Bearded dragons are some of the animals that don’t show great control in terms of their diet. They’re likely to eat almost anything you serve them, which can easily lead to obesity. They can be overweight for a number of reasons, but it’s important to know the signs early on so you can make any necessary changes.
Oversized fat pads all over the body – tail, under the armpit, on the head, belly, and jowls – are major signs your bearded dragon is overweight. Reduce fatty foods such as hornworms while increasing fiber and green vegetables in their diet to help the bearded dragon lose weight quickly.
In this article, I will go over how to tell if your bearded dragon is overweight and needs to lose weight the causes of weight gain, and how to help the lizard lose weight easily.
Can a bearded dragon become overweight?
Bearded dragons can become overweight if overfed with fatty treats or too much food at close intervals. The ideal weight of a fully grown lizard that is 22-24 inches long should be between 400-800 grams. Mature bearded dragons that weigh over 800g are likely to be obese or fat.
Obesity in bearded dragons is a growing problem because these pets are some of the reptiles that don’t necessarily show good self-control with their dietary habits. If you continue feeding them, they’ll keep eating as much as they can, which will eventually show with signs of overgrown fat pads and other symptoms I’ve listed below.
Signs of obesity in bearded dragons
There are a few pointers that will hint if your beardie is growing too fat for its good health. While looking at the reptile should clearly show signs of obesity, there are a few places to check to help determine if they’re overweight.
If you gently run your finger along the spine and the rib cage, you’ll be able to tell if the lizard is overweight. If you cannot feel the spine or the ribs, then there’s a big fat layer that’s an indication of weight problems. Alternatively, checking the fat pads on the head of the bearded dragon as well as its belly will indicate if there are weight problems.
Here are the signs of an overweight bearded dragon:
1. Large fat pads on the head
The first sign of overweight beardies is an enlarged fat pad on their heads. This can happen for a number of reasons, but it’s usually attributed to consuming too many fatty treats or getting overfed probably with fatty foods and treats.
Fat pads on a healthy bearded dragon are usually soft and fleshy but not too big, making the head curve gradually. However, a fat pad that is too big will show an exaggerated curve on the head.
A sluggish bearded dragon is a sure sign of obesity. This sluggishness can be seen in the overall lethargy, and difficulty moving around due to excess weight. A sluggish lizard will also start slowing down when moving about its enclosure. Low energy levels may also be seen in these reptiles.
The increased fat content makes puts too much strain on the legs, making it unusually difficult for them to move around quickly or even eat food easily.
3. Distended belly
The belly of your beardie should be fairly flat and just slightly distended on the sides. For a lizard with weight problems, the first thing you should look at is your dragon’s abdomen or abdominal fat.
- For a healthy bearded dragon: if you look at the stomach flab of the dragon, it should be very lean and squishes a little bit. You’ll not see loose hanging blobs of fat.
- For an obese dragon: there will be so much loose material in the belly of the dragon. Big globs and chunks of fat can be felt in the belly that makes it appear distended on the sides.
In fact, a fat bearded dragon will simply appear as though it is dragging the sagging fat pockets across the surface as it moves.
4. Big jowls
Big jowls will be sure telltale signs of weight problems. Jowls are the loose hanging skin and a sort of tissue matter that hangs underneath the chin right below the section that’s usually known as the beard.
Big, fat jowls occur because too much fatty tissue compresses into one area giving it a big bulge that hangs down from the lower jaw. The problem with this is when excess fat starts to accumulate around these areas and put pressure onto them; you can see it in their drooping lower lip or even loose skin under their chin.
The jowls of a healthy bearded dragon should be fairly flat, showing a slight downward curve. However, when your dragon is obese, these jowls might appear noticeably big and hanging.
You might want to check the lizard to make sure the jowls are actually a sign of obesity and not a swelling that’s caused by irritation in the throat area, injury, or even an infection.
5. Difficulty climbing
Many obese bearded dragons will have difficulty climbing vertical surfaces, walls, or even jumping onto logs because of the difficulty of carrying their excess weight.
Obesity can make it difficult for a lizard to move around due to their sluggishness, and this is even more pronounced when they try and climb up something like branches or rocks. When your beardie doesn’t want to climb anymore because of the difficulty in doing so, then there’s likely a problem with supporting its own weight.
A healthy dragon should be able to easily scale any type of object without much difficulty at all; though if you notice that they’re having trouble getting from one area to another while moving about normally, then this could be an indication that there may be weight problems.
6. Excess skin folds on the neck, abdomen, and limbs
If excess skin is one of the earlier indicators that your dragon might be obese, then you need to pay attention to these folds.
Skin creases on a healthy bearded dragon are usually very thin and only barely noticeable on the neck, abdomen, or limbs; though if they’re too big or have excess fat in-between them then this could also signify weight problems.
The amount of excess skin can vary from lizard to lizard but when it starts becoming obvious with more pronounced fold lines, ballooning around certain areas like under their chin or between their legs where there’s extra weight hanging off the body then this is likely an indication of obesity issues.
A note: don’t confuse excess skin on an otherwise healthy beardie as being something related to excess weight.
For example, if the dragon is about to shed its skin and there are excess folds of skin that are coming off because it doesn’t fit anymore, then this could be a sign that your beardie is just fine.
7. Fat tail
Take a look at the tail of a healthy bearded dragon, it is s just a dense compact structure. It won’t be like the tail of a leopard gecko or African fat-tailed gecko where the tail it’s literally a fat store. There should not be too much mobility of the scales; they’re very fixed in place and the tail as a whole just feels very dense and solid.
