or rub its stomach until it passes the food out of its system in the form of droppings. Once the food has passed out of the bearded dragon’s system, it’s safe to let it go back to sleep.
You may find that the bearded dragon digests the food fine without your intervention before it tries to go back to sleep, but keep an eye on it and make sure some fresh droppings are produced. If your bearded dragon doesn’t seem to be doing anything, you may need to take action.
When Does Brumation Start For Bearded Dragons?
Most bearded dragons start to brumate when they are around a year old, and brumation will generally sync up with the winter months, when the daylight levels are naturally lower and the dragons feel ready to slow down.
However, some bearded dragons are so in tune with what their Australian ancestors would have done that they will prepare for brumation during the spring or even summer months – so around June in the Northern Hemisphere.
This is one of the reasons that it’s so important for you to be aware of the signs that your bearded dragon is preparing to brumate, so you aren’t caught by surprise if it does this at an unusual time of the year.
However, a lot of the signs of brumation can overlap with the signs that your bearded dragon is ill, so don’t just assume that brumation is coming, especially if it isn’t long since your bearded dragon last brumated.
Instead, check that your bearded dragon is healthy – we are going to look at this in more detail in one of the later sections.
Remembering that brumation can occur at any time can be reassuring, but it may also be frustrating if you want your bearded dragon to be awake and enjoying the summer with you. However, brumation is an important body process and it shouldn’t be disrupted.
How Long Does Bearded Dragon Brumation Last?
This period can last for quite varied periods, and it isn’t easy to predict it, even for experienced reptile owners.
Some bearded dragons will only brumate once in their lives, while others will do so every year, or every few years – each individual is different, and you will probably learn your bearded dragon’s patterns after several years of ownership.
In the wild, all bearded dragons would brumate throughout the cold months, which is quite a fixed period, but it’s a lot harder to know how long brumation will last in captivity.
Your bearded dragon might choose to brumate for up to 8 or even 9 months in some instances, while other bearded dragons might only brumate for a few weeks.
In general, brumation will not last for more than 4 months at the most, and it may be worth checking in with a vet if your dragon doesn’t wake up at this point.
However, because each individual is different, you may just have a particularly long hibernating bearded dragon. It isn’t necessarily anything to worry about, especially if it becomes a pattern and your bearded dragon does it every year.
How To Tell If A Bearded Dragon Is Brumating
There are usually a few key signs that your bearded dragon is brumating or about to start brumating, and these include things like the reptile sleeping more and spending more of its time hidden behind a rock or inside its hide.
It may start to avoid the basking spot and any direct light because its body is telling it that it should be cooling down and the days should be getting shorter.
Your bearded dragon might also start to move around more slowly, and it may lose its appetite.
You should keep an eye on food in the enclosure and make sure that it is being consumed, not just left, if you suspect that your bearded dragon is about to enter its brumation period.
The reduced appetite will usually result in a decreased amount of feces in the enclosure, meaning that you will be cleaning it less often.
You might also find that your bearded dragon is unusually averse to you holding it, even if it is usually friendly and sociable. It might go into deeper sleeps than usual, or may try to bury itself in the substrate in the cool part of its vivarium.
What Should I Do To Prepare My Bearded Dragon For Brumation?
If you think that your bearded dragon is preparing to enter brumation, there are a few things that you should do to make sure that this process is easy and safe.
One involves adjusting the lighting so that your bearded dragon is getting less light each day; about 8 to 10 hours should be sufficient.
Another involves weighing your bearded dragon so that you can check it isn’t losing too much weight during brumation – write down its starting weight and keep an eye on this throughout the brumation period.
You should also turn your UVB lights off once the bearded dragon enters brumation, because its metabolism will drop right down.
You can turn the other lights off or leave them on, depending on your preferences, but make sure that the enclosure doesn’t get too cold; it should be kept above 65 degrees F so that your bearded dragon doesn’t freeze.
If your bearded dragon is still active, however, make sure that you keep the lights on, including the UVB lights, with reduced daylight hours.
You can gradually reduce the number of daylight hours over the next few weeks so that your dragon cools down and slows down gradually – as it would in the wild. Low wattage bulbs may help you to achieve controlled lower temperatures that your bearded dragon is comfortable with.
How Often Do Bearded Dragons Poop During Brumation?
The answer to this question depends on how active your bearded dragon is and how much it is eating each week.
If your bearded dragon is completely inactive and eating nothing, it is possible for it to go for its whole brumation period without pooping once – but this is quite rare and won’t generally happen.
If your bearded dragon is occasionally active and is eating, but only a little bit, it’s important to make sure that it is also pooping as it should be, or there is a risk of food rotting in its guts.
The poop will usually appear a couple of days after it has eaten, and the amount will depend on how much your bearded dragon ate; a small meal will result in only a small poop, while larger meals will result in larger poops.
Most bearded dragons eat very little during the brumation period, and therefore may produce little in the way of droppings overall.
If your bearded dragon has eaten a meal – even a small one – and has not produced any poop after a few days, you will need to make sure that it is digesting the food properly and take steps to encourage a bowel movement.
You may want to wake your pet up for a bath and a tummy massage to help get everything moving and encourage it to pass the waste out of its system. Baths should last for about 20 minutes and ought to be given daily until your bearded dragon poops.
Do Bearded Dragons Need Light During Brumation?
