Bearded Dragon brumation is a natural hibernation-like state that occurs in these reptiles, both in the wild and in captivity. It is essential for bearded dragon owners to understand this phenomenon to ensure the health and well-being of their pets. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the reasons why Bearded Dragons brumate in captivity, the age at which they typically brumate, the importance of a pre-brumation fecal exam, how to prepare your bearded dragon for brumation, how to provide periodic warmth and hydration without causing undue stress, and finally, how to wake up your Bearded Dragon when the brumation period ends.
1. Why Do Bearded Dragons Brumate in Captivity?
Brumation in captivity can occur for various reasons, including:
a. Seasonal Cues: Bearded dragons are sensitive to changes in temperature and daylight hours. Even in captivity, their instincts may trigger brumation during colder months as they attempt to mimic their natural environment.
b. Rest and Conservation: Brumation allows Bearded Dragons to conserve energy, especially during periods when food availability may be limited.
2. The Age at Which Bearded Dragons Brumate:
Bearded Dragons typically reach sexual maturity at around 18 months to 2 years of age. While some younger dragons may brumate, it is more common in adult dragons. The frequency and duration of brumation can vary from one individual to another.
3. Fecal Exam Before Brumation:
Before your bearded dragon enters brumation, it is crucial to schedule a vet appointment for a fecal examination. This examination helps detect any underlying health issues, such as parasites, which can become more problematic during brumation due to the reptile's slowed metabolism.
During the fecal exam, your veterinarian will collect a stool sample to check for the presence of parasites. If any issues are detected, your vet will prescribe the appropriate treatment, ensuring that your bearded dragon goes into brumation in the best possible health.
4. Preparing for Brumation:
a. Temperature and Lighting: As brumation is influenced by environmental factors, ensure that your dragon's enclosure maintains a consistent temperature between 70-80°F (21-27°C) during the day and drops to around 65°F (18°C) at night. Reduce the daylight hours to around 8-10 hours per day to mimic the shorter days of winter.
b. Feeding Your Bearded Dragon: While it's essential not to deny your dragon food entirely, its best to avoid feeding. When the Bearded Dragon is showing an interest in feeding, offer smaller amounts and keep the enclosure warm to facilitate digestion. Bearded Dragons may struggle to digest food when they are brumating, cool, and lethargic. Providing small, easily digestible meals ensures they get the nutrition they need without overburdening their digestive system. Allow the Bearded Dragon to fully pass its meal before lowering the temperature.
c. Decrease Feeding: Gradually reduce the frequency and size of your dragon's meals as you approach the brumation period. This reduction should occur over several weeks to allow your pet to digest any food in its system.
d. Hydration: Keep your dragon well-hydrated by offering fresh water regularly. However, be prepared for decreased water consumption during brumation, as it's normal for them to drink less.
5. Signs Your Bearded Dragon is Entering Brumation:
Brumation is characterized by a unique set of signs and behaviors that are essential to recognize:
a. Reduced Activity: One of the primary indicators is a sudden decrease in activity. Your dragon may become lethargic, spending more time basking or resting.
b. Decreased Appetite: As they prepare for brumation, bearded dragons often eat less and may even refuse food altogether.
c. Weight Loss: Your Bearded Dragon might maintain its weight or experience slight weight loss, but any significant weight loss could be a sign of an issue.
d. Hiding Behavior: Bearded dragons tend to seek out dark and secluded spots in their enclosure, mimicking their natural instinct to burrow.
e. Altered Basking Patterns: They might alter their basking patterns, spending less time under the heat source.
6. Distinguishing Brumation from Health Issues:
It's crucial to differentiate brumation from other health problems that could mimic its symptoms:
a. Parasites: Conduct a pre-brumation fecal exam to rule out parasitic infections. If your dragon has parasites, it's vital to treat them before brumation, as these issues can worsen during the dormant period.
b. Respiratory Infections: Be on the lookout for signs like wheezing, nasal discharge, or labored breathing, which could indicate a respiratory infection. These symptoms are not typical during brumation.
c. Impaction: Constipation or impaction can be mistaken for brumation. If your dragon displays signs of straining, bloating, or discomfort, consult your veterinarian immediately.
d. Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD): Dragons with MBD may exhibit weakness, tremors, or difficulty moving. These signs are unrelated to brumation and should be addressed promptly.
7. Monitoring During Brumation:
Brumation can last for several weeks to several months, during which your bearded dragon will remain lethargic, eat very little or not at all, and stay in one spot. While it may be alarming to see your pet in this state, it's important not to disturb them unnecessarily. Some key points for monitoring your dragon during brumation include:
a. Weight Loss: Expect some weight loss during this period, but monitor it closely. Significant weight loss may indicate an issue that requires veterinary attention.
b. Regular Checks: Do daily visual checks to ensure your dragon's health. Look for any signs of illness, injury, or respiratory distress.
c. Minimal Handling: Avoid handling your dragon unless necessary. Handling during brumation can be stressful, and your pet needs rest.
8. Waking Up Your Bearded Dragon:
To wake up your bearded dragon from brumation, simply return them to their pre-brumation setup. Gradually increase the temperature in their enclosure back to the normal range and reintroduce the usual lighting schedule. Offer food in small amounts to encourage them to start eating again. Be patient, as it may take some time for your dragon to fully emerge from brumation and return to their normal activity levels.
Bearded dragon brumation is a natural phenomenon, and understanding how to prepare, monitor, and support your pet during this time is crucial. Start with a pre-brumation fecal exam to ensure your dragon is healthy, prepare their environment carefully, and provide occasional warmth and hydration when necessary. When it's time to wake your Bearded Dragon, the process is straightforward, and with the right care, your dragon will return to its active, healthy self when the warmer months arrive.