However, for an overweight bearded dragon, the base of its tail is actually a lot thicker and a lot beefier and if you feel it, it actually feels squishy. This means there’s a thin layer of fat literally surrounding the entire surface of the tail. This is really not good because it means that your bearded dragon has so much excess fat that it needs to distribute it across the surface of the tail, which really should just be a compact structure used for balance.
How to Help a Bearded Dragon Lose Weight
It is important to know that a combination of all the above signs is an indication that your bearded dragon is severely obese. However, it is also possible to see just a few of those signs in your bearded dragon, which might mean that the problem is not as bad.
There are a few things you can do to help your bearded dragon lose weight easily, starting with changing their feeding habits, varying their diet, and changing their food quantities.
Here’s how to get an obese bearded dragon to lose weight:
1. Reduce the protein and fat sources
Changing the protein and fat sources in your bearded dragon’s diet is one of the easiest ways to help them lose weight. You can do this by switching between different types of food, such as alternating each time you feed a meal from either insects or worms with other vegetables.
- Most protein sources are also rich in fat content, which is probably why your bearded dragon is becoming fat and overweight.
- Reducing the serving of protein or fat sources is a great way to help your obese bearded dragon lose weight quickly.
- Substitute the fatty foods such as superworms with less fatty foods such as vegetables like cilantro, arugula, cactus, etc.
- Bearded dragons need calcium for healthy bones. They get calcium from insect foods, so, make sure you provide calcium supplements to maintain their bone health while losing weight.
If your bearded dragon doesn’t eat enough insect-based foods, then add some more bugs into their diet (or purchase a high quality product that has all necessary vitamins and minerals). There are also many frozen products available at stores that might work better for picky dragons that prefer specific types of food only.
2. Increase the vegetables in the diet
Increasing the vegetable content in the diet of your bearded dragon is a great ay to help the reptile lose weight fast.
Green vegetables have a very low fat content.
The high fiber content makes bearded dragons feel full faster so they won’t eat a lot of food.
What you need to do is increase vegetables in your dragon’s diet and decrease insect-based foods – or, at least make sure they are balanced with each other so that there is no more than half a meal made up of insects. This way, you can satisfy their hunger while helping them lose weight.
Try adding some vegetable sources such as spinach, cilantro (or any leafy green), arugula, tomato leaves etc., into the mix to help balance out both protein sources and vegetable sources without compromising on nutrients.
Another technique would be to feed your beardie an equal amount of veggies but less bugs per day by reducing their serving size from say 15-20 bugs to 8-12.
The weight will start to come off naturally as the dragon eats less calories and moves around more trying to find food sources, which means they get fewer calories for an energy source.
Here’s a helpful tip – if your bearded dragon is hungry but not eating their vegetables, try adding some of their favorite vegetables into the mix so that they might be tempted by something new!
Another technique would be to feed your beardie an equal amount of veggies but less bugs per day by reducing their serving size from say 20-30 bugs to 15-20. The weight will start coming off naturally as the dragon needs fewer calories for an energy source.
3. Provide exercise activities
Providing exercise activities for your bearded dragon is another way to help them lose weight quickly. On this one, you’ll need to be a little more creative to make the obese beardie work hard on shedding excess weight.
Here are a few tips to help you provide exercise opportunities for your bearded dragon:
- Provide exercise opportunities by adding some climbing branches or logs into the cage that they can climb up and down on, as well as digging tunnels below so that they have more than one route to reach their food sources.
- Add more obstacles in the enclosure. Moving around will always be better for weight loss because it burns more calories – even if you just allow your pet to run through a few obstacles in its own enclosure every day before feeding time.
- Throw one treat at a time into the enclosure to make the bearded dragon run all the way to grab and eat it, then throw the next treat on the other end. Repeat this every time you provide treats.
This gives it an opportunity to roam around while helping them burn more calories due to increased activity levels. If this isn’t enough of a workout, then there are also many toys available commercially which might do the trick.
4. Force brumation
Brumation is an excellent weight-loss option for obese bearded dragons. This refers to the process in which some reptiles, such as bearded dragons, hibernate during winter periods of lower temperature and light exposure (as opposed to estivation).
The weight loss benefits are due to caloric reduction through decreased food intake. Beardies use up the stored food (fat) reserves during brumation, which aids in weight loss.
It is not easy to brumate artificially, but you can do it creatively especially if the bearded dragon is extremely obese to the extent that it can not move around or even climb the logs in its enclosure.
Brumation can be done by placing a bearded dragon in a dark, cool area for about two months (which mimics winter periods) without food or water. This will reduce the weight on your beardie and allow them to hibernate naturally for those colder times where they would typically do so anyways – all while reducing weight!
Alternatively, you could also place your pet’s tank inside some kind of cooler system which might provide enough caloric reduction through decreased intake (though this may only work if it has access to light).
It’s important that you know when brumating your dragon so that they can be prepared for it beforehand with enough fat reserves built up. If not, then there is a risk of death from hypo or hyperthermia if they don’t have any body fat left by this time.
You should only allow them to brumate after careful consideration – remember that weight loss is not always weight gain.
5. Let the bearded dragon roam outside its enclosure
It might be better to let your pet roam outside its enclosure from time to time, as long as there are no risks for escape or injury.
If you feel like your pet’s weight has become an issue and they have been gaining weight slowly over a few months without any other changes being made, then consider letting them out more often – but always on supervised walks so you can monitor their safety closely along with all other factors such as appetite and activity levels.
This may seem counter-intuitive at first because dragons usually eat less when roaming about due to increased activity levels (less lazy or being busy), but this will also provide opportunities for the lizard to lose weight by spending calories on those walks.
This technique works great if you couple it with dietary adjustments so that the reptile spends more calories but takes in fewer calories. The deficit will have to be met by burning the fat reserves, which means your beardie will lose weight rather easily with consistent outdoor activity.