Often, like humans, Bearded Dragons can appear to be grumpy, when actually they are sick. Today, we are going to focus on signs that your Bearded Dragon is unhappy, and how these signs might look different if your Bearded Dragon is unhealthy.
An unhappy Bearded Dragon will not want to interact with you. It might hide, ignore you, or run away from you. It might also act aggressively toward you by puffing up its beard, turning black, and hissing at you.
These signs show that your Bearded Dragon is unhappy with you or the environment. Let’s find out how we can change your relationship with your Bearded Dragon, and learn how health and welfare tie into the idea of Bearded Dragon happiness.
Find Out If Your Bearded Dragon Is Unhappy
First, have a look at the infographic we created for you so you can quickly identify if your bearded dragon might be unhappy. After that, we explain every point in detail.
1. Your Bearded Dragon Hides All The Time
Happy Bearded Dragons are very active and curious. They like to explore, and during the day they should not be spending a lot of time hidden away in a shelter.
The normal state for a Bearded Dragon is alert, while basking or moving around its habitat.
If your Bearded Dragon hides all the time, this is a bad sign. Hiding could indicate that your Bearded Dragon is not healthy.
For example, if your Bearded Dragon is very light in color, looks dry, and always shelters, it is probably too hot. You should check that your habitat is at the correct temperature before deciding that it is simply unhappy.
These are ideal temperatures for a Bearded Dragon Enclosure:
|Basking Spot||Ambient Temperature|
Is your Bearded dragon living in a group enclosure? If so, could the Bearded Dragon be being bullied? This may also be a reason that it is hiding away. Try changing the social group, or provide a larger enclosure.
We usually do not recommend keeping multiple bearded dragons in one enclosure at all as that can often lead to problems.
Hiding all the time could also indicate that the Bearded Dragon is feeling really lethargic and has no energy to get up.
This is a bad sign and you need to take your pet to the vet for investigation.
Observe your Bearded Dragon from out of sight, and see whether its behavior changes when you are not there.
If it doesn’t, it is probably not because of you. Pick up your Bearded Dragon and see if he feels floppy and unreactive. These are signs that your Bearded Dragon is unwell.
However, if your Bearded Dragon is eating, sleeping, and pooping normally, and seems to be acting normally before hiding when you enter the room, it might be unhappy.
For example, if you notice that it goes to the shelter whenever you are in the room, then it probably feels stressed and unhappy about you being there.
Find out how to change this at the end of the article.
2. Your Bearded Dragon Ignores You Or Runs Away From You
Your Bearded Dragon should be curious and excited when you enter the room. It should approach you, look at you, and perhaps try to get your attention.
Partly, this is because you are simply interesting to watch, but also because your Bearded Dragon should expect food, or interaction from you.
If your Bearded Dragon is ignoring you, this is unusual and could be a bad sign. Again, this could be a sign of illness.
Check if its eyes are open, clean, and not drooping. If they don’t look right, your Bearded Dragon may not be able to see you well. It should take a trip to the vet for treatment.
Another reason for not responding could again be lethargy, caused by being unwell. Your Bearded Dragon might be too hot, dehydrated, overfed, or simply sick.
Check the temperature and humidity of the enclosure and if no change occurs, you may need to check with the vet.
However, if your Bearded Dragon is acting normally in all other ways, but simply ignores you completely, it may be unhappy. If it runs away from you, this is even worse! It clearly doesn’t want to interact with you.
Think about whether your Bearded Dragon has had good experiences with you. Have you mindfully worked on building a positive relationship?
This can take time and planning. Maybe your pet doesn’t yet associate you with food, or fun things like exploring outside of the habitat and petting.
Find out how to build a positive relationship at the end of the article.
3. Your Bearded Dragon Turns Black
If your Bearded Dragon starts turning black, this is a very obvious sign that it is not happy. However, it can also mean other things too.
A cold Bearded Dragon that wants to get warmer will adopt dark colors. This is because dark colors absorb heat and light better.
If you see that your Bearded Dragon is dark, but you don’t see any of the other signs in this article, it is probably too cold. Check the temperature of the heat lamp by measuring the degrees at the actual point where your pet lays underneath it.
A Bearded Dragon might also go dark in color if it is sick. If your Bearded Dragon is sick, you are likely to also see signs such as being less active, not eating, not sleeping, or not pooping as it normally does.
However, if your Bearded Dragon suddenly turns black, beginning with the beard area, then it is probably a behavioral response. Your Bearded Dragon is not happy!
Think about what happened just before. Were there any sudden noises or changes to the environment?
Is the Bearded Dragon focused on you, or on another perceived threat such as a cat, dog, or other Bearded Dragons?
Back away a little, or remove whatever is upsetting your pet. Learn how to work on your trust relationship at the end of the article.
4. Your Bearded Dragon Puffs Up
Puffing up is your Bearded Dragon’s way of trying to look as big and threatening as possible. This is a sure sign that it is not happy.