You will already know that light is critical to the health of your bearded dragon, but when it is asleep, light becomes far less important – after all, brumation is a direct response to lack of light.
How much light your bearded dragon needs will depend heavily on how active it is; if it is still moving around and eating, you will need to be providing light to ensure that it can digest its food and sustain its movement.
You should reduce the degree of light, however; you can do this gradually to avoid shocking your bearded dragon’s system.
Slowly decrease the number of daylight hours your bearded dragon gets from each of the different light sources, and consider turning the UVB one off if your dragon is not eating anything.
This will help to mimic winter conditions and may make your bearded dragon feel more comfortable.
If your bearded dragon has gone into a complete sleep, you can turn the lights of its enclosure off entirely, as it will not suffer without them.
Some bearded dragons bury themselves during brumation, which is a sure sign that they don’t need sunlight – or our artificial versions – in order to survive while brumating.
Is Brumation Bad For Bearded Dragons?
Brumation is not bad or dangerous for a healthy bearded dragon, although it is not thought to be good for very young or very old bearded dragons.
If your bearded dragon is sick or otherwise vulnerable, brumation could put it at a higher risk of dying because it slows down the metabolism and all of the other body processes – but overall, brumation is considered completely safe and natural.
If you have any concerns about your bearded dragon brumating, it is worth discussing these with your vet to see if there’s anything you should do.
In some cases, you may want to prevent your bearded dragon from going into brumation to keep it safe and healthy – but on the whole, this process isn’t considered dangerous.
You should make sure that your bearded dragon is actually brumating, however.
Some of the signs of brumation (such as lethargy, decreased appetite, etc.) can be similar to the symptoms of illness, and therefore care should be taken.
Should I Bathe My Bearded Dragon During Brumation?
Many people bathe their bearded dragons during the brumation process to ensure that their reptiles stay hydrated.
Bearded dragons do still need water, and they may struggle to wake up enough to drink as they normally would, in which case you’ll need to step in and help to ensure that they take enough water into their bodies.
You can give your bearded dragon a 10 to 20 minute soak in some water about once a week during the brumation period, and this will help to ensure it is hydrated.
Your bearded dragon may drink some of the bath water and you will be able to check it over to ensure its skin is in good condition, and it isn’t losing weight or looking dehydrated.
You can supplement bath time with drips of water that you put on your bearded dragon’s nose, and this will help to keep its hydration levels up.
You should place your bearded dragon under its UVB light briefly after a bath to ensure that it gets thoroughly dry before it goes back to sleep.
You must keep an eye on your bearded dragon during bath time if it is very sleepy, as it may struggle to hold its own head up – and you don’t want it to drown!
How To Wake Up A Bearded Dragon From Brumation
It’s really best not to wake your bearded dragon up once it has started brumating, as it should naturally wake up on its own and this is healthier for it.
Some people try increasing the temperature of the enclosure or bumping up the amount of time that the lights are on for, but this isn’t a good idea, and could be detrimental to your bearded dragon’s health.
If it wants to brumate, you should allow it to do so unless you have been advised by your vet not to.
Your bearded dragon should start to wake up on its own once its natural processes shift again, and it will show this by being wide-eyed, looking for food, and exploring its enclosure. This could take weeks or months, but it will eventually happen. Allow it to do so on its own.
If you don’t want your dragon to brumate, it’s better to stop it from doing so through controlled conditions and regular handling, rather than trying to wake it up too early.
If your vet does advise you to wake your bearded dragon up for some reason, talk to them about the most effective and safe methods for doing so.
Is My Bearded Dragon About To Start Brumation Or Is It Sick?
As mentioned earlier, some of the signs that your bearded dragon is about to brumate are the same signs that it is getting sick – which can lead to confusion.
You should always inspect your bearded dragon closely when it seems disinterested in its food, lethargic, and disinterested in the world, even if you think it’s going to brumate. Signs of sickness include changes in color, rotting around the tail, a dark beard, and weight loss.
None of these signs should be present if your bearded dragon is just preparing for brumation, so make sure you look out for them.
Total lack of movement is also an indication that something is wrong with the bearded dragon, as a brumating dragon will usually still move around when prompted – just much more slowly.
Other signs of sickness include constipation or diarrhea, swelling around the limbs, breathing difficulties, and general weakness. If you are concerned, check in with your vet, even if you think it’s probably brumation. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Is My Bearded Dragon In Brumation Or Dead?
When your bearded dragon is in brumation, it might keep completely still – so it could look dead. Even breathing can be hard to detect if your bearded dragon is deeply asleep.
However, a brumating bearded dragon will be somewhat warm, and it will usually respond at least a little if you touch it persistently.
The best way to check if your bearded dragon is alive is to check whether it is warm and whether it is stiff.
A dead dragon will be cold and very stiff, and its color may change. You might also detect an unpleasant smell coming from the enclosure as it starts to decompose, although this might take a few days to start.
If you place a bearded dragon on its back, one in brumation will usually make some attempt to right itself, albeit sleepily. A dead bearded dragon won’t move. If you still can’t tell, go to your vet for advice.
Seeing brumation in your bearded dragon for the first time can be an alarming experience, but don’t worry – it is a completely normal process that most bearded dragons will go through at some stage during their lives. As long as your bearded dragon is healthy and shows no signs of dehydration, weight loss, or parasites, brumation is safe and normal, and you simply need to adjust your approach to make the environment comfortable for your reptile until it wakes up and resumes its normal activities.