Bearded dragons in the wild will brumate every year during the cold winter months.
In captivity, brumation is not necessary to survive the winter months since it lives in an artificially heated and lit habitat. However, they are still programmed to pick up on the cues of impending winter and start to slow down or completely hibernate.
- Sleeping or Lethargic?
- Does my Bearded Dragon have to Brumate?
- How long will my Bearded Dragon Brumate for?
- Preparing and Bedding for Brumation
- Care During Brumation
- Coming out of Brumation
- How to wake a bearded dragon from brumation
Some behaviours that may signal brumation is on its way are your bearded dragon has buried itself under objects or in loose substrate. Your bearded dragon may be hiding or it may just not move much anymore. Along with this, your bearded dragon will not want to eat.
Sleeping or Lethargic?
Signs of brumation can also be those of illness so it is important to be able to distinguish. Heading into winter as brumation approaches, your bearded dragon may start sleeping more, appear lethargic and may start hiding or burrowing under bark or other objects. This will be associated with reduced or loss of appetite. If winter is coming and your bearded dragon is healthy, then brumation is a likely cause of a lethargic, sleepy and hiding bearded dragon.
Sometimes brumation can appear to come on quite suddenly. One day everything is seemingly normal and the next your bearded dragon suddenly hiding in its cave or burrow.
It is the environment which makes the difference as to whether bearded dragon’s will brumate or not. Brumation in captivity isn’t necessarily a full on sleep, it could be little more than a lethargic bearded dragon not wanting to eat. The environment conditions will influence how deep the brumation will be and for how long.
Brumating is not expected to occur for bearded dragons under 1 year of age, however there are the odd ones that defy that guideline. This is a time of their life best served to good nutrition and growing.
Sick bearded dragons should not be encouraged into brumation, they may not survive it. Do not create brumation conditions for sick or young bearded dragons.
The cues for brumation may occur in captivity when your bearded dragon picks up on environmental changes which it is naturally attuned to doing. If it has access to see the light from a window, it can pick up on the reduced hours of daylight and cooler temperatures as winter creeps closer.
Of course temperature and lighting can be controlled in the bearded dragon housing, and this is where the bearded dragon is likely confused. One the one hand, nature is telling it that it is time for sleep and potentially hormonal cues we are yet to discover. On the other hand the temperatures and lighting in its house are telling it a different story. As such, true brumation may not occur and instead it will become lethargic, a bit sleepy and wanting less food if any at all.
Brumation will come to an end when your bearded dragon picks up on the days becoming longer and warmer. If it has gone into full brumation (sleeping) it will come out from hiding to bask and its appetite will pick up.
However, there are times they might come out for a few days and then go straight back to brumating. Generally, once they are back out basking you can expect it is over. Normal conditions should be provided once they come out and start basking.
The extent of the brumation, whether it is simply lethargic or whether it goes into a full sleep is down to the environment provided. The cues it picks up on in the weather and the set up in its housing such as how hot it is and how long the lights are on for.
Sleeping for months and not eating is very foreign to human behaviour and can be quite disconcerting. To allow natural behaviour to take place and provide you with peace of mind, it is important to prepare for brumation just prior to the onset of each winter.
Does my Bearded Dragon have to Brumate?
Some pet owners have reported that their bearded dragons has never undergone brumation. Since brumation is not always a complete winter shut down it is difficult to know. Some will still undergo subtle changes, a slow down on eating, perhaps not move around much but not really sleep.
We know that for some reptiles, brumation is necessary for breeding. Not bearded dragons, they are prolific breeders that need no help at all. Outside of breeding, it is suspected that brumation is associated with a longer life, but there is no scientific evidence to support that. So bearded dragons do not have to brumate, whether it is better to support natural behaviours is another question.
The Link Between Brumation and Getting Fat
Turns out that not letting bearded dragons brumate may contribute to getting fat! When they brumate they are using up fat reserves. More about fat bearded dragons in the post Is my Bearded Dragon Fat?
How long will my Bearded Dragon Brumate for?
The bearded dragon can sleep for weeks or months. It could be that it is just sluggish for a few months eating very little but still sitting around on its branch. Maybe it will sleep for a few days, comes out for a few days and sleep for a few days on and off. Or perhaps it will snuggle down to its chosen spot and stay there for months, 3 or 4 months even.
How long it will brumate for in captivity, and whether it is broken up or a complete unbroken sleep, will be significantly impacted by the environment it is given. To encourage brumation winter temperatures and lighting cycles need to be set up.
Preparing and Bedding for Brumation
How to prepare for brumation in 5 steps:
- Vet check up (parasite and health check).
- Set thermostat for winter temperatures.
- Create a burrow or privacy spot (couple of options to allow for your bearded dragon to choose which it prefers).
- Track feeding and bowel movements (no food in the gut for brumation).
- Monitoring health and hydration (weight loss during brumation).
A visit to your vet the month before winter should probably become a calendar entry for every year from here on. Not only for an overall health check but also, most importantly, a parasite check.
When temperatures go down, reptiles immune systems can be easily compromised. Excessive parasite loads thriving in a sleeping bearded dragon are extremely dangerous.
