Lately, has your bearded dragon become increasingly inactive and extra sleepy?
Is it dangerous if your lizard doesn’t brumate during winter?
Part of good pet ownership understands your animal’s natural tendencies and behaviors.
Sometimes, inactivity and sleepiness are simply a part of a bearded dragon’s annual cycle and are not indications of something wrong.
Recognizing the signs of normal brumating will allow you to prepare and monitor your pet for this eventuality, so it stays safe while lying dormant.
Bearded Dragon Brumation In Summer
While brumation during winter is most common, it may also safely and naturally occur in the summer months. This is especially true of reptiles in captivity, who may not experience scarcity and seasonal changes as they would in the wild.
Because these curious lizards originate from deserts in the southern hemisphere (Australia), some may be “programmed” to brumate from March or April until August or September.
This period is winter in the southern hemisphere, but summer in the northern.
However, other northern-hemisphere beardies are more sensitive to the local season changes.
These lizards may be more astutely aware of the surroundings outside their enclosure and brumate during their local cold season.
Still, others will not brumate at all.
All of these circumstances are normal and natural. It just depends on the individual animal!
What Is Brumation Anyway?
Brumation is essentially the reptilian version of hibernation.
When lizards experience environmental conditions like those of the coldest season in the desert, they will become increasingly inactive.
They may even enter a deep sleep for weeks or months at a time!
Conditions which can trigger the brumation cycle include:
- Consistently colder temperatures.
- Fewer hours of sunlight each day.
- Scarcity of food.
When beardies don’t have access to food, they can slow their metabolism way down.
This allows them to survive for a few months without eating.
Brumating is not required for most reptiles.
It is more a survival response to the changing of the seasons.
Some captive lizards will never experience a desire to brumate, while others may not brumate on a set schedule.
However it happens, remember it’s a natural process for your pet, and you should nurture and care for it during this time.
Signs Of Brumation In Bearded Dragons
Attentive pet owners will notice changes in their beardies, changes which may concern them.
While it’s essential to monitor your animal to make sure it’s healthy, remember behavioral changes aren’t always a sign of illness.
They may be signs your beardie is ready to brumate.
Is your lizard displaying any of these characteristics?
- Eating less or not eating at all.
- Lethargy (extensive periods of inactivity).
- Burying under the substrate or hiding for long stints.
- Sleeping deeply.
- Experiencing excessive irritability.
- Experiencing uncharacteristic desires to be left alone and not handled.
- Not going to the bathroom as frequently.
- Hanging out on the cooler side of its enclosure.
While exhibiting just one of these might be symptoms of illness or poor environmental conditions, multiple behaviors listed above mean your pet is most likely preparing to brumate.
Other Reasons Your Lizard May Appear To Be Brumating
Before determining this is the onset of brumation, double-check other circumstances which may cause similar symptoms:
- It’s been too dark outside for several days.
- It’s too cold in your pet’s enclosure.
- You haven’t fed it enough.
- It isn’t getting enough calcium.
- A 24-hour light-and-dark cycle isn’t consistent.
- There is incorrect UV lighting in the tank.
- Something is causing excessive stress and anxiety.
If any of these situations are plausible, more observation is needed before deciding to promote a brumating period for your pet.
How To Help Your Bearded Dragon Prepare To Brumate
Well-fed healthy-weight dragons will not have any problems brumating.
However, it is riskier for lizards who are sick or injured.
It’s easy to plan with just a little initiative and help your pet prepare for its annual dormancy.
Take A Trip To The Vet
It’s vital to verify your pet is not sick before allowing it to brumate.
Make an appointment with your local exotic veterinarian and bring your pet along with a sample of its stool.
The vet will test for parasites and give your lizard an all-around wellness check.
Parasites are a significant concern for brumating animals.
They can eat away at the lizard while it’s dormant, causing dangerous emaciation.
It could even be fatal if those nasty bugs are aggressive enough.
Prepare A Hide
Your lizard’s enclosure should already have a hide, but if it doesn’t, it’s crucial to set one up.
A hide, even as simple as a cardboard box, will be very effective for your pet.
It will be able to escape direct lighting and give it a sense of security.
Gradually Change The Lighting And Temperature
Once you’ve determined you have a healthy lizard who is ready to brumate, encourage this natural cycle by mimicking shorter, cooler days in your pet’s enclosure.
Over 7 or 14 days, gradually reduce UV lighting hours in the tank, eventually reaching a 7- to 9-hour day.
Keep the basking area operational in case your pet ever feels like warming up or eating a meal (inadequate temperatures will prevent digestion).
While your pet is brumating, the enclosure can run as cool as 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) during the day and as cool as 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15.5° C) at night.
Don’t Stress Your Pet
Your lizard will already be easily irritable, so be careful about stressing it out more than you need to.
Avoid overhandling, unnecessary interactions, and changing its routines more than you need to.
How To Care For Your Brumating Bearded Dragon
There are a few things to keep in mind while your lizard is dormant.
