Brumation is a natural process that pet bearded dragons often go through each year. As opposed to true hibernation seen in mammals, brumation is more of a period of dormancy and lethargy. Even though it can seem alarming to owners not familiar with the process, brumation is not inherently dangerous. With proper preparation and care during brumation, your bearded dragon can get through this period safely.
In this complete guide, we will cover everything you need to know as a bearded dragon owner before, during and after your pet goes through brumation.
What is Brumation in Bearded Dragons?
Brumation is best described as a hibernation-like state that bearded dragons and other reptiles enter into during the colder fall and winter months. Just like hibernation allows certain mammals to sleep through seasons when food is scarce, brumation serves the same purpose for reptiles.
Bearded dragons are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. As temperatures drop in the winter, bearded dragons have a much harder time thermoregulating. Their metabolisms also slow down dramatically during brumation.
When in brumation, bearded dragons will be far less active than normal. They retreat to cooler hides and sleep for large portions of the day. Their appetite disappears as their slowed digestive system no longer requires as much food. Breathing, heart rate and other bodily functions also decrease during brumation.
So in essence, brumation allows bearded dragons to sit out the winter when conditions are poor. This gives them a better chance of survival than trying to hunt for scarce food sources and maintain body heat when temperatures are low. The behavior is strongly ingrained even for pet bearded dragons kept indoors.
Bearded Dragon Brumation Signs
How do you know if your bearded dragon is starting to brumate? There are a number of clear signs:
- Increased lethargy and sleeping – spending most of the day asleep, decreased activity when awake
- Loss of appetite – refusal of food or greatly decreased interest in eating
- Staying on the cool side – avoiding basking area and heat lamps
- Increased hiding – staying inside hides and covered shelters most of the day
- Darker color – some dragons will become darker as they brumate
- Less frequent bowel movements – due to decreased eating
- Lack of interest in humans – appearing disinterested in owners, wanting to be left alone
- Digging/burrowing – making depressions in substrate to create shelters
These signs will become especially apparent as temperatures drop in the late fall. But it is not unusual for dragons to show brumation behavior sporadically at other times of the year as well.
Not all dragons will brumate every year either. Some may only go through the process occasionally. There are also instances of dragons attempting to brumate when unwell, so it is important to ensure they are healthy first.
Dangers and Risks of Brumation
While brumation is normal, there are some potential risks to be aware of:
- Weight loss – Lack of eating can cause dragons to lose significant weight if brumation lasts many weeks/months. Monitoring weight weekly is important.
- Dehydration – With decreased drinking, dehydration is a real possibility. Providing regular baths can help.
- Increased parasite load – The lowered metabolism can allow parasites to multiply. A vet check for parasites should occur before brumation.
- Hepatic lipidosis – Fatty liver disease is possible if overweight dragons go too long without eating.
- Impaction – Lack of bowel movements for long periods can lead to impaction. Hydration and baths help avoid this.
With attentive care and preparation, these issues can be avoided in most cases. But owners do need to be vigilant about monitoring their dragon’s health during brumation.
What Age Do Bearded Dragons Brumate?
Most bearded dragons will not start displaying brumation behavior until at least one year old. The first year of a dragon’s life is a crucial growth period, so brumation is not common in hatchlings or juveniles.
Brumation requires the dragon to live off stored fat reserves and go without food for weeks or months. Babies and juveniles lack these reserves and require constant food to fuel growth. For this reason, brumation can be dangerous at this young age.
Adult dragons over one year old have reached most of their growth potential. They are better able to survive prolonged periods of low appetite that accompany brumation. Most dragons will go through their first brumation sometime between one and two years old.
When Does Brumation Occur?
In the wild, bearded dragons brumate during the cold winter months in Australia – typically from May to August. Brumation allows them to avoid the temperature drops and lack of food this time of year brings.
