Last updated on May 10th, 2021 at 01:06 pm
If you are new to bearded dragons but have had other pets, brumation can be a weird and sometimes scary time. If your dog crawled under your bed and went to sleep for 3 months, you’d worry, right? Well, that’s exactly what your beardie might do!
And unlike your dog, it would be perfectly natural! No matter how many times we think about brumation, it’s still very weird for us. With a few precautions and a slight change to your care regimen, your beardie will come through it and be back to their normal selves in no time!
Brumation is a natural cycle for bearded dragons. Once a year, they will go to sleep for anywhere from a few weeks to up to 4 months. They will be minimally active and will not eat during this time. It’s somewhat similar to hibernation in other animals.
In this guide, we’ll cover the things you’ll need to know to help your bearded dragon brumate successfully. With a topic like this, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds, so we’ve filtered out all the not so important stuff to leave you with just the facts that matter.
Why do bearded dragons brumate?
The simple answer to this is that they brumate to survive the sometimes harsh climate of their natural habitat.
Once a year, during the winter, food can become scarce for beardies in the wild. With limited prey and many times limited access to water, bearded dragons must find a way to make it 3-4 months without eating.
When winter comes, the days get shorter. When that happens, temperatures drop as well. This is the bearded dragon’s cue that winter is upon them.
Along with shorter days and less warmth comes less prey. If wild bearded dragons had to continue on as they do in the summer, many would starve.
This is when Mother Nature steps in for the assist.
When these environmental cues tell the beardie that winter is coming, a few things happen that allow them to survive and even thrive through the lean winter months.
What happens to bearded dragons when they brumate?
We’re going to give you the quick version here. There’s a lot more to it than this, but as a beardie owner, the basics are all you really need to know.
When entering brumation, bearded dragons will slowly start to refuse food and will eventually stop eating entirely.
Their metabolism, and therefore their activity levels, will also slow. With less food comes less energy. With less energy comes less activity.
They will start to look for a place to burrow in and sleep. They will typically dig a burrow in the ground, enter it, and then close the opening behind them with dirt. This leaves them in a safe place with no light and no external heat.
Since heat is required for digestion in bearded dragons (see our article on proper basking temps here for an explanation), beardies will typically completely evacuate their digestive systems (no food + one last poop) prior to hunkering down in their burrow.
At this point, they will enter a semi drowsy sleepy state. Some bearded dragons will fall fully asleep, but most will simply be very close. They are still aware of their surroundings and alert for predators. Even if only minimally so.
There you have it. Brumation 101. Knowing what happens to a bearded dragon in the wild when they brumate is pretty much all you need to know to be a responsible beardie owner when your beardie brumates in captivity.
Do all bearded dragons brumate?
For bearded dragons in captivity, the answer here is no. Some bearded dragon owners report that their beardie has never entered brumation. Others report that their bearded dragons brumate once a year like clockwork.
While we don’t know all the reasons why some bearded dragons in captivity don’t brumate, our best guess is that they are not getting the environmental cues to do so.
If you are using timers on your lights so their days never vary in length, that is one big cue taken away. If you also use a thermostat to regulate their tank temperatures, that’s another brumation cue that is gone.
Even without the cues of reduced temperature and daylight, brumation is so heavily ingrained genetically that your beardie may do it regardless. As with all beardie topics, answers can vary from dragon to dragon.
The more important question is whether or not your bearded dragon will brumate. The answer to that is that they most likely will. With that in mind, let’s identify when it’s happening and cover what to do when it does.
Is your bearded dragon about to brumate?
When entering brumation, your beardie will definitely not be their normal selves. Don’t panic. They may start to refuse food. They may sleep most of the day. They may get in one of their hides and not come out for a day or two.
It’s natural at this point to become worried they might be sick. What’s important here is to rule that out so that they can get on with brumation as their little beardie bodies are begging them to do.
