Brumation is time of great concern and worry for some bearded dragon owners, especially new owners. This is a time when your dragon slows down and seems lethargic.
Their appetite lessens and they just seem to sleep all the time. Some people become down right frightened when these things start happening. There are some things to know before you get too worried.
This time of lethargy can be attributed to a couple of different things. Your dragon might just be brumating like they do in the wild when inclimate weather comes, or they might be experiencing a coccidia outbreak.
Though they have some of the same symptoms, your dragon will look more ill if they have a coccidia outbreak. If they seem sickly, have them checked out by a vet. If your dragon checks out fine with a veterinarian, they are just experiencing a slow down period.
There is nothing, really, to worry about when your dragon becomes dormant. They will come out of it, usually as fast as they went into it. You, however, might notice your home a little less lively while they’re brumating.
There is nothing that can, really, be done to pull a dragon out of brumation. It will be hard, but you’ll just have to wait this time of dormancy out.
What is Bearded Dragon Brumation?
Brumation is a time of semi-dormancy in reptiles. Herpetologists use this term referring to reptile hibernation. While similar to hibernation, there are different metabolic processes for the two.
Mammals use stored fat when they hibernate during inclimate weather and reptiles use glycogen. Glycogen is defined as one form in which body fuel is stored; stored primarily in the liver and broken down into glucose when needed by the body.
Brumation can also help in getting dragons ready for the breeding season. While some owners don’t promote dormancy in their dragons and still get them to breed, cooled down dragons have higher sperm and egg counts.
In the wild, a bearded dragon will slow down during winter weather. Dragons’ know that their food supply is growing scarce when bad weather starts. They may even feel the barometric pressure changing. This will cause them to slow down their metabolism. They will start to eat less and sleep more.
They will become less active and find a dark place where they will sleep all winter. On occasion they will poke their head out and see what is going on. They may even eat a little and bask, before returning to their slumber.
They can go awhile without eating, but they are still opportunistic feeders. If they see food, usually, they will eat it knowing that it might not be there next time.
With a slowed metabolism during brumation, their weight is not affected much by not eating. A dragon can go several months in brumation without eating and lose very little or no weight at all. When the weather returns to being optimal, bearded dragons will come out of brumation.
Do All Bearded Dragons Brumate?
No. Not all bearded dragons will go through a time of dormancy. Some prefer to stay active all year. Younger dragons do not usually slow down, though it is possible.
Brumation is usually reserved to older dragons. If your dragon doesn’t seem to slow down, there really is no reason to force them to. It can help, though, if you are deciding to breed them.
Even among dragons that do slow down, some will do it for different lengths. One dragon might brumate for a short time, and another might be out for a couple of months. It seems there are different factors for different dragons. If your dragon doesn’t have a slowing down period, it is perfectly fine.
What are Some of the Signs?
One of the biggest signs of brumation will be lethargy. You’ll notice your dragon starting to sleep a lot. They will also retreat to a hiding place in the cooler part of their cage.
They may wake up in the morning and stay in one spot all day just to fall asleep in the same place at night. While they do this, they will seem sometimes to stare blankly out of their hiding spot.
A lessened appetite is another sign of dormancy in your dragon. Their food consumption might seem to drop drastically. They might not eat at all. At this time, though, their metabolism is slowing and they don’t need a whole lot of food. It is okay to offer food to them at this time, if you want to.
With a lessened food intake their bowel movements aren’t going to be as frequent. Don’t let this bother you. If nothing is going in, nothing is going to come out. Also, they usually won’t shed their skin during brumation either.
What Causes Brumation to Happen?
In the wild there are reasons to go into brumation. We don’t really understand why they do this in captivity. It might have to do with their circadian rhythm (an internal clock) telling them that it is time to slow down.
If your dragon can see out the window, the changes in external weather conditions may trigger it. Other factors include changes in lighting and temperature.
How Do I Know it’s Not Illness?
Even though symptoms are similar with dormancy and illness, there are things that are different.
If there is a change in your dragon’s feces, being smelly and looser, lethargy isn’t a sign of brumation. Loose stools by themselves, however, don’t indicate anything. There might just be a change in their diet or mood.
Bearded dragons will even get dark circles under their eyes when they are ill. If your dragon’s gums are paler than normal it might also be a sign of illness.
If your dragon’s gums seem to be pulled back, it might indicate dehydration. If your dragon is dehydrated, you can offer water or pedialyte with a childrens medicine dropper (a needle less syringe will work too). I had to do this with my first dragon. You can also give them warm baths to try and hydrate them.
If you do suspect illness, it is a good idea to have your dragon checked out by a veterinarian. It might be a good idea to have their fecal matter checked when they start seeming lethargic.
If your dragon doesn’t seem like they are ill, they are probably just entering into a time of brumation, and don’t need to be checked. I know it’s hard though not to worry sometimes. It’s not a bad thing to have them checked out, and if they receive a clean bill of health you can rest a little easier.