If it is puffing up, it is actively trying to make you (or whatever it is afraid of) go away.
In this situation, try to understand what is making your pet feel so unhappy. Observe what it is looking at and try to remove it from the situation.
Your Bearded Dragon is doing this because it feels threatened and stressed. Stress will eventually become very bad for your pet’s health.
If your Bearded Dragon is afraid of you because it has not yet learned to trust you, you can work on that by following the directions at the end of the article.
5. Your Bearded Dragon Hisses At You
Bearded Dragons are not very noisy animals. In fact, hissing is one of the only sounds they make. They use this sound when they are unhappy and want to be left alone.
It isn’t super loud, but it’s very clear! Check out this video to hear a hiss.
If your Bearded Dragon is hissing, try to figure out what is upsetting it. It could be you. Perhaps it doesn’t yet have a trust bond with you.
It could simply be that it has had enough interaction time and would like to be left alone in their tank for a while.
You Bearded Dragon might even be hissing at something you are not aware of. Bearded Dragons sometimes see their own reflection in a mirror, or even in the glass of their tank, and believe they are seeing another animal.
Bearded dragons are territorial, so this would certainly upset them.
Furthermore, if you are housing Bearded Dragons together, and hear a lot of hissing, you should probably separate them. They definitely would be happier alone, or at least in a bigger tank.
What Does Being Unhappy Mean To Your Bearded Dragon?
Being happy or unhappy is a uniquely human concept. When animal care professionals talk about pets being unhappy, we don’t quite mean the same thing as when they talk about people.
This is because even though some animals seem to show very clear emotions, we actually have absolutely no idea what they are experiencing. Do they really know love, anger, or happiness?
“Anthropomorphization”, or putting human emotions onto the behavior of animals, is something we try to avoid in the professional animal care world.
Making decisions about an animal’s needs from the perspective of what we actually know, rather than what we feel, helps us become better care providers.
These are some better ways of saying a Bearded Dragon is “unhappy”:
- It is unhealthy, sick, or nutritionally deficient.
- It is stressed, anxious, or fearful for a prolonged time.
- It is unable to express natural behaviors such as moving, climbing, mating, etc.
- It does not have a suitable environment that is similar to its natural habitat.
- It is not warm or cool enough, does not have the correct food, water, or shelter.
- It does not have positive social interactions with the creatures around it.
How To Make Your Bearded Dragon Happy
So, how can you actually make your Bearded Dragon happy? First of all, you need to address all the points above. A great place to start is husbandry, meaning, the care you provide.
Ensure that the habitat is the correct size, the temperature is right, the humidity, the substrate, the diet, the UV light, everything!
If you’ve got these things down, then you are halfway to a happy Bearded Dragon.
In our Beardie Care Ebook Bundle (check it out here), we show you exactly how to set up your bearded dragon tank properly and what you need for that.
The next element is health. If you are trying to solve the problem of an unhappy Bearded Dragon, definitely book it in with the vet for a full health check.
This will eliminate any existing issues such as sickness, nutritional deficiency, or injuries.
Then, think about social interaction. Start with conspecifics, meaning, other Bearded Dragons. Are you keeping Bearded Dragons together?
Male Bearded Dragons are very territorial and should never be kept together. Definitely separate them both physically and visually, so they can’t see each other.
If you are keeping groups of females together, or females with males, there could still be issues. Take the time to observe the group when they don’t know you are there.
Don’t let a bullied individual remain with the group. This is a recipe for unhappiness, illness, and injury.
Next, make sure that your Bearded Dragon isn’t interacting negatively with other animals that could cause it to be stressed and unhappy.
Make sure, for example, that Mittens the cat isn’t eyeing him up as a snack all day when you are not there.
Relationship With You
The last, and most interesting factor for pet owners, is making your Bearded Dragon happy to be with you.
If you don’t work on building a trust relationship, your Bearded Dragon may remain stressed by your presence and fearful of you. So, how can you change this?
The golden rule of building a trusting relationship with your Bearded Dragon is to provide positive experiences! Instead of simply throwing all of your pet’s food into the tank to eat, use it to reinforce time spent with you.
You can begin by reinforcing your Bearded Dragon for remaining calm and relaxed when you open the tank.
Then, reward it when it becomes more confident and starts to approach you, by delivering food a little closer to you. Later, work up to rewarding your Bearded Dragon for letting you touch it and stroke it.
Eventually, you will be able to pet and hold your bearded Dragon, but still, you should always think about ending on a positive note.
Return your Bearded Dragon to the tank when it is still interactive and relaxed. Don’t let the session go too long, or you will end up reinforcing a moody and unhappy Bearded Dragon.
If you apply all of these steps, then over time your Bearded Dragon will become confident, secure, and happy! Also, check out our article that shows you 10 signs that your bearded dragon is absolutely happy!