For pet dragons, brumation often occurs in late fall through early winter as well. But there are cases of dragons showing signs sporadically throughout the year. Without the strong seasonal variations of the wild, their biological clocks can become out of sync with the actual climate and seasons around them.
Most owners notice the first signs of brumation in their dragons anywhere between September and December. But again, it varies from individual to individual. The duration also varies widely, lasting 2-4 months on average.
Caring for a Bearded Dragon Before Brumation
If possible, you will want to take some steps to prepare your bearded dragon before they enter brumation. This helps ensure they go into the period as healthy as possible:
- Vet visit – Schedule an exam 1-2 months before so they can check for illness and test for parasites. Treatment can be provided before brumation starts.
- Review weight – Ask your vet to assess if the dragon is overweight or underweight. Obese dragons are at higher risk for health issues during brumation.
- Trim nails – Take care of any overgrown nails, as you likely won’t be able to do this once brumation begins.
- Discontinue supplements – Stop calcium and multivitamin supplements 1-2 weeks before brumation starts.
- Reduce lighting – Begin lowering temperatures and decreasing day length to ready their body.
- Last meal – Offer a final larger meal 1-2 weeks before brumation to give added nutrition.
Providing these last bits of husbandry and medical care reduces potential issues during brumation. It allows the dragon to enter the period as healthy as possible.
Caring for a Bearded Dragon During Brumation
Caring for a brumating bearded dragon is fairly straightforward. With their decreased activity and metabolism, they have different needs than normal:
- Turn off lighting/heating – Mimic natural winter conditions by discontinuing lights and heat. Keep ambient temperatures 60-75°F.
- Stop feeding – Do not offer food, as their digestive system shuts down.
- Provide water – Supply fresh water daily even if they are not drinking. Baths also provide hydration.
- Monitor weight – Weigh weekly and keep notes. Contact a vet if weight loss exceeds 10%.
- Clean enclosure – Spot clean waste and uneaten food without disturbing them.
- Minimal handling – Only handle when necessary to minimize stress and stimulation.
- Maintain humidity – Ensure the enclosure does not become too dry with heat sources off.
Aside from monitoring and sustaining their basic needs, not much intervention is required during brumation. Be observant but also allow them their undisturbed rest.
Waking a Bearded Dragon After Brumation
So how do you know when brumation is over? There are a few signs that indicate your dragon is close to waking up:
- More frequent activity and time spent out of hiding spots
- Renewed interest in food – eating greens or live prey again
- Increased time basking and visible interest in heat sources
- Drinking more water and passing stool
- Generally appears alert and engaged with environment/owners
Once you observe these signs, it is safe to gradually reintroduce lighting and heating. Over the course of a few days to weeks, return to normal daylight hours and temperatures.
Also begin offering more food as appetite permits. Green leafy vegetables are usually preferred at first. Then you can reintroduce live prey once eating is back to a normal schedule.
Continue providing baths and fresh water as needed while they get fully acclimated again. Within a few weeks, your dragon should be back to their normal energetic and hungry self!
Preventing Brumation in Bearded Dragons
In some cases, you may want to prevent your dragon from brumating – babies and juveniles for example. Or you may decide the risks outweigh the benefits for your individual pet. Here are some tips:
- Maintain consistent heating and lighting – do not allow temperatures to drop.
- Use additional heat sources if needed – consider ceramic heat emitters to boost ambient heat.
- Ensure UVB bulbs are strong and replaced frequently.
- Switch to a higher output UVB bulb – a 14% or 10.0 tube helps prevent metabolic issues.
- Dust food with calcium and vitamins regularly – do not discontinue supplements.
- Handle frequently – interaction and activity can help suppress brumation behavior.
- Keep enclosure in busy room – exposure to activity and sound can also discourage brumation.
With diligent husbandry, you may be able to prevent or delay brumation. But there are no guarantees, as the urge is innate in some dragons. Work closely with your herp vet if you need to actively discourage brumation.
