Bearded Dragons seem to be endlessly excited about eating and are quick to show you what their favorite snacks are. But, how can you tell whether your Bearded Dragon is really hungry and in need of more food?
Bearded Dragons show signs of hunger such as fixation on food and eating fast. They are opportunistic and driven to eat any available food. But, if they are underweight they do need more calories. If they are nutritionally deficient they need more nutrients but not more food.
Let’s look deeper into common signs of hunger in Bearded Dragons. I’ll also go into detail about how to differentiate between an underfed Bearded Dragon and an opportunistic eater.
Signs Of Hunger In A Bearded Dragon
A common sign of hunger reported by many owners is that their Bearded Dragon seems to be obsessed with food! They say that their Bearded Dragon becomes alert whenever they approach the place where the food is kept.
Other signs include fixation on your hands and staring at the food storage area outside the tank. They may even glass surf when they see that food is being prepared.
Another sign of hunger is when your Bearded Dragon is seen consuming items that are not normal food. For example, leaves, decorative plants, or substrates. This could indicate hunger or a nutritional deficiency (link to calcium sand article).
Some Bearded Dragons owners are taken aback at how clearly a Bearded Dragon can communicate that they are hungry. Many report seeing their Bearded Dragon waiting inside or staring at their food dish as feeding time approaches.
Eating ravenously is not a reliable sign that your pet needs more food. Bearded Dragons are opportunistic feeders (Kalman, 2013)(Oonincx et al., 2015).
They are omnivores, which means that they eat both vegetation and meat (Gimmel et al.). They also have very large stomachs, so they can eat all the available food quickly.
The result is that they will ravenously consume a wide variety of food and get excited about any opportunity to eat.
The most reliable signs that you need to feed your Bearded Dragon more are changes in size and weight.
You should monitor your Bearded Dragon’s body condition to help you understand any behavioral signals of hunger that your pet displays.
Does My Bearded Dragon Really Need More Food?
Most Bearded Dragons in captivity are overweight, to the point of being obese (Boyer, 2015). This means that they are getting too many calories.
This can result from being fed too much, or from being fed an incorrect diet that incorporates too many calorific items. Common culprits are high-fat live feed such as worms or high-sugar items like fruit.
However, being overweight does make it impossible for a Bearded Dragon to be truly hungry. They can be obese, but also nutritionally deficient and seeking to fulfill a specific nutritional need.
Sometimes, Bearded Dragons need more calcium and vitamin D than they are getting. This will lead to tell-tale behaviors such as sand-eating.
Calcium deficiency is very serious, as is obesity. Both issues are a direct result of improper diet and both can lead to fatal health issues.
If you are unsure as to the proper diet to feed your Bearded Dragon, do consult your vet.
Why Might A Bearded Dragon Be Hungry?
A Bearded Dragon may be genuinely hungry because:
- He does not receive enough food. Meaning that he does not receive enough calories to maintain his body weight, and so is losing weight over time.
- He receives a lot of food, but the food is poor in nutritional and calorific value (i.e.lettuce). So, despite having a full stomach he still needs to eat more to maintain weight and health.
- He receives enough calories but does not receive the correct balance of nutrition. He may be hungry as he is seeking specific nutrients.
- His habitat may be too hot, which would overstimulate his metabolism and cause him to digest food very quickly.
- He may be suffering from intestinal parasites, which would absorb most of the nutrition from the food that he eats. In this case, he will eat a lot and perhaps even gain weight but not gain any fat.
- She may be gravid and needs extra nutrition for a short time while producing eggs.
- He may be refusing foods that he likes less and showing signs of hunger for foods that he prefers.
To further determine whether your Bearded Dragons needs more food in response to his hunger signals, you need to identify why he seems hungry.
Read on to discover if your Bearded Dragon is over or underweight, nutritionally deficient, too hot, or showing a preference for favorite foods.
How To Tell That Your Bearded Dragon Is Under Or Overweight
As mentioned above, you may see several behavioral indicators that your Bearded Dragon wants more food.
However, there are some factors that will show you whether they are receiving enough calories or not.
Signs Of An Underweight Bearded Dragon
- Skin that seems saggy, wrinkly, or loose.
- Spine, ribs, and hip bones are visible.
- Their body is very flat and “deflated”, especially through the abdomen.
- The base of the tail is narrower than the trunk of the body.
- The tail feels boney when you manipulate it and has a pinched appearance.
- Their head looks oversized.
