Once a year your bearded dragon will stop eating and stay in his/her hide for long periods of time. This is similar to mammalian hibernation, starts roughly after the first year of age, and is perfectly normal. In fact, for many bearded dragons, brumation is an essential part of their health.
Bearded dragons don’t all start brumation at the same time, but it typically occurs as the days get shorter and temps start to cool down — usually during mid-late autumn (but like I said, not always), lasting 1-4 months. Signs of brumation are:
- Appetite loss without weight loss
- Staying on the “cool” side of the terrarium
- Hanging out inside their hide more than usual
- Sleeping constantly/more than usual
- Crankiness/reduced tolerance for handling
When s/he stops eating and starts sleeping, give him/her a good warm soak to clear out his/her digestive tract. Another thing to do before brumation is to take a stool (poo) sample to the vet to get him/her dewormed if necessary. Do not try to force them to eat! Bearded dragons stop eating before brumation as a safety measure — because of the way their bodies slow down during brumation, undigested food can rot in their guts and poison them.
During brumation, temps should be between 60 and 70 degrees, with a 75-85 degree basking temp. Continue soaking your dragon weekly to give them an opportunity to drink, but supervise carefully, as sleepy dragons can easily drown. Also weigh him/her weekly with a kitchen scale to keep tabs on weight loss.
Each beardie has his/her own brumation schedule. Some will sleep nonstop at the same time every year, while others wake up once a week/once every two weeks for food, water, and some basking.
After brumation, your bearded dragon will probably act a little different for a couple weeks. Females will be more energetic, but males will drive you crazy. Since brumation raises their natural hormone levels, expect your male to head bob his head off, with the blackest beard you’ve ever seen! He will also probably try to mate with anything and everything that attracts his fancy.
If any of the following things happen, take your dragon to the vet.
- Significant weight loss
- Brumation lasting longer than usual
For more detailed information about bearded dragon brumation, check out this article by BeardedDragon.org.