Take these steps to make sure your pet can successfully brumate.
Keep Reduced Heat And Lighting Consistent
Once you’ve reduced UVB lights and warmth to imitate shorter, cooler days, keep those climate levels consistent each day.
A sudden climate change will be a harsh (and possibly damaging) wake-up call to your pet.
Even in the middle of a brumating period, it’s a good idea to leave the basking area intact.
As long as your pet has access to a cooler side of the enclosure and a hiding place, it will be able to slow its metabolism and stay dormant.
Do Not Force Feed Your Pet
It is quite common for your pet to stop eating before and during its brumation period.
In fact, it’s dangerous for a lizard to brumate on a full stomach.
When your pet brumates, its metabolism slows so much its digestive system will completely shut down.
Any undigested meals left in the gut will rot and could harm or even kill your pet.
Therefore, offer your lizard its meals as usual, but don’t be distressed if it doesn’t eat.
Similarly, if it does eat, make sure it passes a bowel movement before it drifts off into dormancy.
If your lizard has eaten and then begins to brumate, wake it up daily until it poops.
Keep Your Pet Hydrated
In the wild, bearded dragons will often burrow into the ground to brumate.
There, they will absorb moisture through the ground and remain hydrated.
In captivity, it’s a little trickier to maintain good hydration levels in your lizard.
There are two good options for pet owners to help with this:
- Keep a shallow bowl in the enclosure filled with clean freshwater. The water should be shallow enough so your lizard can fall asleep in the dish without getting water in its lungs, no more than 1-2″ inches (5 cm).
- Bathe your lizard once a week. A 10 or 15-minute bath in a shallow dish will rehydrate your pet.
Don’t ever use soap when bathing your lizard.
Make sure you dry your pet thoroughly before placing it back in its enclosure.
To check your lizard’s hydration levels, pinch its skin.
If the skin stays in its pinched position or takes a long time to retract, then your pet needs to rehydrate.
Avoid Making Contact With Your Pet
For your pet to follow its natural brumation schedule, it needs to be disturbed as little as possible.
The only time you should hold your lizard is when you are bathing it.
Otherwise, leave your pet alone and let it do its thing.
Monitor Your Pet
It’s essential to keep an eye on your lizard when it’s brumating.
Because its body essentially shuts down, a pet free of illness should not exhibit many physical changes and only lose a few grams of weight.
Rapid weight loss is a red flag.
This means your pet most likely has parasites.
If you are concerned because your lizard is shedding ounces while it’s brumating, take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
How To End The Brumation Season For Bearded Dragon
When it’s time for your lizard to wake up from its deep sleep, you will notice an increase in its activity.
This is a cue for you to begin to interact with your pet again slowly.
You should also mimic the next seasonal change.
Gradually Increase Heat And Lighting Levels
Over a week or two, start creating longer days for your pet.
Eventually, you should reach previously normal day lengths of 10 to 12 hours of sunlight.
Also, increase the overall warmth in the enclosures until it reaches normal levels.
- For adults, shoot for a range between 80 and 93° degrees Fahrenheit (34° C).
- For baby lizards, the cage should be hotter: between 90 and 110° degrees Fahrenheit (43° C).
- The basking area should have remained consistent throughout, but double-check to make sure it is still the hottest part of the enclosure. It should be between 95 and 110° degrees Fahrenheit (43° C).
Gradually Handle Your Pet More Frequently
An increase in interactions with its owner will help your pet come out of its deep sleep.
However, be warned.
After brumating, lizards enter the mating season.
Your pet may display increased aggression or irritability, so take it slow and don’t do anything your lizard is not comfortable with.
Resume Feeding Your Pet A Balanced Diet
Your pet will be hungry after it brumates.
Because it has taken in virtually zero nutrition for a long time, it is imperative to feed it fresh and healthful foods when it wakes up.
At first, stick to the staples, which are packed with vitamins and minerals, to get your pet back on track.
The best insects to serve your lizard are:
- Dubia roaches
- Locusts (not available in the United States)
- Phoenix worms
- King worms
Gut load these feeder insects with the good stuff (healthful greens) and dust them with calcium supplement before giving them to your pet.
The best leafy greens to serve to your pet are:
- Collard greens
- Dandelion leaves (and flowers)
- Mulberry leaves
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
A diet with these insects and vegetables will give your lizard the nutrition it had lacked while brumating.
Brumation is a completely normal and natural part of reptile life.
It is an instinctual, annual cycle many of our lizard friends will experience.
Our pets can brumate at any time of year, even during the summertime.
It happens whenever their instinct kicks in or whenever they experience harsher or more stressful environmental conditions.
This is just one of the many parts of lizard life which makes bearded dragons the fascinating and incredible animals they are.
As caring and responsible owners, we should respect the instinct to brumate.
We should foster a comfortable and healthy environment where our pets can safely rest.
By satisfying their natural life cycles, our bearded dragons will return to us fresh and rejuvenated in the following season.