Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disorder!)

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Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disorder!)

Postby adambeck » Fri Oct 25, 2019 5:24 pm

Hello from Hiroshima, Japan! My name is Adam and my family has a female bearded dragon that was born in April so she's now about 6 months old. Her name is Fifa (because my 12-year-old son loves soccer/football).

[Click image to enlarge]


Fifa may be smiling in this picture, but in fact, she's concealing a deep, troubling secret: she has an eating disorder. She won't eat on her own, and hasn't for the past 3 months or so. (Remember, she's only 6 months old.)

We got Fifa from a reptile shop in the city, when she was only a few weeks old, but we let them continue to care for her until she was a bit bigger, about 6 weeks old. In the meantime, we did our best to create a suitable home for her. This is what it looks like now.

[Click image to enlarge]


A few notes:

*The temperatures in the tank are generally fine, though this is a year-round challenge in Japan because there is no central air and heating, which means we must continuously make adjustments to keep these temperatures at suitable levels as the temperature in the room rises and falls with the seasons. (At the above right of the terrarium, for example, is a panel heater for mild warmth at night, as the nights are now getting chillier.)

*The basking light is a 75W "Intense Basking Spot" made by ExoTerra.

*The UVB light is a T5 HO 5.0 UVB tube. I tried to get a 10.0 UVB tube, to replace the 5.0 tube that came with the Reptisun Terrarium Hood, but the 10.0 tubes I received--in two attempts--were both defective (they wouldn't fit properly in the hood). It was very frustrating and time-consuming (it's hard to get these supplies in Japan!), so at that point I did some research and learned that the 5.0 tube would be adequate if I placed it inside the tank at an appropriate height.

To continue the tale...

When we first brought Fifa home, she was eating on her own just fine. In fact, she was fine for a month or so...but then her own motivation to eat began to decline. Some days we could get her to eat, some days we couldn't. The problem was becoming very preoccupying, very stressful. She would die if we couldn't get her eating regularly again!

After a few weeks of this, we brought her to the vet and he diagnosed her (from a fecal sample) with coccidiosis. So we started giving her medicine and, week by week, with continuing visits to the vet, she apparently has recovered. (During this treatment, we were giving her a daily squirt of Bene-Bac Plus gel, too.)

Throughout this illness, she still wouldn’t eat so we started force-feeding her daily: live dubias, frozen (thawed) crickets, and some greens. (We’re also dusting regularly with calcium and vitamins.) This "force-feeding" actually requires little force because, strangely, as soon as you gently tug open her mouth and put something past her lips, she’ll start eating it right away. She just won’t eat it by herself!

Now, at 6 months, she’s about 185 grams and seems reasonably healthy. However, the eating problem persists and the vet and the owner of the reptile shop haven't been able to help us resolve it.

One theory is that we have basically "conditioned" her, from a young age, to only accept food through force-feeding. This may have been necessary at the time, when she was smaller and had coccidiosis, but now, of course, she should be eating on her own again.

This past Monday we put her next to a bowl with a few dubias in it and, to our shock, she actually ate one! Just one, but it was the first time she had eaten a dubia by herself in months!

So I thought, okay, let's try *not* force-feeding her for a few days and see what happens. If she gets hungry enough, maybe she'll eventually eat something on her own. And for the next four days we regularly gave her opportunities to eat...but she ate only two small pieces of banana off my finger one morning.

On the fifth day (yesterday) we gave up--she was losing weight pretty rapidly and this strategy didn’t seem be working. Of course, when we then force-fed her, she ate everything right up without any resistance!

So what do we do with this sweet but exasperating creature? Assuming this is no longer a physical problem, but something psychological or emotional, how can we get her to start eating on her own again, as she did when we first brought her home? Of course, she's still young so we hesitate to *not* feed her anything for too long, as this could perhaps harm her, but what other tactics could we try?

