Bearded Dragon brumation

Pete Hawkins is admin for a range of social media reptile forums, he also writes for Practical Reptile Keeping and Reptile Apartment.

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Brumation in Bearded Dragons | Is my bearded dragon in brumation? | How old should my bearded dragon be for brumation? | What months do Bearded Dragons brumate? | How to help your Bearded Dragon to brumate | Brumation and UV lighting | How long will brumation last? | Providing water to your Bearded Dragon during brumation | What happens when a Bearded Dragon is sleeping? | Bearded Dragons after brumation

The following is a guide to what I do during the brumation period for my Bearded Dragons and have done for the past twenty nine years. Also, the reasons why I do these things.

Brumation in Bearded Dragons

More often than not, a point will come in a Bearded Dragon’s life where the need for brumation is necessary (a hibernation-like state that many cold blooded animals will partake in). In captivity, not all dragons will do this. But for many of us, the first time around can be a worrying time.

But, don’t worry. It’s a completely natural process. Done In the wild purely for survival. To get through the colder months, where less live food and plant life is prominent. So, they will sleep it off by making a burrow, and wait till the warmer months again. Living off their built up internal nutritional reserves.

This is something they have been doing for millions of years. So a few decades of captive breeding will not change this fact.

You may like to read: Bearded Dragon diet and food ideas 

Is my Bearded Dragon in brumation?

You can tell if your bearded dragon is in brumation because he may have the following symptoms:

  • Sleeping more
  • Appetite decreased
  • Going to sleep earlier
  • Hiding in the shade
  • Pooing less (due to eating less)
A dragon wanting to brumate will actively refuse food. Or certainly make any eating minimal. That in conjunction with far more sleeping. Or going to bed much earlier. Classic signs.

Please note: the reasons I always say have a faecal test done via your Vet, or PALs before the process is because the symptoms mentioned above are similar to that of many illnesses, or parasite load symptoms a Bearded Dragon can get.

So for piece of mind, PLEASE visit your vet before your dragon brumates.

How old should my Bearded Dragon be for brumation?

You may have heard that Bearded Dragons under the age of one year old do not brumate. This is not the case.

The urge and want to brumate can happen at any age. It's something internal. Stamped in their DNA. A pure survival instinct which all our Bearded Dragons have. Again, after doing this for millions of years, just a few decades of captive breeding, will not change this.

The one year old thing was something brought in by exotic vets and experienced keepers. Due to the fact that a one year old dragon may not have the nutritional reserves to aid getting through the process.

Of course, every dragon is different regarding size and weight.

So the best course of action if your Bearded Dragon is under one year old. Take your dragon to your exotics vet for a check-up. They can check fat and nutrition pad. Weigh the dragon. And determine if it's all safe to allow the brumation period (after a clear faecal test, as mentioned below).

I have had a dragon at around eight months enter brumation. Along with my vet at the time, it was deemed safe to do so.

All was fine both before and after the process.

But definitely seek vet input.

You may like to read: Bearded Dragons shedding 

What months do Bearded Dragons brumate?

Our dragons can brumate any time. They are hard-wired to the southern hemisphere of Australia. So the seasons run opposite to the UK/Europe/USA. Although, the colder months in your location, is most common.

How to help your Bearded Dragon to brumate

With my captive dragons, there are a few things that I will do, without fail, when the time comes to make the process much more easy for yourself, and more importantly, your dragon.

The first thing I will do, is get a faecal/parasite test done via my vets, or ‘PALS Lab‘ here in the UK. If any issues occur in the results, I can get it treated before I help the brumation process along.

Once treated, and given the all clear via the vet's, I will start reducing temps over the next couple of weeks. Right to the point where there is no heating on at all at. This can be done by reducing basking hours. Or even a lower watt bulb, thus lower temperatures.

I will also offer less and less food. Again, to the point of nothing being offered in the final week or so. And one of the main reasons for keeping the heat on at this point, is to ensure your dragon has had a poo.

Anything left in the stomach can rot inside them. This could cause many serious problems.

The rotting food in the stomach is something I have experienced first hand with a Bearded Dragon I had some fifteen or so years ago. He got very sick during brumation and needed vet treatment. It was touch and go for a while but he recovered fully. And also went on to brumate over the following years without problems. Lesson learnt.

Once the dragon has had its poo in those final days of the temperature reducing routine, turn off the basking bulb, and UV, and leave them to sleep. Simple as that really.

You can help your Bearded Dragon to brumate

My Bearded Dragon is in brumation - does he still need his UV light switching on?

In an word, no. Turning off the heat and UVB will not harm a healthy dragon at all. In fact, it’s exactly what would happen while in a burrow in wild conditions.

The burrow keeping them safe from cooler conditions on the surface. They also block the entrance with dirt. This keeps them safe from any predators. But also meaning, its very dark 24/7. 

The heat and UVB is what's needed for energy and digestive conversion, to name a few things. But of course, sleeping requires none of this. Due to not being active, and not eating.

