It can be really scary if your bearded dragon isn’t eating. The poor creatures won’t tell you what’s wrong and you know they can’t keep it up forever!
This means it’s your job as the owner to figure out what the cause is. This is a skill that all beardie owners should have, but many don’t.
It would be great if all pet stores and sellers gave you a manual that explained all the possible causes. However, that’s obviously not the case.
So we’re going to do it instead.
This resource will help you figure out why your bearded dragon won’t eat and what you should do about it. Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it seems!
Table of Contents
Why Your Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat
Figuring out why your bearded dragon won’t eat is actually a lot easier than you might think. There’s a fairly short list of possible causes.
The trick is telling the difference between them.
Like anything, some of the causes below are easier to diagnose than others. This just means you should eliminate the obvious ones first!
It’s also worth pointing out that not all of the reasons are bad. Sometimes a bearded dragon stops eating because they’re going through a natural process.
While this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take this seriously, it’s meant to illustrate that the cause might not be the end of the world! We hear from so many owners who panic before diagnosing the problem, and it ends up being fine.
Also, many of the habitat and health circumstances that cause a bearded dragon to stop eating are fairly easy to fix. As long as you’re attentive and act quickly, it’s usually fine.
At the end of the day just stay calm, figure out what’s going on, and proceed from there.
1. Anxiety & Stress
When it comes to figuring out why a bearded dragon isn’t eating, this is one of the most overlooked causes. Everyone jumps to things like lighting or illness (both valid), but they skip this one!
As you probably know, bearded dragons are a lot more emotionally complex than people think. They assume that these creatures are “typical reptiles” (whatever that means) that don’t have much of a personality.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bearded dragons need to feel comfortable in order to thrive. While we’re not saying they’re high-maintenance lizards, a change in their conditions can cause them to become stressed and lose their appetite.
The most common causes for this are changes to their diet, lighting, temperature, and humidity. While these can influence the overall health of your bearded dragon, they can also take some getting used to.
Even these are all still within the recommended guidelines, your bearded dragon might not eat for a bit until they get used to the change. If they exhibit any biting behavior, that’s also an obvious sign that stress might be the cause (they might turn their beard black too).
Another common change is if you move them to a new cage or enclosure. It will take some time for them to get used to this new environment, and they might refuse to eat in the meantime.
Expert Tip: Another cause of stress and anxiety that owners miss is other pets. If dogs and cats are constantly running near the enclosure it will likely freak your bearded dragon out. If possible, keep the enclosure somewhere quiet.
2. Insufficient Lighting & Temperature
Proper lighting and temperature are very important for all reptiles, and bearded dragons are no different.
Lighting, temperature, and humidity affect their general level of comfort which can be more than enough to cause these lizards to not eat. But on top of that, they actually help the digestion process!
The right lighting sends a variety of signals to their bodies that it’s time to eat. Cold and darkness do the opposite.
As a result, your bearded dragon probably won’t eat if it’s a little too chilly in their habitat. If your light is weak or not set up properly, it might not be doing the job.
Expert Tip: Your bearded dragon needs a mix of UVA and UVB light in order to stay healthy and maintain their appetite. Be sure you’re providing this before eliminating this as a possible cause.
It’s also important to keep this light on for at least two hours after dinner (their last meal of the day) to help them digest. Feeding them and shutting off the light immediately after will send conflicting signals that might cause them to stop eating.
A change in lighting conditions can also trigger a temporary loss in appetite even if you set everything up properly. While this is uncommon, your bearded dragon is a lot more sensitive to these subtle differences than you are.
3. They’re Getting Older
This could be one of the most common causes for people wondering why their bearded dragon won’t eat like they used to. No one thinks that it might be a normal and natural change!
Here’s how it works:
When a bearded dragon is young they’re growing fast and are full of youthful energy. As a result, they need to eat a lot more food.
However, as they get older things begin to change (sound familiar?). Once they’ve stopped growing they obviously don’t need to consume as much food as they used to.
Meaning they eat less than before.
To an inexperienced owner who doesn’t know what to expect, it might seem concerning if their bearded dragon is eating roughly half of what it used to. Fortunately, this is all part of the natural aging process.
If your bearded dragon is not eating, they might be suffering from impaction. This isn’t something that many new owners are familiar with, so let’s explain it for a second.
Impaction is a buildup in the gut or intestines that can’t be moved by normal digestive or colon contractions. In serious cases, this can be rather uncomfortable and will likely cause your bearded dragon to lose their appetite.
In addition to the refusal to eat, your bearded dragon will likely appear fatigues and not very active.