Signs you bearded dragon may be ready to brumate:
- You are entering the fall or winter months in your area
- Their activity level is down
- They refuse greens entirely
- They eat fewer insects than they normally do
- They refuse insects entirely
- They sleep well past when they normally get up for the day
- They stop basking
- They spend a lot more time in their hides
- They get in their hides and then cover the entrance with a pile of substrate
- They spend days in their hide without coming out
- They remain groggy or sleepy even when you take them out and handle them
If you see any or all of the above signs, it may be time for your bearded dragon to enter brumation.
Preparing your bearded dragon for brumation
Mother Nature will take care of most of this for you. But it’s important to be there for the assist. Making sure everything is taken care of prior to the bearded dragon going down for brumation is 95% of helping them successfully brumate!
Have them checked for parasites
Step one is a vet visit. This is critical and should not be skipped. Even if your beardie has successfully brumated before, never ever skip the vet visit.
The reason for this is that there are other things that can cause all of the things on the above list. The most important to worry about is parasites.
Parasites are common in bearded dragons and checking for them is something that should be done yearly at a minimum. These easily treatable pests can be harmful to your bearded dragon in normal times but can be deadly during brumation.
With a significantly slowed metabolism, your bearded dragon cannot handle a parasitic infection. For this reason, it’s critical that you make sure your bearded dragon is parasite-free prior to brumation.
At the first signs of brumation, schedule a vet appointment, and have their stool checked for parasites. This should be in addition to your normal yearly checkups (for a complete guide to bearded dragon veterinary care, see our guide here!).
Stop feeding them
The next step, once you know they are parasite free, is to stop feeding them. That may sound weird if you are new to this, but you don’t want any food in your beardie’s tummy while they sleep for the next few weeks or months.
Undigested food left in their stomachs will rot over time and cause serious health issues.
Nature will cue them to stop eating on their own, but once they stop, it’s best to stop offering food altogether.
We’ve found that our beardie, Bacardi, will stop eating veggies on her own, but will keep eating roaches until we stop giving them to her. That means that when we know brumation is coming, we stop giving her her regular feeder insects completely.
Make sure they take one last poo
The next step is to make sure they take a final poo. For Bacardi, this takes some encouragement. We typically step up the warm baths to a daily frequency at this point. We’ll even go to twice a day if things aren’t moving.
We pull her out of her hide and give her a bath, even though she clearly would rather be sleeping.
As a last resort, we also may massage her abdomen in a downward motion (firmly, but not squeezing her) to encourage this last bowel movement. The last time she brumated, she took her last poo right in my hands as I did this. Thankfully, she was wrapped up in a paper towel!!!
One sign that your beardie has not taken their last poo is that they may still be semi-active. They haven’t “gone down” completely yet. Once they make this last bowel movement, they will usually go down hard.
For Bacardi, she goes from semi groggy with a low activity level to out like a light almost immediately after relieving herself this last time. Mother Nature knows not to let them go all the way down until they are empty, but they may need some encouragement from you to do so.
Give them a safe place to sleep
Remember, in the wild bearded dragons are prey animals. Keeping themselves safe is their top priority when brumating.
In the wild, they typically dig themselves into a burrow and then cover the opening with dirt or debris. This keeps them safe and out sight from their primary predator, birds.
In captivity, they will still need to feel safe. This means giving them two things. A hide and some loose substrate.
We recommend that all bearded dragon owners provide their beardies with two hides. One on the warm side of the tank and one on the cool side. This gives them choices of where to go to thermoregulate.
It will also give them a couple of choices of where to bed down for their brumation. Typically, beardies will choose the hide on the cool side for this, but your mileage may vary.
In our no-BS guide to substrate for bearded dragons, we recommend a loose substrate called ReptiChips. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the one that matters here is that it allows our bearded dragon to cover the door of her hide with the loose substrate.
This is exactly what she would do in the wild. It’s also exactly what she needs to feel safe while brumating.
If your beardie cannot find a place that they feel safe, they may not be able to brumate as deeply. It won’t be as close to nature as it could be.
What to do during brumation
So you’ve taken all the needed steps to make sure your bearded dragon can brumate successfully. Now what?
Well, now they sleep! It’s quite boring, actually. They’ll move about a little here and there, but basically they are about to be a boring lump of reptile for a while.
