Complete Guide to Hydration
Bearded dragon flattening itself onto misted surface.
How do I get my bearded dragon to drink is a really common question, and it is no wonder since you can keep a bowl of water in the habitat and yet the animal still dehydrates. Offering a bearded dragon water, particularly in the enclosure, is not enough to get it to drink. Continual mild dehydration, including during long or poorly managed brumation periods, can result in, or contribute to, cause significant health issues and (in extreme cases) death. Health problems may include kidney disease, shedding problems and constipation.
Do bearded dragons need water in their cage?
All captive creatures should be provided with access to water. However there are a few issues with providing water on demand in a bearded dragons habitat.
As mentioned earlier, they can dehydrate even with the presence of water. They do not seem to instinctively know to drink from a bowl of still water. Australia is a really dry country for much of the time, certainly in summer, a time bearded dragons are quite active. The chances of them coming across a pool of water to drink from are slim so it is easy to imagine that they are more adapted to getting fluids from food and licking dew or raindrops.
Another consideration is keeping warm stagnant water in the habitat. It is a breeding ground for pathogens and some parasites. Add to that the stools that you are likely to find deposited in it (does seem to work well for some to get them to move their bowels) and it’s not suitable for any animal to drink. However, if kept clean, this can add to the environmental enrichment. Issues really occur with poor husbandry practices or enclosures that are too small or inadequate like glass tanks.
How to tell if my bearded dragon is Dehydrated
Pinching skin to test if my bearded dragon is hydrated
One of the most obvious signs of dehydration is the decreased elasticity in the skin.
The easiest way to check if your bearded dragon is dehydrated is to do the pinch test. Gently pinch a bit of soft skin and see how long it takes to bounce back. If it bounces back straight away, then it is likely hydrated. If the skin is slow to bounce back then it is dehydrated. The amount of time it takes to bounce back is the indicator to the degree of dehydration. So as a guide, when I apply this test I would consider that if the skin bounces back in say under a second, all should be fine. A couple of seconds and it likely needs to drink. Longer than that and things really need to be reviewed. If you are unfamiliar with the results on your bearded dragon then do the tests this yourself over a period of time to get an idea of what is hydrated and what is not. The area of skin used will make a difference.
The bearded dragons wrinkled skin is a sign of dehydration (note wrinkled skin can occur for other reasons)
As dehydration progresses it will become a little more obvious with the skin on its back wrinkling. There are other possible causes for wrinkling which includes just having room for growth but it is easy enough to tell the difference. if the skin is only wrinkled in certain positions then it probably isn’t dehydration. Just do the pinch test to check.
By the time the skin starts wrinkling, the bowel movements have probably become a little less frequent moving on towards constipation (such a common cause of constipation and so easy to avoid). Shedding may be slowing down or becoming problematic.
The mucous membranes will get a bit tacky, again to what extent will be dependent on the degree of dehydration.
As the level continues to increase, signs may include sunken eyes, muscle weakness or even gout. Behavioral signs may include decreased body weight and reduced activity. This is really serious by the time these signs occur and radical changes need to happen immediately including adding a vet to the mix.
4 ways to get your bearded dragon to drink
The ways to get your bearded dragon to drink are meant to be combined into a hydration program. Use more than one trick, but don’t go overboard. Bearded dragons are perfectly evolved for the dry lands in Australia, Note that bathing is not a replacement for providing water by mouth and may well result in constant mild dehydration if used as the only means.
1. Providing water in a bowl
Justin Peter’s Otto in water dish
If a water bowl is to be provided it is best to be wide and shallow to allow for bathing, laying in or standing in and prevent drowning. The bearded dragon will more likely use the water to lay in than drink, but this also provides benefits from adding to hydration to enhanced environmental enrichment.
If the humidity is too high in the enclosure then just leave the bowl of water for a fixed time and remove it. Resolve the issue with the excessive humidity before leaving water permanently. But remember it must stay clean which includes disinfecting the bowl.
Water that shows some signs of movement, even if it is a drop hitting the water surface, is far more attractive to bearded dragons than still water. Try stirring the water and perhaps putting a droplet of water on its snout. You could also try squirting a water sprayer directly into the bowl. It may take hours, days or weeks to encourage them to drink from a bowl, or it may never work at all.
Who else is providing a water dish in the habitat?
There was a small survey conducted with the Bearded Dragons World community members to see how many were provided constant access to water and how often they are drinking water kept in their habitat. Out of a total of 73 bearded dragons to it was found that 66% were provided continual access to water. Out of those 7% had been observed drinking on multiple occasions, 31% were seen to drink occasionally (less than once a week), 54% had never been observed drinking directly from the water dish and 8% were only observed to drink when assisted.
2. Misting, drinking off walls and surfing on floors
One of the walls in this bearded dragons house was misted. It did not require any encouragement or intervention to lick the droplets.
Bearded dragon drinking drops of water misted onto the wall of its house
Wetting the floor surface will encourage surfing. If your bearded dragon puts on a surfing display for you it can be quite fun to watch. They will flatten their belly on the surface and slide across it seemingly enjoying the experience perhaps having a lick along the way. The surfaces to be misted should be disinfected and rinsed prior to wetting which makes it a practice best done after the daily cleaning. It’s not that they cannot cope with dirt, simply that they are confined to their enclosure and so pathogens and parasites build up quickly. You don’t want to increase any risks or aid any of their cycles to repeatedly infect the host.
Bearded dragon drinking water off the floor.
Clearly you can’t do this with a loose substrate. Good reason to change to something more versatile like tiles if you haven’t already.
Be careful of misting in glass tanks or other enclosures with poor air circulation. Mist outside of the habitat if it is a problem that cannot be fixed.
Who else is misting their bearded dragon?
Out of 21 bearded dragons (surveys submitted in the Bearded Dragons world Community), 12 had a misting routine ranging between daily to once a week, 3 were misted occasionally if the weather was hot and 9 were not provided a misting routine at all. The majority of survey respondents provided glass enclosures which is likely to provide some explanation for the lack of misting routines.
How do I teach my bearded dragon to drink water – Misting to Drinking
This could have almost counted as a way to get bearded dragons to drink all on its own, but as it is a combination of the two methods above, it didn’t get its own number in the list.
Since moving water seems to attract bearded dragons when they are thirsty, moving from misting to drinking might be relatively easy for you to achieve. Form water droplets on an accessory over top of a water bowl and see if that brings any interest. You could also try spraying water in your hand (cleaned of course). Trick is to let them see you actually spray the water. This may take a number of attempts and it will work better when they are thirsty, not much point doing it after bathing if they are resistant.
How to teach a bearded dragon to drink
Bathing seems the most popular way to hydrate bearded dragons. Bathing on its own as a means of hydration is not going to be enough, or you will be bathing frequently which is often something they really don’t enjoy and just causes undue stress. If your bearded dragon doesn’t like bathing, rest assured you do not need to force it to. If it does enjoy it, then by all means use it as part of the hydration routine. More on how to bath a bearded dragon here.
Direct fluid intake is the most effective and assured method of maintaining hydration. Bathing alone is a hit and miss method with no real way to determine how much water it is drinking.
This one is the easiest method because it’s just vegetation. Leaves and lots of them. Not only i vegetation made up of a lot of water (as you would of course know) but it can be misted prior to feeding adding even more fluids in a gentle, less intrusive way. On the diet and feeding page there is more information on the top vegetables with the highest water content.
What do you do when your bearded dragon needs a drink? Share your hydrating routine with the community.