Bearded dragon brumation is something that all owners need to be familiar with. It’s a natural process that can present itself in different ways, and it’s your job to know what to expect (and how to handle it).
But most new owners don’t.
They buy all the necessary supplies, do the basic care research, and then get their beardie. But brumation isn’t something they do much research on.
And we totally understand. When getting a new pet there’s a lot going on. There’s also no one telling them why it’s important.
A lot of times they’ll actually find out about brumation when it happens (which can be scary). The nervous researching and frantic forum posts are a tale as old as time.
And that’s why we put together this comprehensive guide on bearded dragon brumation. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be a complete expert!
Table of Contents
- What Is Bearded Dragon Brumation?
- Why Do They Do It In Captivity?
- Is It Bad For Them?
- Signs Of Brumation
- Telling The Difference Between Brumation And Sickness
- What Age Do Bearded Dragons Brumate?
- When Does It Normally Happen?
- How Long Do They Brumate?
- Eating Habits During Brumation
- Weight Loss
- What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Do For Them During The Process
- What To Do When They Wake Up
- Now You’re Ready!
What Is Bearded Dragon Brumation?
Bearded dragon brumation is a process that’s quite similar to the act of hibernation that you see in other animals like bears. In the wild, this occurs during the winter.
You see, the winter is not a time of the year that is friendly to bearded dragons. There is significantly less available food, and the change in sunlight means they can’t process their food effectively and maintain bone health.
Expert Tip: This is why it’s so important to have a reliable UVB light in their enclosure.
As a result, the smarter option is to simply sit out the winter and wait for things to get nice and warm again. Brumation is how they do this.
A brumating beardie will drastically slow down their body functions and metabolism in order to conserve energy and help them last through the cold months. They won’t eat much, will barely move around, won’t bask, and will stick to dark and cool areas.
They’ll typically nestle themselves into the dirt when they do through this process in order to hydrate themselves from moisture that’s found in the soil. This allows them to stay tucked away in the same hiding spot without having to venture out for water.
Contrary to popular belief, a bearded dragon that’s brumating won’t sleep all day. They will wake up and even move around from time to time. This just happens far less frequently than normal (and they’ll look sluggish when they do).
Why Do They Do It In Captivity?
Now that you know why bearded dragon brumation happens in the wild, it’s time to figure out why they do it in captivity. After all, it’s not really necessary, right?
But it all comes down to instinct and habit. Bearded dragons are used to going through brumation every year, so there’s always a chance that they’ll decide it’s time (regardless of the conditions in their enclosure).
This doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, many pet beardies don’t brumate at all! However, the fact that it’s such a strongly ingrained process means the possibility is always there.
Is It Bad For Them?
A common question we get is if brumation is bad for bearded dragons in captivity. The quick answer is no.
While it will require you to adjust your care guidelines a bit, it’s not something to be worried about. They are not like other pets where hibernation can actually lead to serious health concerns.
But there is an exception to this rule.
If your beardie is a baby (or less than a year old) brumation is usually not ideal. It can potentially stunt their growth and cause potential health complications later on.
Brumation in babies is extremely uncommon so it’s likely not something you’ll have to worry about. However, if your baby does try to go into brumation we recommend contacting your vet to see if you should attempt to get them out of it.
They’ll likely check their fat pads and get a baseline understanding of how much nutrition they have. If everything looks good then they might tell you to let the process play out!
But if they don’t like what they see, they might have you (and help you) try to get them out of it.
They won’t have you go overboard. Instead, they’ll try some of the more unintrusive tricks initially to see if they can stop the process (you can find them in a later section).
If that doesn’t work then you might be advised to let them complete the process and hope for the best. There’s no guarantee that a young beardie that goes through brumation will be unhealthy after all!
Signs Of Brumation
So, what are the signs of brumation in bearded dragons? While we hinted at them before, this section will explore them in more detail.
Understanding what to look for is a very important part of the process. If you don’t know what’s going on, it’s impossible to follow the correct course of action.
Expert Tip: Understanding the signs is also a good way to prevent yourself from panicking. It’s common for inexperienced owners to think that there’s something wrong with their brumating beardie when in reality, they’re completely fine.
From a high level, bearded dragon brumation will look a lot like major laziness or a lack of energy. Because they’re starting to power down their systems and slow down their metabolism, there’s not a need for as much activity or food as before.