Some people WILL still have UVB, and a form of heat going during this process. And are successful in doing so. But honestly. There is no need. They will not wake up with Metabolic Bone Disease, which I've been asked before.

We are essentially mimicking a wild burrow using the process I mentioned.

The only other thing I will do is cover the vivarium/tank's glass with either paper, or a blanket. So it's nice and dark for them.

I will still check on them daily.

Please note: Any advice offered within this article is the opinion of Pete Hawkins.  ExoticDirect cannot be held responsible regarding the views expressed in this article.  You should always seek the advice of a vet if you are unsure regarding the care of your pet.

How long will my Bearded Dragon's brumation last?

Brumation can last a few weeks, or up to four months.

It is very important that you do NOT offer food during this period for the reasons I mentioned above. They wont be able to digest it, and it will cause problems.

Providing water to your Bearded Dragon during brumation

Water can be offered. In fact, once a week, I’ll place my dragon in the bath. Please make sure you support the head. They are often still very sleepy, but you will find often they may drink a fair amount, even in this sleeping state.

I found this a safer method of offering water during brumation than the likes of syringing water or providing a bowl. It gives them the chance to choose to drink. And drink as much as they feel they need.

If your dragon will drink from a bowl, then use this method if you wish. Just keep an eye on them during the process.

Please also note: The bath hydration method is for drinking the water via the mouth. A dragon will not, and does not absorb water via the Vent (Cloaca). This myth has long since been proven just that. A myth.

It's also worth mentioning, when it comes to weight loss. A healthy Bearded Dragon won’t lose much weight during this period at all. Mine have lost around three or four grams on average, each time.

What happens when a Bearded Dragon is sleeping?

We now have knowledge that hormonal changes take place while sleeping. The cooler temps have an effect of sperm production in our male dragons. And, aids female ovulation on waking in the warmer conditions. So it serves, not only as a survival aid. But a vital aid for optimal reproduction conditions.

Bearded Dragons after brumation: the wake up

Then one day when you check on them, you will find them up and about, looking at you. Or you will hear them moving around.

At this point I will bathe them for a drink stimulation opportunity, and turn everything back on again (heat & UV). You can do it in a gradual process. Kind of reverse what you did on shut-down.

Or, just switch it all back on. They should be able to choose exposure levels within the enclosure regardless. So this option is fine.

It may well take your dragon a few days to get back into the routine that they are familiar. So they may not eat much, or at all at first. Don't worry.

So as they, and you resume the routine in which they are used to, all will be back to normal in no time.

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Feeding your Bearded Dragon after brumation

As just mentioned. Although they may not eat during the first couple of waking days, when they do, they will want to eat you out of house and home. But, be sensible. Don't let them gouge out. Greens and hydration should of course be offered, too.

It's also a good idea to have some of the ZooMed canned food (crickets, hoppers, etc) handy until you can source some proper live food. A day or 2 using this method is fine. 

Over the next few day, all being well, your dragon should start to be their normal self again, like nothing has even happened.

Common questions I get asked: 

Semi-Brumation in my Bearded Dragon

There is no such thing as semi-brumation. This term is still thrown about in the Bearded Dragon groups.

Basically your dragon will want to go into brumation, thus slow down. It’s only the keeper that is stopping them from brumation.

Again, this can cause issues as the dragon is not eating, and often hiding away, trying to preserve energy and body nutrition to get through the brumation period. Being awake is using such valued energy and so on. (Remember, vet advice is still needed in case it’s not brumation and is instead other issues).

So, delaying brumation, by not allowing it when they are trying, can cause issues.

They can often just stay hidden, and not eat much. Often for several weeks, even months, until given the chance of complete darkness. Until we help aid the process.

My Dragon has finished brumation after a few days 

Again, if this is the case, they were not in brumation.

I'd definitely advise a vet check-up and faecal test to rule out illness/parasites.

But of course. The dragon could just have been having a few lazy days. It happens. Again. Pretty normal.

Brumation will last a few weeks. At least. But more often than not a good three months plus.

Once again, not every Bearded Dragon will brumate. This is fact. And still normal. There is nothing wrong with your dragon if it has not yet gone through the process. It may well happen the next time around.

So if they do. You can choose to follow the above simple steps. And all will be less stressful for your dragon, and of course, yourself.

To Conclude

So to summarize, brumation is a completely natural thing. So we must do what we can to assist. This is why we turn off the heat and UVB lighting. To simulate wild conditions. 

The above method is something which I have 'fine-tuned' over the past twenty nine years keeping dragons.

With variations and tweaks along the way. This is what I know works. I have only ever had one issue while in brumation, as already mentioned previously in this article. 

But before, and after that, even years on with that same dragon, I've not had any issues before, or after brumation since settling on using the above methods.

Please note: Any advice offered within this article is the opinion of Pete Hawkins.  ExoticDirect cannot be held responsible regarding the views expressed in this article.  You should always seek the advice of a vet if you are unsure regarding the care of your pet.

Versions of this article, albeit shorter ones, were originally printed on or in:

The Reptile Apartment
Practical Reptile Keeping Magazine (November 2016 issues)

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