Key Takeaways on Bearded Dragon Brumation
To wrap up this complete guide on brumation, here are the key takeaways:
- Brumation is an extended period of dormancy and decreased activity/appetite.
- It serves the purpose of allowing bearded dragons to wait out winter when conditions are poor.
- Most adult dragons brumate during late fall/early winter for 2-4 months.
- Signs include lethargy, lack of appetite, hiding, and little bowel movements.
- Dangers include weight loss, dehydration, parasite proliferation and impaction.
- Proper husbandry and vet care before/after brumation reduces these risks.
- Juvenile dragons under one year old should not brumate – seek vet guidance if attempting.
- Aside from sustenance and cleaning, leave brumating dragons undisturbed.
- Gradually reintroduce lighting, heating and food once a dragon comes out of brumation.
- Prevent brumation by maintaining consistent heating/lighting and supplementation.
With greater understanding of this natural process, you can feel confident caring for your bearded dragon before, during and after brumation. Reach out to experienced reptile veterinarians whenever you need guidance on ensuring your pet stays happy and healthy all year long.
Frequently Asked Questions about Bearded Dragon Brumation
Do all bearded dragons brumate every year?
No, brumation tendencies vary greatly among individuals. Some dragons may brumate yearly like clockwork. Others only go through it sporadically. And some may never show signs of attempted brumation at all. There is no predicting if or when a specific dragon will brumate.
Can brumation be dangerous?
There are potential risks mainly stemming from lack of food, decreased drinking, and lowered immune function. But most dragons complete brumation without incident under attentive care. Maintaining weight, hydration and sanitary conditions greatly reduces any dangers.
Why don’t wild dragons die during brumation?
Wild dragons are adapted after millions of years to endure months of little sustenance. Their metabolisms and bodily functions reach extremely reduced states pet dragons do not achieve. As long as they enter brumation at a healthy weight, the average wild dragon is well equipped to survive.
Do dragons need to brumate every year?
No, there is no biological requirement for bearded dragons to brumate annually. Individual dragons demonstrate widely varying brumation habits in captivity. As long as lighting and heating stay consistent year-round, most will forego brumation entirely with no ill effects.
How can I tell if my bearded dragon is sick or brumating?
Look for signs of illness beyond basic lethargy and appetite loss. Labored breathing, discharge, eye swelling, dark beard/skin, weight loss exceeding 10% – these warrant a vet visit to diagnose the cause. Otherwise, lethargy with no other symptoms is likely normal brumation.
Why is my dragon awake during brumation?
It is completely normal for brumating dragons to wake for periods of activity. They may drink, move to a new spot or explore a bit before going back to sleep. Full uninterrupted hibernation rarely occurs. Expect some intermittent alertness.
Do I stop UVB lighting during brumation?
Yes, UVB (and all lighting) should be discontinued during brumation to mimic natural conditions. Their slowed metabolism cannot properly utilize UVB when inactive. Leaving lights/heating on can actually disrupt the brumation process.
How often should I check on my brumating dragon?
Daily checks are recommended to stay apprised of their condition. Weigh them weekly at a minimum as well. Beyond that, disturb them as little as possible. Only intervene if you observe signs of ill health or dehydration.
Why is my dragon brumating at the wrong time of year?
Pet dragons often lack the seasonal cues of the wild that dictate proper brumation timing. Their biological clocks become prone to fluctuations that can spur odd brumation behavior at any time. But as long as they are healthy, seasonality is not vital for pet dragons.
Can I make my dragon end brumation?
It is not recommended to forcibly end brumation once begun. Doing so can actually prolong the process and cause undue stress. Allow your dragon to complete a normal brumation period if they are maintaining proper weight and hydration.
We hope this comprehensive guide better prepares you to care for your bearded dragon before, during and after brumation. While an extended period of dormancy and fasting may seem concerning at first, it is a natural part of owning these amazing reptiles. With attentive husbandry and veterinary guidance, most dragons undergo brumation without complication or harm.