bearded dragon handbook

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Every Reason Why Bearded Dragons Puff Up

Have you ever noticed your bearded dragon puffs out his neck repeatedly? 

Puffing up like this is a normal part of bearded dragon behavior, but many owners have no idea what it means. 

It could be even more confusing when your reptile does it under multiple circumstances. 

Your bearded dragon may generally puff up their beard in response to stress, fear, or territorial behaviors. They may also do it during bath time, mealtime, or mating season. A healthy dragon will puff up under various circumstances, but it does not necessarily mean anything is wrong.

If you want to understand the possible reasons your bearded dragon puffs up, here is what you need to know. 

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Puffing Up From Stress or Fear

One of the main times bearded dragon owners notice their reptiles puff up is when they are stressed or scared. 

This is probably the primary reason you see this behavior. 

This is similar to how many animals interact with the world around them. 

Most people know how dogs growl and snarl when they feel threatened. 

Many species throughout the animal kingdom will have related behaviors. 

Your reptile is puffing up to make himself appear more threatening. 

If they are particularly stressed or afraid, you might also notice they develop black bearding. 

If you are unsure why he is puffing up, you might want to scan the environment. 

Chances are there is something around making him feel scared. 

It could be a toy, or it might be the presence of another animal. 

You might not want to admit it, but a bearded dragon puffing up for no reason may mean they are frightened of you. 

It can take time for them to adjust to new owners, so give them time. 

It may not be uncommon for a new dragon owner to give their reptile a bit of a scare.

Mainly if you purchased a baby bearded, it could take them to get used to being handled. 

Spend time with your hand in the enclosure so they can grow accustomed to your scent. 

Gradually spend more extended periods like this before you begin handling them more regularly. 

Puffing Up When It’s Time to Breed

Mating is another common reason why your beardie may be puffing up. 

Both genders are known to do this regularly if they want others to know they are prepared to mate. 

However, this is typically more common behavior for males. 

Males will frequently puff up as a sign of dominance. 

They want to demonstrate to their would-be partners what they are interested in. 

In response, some females will puff up back. 

This is not as common, but it does happen. 

How will you know if your bearded dragon is in the mood to mate? 

They do not have a specific breeding season, so it is hard to tell. 

Most reptiles are ready to breed approximately one month after their brumation. 

Brumation is a time of rest for your bearded dragon. 

They will generally slow down their activity and their metabolism. 

It is very similar to the way bears hibernate during the winter. 

Here are a few of the signs and symptoms your bearded dragon may be in brumation: 

  • Reduced movement
  • Increased sleep
  • No interest in food
  • Fewer bowel movements
  • More time spent in cooler areas of the terrarium
  • Burrowing in the substrate

A reptile who has recently gone through this stage may be ready to find a mate soon. 

If you noticed your bearded dragon puffing up when they are in the presence of another reptile, this could very well be the cause. 

A confused reptile may also puff up to impress toys. 

Puffing Up During Bath Time

Bath time can easily be your reptile’s favorite activity, but you must be careful. 

They will enjoy swimming around in the warm water only if it is shallow enough for them to touch the bottom. 

If your bearded dragon puffs up, this could be a sign you have added too much water to the tub or container. 

Why do they do this? 

The answer is quite simple: In this situation, they are puffing up in an attempt to float to the surface of the water. 

They have a fear of drowning. 

This helps them to feel safer in an uncertain situation. 

While we’re on the topic of baths, we’ll share our post on how to bathe bearded dragons.

It’s a great little guide on bathing your pet properly that I believe you’ll enjoy reading.

Puffing Up For Meal Time

A healthy dragon may also puff up around mealtime. 

Depending on how they feel, they can do this before and after mealtime. 

While not much research has been done on this phenomenon, a few widely accepted theories exist on why they do this. 

First, it could be the natural ability of your reptile to hunt their prey if you are feeding them live insects. 

They will often puff up to appear more intimidating to scare their prey. 

Even if the insects you feed them are harmless, your baby beardie may not recognize this. 

From time to time, you might also notice they puff up in the middle of a meal. 

They could still demonstrate this behavior even if you are not giving them live feeders. 

In this case, they are likely making more room in their stomach so they can finish their meal. 

In nature, bearded dragons may go long periods without eating. 

They feel like they have to consume everything before them because it may be a while before they are fed again. 

This is instinctual even if you are in the habit of giving regular meals.

Don’t worry if you witness a reptile consuming as much as they possibly can. 

Next time, cut their meal back to a slightly smaller portion to see if they stop puffing up. 

Check out our post on the best insects for bearded dragons to see which feeder insects we recommend for an optimal dragon diet.

Puffing Up For Shedding

Have you noticed your bearded dragon’s skin looks dull or waxy? 