That leads many people to ask if there’s anything they should do during brumation. And there are just a few things to keep in mind during this time.
Seriously, don’t panic!
We’ll state this one again because that’s what we kind of do even though we know better.
Is she still alive? Doesn’t she need food? How can she go so long without food and water and still be okay?
Trust that Mother Nature is taking its course. There are millions of years of evolution at work here. Your beardie will be fine!!!
Lighting and heat during brumation
Our vet and our breeder both turn the lights and heat lamps off for their beardies during brumation. Simulating the dark and cold of real winter, this is what your bearded dragon would experience in the wild.
One important thing is to not let the temps in your tank dip below 65℉ (18℃). At these lower temps, you may encourage respiratory infections.
For us, we leave the lights on their timers. We reduce the timers to match the shorter winter days (something we do regularly throughout the year to match the sun outside), but we do leave them on.
Our vet said it was up to us and there was no harm in doing this. So we do. We don’t have a great reason why other than we worry too much. We want to give our Bacardi the option of sleeping in her hide or coming out and warming up a little if she wants.
She never comes out and warms up, but she does get some occasional basking time after her baths.
We’ve heard other people we respect advise to turn the basking lamp off but to leave the UVB lighting on its normal cycle. We think this also makes sense and wanted to mention it here.
It’s really up to you. Do whatever you feel comfortable doing.
Bathing during brumation
Once a week during brumation, take your bearded dragon out and give it a bath. A nice soak for 10-20 minutes in warm water is all it will take. (see our complete guide to beardie bath time here)
This will serve two purposes. The first is to give you a chance to check on your bearded dragon. They shouldn’t be losing weight. Check for healthy skin. If you’ve prepped correctly, there really shouldn’t be any worries, but it’s best to check weekly just in case.
Secondly, a weekly bath will give your beardie an opportunity to drink if they want to. They most likely won’t, but it’s best to make water available just in case.
When bathing your bearded dragon during brumation, please be careful. They may not want to hold their heads up on their own. You may need to help them a little bit in this area.
One last tip is to put them under their basking lamp when done. They will not stay there for long, but this will ensure that they are completely dry before burrowing back under their hide.
Removing all moisture from their bodies will prevent any chance of mold or bacteria growing while they sleep.
Food during brumation
This one is easy. No food.
Don’t leave it out. Don’t give it to them. Don’t make it available in any way. We occasionally read the advice of leaving some out just in case they want to eat, but this is bad advice.
Remember that last poo we talked about? There’s a reason for this. We don’t want any food in our beardie’s tummy while they sleep. None.
They won’t be basking and therefore they cannot digest anything they eat. Giving them food during brumation is a bad idea.
Water during brumation
Water, unlike food, should be made available while your bearded dragon brumates.
We like to do this in two ways. One is during baths. The other is a water bowl left out near the opening of the hide she is sleeping in.
It’s not that your beardie will absolutely need it. They most likely won’t. But if they do, it’s important that it’s available. File this one under it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around.
What we don’t want to do is force the bearded dragon to drink. More bad advice we’ve seen is to use a syringe to squirt water into the beardie’s mouth during brumation.
Please don’t do this. They will drink if they need to. Really, they will! There is no need to force the issue.
One myth is that they will get water through their vent (where they poop from) when in the bath. This is not true. Bearded dragons do not absorb water here or through their skin.
They only get it by drinking, so let them have the chance if they want it.
Interaction during brumation
One very common question from bearded dragon owners is whether or not they can still take their beloved scaly pet out for playtime.
The answer here really should be no.
While it won’t hurt them to take them out and spend time with them, it’s not ideal. They are trying to go down for a long sleep. Waking them up and bothering them regularly will disturb this.
We miss our little Bacardi while she is brumating. We are as tempted as you are to reach in and pick her up and set her on our shoulder. We want some beardie snuggle time just like you do.
But please be patient. There will be plenty of opportunities for quality time once brumation is over. For now, let them be!
