There are many physical signs to look for to tell if your bearded dragon is within a healthy weight.
One telltale sign of an underweight or overweight lizard is sunken in or protruding fat pads.
But what are fat pads, and what purposes do they serve?
Fat pads are small pockets of fat behind a bearded dragon’s eye sockets. Fat pads are essential fat stores on your dragon’s body, and on a healthy lizard, the pads should be slightly plump, rounded, and full yet not bulbous or sunken into the skull.
To learn more about this unique way your dragon stores fat in its body, keep reading.
We’ll cover what you should do if your lizard’s fat pads are too full or sunken in and why having these pockets of fat is so essential to their health.
What Are Bearded Dragon Fat Pads?
On your bearded dragon’s skull just behind their eyes are two small, squishy pockets, or pads, of fat–hence the name, “fat pads.”
While these lizards store fat throughout their entire bodies, one look at these small pockets of fat is a great way to tell if your dragon is within a healthy weight, underweight, or even overweight.
Although too much fat in these areas is undoubtedly problematic, too little fat is just as dangerous.
Both you and your lizard need a small amount of fat throughout your bodies to promote cell growth, give you both the energy required to move and digest food and protect your vital organs.
For beardies specifically, though, fat is vital for regulating body temperature.
Since they are cold-blooded, reptiles depend on their external environment – in your beardie’s case, a heat lamp – to stay warm and maintain a healthy body temperature.
Fat pads and other crucial fat stores throughout the body help trap and distribute the heat these desert animals need to survive.
What Should Healthy Fat Pads Look Like?
Healthy fat pads should be very slightly plump and squishy and never sunken into the lizard’s triangle-shaped skull.
A malnourished dragon will have what appear to be tiny craters behind the eyes in the place of these essential fat pads, while an obese beardie will have bulbous fat pads which protrude slightly from behind the eyes.
The crests above the eyes should be rounded and softly frame the eyes, not collapsed or bulbous.
Never press into or poke the fat pads, as they are very sensitive, and putting pressure on them will also put pressure on your lizard’s eyes.
It is essential to regularly check your dragon’s body visually for signs of obesity or sudden weight loss as a pet owner.
Weighing your dragon weekly will also help you to ensure they are within a healthy weight range.
Observing your lizard’s fat pads will undoubtedly help you get a better idea of their physical health, but it isn’t the only indicator you should pay attention to.
Other Essential Fat Stores
As we briefly touched on earlier, the fat pads behind your beardie’s ears are not the only places they store fat on their bodies.
Your lizard needs a small amount of fat throughout its entire body, including at the tail base, on its belly, and under its chin.
Even the limbs, which are ideally lean and muscular, should house a small amount of fat.
After all, fat is necessary for muscle growth and function, so even the healthiest and strongest dragons are not simply pure muscle.
There are many visual indicators of overweight or underweight beardie aside from the condition of their fat pads.
Is Your Bearded Dragon Overweight?
In addition to protruding fat pads, an obese or overweight dragon will show many other signs of excess weight throughout its body.
Some things to look for when visually examining your pet include:
- A protruding belly. Your dragon’s belly should not drag along the ground as they walk.
- Fat chest pads are commonly referred to as “beardie boobies.” You should be able to slightly feel your dragon’s ribs if you touch the chest and belly area but not see them from a distance.
- A large, thick tail base. In severe cases of obesity, fat will be stored in the tail, which will become lumpy and heavy.
- Excess chin/beard fat. Your lizard’s beard should be full but not have a double or triple chin appearance with saggy layers of fat.
Is Your Bearded Dragon Underweight?
Like overweight beardies, underweight lizards will also display many physical symptoms and potential health concerns.
In addition to sunken in or collapsed fat pads, you should look for these other indicators of a malnourished bearded dragon.
- Visible ribs. It’s acceptable if you can feel your lizard’s ribs slightly when touching their belly, but they should never be fully visible.
- Thin, disfigured tail. The tail should not be thin or bony, as they are especially susceptible to fractures.
- Thin, weak leg bones. Your beardie’s limbs should have some squishiness to them and not be bone-thin.
- Visible fatigue and shakiness. Underweight dragons typically display lethargic behavior, low energy, and in severe cases, will even shake uncontrollably. See a qualified exotic animal vet immediately if your lizard has become this malnourished.
Check out our post on what to feed bearded dragons to help them gain weight for a good place to start with your lizard’s recovery.
How Much Should A Bearded Dragon Weigh?
In addition to these daily visual checks, you should weigh your dragon at least once per week.
For most lizards, a small kitchen scale will work perfectly.
A juvenile beardie will weigh anywhere from 50 to 350 grams depending on their age, and a healthy adult dragon at least one year old should ideally weigh approximately 400 to 550 grams.
Males tend to be slightly larger than females overall.
Here is our bearded dragon weight chart to help you see where your pet falls.