Take a quick look at your reptile’s overall coloring and see if it looks different than you remember. 

If it does, this is a sign your beardie is likely getting ready to shed. 

Puffing up is relatively common when it comes to shedding time. 

Their skin might begin to feel a bit tight, particularly if you are raising a baby beardie. 

As the old skin feels tight around their head, puffing up gives them the means to loosen the skin. 

This is nothing to worry about. 

Shedding is perfectly natural, and it makes sense your reptile would attempt to hurry along this somewhat uncomfortable process. 

We have a post on bearded dragons struggling to shed for anyone that thinks their reptile may be having issues with shedding.

Popping Their Ears or Stretching

Have you ever noticed the pressure in your ears when you climb to the top of a mountain or a tall building? 

Sometimes, you might even wake up from a nap feeling too much pressure in your ears. 

The same thing can happen to your beloved bearded dragon. 

If you notice your dragon is puffing up while also keeping its mouth open, it pressurizes its ear canal. 

In other words, they are popping their ears and relieving the pressure. 

While heights may not cause it, it’s still an uncomfortable phenomenon for them. 

Fortunately, puffing up and yawning is a simple fix. 

They might do it a couple of times to pressurize their ear canal. 

If you notice they do this after a nap, it may just be their way of taking a good stretch. 

Like you may reach your arms overhead to get the blood pumping again, your bearded dragon can stretch out the muscles of its chest and neck by puffing up. 

Bearded Dragon Battles

Do you have more than one bearded dragon in your enclosure? 

This species is naturally very territorial, so you might want to consider splitting them up if you notice a lot of this puffing-up behavior. 

Most of the time, you may notice territorial behavior come into play when you have two beardies of the same sex in your enclosure. 

In particular, males tend to be highly combative, and you may see more of this behavior from them.

It is far more common for this to occur between same-sex reptiles, though a male may present a puffed-up chest to a female if he feels his space is threatened. 

However, this is not the only time you see this occur. 

It also happens if you have a size differential between your bearded dragons. 

Larger beardies are more tempted to challenge smaller ones, even if they are members of the opposite sex.

If you want to keep two bearded dragon breeds in one enclosure, ensure the enclosure is relatively large. 

They both need to have their own space without feeling like they need to compete for it. 

In a small enclosure, you will almost always have problems with multiple bearded dragons in such a confined space. 

You may also notice black bearding when you encounter an issue with dominance. 

Sign of Happiness

Have you come to the end of this list and still aren’t sure why your bearded dragon is puffed up? 

The reality is there may be nothing at all wrong with them.

Puffing up could be a sign of happiness. 

It is your reptile’s way of letting you know you are doing a good job taking care of them. 

When your bearded dragon wants to show off a little bit, it is not uncommon to find them puffing up. 

A happy dragon will likely do this during his favorite activities, such as mealtime. 

They may also do this if they are particularly enjoying their basking. 

It is common to find your beardie puffs up because they enjoy it and are showing off. 

If you have a very warm dragon, they might even open their mouth a bit to expel some of the heat. 

It’s nothing to concern yourself with. 

This is likely the case if you notice your bearded dragon doing this during a particularly enjoyable activity. 

For example, they may puff up during playtime or when you handle them. 

Further Reading: How often to pick up bearded dragons and how to do it right

Continue to spend quality bonding time with them, and you will likely be rewarded with more of this behavior.

It’s a simple way for your reptile to show you how much they love and appreciate what you do for them! 

We have an exciting post on how to tell if your bearded dragon is happy that has been extremely popular, and many bearded dragon owners have loved it, so we wanted to share it with you here.

What Should I Do If My Bearded Dragon Puffs Up?

Many people may be tempted to go to their bearded dragon vet if they can’t figure out what is causing this behavior. 

In most situations, puffing up is harmless. 

It is just a simple way for your beardie to express his feelings. 

While it can easily signify stress, neither emotion is particularly troubling. 

If you feel it could be caused by stress, do your best to eliminate what is upsetting your reptile. 

However, this is not cause for professional intervention. 

It is easily resolved with a bit of trial and error.

It is important to understand why your bearded dragon puffs up, but it rarely requires medical attention. 

Often, they will do this for a short period until they can resolve the reason for the behavior. 

For example, they may stop when the stress goes away or when bath time is over. 

If your bearded dragon puffs up and remains puffed up for an extended period, you should consider seeing a veterinarian. 

They may be able to help you troubleshoot the situation and uncover the reason for the behavior.

Particularly if you are a new dragon owner, you might need help figuring out the best setup and situation for your beardie. 

A veterinarian can guide you to get your bearded dragon healthy and happy for the years ahead.