Here are the common signs to look for:
- Less movement
- Very little poop
- Lack of interest in food
- Spending most of their time on the cool side of the enclosure
- Frequent sleeping
- Increased time spent burrowed in the substrate
As you can tell, a lot of these signs overlap with a bearded dragon that has some kind of health complication. This is why many owners who aren’t familiar with the process of brumation tend to get worried when they see this change in behavior.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make sure what you’re dealing with is brumation and not something serious.
Telling The Difference Between Brumation And Sickness
There are some major signs you’ll want to look for in order to determine if your bearded dragon is brumating or sick. Sick bearded dragons will often have obvious physical symptoms that are out of the ordinary.
For the most part, signs of brumation will only be behavioral. That means if you see physical changes as well, there’s a chance something is wrong.
Some examples of this are:
If there’s no movement that’s also a sign that your bearded dragon is sick (or worse). Brumation means they’re taking it easy, not playing dead.
If you’re really concerned you can try gently placing your bearded dragon on its back. Even if your bearded dragon is brumating, they’ll make an attempt (a sleepy one) to right themselves.
What Age Do Bearded Dragons Brumate?
Typically, the expected age for bearded dragon brumation is any time past 10 months old. As we mentioned above, baby bearded dragons rarely (and shouldn’t) attempt to brumate because they’re still growing.
They need this time to continue eating and fueling their bodies through the developmental process. It doesn’t make sense for them to power down their metabolism when there’s plenty of growing left to do!
Once they’re older, brumation is pretty much on the table whenever they see fit. Beardies in captivity are less likely to follow the seasonal patterns they do in the wild, so the whole thing becomes a bit more random.
When Does It Normally Happen?
In the wild, bearded dragons brumate in the winter. This is because there’s less available food and changes to the sunlight prevent them from processing it as effectively (it’s also not great for their general health to get insufficient lighting).
Because of this, they go through the process of brumation to essentially wait out the winter. As you’ve probably noticed, this is very similar to the hibernation that we see other animals go through.
But in captivity, brumation can happen at any time.
Instead of relying on seasonal cues, your bearded dragon might randomly decide to go into brumation. There’s a lot of instinct and entrenched behavior at work here, so it doesn’t even matter that the conditions in the enclosure are warm and well-maintained!
Bearded dragons in captivity might begin brumating in June, the winter, or not at all! There are many things happening behind the scenes that cause this variation (all of which are hard for us to figure out as spectators).
How Long Do They Brumate?
Unfortunately, there isn’t really an average length of time that brumation lasts with these reptiles. There are many different types of factors that influence this and lead to a mix of different brumating lengths.
You might find that your beardie completes the brumating process in just a few weeks. However, it could also be more than a couple of months as well.
Expert Tip: There’s really nothing you can do to impact the length of time your beardie spends in this state (other than trying to get them out of it). Instead, your best bet is to simply support them and make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy throughout the process.
We understand that longer periods of brumation might be disheartening as an owner since you won’t be able to handle them like you used to. However, this is all part of owning these reptiles! At the end of the day, you need to let them do their thing.
Eating Habits During Brumation
As we’ve mentioned earlier, a lack of appetite is an expected sign of bearded dragon brumation. Their metabolism has slowed down significantly and they simply don’t need to consume as much food as they used to.
With that being said, they usually won’t stop eating entirely. Instead, they might have a fraction of what they used to (and be very unwilling to venture out of their hiding spot for food).
Just because your beardie decides to nibble on something it doesn’t mean they have finished brumating. This is something that many new owners aren’t aware of, and it can lead them to make mistakes with their care.
Even though it might seem surprising, it’s actually not normal for bearded dragons to lose a significant amount of weight when brumating. Even though they’re not eating nearly as much as they used to, they’re also barely using any energy as well!
The result of this is the beardie staying pretty much the same when it comes to how much they weigh. If they lose a little bit of weight during the process that’s not a big deal.
However, if they lose a significant amount of weight then something else might be wrong. There’s a chance they might not even be brumating at all, so check for signs of sickness and take them to the vet.
What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Do For Them During The Process
This is where you come in. While you won’t need to do nearly as much with them as normal, there are some tasks you’ll need to do in order to facilitate the process.
