Bearded Dragons Get Fat
Bearded dragons get fat! Well, not all, but there are those who can never be satisfied and have trained their owners very well ensuring large and frequent food supply.
Bowls modify eating behaviors which can go from one extreme to another. Bowls can discourage eating, particularly if the contents are difficult to see (i.e. due to the height of the bowl). Bowls may also provide the means to make it very easy to consume large quantities of food in a short time as an entire meal is presented in a small area. For bearded dragons (which have not evolved to captivity in their short 20 odd years in captivity internationally) it is not at all natural to be confined to a few feet of space, given access to large quantities of food in a single sitting and not have to make any effort what so ever to locate or catch that food. This is a massive part of their natural daily activity removed from their agenda. Bearded dragons will not generally use more energy than they have to in order to stay alive. This is a very natural part of survival, food is not always easy to come by in nature so one must not waste energy. If they no longer need to find food they are likely to simply spend that time doing nothing…and so the problem gets bigger between excess food and lack of activity.
The simplest method to reduce overeating without causing distress by enforcing sudden diet restrictions, while improving environmental stimulation, is to stop using a bowl and start using the environment to encourage natural behaviour.
Bearded dragons have not yet evolved to deal with meals served in one sitting like a cat, dog or even human. Their food is naturally spread over an area and they will spend their active feeding time seeking, cropping (or catching if it is an arthropod) and consuming. Grasses and herbs are a large part of an adults diet along with some insects. If you consider that for an adult bearded dragon the most common insect eaten is often ants (one by one), you can image how slowly the days food is being consumed.
Keeping in mind that bearded dragons have not yet evolved to captivity, it is easy to imagine that taking away such a time consuming activity such as feeding, is bound to cause behavioral issues. Behavioral issues manifest in many ways including inactivity and over eating. Conversely, providing an environment where natural feeding sessions can be relatively simulated can increase activity, decrease boredom and prevent over consuming. Bearded dragons get fat in captivity far too easily.
To replicate the natural environment and encourage natural feeding behaviour the bearded dragon needs to be given the opportunity to seek its own food. This will create meaningful activity in the bearded dragons day (assuming a large enclosure is provided – minimum 4 foot) and reduce the behavioral influences which have likely caused the overeating problem in the first case. Spread the vegetation out. Small portions of entire dark green leaves can be tied up by the stalk and hung in the enclosure where the bearded dragon can crop them. Vegetables and fruit can be shredded or finely chopped and also deposited around the enclosure. Insects are ideal loose, their movement will typically attract attention and they will be hunted down. However, insects should never be left in the enclosure with the bearded dragon overnight or for any lengthy period, particularly crickets and other species that have a track record for causing extreme damage as they start eating the predator.
If bowls are to be used then using wide shallow dishes which make food easy to see. Split the food up through the day rather than providing large quantities of food in one or two sittings.