I think therapy would actually do her some good, but I doubt she would share anything with the therapist because she's completely silent at home. She gives us various looks and glares, but won't say anything, not even when I plead with her to talk to us about her feelings.

Okay, I better stop here. It’s beginning to sound like *I'm* the one that needs therapy.

Thank you for considering our case, and for offering some suggestions that might help get Fifa eating on her own again.

Best wishes to you all! And many thanks for this forum--it has been a great source of useful information and encouragement!
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby claudiusx » Fri Oct 25, 2019 5:33 pm

Hi there!

Welcome to the site!

Fifa is a beautiful dragon!

Sounds like she really does have you guys wrapped around her little finger :D

I think your thoughts on the matter are correct, she has grown accustomed to being hand fed. A lot of dragons will get lazy like that, and will only want to eat that way. It happens a lot with force feeding, but not always to such an extreme degree.

What you have tried is the right course of action, but I would hold out for longer than that. They really can go quite awhile without food. It sounds like she is generally pretty healthy. A healthy dragon will not let itself starve to death. It's a matter of will, on your part. You have to be willing to trust that, and even though it's hard, continue with the refusing to hand feed her.

She WILL eventually decide she is hungry enough and she will realize that she won't be able to wait for you to come deliver it to her mouth. This method works for getting stubborn adults to eat their salads too. It's happened more than once here where it's taken over 3 weeks before the dragon finally decided it was hungry enough and ate.
Your dragon is much younger than an adult, so i'd imagine it wouldn't take that long. But I'd give it at least a week, if not more.

Otherwise there really is no real way to get her to start eating on her own unless she magically decides to start one day.

Anyways, I'm glad to have you here! Looking forward to many more pictures of Fifa and lots of stories! :D

-Brandon
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby adambeck » Sat Oct 26, 2019 2:53 pm

Brandon, thanks a lot for your encouraging reply! Yes, it looks like we'll need to grow stronger spines and not feed her for a longer stretch of time.

Honestly, that period when she was younger and barely eating was very stressful--and we'd prefer not to experience that again--but it looks like we'll have to in order to overcome the problem. And I guess the longer we wait to fully carry out this "intervention," the harder it may become to break the hand-feeding habit.

I'm not sure we're ready to start this weekend, but we'll plunge into it soon and I'll report back on our progress. :)

Thanks again for the warm and helpful welcome,

Adam
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby claudiusx » Sat Oct 26, 2019 3:00 pm

Hi Adam,

I completely understand how you feel. It's hard when you go through health scares with them and you finally get them back to being healthy. You just want to keep them safe and healthy and never let something happen to them again.

One of my girls got sick once, and i had to start force feeding her for a few weeks. Once she was better, she really didn't want to eat much on her own (not as bad as yours, but still, would hardly eat). It was hard but eventually she came around and went back to being a normal eater.

I don't think it's necessarily bad for them to be used to being hand fed, as long as you as the owner is willing to put in the effort and time. But if not, it should be remedied.
Personally, I like to feed my dragons their salads by hand. I typically give them as much as they will eagerly take, and let the rest stay in their bowls. But, they still will eat their salads on their own and their insects.
I think balance is the best method.

Whenever you decide to start, let us know and we will be here for support and guidance :)

-Brandon
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby DorgEndo » Mon Oct 28, 2019 8:34 am

Hi Adam and Fifa. I can chime on a difficult to feed dragon, my girl had similar problems. Got her at 6 months age, she had parasites (pinworms), would only eat when hand fed pushing bugs into her face and she would not eat vegetables.

Some ideas to help break the hand association to food is using feeder tongs or chop sticks when offering bugs and vegetables. Like others said you should give her time to decide she is hungry enough to eat. When I had the time available I would show my girl bugs in a bowl then offer her food on tongs every 1-2 hours during the day, but if she didn't eat I didn't force it. Bugs that move more might stimulate appetite, can you get silk worms? They are very expensive but move more than dubia roaches and might help teach your dragon to go get a bug that is moving. Another kind of bad eating habit I started by accident was holding the bug bowl, to tilt and get roaches moving more to get my girl's attention, then she expected me to bring food bowl to her, which worked to help her eat from bowl but still a bad habit. Learn from my mistake on that. Personally I found silk worms very helpful for my dragon to eat on her own, including salads, she liked their wiggle movement. Fresh flowers and/or bee pollen or herbs on salad help for smelling good to eat.