Maintaining an ideal habitat and providing your bearded dragon with whatever they need is still going to be important. You’ll just be approaching this a little bit differently.
You can provide a little bit less light than normal if you want since your bearded dragon will likely be spending most of their time in their hide. While this isn’t necessary, it’s something that many owners like to do to try and replicate the natural conditions that cause bearded dragons to brumate in the first place.
This means you can reduce the amount of UVB and total light you give them. We recommend shortening the normal light time by a couple of hours to start, then a few more over the following weeks.
Even though they’ve slowed down their metabolism, your bearded dragon still needs water (there’s no way around it). That means it’s necessary for you to provide your bearded dragon with water during the process even if they aren’t showing interest in it.
Expert Tip: One of the reasons why you need to be mindful of their hydration is that beardies in captivity won’t be able to get water from the soil like they do in the wild.
It’s smart to keep their water bowl full just in case they make their way out to it. Some owners try dripping some water into their mouths and seeing if their pet seems interested, but that’s a bit hit or miss.
One of the best things you can do is actually give them a bath. This will give them an opportunity to easily drink water without using much energy (it can also encourage a bowel movement). Since they’re still going to be very sleepy, make sure you keep their head from being submerged.
Expert Tip: It’s worth pointing out that this rarely happens. We’re only including this section in case you happen to run into the rare situation where your beardie actually wants to eat something during brumation.
There is a small chance that your bearded dragon might want to eat during this process. If this happens you can provide them with food (don’t deny them).
However, it’s important to not let them go right back to sleep after they eat. They won’t be able to digest their food properly if they immediately go back to their dark and cool hiding spot.
Instead, make sure they get some UVB exposure for a bit. This will allow them to digest and process what they ate so it doesn’t sit in their stomachs.
If you have trouble accomplishing this, giving them baths is a good way to encourage a bowel movement.
Even though your beardie won’t be using their enclosure as much as they used to, it’s still good to keep it clean while they go through brumation.
A clean environment helps keep disease and illness at bay and will make the brumation process much more comfortable for them. You’ll want to pay special attention to their hide since this is where they’ll be spending a lot of their time. Spot clean as much as you can without disturbing them.
Expert Tip: Bath time is a good opportunity to clean up their enclosure a bit without getting in their way.
As we’ve mentioned above, giving a bath to your bearded dragon while they’re brumating is a great thing to do for a number of reasons. For such a simple task, it actually provides a lot of benefits!
The first is hydration. A bath is a great opportunity for a sleepy beardie to lap up a bit of water before going back to their hide. You’ll want to assist them with this and support their head.
The second benefit is that it stimulates their bowels. If your bearded dragon has eaten some food there’s a possibility it’s having trouble initiating the necessary bowel movement to finish the job. A nice comfortable bath can help with that.
And the last reason a bath is so helpful is pretty obvious. It keeps them clean! No matter how active they are, it’s still important for you to keep them clean to reduce the possibility of them getting sick (it will also keep them more comfortable).
What To Do When They Wake Up
A lot of new owners ask about this part of the process. They assume that because of the serious shift in behavior there’s a laundry list of things they’ll need to do when their bearded dragon comes out of brumation.
But actually, it’s pretty simple!
All you really need to do is resume the schedule and setup you had before they started brumating. Get the lights back on their normal schedule (some owners like to do this gradually but it isn’t necessary) and start providing food like you were doing before.
Expert Tip: You can also give them another bath to give them an opportunity to catch up a bit on hydration. Don’t try to force them to drink or anything like that, just give them the option.
It might take a little bit for your bearded dragon to get back into the swing of things. This is totally fine. Their system is going through quite a change, and it can’t happen all at once!
No matter what, make sure you monitor their behavior during this process. You want to be sure that your beardie is acclimating properly. While rare, there can be instances where they struggle kickstarting their system again.
Now You’re Ready!
Now that you have a better understanding of bearded dragon brumation, we hope you can see that there’s really nothing to be scared of!
Brumation is a completely normal process that many bearded dragons will go through at one point or another. It just comes with the territory if you happen to own one.
The more you understand about it the better off you’ll be when it comes to helping them through the process. You’ll also save yourself the nervous moments that unprepared owners experience when they first notice it happening.
If you have any remaining questions that this guide didn’t answer we’re more than happy to answer them. We always enjoy connecting with our readers and helping them out however we can!