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General Care Practical tips: A healthy brumating bearded dragon

Georgina Rayner of Swell Reptiles, UK in November, 2015

Practical tips to help keep your bearded dragon healthy during brumation​

Reptile brumation occurs differently depending on each reptile’s bodily processes, from species to species. Environmental factors and the natural genetic instinct in your reptile highly influence it. However, it is best described as a period of hibernation and low activity levels, usually brought about by the onset of winter.

In your bearded dragon’s natural habitat, the air temperature will naturally change considerably as the environment goes through its annual cycle from summer to winter or from dry season to wet. But because reptiles require higher temperatures to thermoregulate and digest their food, this drop in temperature often causes them to hibernate, or in the case of reptiles, to brumate (differentiated by a difference in the metabolic process) to retain energy they might otherwise lose.

In captivity, their environment is usually maintained throughout the year, meaning air temperature is generally even all year round. This means that brumation may be delayed or even avoided entirely. However, even the slightest fluctuations in temperature may trigger brumation, and your bearded dragon’s genetic instinct might trigger it by itself, giving you no way to avoid the process altogether.

Getting your bearded dragon ready for brumation​

Around the end of summer, you may notice a behavior change in your bearded dragon. Signs that your beardie might be verging on brumation include digging and burying themselves in their substrate, generally slowing down, and appearing sleepy.

The best thing to do if you notice any of the above changes is to take them to a skilled exotic vet. This is for two reasons: one is that your bearded dragon might be ill (these are also symptoms of various illnesses), and two, a healthy reptile is in the best position to survive brumation.

Your vet will likely do a fecal test to check for parasites, and this is probably the most important check that can be done. This is because, during the period of inactivity, your reptile will be less able to fight off or defend against parasitic infections. Just because your beardie is asleep does not mean the parasite is and may eat away at your reptile over the colder months.

Weighing your bearded dragon at this point is also important. Again, a healthy, well-fed reptile will be best set to see the winter through, as they are unlikely to eat during this time.

If your bearded dragon does not look like giving you a fecal sample, you can encourage them to do so with a warm bath; or, if they let you, a gentle rub around the tummy. You should do this anyway if your reptile looks like they are preparing to brumate because it's best not to have fecal matter in their system, which would otherwise rot inside them.

You can always help an underweight bearded dragon prepare for brumation by gut-loading their live food. These extra nutrients might be vital during their big sleep, allowing them to wake up healthy.

Getting your bearded dragon’s environment ready for brumation​

Once you are confident that your bearded dragon is in good health, you must consider his environment. Look at optimum brumation temperatures for bearded dragons and change your heating and lighting equipment to the best temperature. Leave the basking spot lamp on in case your beardie wakes. Water and a little dry food in their bowl are also good.

The steps mentioned above will help you ensure that your reptile stays healthy during brumation and wakes up a happy bearded dragon at the end of its long sleep. However, always bear in mind that if you have any concerns regarding your reptile’s behavior in the build-up to or during brumation, the best thing to do is to consult a veterinarian.

BeardedDragon.org thanks Georgina Rayner from Swell Reptiles for providing this great article. Please be sure to check out their site. At the time of publishing, they're having a big sale on vivariums!
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