If your bearded dragon is experiencing impaction, there’s a good chance it was caused by one of two things:
- Eating the substrate
- Too much of the same protein in their diet
Eating substrate might seem like odd behavior, but it doesn’t always happen intentionally. When your bearded dragon is going after food it’s actually rather easy for them to get a little substrate in their mouths as well.
Expert Tip: Some bearded dragons will eat substrate on purpose. Fortunately, this is easy to notice which makes preventing it straightforward (we’ll touch on that in a later guide).
Also, take some time to assess their diet and compare it to the recommended guidelines. Are you giving them too much of the same protein-rich for the sake of convenience? This is a common cause of impaction as well.
If you suspect that this is the reason why your bearded dragon won’t eat, we always suggest taking them to the vet to be safe. Focusing on adjusting the cause of impaction before addressing a potentially serious health complication is not the right approach.
5. They’re In Brumation
When a bearded dragon isn’t eating, brumation is something you should definitely consider. Brumation is a hibernation-like state that lizards will go into during the cold months of the year.
When a bearded dragon goes into brumation, a lot of their core body functions will slow down. They won’t move around nearly as much and will also eat a lot less food. This is because they simply have no need for this fuel!
One sign that they might not be eating due to brumation is that they’ll spend most of their time in the cooler part of the enclosure. This is less likely to happen if they’re sick or refusing to eat for other reasons. It’s not a foolproof strategy of course, but it should give you an idea.
If your bearded dragon is going through brumation there’s really nothing for you to do other than keep them hydrated, provide food in case they show interest, and maintain the temperature. If the temperature gets too low while they’re in brumation it can turn into a serious health problem.
If your bearded dragon is shedding, that could be the cause for their loss of appetite as well. Inexperienced owners are usually surprised to hear this because it’s a natural process.
But it can be uncomfortable!
Depending on the situation, the shedding process can make your bearded dragon itchy and dry. This constant feeling can definitely impact their mood and willingness to eat.
The best thing you can do is keep them comfortable during the process and provide them with food if they’re feeling up to it. Once they’re finished shedding you’ll see their appetite resume.
7. They’re Sick
As you’ve probably guessed, a variety of illnesses can cause a bearded dragon to stop eating too. This is usually the first cause that inexperienced owners jump to when they get in a panic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility.
There is a long list of potential sicknesses that can plague these reptiles, but infections and parasites are usually the most common.
One infection that you’ll see often is mouth rot. This occurs when there’s an infection of the mouth that results in swelling, bleeding, and even loose teeth. As you can imagine, these symptoms would make eating rather painful (which is why they don’t).
There’s also the possibility that a parasite is the cause. This will result in the bearded dragon feeling generally ill and unwilling to eat (or do much of anything).
It’s common for reptiles to get parasites from the insects they eat, and bearded dragons eat a lot of them! This is yet another reason why it’s so important to only feed them high-quality food from trusted sellers.
Expert Tip: In some situations, parasites can actually increase the amount of food a bearded dragon eats. This is because the parasite is stealing most of the nutrition from the food. Even though this guide is about why bearded dragons won’t eat, we thought it was important to point this out as well.
Obviously, there are many other kinds of diseases and illnesses your bearded dragon can get that will cause them not to eat. There’s a long list (even though many are uncommon), which is why consulting a vet is always useful.
In many cases, your vet will ask you to bring in a sample of their poop so they can diagnose the problem.
While it might seem unlikely, bearded dragons get injured all the time. Most of the time this is the result of them fighting with other animals or getting hurt by a poorly-made enclosure.
And an injured bearded dragon is far more likely to turn away food than a healthy one.
This could simply be due to discomfort and unwillingness to leave their hiding spot, or something worse (like an infection). Regardless, it’s another cause you should be aware of.
For the most part, injuries are easy to spot. If you’re giving your beardie a quick scan each day there’s a good chance you’ll notice the issue.
If you happen to be keeping them in a situation that increases their chance of getting hurt, you should correct it as soon as possible. Keeping them with other lizards they fight with (even if it’s occasional) or a low-quality enclosure (be honest here) are easy things to fix.
If you’re on top of their care requirements and providing the best possible care, the likelihood of them getting injured goes way down.
Time To Figure It Out
We hope this guide has helped you realize that diagnosing and fixing this issue is not as hard as it seems.
If your bearded dragon is not eating, there are only a handful of causes you have to consider. And to make things even simpler, most can be eliminated rather quickly.
As you gain more and more experience owning a beardie, knowing what to look for will become second nature. It’s all part of the learning process.
Of course, if you’re still unsure about the cause it’s never a bad idea to talk to your vet and see what they think. At the end of the day, they know best.