- Legs look skinny and are lacking musculature (PetMD Editorial, 2017).
- Eyes appear sunken.
- The fat pads that give Bearded Dragons their “rounded cheekbone” look are missing. This leads to a hollow depression just behind the eye sockets.
These signs show that the body condition is underweight. If your Bearded Dragon looks like this, you need to increase his diet and should go to the vet for a checkup and advice.
However, you may see a Bearded Dragon exhibiting signs of hunger who is in fact, overweight. This could be a sign of nutritional deficiency despite obesity, or just a strong drive to eat opportunistically.
Signs Of An Overweight Bearded Dragon
- When the Bearded Dragon stands up and walks, his belly is still wider than the rest of his body, or drags on the ground.
- His legs are very thick and rounded.
- His jaws appear to have fatty jowls (PetMD Editorial, 2017).
- His head is very rounded, especially in the fat pads behind the eye sockets.
Be aware that a female who is egg bound may appear to have a fat tummy, but if you gently massage it you may feel the trapped eggs. In this case, you should head straight to the vet.
If your Bearded Dragon appears to be overweight, he does not need more food, no matter how hungry he seems to be.
However, he may need less fatty snacks like mealworms and more vitamin-rich foods like kale. You may want to visit the vet, to find out whether he has a nutritional deficiency via a blood test.
Typical Weight And Size For A Healthy Bearded Dragon
Weighing and measuring your Bearded Dragon frequently is essential to good care. This way, you will be able to tell if he suddenly loses or gains weight over the course of his development.
You will also be able to see if a juvenile is growing at the expected rate. You can weigh your Bearded Dragon by taring (zeroing) the weight of a container on a scale, then placing him in the container to get his accurate weight.
You should measure your Bearded Dragon from the tip of the tail to the end of his head. Your Bearded Dragon should put on around 50g in weight per month until it reaches 12 months old.
A Bearded Dragon reaches his adult weight and size by 1-1.5 years of age. An adult Bearded Dragon should be 40-60cm (16-24in) long and weigh 300-550g (10.5-19.4oz).
Approximate Weight And Size Your Bearded Dragon Should Be By Age
|Hatchling 0 months|
Very rapid size increase
|7.5cm / 3in||4g / 1.05oz|
|Juvenile 4 months|
Rapid size increase
|30cm / 12in||62g / 2.18oz|
|Sub-adult 8 Months|
Size increase begins to slow
|37-42cm / 14.5-16.5in||200-265g / 7.05-9.34oz|
|Adult 12 months+|
Minor size increase between 12 and 18 months
|40-60cm / 16-24in||300-550g / 10.5-19.4oz|
How To Tell If Your Bearded Dragon Has A Nutritional Deficiency
The best way to find out if your Bearded Dragon has a vitamin deficiency is to visit the vet for diagnostic blood testing. However, you can certainly keep an eye out for some red flags.
Faded skin color, lumps and bumps, bleeding gums, and spasms are all symptoms of vitamin deficiencies. Calcium deficiency is much more serious and causes a myriad of symptoms.
These are collectively called Metabolic Bone Disease. MBD presents as lethargy, weakness, trembling, and eventually deformities of the skeleton.
These issues can easily be avoided by providing proper calcium and vitamin supplementation.
If you provide a varied diet of 90% vegetation with 10% lean protein, you will avoid many diet-induced health problems (Raiti, 2012).
How To Tell If Your Bearded Dragon Is Just A Picky Eater
Our pet Bearded Dragons lead a pretty sweet life. Bearded Dragons in the wild don’t get fat juicy worms and delicious fruits as treats!
Though we love to treat our pets, sometimes this can cause issues, when they begin to turn down less appetizing foods (Raiti, 2012).
If you find that your Bearded Dragon is refusing to eat his chard and crickets, but happily chomps down on worms and melon, then you need to get strict.
It’s not in the best interest of your Bearded Dragon to refuse healthy food and go hungry until he gets what he likes.
Begin to reduce the amount of preferred foods that you make available to your Bearded Dragon. Don’t remove them all at once, as he may go too hungry while waiting for treats, or may get gastrointestinal upset from the sudden dietary change.
During this time, it may be advisable to leave a fresh bowl of greens and veg in his enclosure. That way, he will have something nutritious to eat when he finally realizes that treats aren’t coming.
However, don’t be tempted to leave live feeder insects in the enclosure after feeding time. Live insects can bite your pet and injure him.