Bearded dragons are increasingly becoming popular pets for many homeowners. However, being as it’s a rare pet, many still don’t know the physical signs they should look out for to ensure their bearded dragon remains healthy. For instance, fat pads are a great way to assess your pet reptile’s health.
In this blog, we discuss what fat pads on a bearded dragon are, their function, and what the appearance of your bearded dragon’s fat pads says about its health. We’ve also included sections on how to tell if your bearded dragon is underweight/skinny and how to gauge if it’s of ideal weight depending on age and breed.
What are fat pads on a bearded dragon?
Fat pads are the flabby body parts located just behind the eyes of a bearded dragon. They are the reason why the heads of these rare pets appear curved. Apart from the bulgy and spongy fat pads situated behind the eye, other fat pads are also located in the abdomen and tail base.
What is the function of the fat pads?
The fat pads of bearded dragon store excess fats. During brumation, some reptiles such as bearded dragons enter a shut-down state where they don’t eat or move for several weeks. During this period, they draw upon the extra fats stored in their fat pads for survival. Bearded dragons may also rely on the fats stored in their fat pads during periods of starvation.
Signs your bearded dragon is skinny
If your bearded dragon is ill, dehydrated, or malnourished, it may appear too skinny. Here are some of the physical signs that your reptile pet is skinny:
Sunken Fat Pads
If the fat pads on the head of your bearded dragon appear flat or sunken, your pet is most likely underweight. Healthy bearded dragons have bulging fat pads that are on an even level with the rest of the skin. If the fat pads on the head appear sunken, it means that the fat reserves have been exhausted, probably due to starvation.
If you lift up an underweight bearded dragon, you’ll notice that it has a flat stomach. What’s more, the side sections will appear thin, with traces of loose and wrinkled skin. Loose skin is usually a sign of dehydration, which triggers a loss of appetite. Consequently, the lack of appetite leads to malnutrition, causing a boney appearance.
The legs and tail of an extremely underweight bearded dragon will appear thin, coupled with protruding ribs, spine, and hips. What’s more, the ratio of the head to the body appears unproportional, with the head seeming to be too large.
The ideal weight of a bearded dragon
A full healthy, adult bearded dragon should weigh anywhere between 380-510 grams. Bearded dragons reach adulthood after 12 months. Therefore, if your pet reptile has reached this age but still falls under 300 grams, it is considered underweight/skinny.
Meanwhile, juvenile bearded dragons (between 2-7 months) typically weigh between 8-280 grams. This wide variation in weight during this stage is due to the rapid growth rate over the course of these five months. Finally, we have baby bearded dragons, which are typically born at about four grams and can grow to about 35 grams over the first two months of life.
Note, however, that the ideal weight for bearded dragons also varies according to the specific breed. For instance, adult bearded dragons that fall under the Pogona microlepidota subspecies typically weigh between 6-40 grams. This is lightweight compared to bearded dragons of Pogona barbata, which typically weigh anywhere between 400-510 grams.
Depending on the subspecies, juvenile bearded dragons may gain anywhere between 10-50 grams per month. After reaching adulthood, these pets can still gain weight. However, the rate of growth and weight gain at this stage of life is usually very minimal compared to the extreme growth experienced during the first year of life.
How to increase the fat pads on your bearded dragon
As earlier mentioned, if your bearded dragon has sunken or flat fat pads, this is a sign that it’s underweight. Therefore, to help your pet develop normal fat pads, you must treat the underlying problems causing your reptile to become skinny. Some of the measures we recommend are detailed below:
Introduce proper diet
A fat-laden, high-nutrient diet will help your bearded dragon gain weight and develop normal fat pads on its head. Ensuring proper nutrition for your pet also entails feeding adult bearded dragons at least twice per day. For baby bearded dragons and juveniles under six months, it’s advisable to stick to high-protein meals; only switching to fatty and vegetable-based diets once they reach adulthood.
Common foods for baby bearded dragons that are rich in fats include wax worms, mealworms, crickets, and super worms. If your baby bearded dragon is a picky eater, you can vary its diet by adding other nutritious foods such as parsley, lettuce, carrots, and collard greens. Conversely, adult bearded dragons benefit more from a diet that has more fruits and vegetables compared to fats. As such, it’s not advisable to exclusively feed them high-fat insects like grubs that have a nutrient imbalance. Doing so will stunt their growth and may trigger intestinal issues.
Provide a suitable living habitat
For bearded dragons, a conducive living environment entails providing the optimum heat conditions to facilitate growth. For great overall health, they need to bask in temperatures of between 90-105 degrees Fahrenheit. During brumation- however- you can lower these temperature settings, but not too much.
To provide supplementary warmth that will keep your bearded dragon even more comfortable and help with digestion, you can install heating pads beneath the pet’s enclosure/habitat. Apart from ensuring optimum temperature conditions, you also need to avail the proper lighting, as light helps bearded dragons with digestion. What’s more, light keeps these pets active and helps build their appetite.
A bearded dragon that’s living in a poorly-lit habitat will experience digestion problems and loss of appetite, consequently triggering weight loss and sunken fat pads. Installing a UVB tube, halogen lights, or house bulbs within your pet reptile’s habitat will provide the kind of bright light it needs to facilitate proper digestion and gain weight.
Separate your Bearded Dragons
If you have several bearded dragons which you keep in the same enclosure, some of them may exhibit stunted growth/ sunken fat pads due to bullying from the others. When you group these reptiles together, they tend to fight over space and food. The ones that are continually bullied will- therefore- be malnourished and won’t digest food properly due to minimal basking space. To prevent this from happening, always keep your bearded dragons in separate cages.
Treat the Underlying Illness/Infection
Parasitic infections will also cause your bearded dragon to rapidly lose weight and end up with sunken fat pats on the head. If you notice that your pet looks skinny and lethargic all of a sudden, it could be suffering from an illness. Take it to your local vet to perform a faecal inspection and administer treatment. Once treated, your bearded dragon should be able to resume normal feeding and gain weight/develop normal fat pads.
Rehydrate your Bearded Dragon
A dehydrated bearded dragon usually has trouble feeding, resulting in a thin and sickly appearance- including sunken/flat fat pads. Apart from an underweight appearance, dehydration in these pets is also characterized by loose skin and slimy saliva. Finally, a dehydrated bearded dragon will also excrete thick urates.
If you notice these dehydration symptoms and want to hydrate your pet and help it regain weight, feed it fruits and vegetables. In addition, ensure to give it a bath and spray its nose with water at least four times per week. This will keep its mucus membranes well-hydrated.