It took me about 2 to 3 months of daily effort before she was eating on her own. Be more stubborn than the stubborn dragon. It takes trail and error. Figure out what time of day works best for eating. Use same food dish every day to create new association that this dish means food, not the hand.
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby adambeck » Mon Oct 28, 2019 2:31 pm

DorgEndo, many thanks for sharing your experiences and insights. These are all helpful points and we'll keep them in mind moving forward.

We haven't tried silkworms yet, but this is a really good suggestion and I'll contact the reptile shop in town to see if they can help me find some. (They only sell crickets and dubias, but can hopefully help point me toward silkworms, too. As I mentioned, our selection of supplies in Japan isn't so wide or as easily found.)

We generally do use small tongs to feed her, but the fact that we're feeding her at all--rather than her feeding herself--is, of course, the basic problem and so we do need to "be more stubborn than the stubborn dragon," as you put it very clearly.

Wish us luck with being stubborn! And thanks again for your good advice! :)
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby adambeck » Sat Nov 02, 2019 4:02 am

Let me offer an update after my visit to the reptile shop today...

Unfortunately, they don't have silkworms, just a big container of mealworms (500), so I passed on that and simply picked up the staples that we've been feeding her: dubias, (frozen) crickets, and a packet of bearded dragon gel.

After that, I drove over to a pet shop, too, but all they have are mealworms and superworms. Although I was hoping to try giving Fifa some wriggling worms, to see if they might interest her, I'm not sure either of these is a good choice.

Any thoughts on mealworms and superworms?

Also, at the reptile shop, I told the owner that it looks like the only way to get Fifa eating on her own again is to *not* hand feed her for a week or two and see if she'll get hungry enough to eat by herself. But the guy said that, since she's still growing (at 6 months) and needs food, it's better not to do this until she's fully grown.

Any thoughts, too, on this guy's reaction?

Thanks a lot!
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby KarrieRee » Sat Nov 02, 2019 7:21 am

Feed her a salad first thing in the morning and put some super worms on top so she can see them like 3 --- add them to the salad in front of her - see if that entices her to the food bowl - use a bowl that the worms cant get out of -- can you get BSFl in japan ? that is a good staple as well and they dont need to be dusted - you can use those too to get her to the food bowl as well and use as many as you want --- the movement gets their attention
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby Drache613 » Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:29 am

Hello,

How is your dragon doing today?
The silkworms are hard to get this time of year but maybe easier over in Japan since that
is the region essentially where they are from.
Superworms are a good staple as long as you feed other insects, too. Mealworms are ok,
but they are not as nutritious as other insects.
She is a pretty girl! I agree, they can really become very spoiled & only want to be handfed.

Let us know how she is doing.

Tracie
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Re: Hello from Japan! (Help! Our dragon has an eating disord

Postby adambeck » Sat Nov 09, 2019 2:35 pm

Karrie and Tracie, thank you for your thoughts. I'll keep these helpful suggestions in mind, too, as we move forward.

Fifa is doing fine, though we've decided to keep hand-feeding her for a while, until she's a bit older and bigger. The "tough love" needed to get her eating on her own again is tough to put into practice! :?

I wish it was easier for us to find a wider variety of feeders in this part of Japan (Hiroshima); I imagine this would be less of a problem in a big city like Tokyo (but it's quite far from us).

Anyway, I still want to give the worm idea a try! Since she's never seen worms yet, maybe this would arouse her curiosity...and her appetite.

Cheers to everyone and their lovely lizards! :D
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