If your bearded dragon has already started brumating and has not gone through the vet check, take it to the vet. This vet check could make the difference between you stressing or not, from a healthy bearded dragon waking up, to something you don’t want to happen.
Setting up heating and lighting winter cycles
Set the heat and lighting to winter cycles. Thermostats make this an easy task.
Creating a burrow or privacy spot
Your bearded dragon may choose a burrow to hide in or a branch to sleep on. Offer a few options to allow it to choose.
A dig box with some hay on top may be attractive. Many pet shops will sell small bags of hay.
To prepare the hay simply wash the dust off and spread it out to dry in the sun.
If an upright branch is the spot your bearded dragon prefers then add some artificial foliage or perhaps even hay to cover the area a little. Needless to say nothing flammable should go near the heating and lighting.
Burrows can be made by stacking rocks together (clearly they must not be at risk of falling down) or a mixture of rocks and branches. If you cannot provide natural accessories then try a cardboard box which could have a bit of added hay just for a bonus.
The accessories used for brumating (including upright branches) need to be on the cool side of the gradient. When and if it wants heat during its sleepy winter, then it will move to the heat, bask a while and back to its bed when it feels the need to. You do not need to control this and for your bearded dragons comfort you should probably not. It knows what to do as long as it is provided the right conditions to adjust itself.
Providing something to brumate in that you can weigh before your bearded dragons starts brumating will make it easier to keep weighing during brumation.
Make sure that the bedding you provide to sleep in still allows you access to your bearded dragon to check on.
Tracking feeding and stools
Your bearded dragon must not brumate with a gut full of food. It will be sleeping in lowered temperatures and this is going to cause a lot of problems with digestion. Food in the digestive tract without the required temperatures to digest can become putrefied. Keep a track of bowel movements.
Monitoring health and hydration
By providing a burrow or area of privacy that you can access your bearded dragon easily will help to monitor its health. Making it easy to locate will also help you if you are finding brumation worrying.
Weigh your bearded dragon before it starts to brumate. Take note of the reading and continue to do this every week during brumation. Assuming that your bearded dragon is healthy and went through the vet check, then you are monitoring mostly for hydration and any quick and dramatic weight loss.
This also sets a really useful baseline for your vet if care is needed.
A rapid loss of 10% weight is too much and should prompt a phone call to the vet.
The post on hydration covers more detail on signs of dehydration and how to deal with it. However, it will lose less fluids during brumation since it should be in a covered over and in a cool state.
Care During Brumation
The main elements of care during brumation are keeping a check, feeding and hydration.
If your bearded dragon has gone into a deep sleep then it can be checked daily or perhaps even every couple of days with minimal disturbance. If it is in a deep brumation then it is going to lose some weight. Keep a watch on its condition to ensure it is not too much.
If you have provided a burrow to brumate in, weight it. This way you will be able to keep weighing your bearded dragon periodically during brumation in its burrow and simply deduct the weight of the burrow to get the weight reading of your bearded dragon.
If it has not entered its winter sleep in a convenient burrow then you can still weigh it periodically, just try minimising disturbance and perhaps avoid placing it on a cold metal scales plate.
There is no ‘safe’ weight as such, but a rapid loss of weight or a loss of 10% or over of the baseline, is a likely sign of trouble should trigger a call to your vet to request guidance.
Chances are that during brumation your bearded dragon will not want to eat. Even if it does not go into a deep sleep and appears for all intents normal, it may reduce or stop its eating for a while during winter months. Its metabolism drops and so it’s need for food has also diminished.
It is really important not to force a brumating bearded dragon to eat and if it does eat, then ensure that it has normal heat and lighting levels available to digest. This is a good reason to simply provide good brumating conditions rather than leave it with confusing cues as to whether it is winter and it should sleep or not by not adjusting environment heating and lighting.
Hydration is far more important than food when resting. Maintaining the environment humidity will assist but other means of providing fluid may be required.
Bathing during full brumation is not required and likely to be quite disruptive to the bearded dragon. If additional fluids are required then a light misting would be a better option and for the more experienced, gently opening the mouth slightly and lightly misting the tongue should be enough.
Coming out of Brumation
Bearded dragon’s coming out of brumation is exciting and relieving. As spring is about to arrive, change the temperatures to be warmer and lighting cycles to be longer replicating the weather changing.
As your bearded dragon starts to come out get its hydration levels back to normal. The post on hydration covers ways to hydrate however misting is a good start. Hydration comes before feeding.
Once hydration is good, if your bearded dragons has started basking, then it can be fed. Once fed, it requires hours of heat and UVB to promote digestion.
Sometimes they can pop out from brumation and go back to it, even after a day or two awake. This is less likely to occur if the temperature and lighting is set appropriately.
Once your bearded dragon is back to being hydrated and fed, life is normal again.
How to wake a bearded dragon from brumation
To wake a bearded dragon from brumation, set the temperatures and lighting back to summer. However, if you have prepared for brumation, monitored and all is fine, then there is no need to try to wake it from brumation.