That said, it’s totally okay to check on them every once in a while. As beardie parents, we all worry and who wouldn’t want to check just to make sure things are okay, right?
How long will they be down?
This is a hard question to answer as it will vary wildly from bearded dragon to bearded dragon.
Some beardies will brumate for as little as a few weeks. Others may go down for up to four months!
The last time Bacardi brumated, she was out for about 2.5 months. We have no idea what finally woke her up but we were sure happy when she did!
Waking up from brumation
If you can imagine how you might get up from a months-long sleep, that’s about what to expect from your beardie.
It won’t all happen at once. It will be gradual and will take place over several days. It will also be obvious that they are waking up!
They’ll start to move around a lot more. They’ll stick their heads out of their hides. They’ll lay around with their eyes open instead of closed. Trust us, if you are paying attention at all, you’ll know it’s time.
Restart the lights
If you’ve chosen to turn off the lights in your tank, now’s the time to get them back on. Turn your timers back on and make sure your bulbs are in good shape (pro tip – always change your bulbs once every six months!).
Even if they aren’t coming out of their hide yet, give them a bright and warm world to come out into once they are ready!
First meals after brumation
For the first few days after brumation, your beardie will probably not have that much of an appetite. During this time, we like to keep the food offerings light.
Greens and fruit are great options here (see our complete nutrition guide). Make them available once you see your beardie starting to be active.
As you see them start to eat, get ready for a hungry bearded dragon! Once their appetite arrives, they’ll likely eat anything and everything you make available.
We like to ease protein back in at this stage with worms instead of our normal feeder, dubia roaches.
Your bearded dragon’s digestive system has not done anything for months. It’s a good idea to go a little easy at first. And that means giving them plenty to eat but avoiding hard to digest exoskeletons on roaches and crickets.
Worms are an ideal solution here. More specifically, we recommend hornworms. Hornworms are soft-bodied and easy to digest. They are very high in moisture content and also high in calcium. They are an ideal first protein source after brumation!
After a couple of days of worms, you can go right back to your normal feeding regimen. For a complete guide to worms you can feed your bearded dragon, see our article here!
One final tip. Don’t forget to go back to your supplementation schedule! Getting your beardie their vitamins and calcium is very important at this time. For complete supplementation instructions, check out our article here!
Post brumation bathing
While a normal bathing schedule of 2-3 times per week is adequate most of the time, we recommend daily baths for the first 3-5 days after coming out of brumation.
It’s quality time with your beardie and it’s good for their hygiene too. Most importantly, they are going to be very thirsty at some point in those first days.
Sometime during that first post brumation week, your beardie will probably drink more than you’ve ever seen them drink before. Long, daily baths are the perfect way to give them this chance.
Back to normal
And that’s it! It’s really not all that complex or difficult. It’s really not even all that scary once you know what to expect.
Brumation is a normal part of a beardie’s life. Give your beardie the support they need during this time and you’ll be back to your normal routines in no time!
If you made it this far in this article, you might like our quick guide to brumation infographic. You can download it for free by clicking here!
Additional Brumation Questions
Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. Outside of weekly baths, you shouldn’t handle your bearded dragon during brumation. They will typically barricade themselves inside their hide for exactly this reason. They want to be left alone. It’s best to honor their wishes
If you think your beardie is going into brumation, it’s important to take them in for a vet visit. A qualified exotics vet will be able to tell you if they are sick or just entering brumation. They will also perform a parasite test. This is critical prior to brumating.
Surprisingly, bearded dragons do not lose much weight at all during brumation. Their metabolism slows to such a point that they do not use much of their body fat for energy.
If your bearded dragon does appear to be losing weight, call your vet. Sometimes, bearded dragons can develop bacterial or parasitic infections while brumating and these would cause weight loss. It’s important to involve a vet if you notice significant changes in their weight.
No. If your beardie went into their hide, slept for just a few days, and then came back out, that was not brumation. Some beardies do this every now and then. In others, it may be a sign that they are sick.
This could be a sign that they are headed towards brumation, though. So keep an eye on them. But in the end, this is not brumation. Brumation will last, at minimum, several weeks.