Bearded dragon eating problems
Eating abnormalities are often encountered in pet Bearded dragons. Problems can range from total anorexia (unwillingness or inability to eat), to poor appetite with chronic or long term weight loss. A healthy Bearded dragon should almost always be willing to eat or at least show some form of interest in moving insects.
Eating abnormalities in Bearded dragons can range from total anorexia to a poorer than expected appetite. Problems can be results of many factors including incorrect husbandry, diseases, behavioural problems, incorrect food and adaption problems.
The most common reason for Bearded dragon eating problems is husbandry related. Common husbandry related problems encountered are the following:
- Temperatures. Too high or too low environmental temperatures can interfere with normal metabolism. The temperatures can be measures with a simple thermometer.
- Incorrect ultraviolet lighting
- Environment size
Husbandry related eating problems are generally easy to rectify.
Depending on the severity, sick Bearded dragons might also be reluctant to eat. Common diseases encountered in pet Bearded dragons are the following:
- Internal parasites (e.g. coccidiosis and worm infections)
- External parasites (e.g. mite infections)
- Intestinal impactions
- Bacterial infections (e.g. mouth rot)
- Shedding problems
- Metabolic bone disease (MBD)
- Mite infections
Bearded dragons that are eating, but are unable to pick up weight (mostly seen on their overall body condition score) are often sick. A healthy, growing Bearded dragon can have a ferocious appetite, but might only start to pick up weight at an older age. Disease related eating problems should be diagnosed and treated by an experienced reptile friendly veterinarian.
Behaviour causing eating problems
Eating problems in Bearded dragons can also be behavioural:
- Mating behaviour. During breeding periods BEarded dragons are physiologically less inclined to eat.
- Bullying behaviour. Larger Bearded dragons tend to intimidate smaller ones up to a point where they are too weak to eat. This might also end up in biting behaviour. This situation can be prevented by keeping only similar sized Bearded dragons together.
- Brumation. During the cooler seasons some Bearded dragons might sleep more often and eat less.
Depending on the type of behaviour, going without food is likely limited.
The food itself offered to Bearded dragons might be reason for them not to eat:
- Food size. Too big, or too small, live insects and pieces of greens might be discouraging. Baby Bearded dragons should only be offered very small live insects (such as crickets).
- Too many live insects. Generally, only a few live insects should be offered at a time.
- Type of food. Some Bearded dragons just prefer certain foods over others. Mealworms tend to be a favourite.
By supplying the correct food Bearded dragons might immediately change their eating habits. Occasionally a Bearded dragon might eat anything except greens. Be careful of mealworms. Mealworms are said to be extremely tasty to Bearded dragons, making them more preferred over (many) other foods. Those ones who refuse to eat their veggies can be encouraged to do so by withholding food for a few hours and by making sure there are always veggies available, especially during the early hours of the day.
Newly acquired Bearded dragons often refuse to eat or eat less than expected. This is more the case, and more serious, with baby Bearded dragons. During the the first few days, newly acquired Bearded dragons should be allowed to rest and not be ‘bothered’ as little as possible to ensure a stress free adaptation to their new environment.
When a Bearded dragon is showing eating problems it should rather be isolated. Correct what needs to be corrected, but if the problem is not solved within a few days, rather book an appointment with an experienced reptile friendly veterinarian. Sudden total anorexia can be serious and should be dealt with ASAP. A veterinarian will likely require a fresh, sealed stool sample during the first visit.
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