Underweight Bearded Dragon – Help a Skinny Beardie Gain Weight

It is easy to think that an underweight bearded dragon is not getting enough food, but there are quite a few other reasons that can make the lizard look so skinny. You want to make sure you identify the actual cause, which will guide you to the right fix.

An underweight bearded dragon will show signs such as a skinny tail, visible ribs, thin legs, and diminished fat pads. Being skinny is caused by lack of food, diseases, or stress. Increase the frequency of feeding and the amount of fatty foods in their diet to help bearded dragons gain weight.

Signs of an underweight bearded dragon

Underweight Bearded Dragon

It is quite easy to tell if a bearded dragon is underweight. The body shows signs of food deprivation, usually in areas where you’d expect to see pockets of fat stored as reserves for the brumation period.

Here’s how to know your bearded dragon is malnourished:

1. Skinny legs

When the body is malnourished, it’s common for signs to show up in the legs. The bones will be more visible and muscles may show signs of atrophy (wasting away of muscle mass).

In a normal or healthy bearded dragon, you’d expect to see some muscle mass on the arms and hind legs. Also, a healthy beardie will have some small amount of fat deposited around the legs and especially near the armpits.

Note: Visibly large fat pockets are a major sign of an overweight bearded dragon, so even if you try to help your reptile pet gain weight, make sure you do not feed them to that level.

2. Skinny tail

Although bearded dragons don’t store a lot of fat in their tails like leopard geckos, a healthy bearded dragon will have a small amount of fat in its tail. You can tell by touching the tail and feeling for the scanty squishy mass especially at the base.

A tail that’s too thin is a sign that there is not enough fat stored elsewhere in the body. The tail will be bony to the feel, meaning the beardie does not have any fat reserves.

3. Visible hips and ribs

A healthy bearded dragon will have a visible hip bone with some fat surrounding it. Bones should not be protruding (like one might see in an undernourished lizard). Bones like these are signs of severe undernourishment, meaning your beardie needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Ribs may also show signs of being too prominent, which is a major sign that the animal has been deprived of food for quite some time.

4. Disproportionate head

A healthy bearded dragon usually has a relatively proportional head to the rest of its body. However, signs of undernourishment may show up in this area as well.

If you see your beardie’s noggin is disproportionate to the rest of their body (too big for example) then it’s time to get them some food! Usually, underweight or skinny beardie will have a disproportionately large skull with too-large eyes that are sunken into the sockets and appear lifeless.

5. Sunken eyes

A healthy bearded dragon will have lively and alert eyes with a white, blue, or pink lid surrounding them. If the lids are sunken in and there is no color on the eye (brown spot), this may be a sign that the lizard is malnourished and is underweight.

Note that sunken eyes in Bearded dragons are not entirely a sign that your pet is skinny it might be a sign that something is wrong with their health. Extreme dehydration in lizards can also make the eye sockets appear large and the eyes sunken.

6. Sagging skin across the chest

Skinny bearded dragons can also show signs of being malnourished in their skin. Usually, the sagging is around the chest and neck area, but it’s possible for other areas to become loose when a lizard is skinny or underweight as well.

A healthy beardie will have some elasticity in its skin (especially near joints). If you notice your bearded dragon has really saggy skin, this may signify that they are not receiving enough food.

The skin on top of the lizard’s face might also be loose and baggy due to dehydration, so you might want to check if your bearded dragon is getting enough water to drink.

7. Diminished fat pads

The fat pads on a healthy bearded dragon’s body are usually proportionate to the animal. If it appears that these fat pads have diminished in size, this may be another sign of malnourishment and improper weight.

Fat pads on bearded dragons are a good indicator of the health status of the lizard. While big and prominent fat pads may be a sign of obesity, a lack of these pads on the head can also mean your reptile is too skinny and may need proper nutrition to gain weight again.

Reasons why your bearded dragon is skinny

While malnutrition is one of the main reasons why a bearded dragon may appear underweight, there could be something else that’s also causing the problem. Illnesses, parasites, and other environmental stressors can also lead to excessive weight loss in pet lizards.

Here’s why your bearded dragon is skinny:

Inadequate food

In order to maintain a healthy weight, bearded dragons require an appropriate amount of protein. If the Bearded dragon is not eating enough and as a result its food intake is insufficient, it will become underweight over time.

Common malnutrition issues that can lead to an underweight bearded dragon include the following:

  • Improper feeding schedule (such as once a week)
  • Feeding the beardie too little food
  • Providing your bearded dragon with too little food
  • Feeding the beardie with one type of food only

Examine your dragon’s diet carefully for any sign that you are giving too many fruits and vegetables or not providing the proper types of meaty foods (insects). Bearded dragons eat insects in addition to other prey items such as mealworms and hornworms.

If you’re unsure about what type of food should be fed, ask your veterinarian before changing anything so that there isn’t excessive hunger driving them towards inadequate nutrition sources like vegetables.

Parasites

Parasitic infections are a serious problem in bearded dragons. While they might not appear as stressors, internal parasites can easily cause mass wasting and severe weight loss in bearded dragons.

Some of the common parasites in bearded dragons that might contribute to their skinny appearance include:

  • Coccidiosis
  • Pinworms
  • Cryptosporidium

It’s important to note that Coccidiosis is a major cause of death in bearded dragons as it can be easily passed from one animal to another through feces (contamination).

Pinworms on their own will not typically lead to weight loss but if they get into an oral cavity or sinus tract then this will compromise a beardie’s ability to eat food properly. Infected lizards might also experience difficulty swallowing due to lesions appearing around the mouth area.

Maintain a clean environment for your bearded dragon and get them checked out by a vet regularly. Coccidiosis can be treated with antibiotics while pinworms are often removed through medication or, if the infestation is severe enough, surgery might be required to remove it from their digestive tract.

Work closely with your veterinarian when trying to manage these three types of parasites because they’re all quite serious in terms of causing weight loss in lizards as well as other complications like internal bleeding.

Dehydration

Bearded dragons are extremely sensitive to dehydration. In the wild, they often live in arid conditions and must be able to withstand them without much difficulty at all.

If your bearded dragon is not drinking water or enough of it then they will become severely dehydrated which can lead to weight loss as well as other severe complications like death if left without water for too long.

Dehydration doesn’t always manifest with a lack of urination because by this time most lizards will die before urine production becomes an issue; instead, dehydration usually manifests through visible signs such as sunken eyes/ears, dry mouth/skin, wrinkled skin, excessive panting (due to heat), dark-colored poop filled with blood due to dehydration’s impact on the digestive system.

If you notice your bearded dragon won’t eat and is losing weight, one of the main reasons could be dehydration, so you might want to make sure you’ve provided clean water in the enclosure.

Aggression and bullying

Bearded dragons are mostly solitary reptiles and would prefer to be in the enclosure on their own. If you have a few of them living in the same tank, it is possible that there’s competition for food and space.

Some lizards will become aggressive and try to establish dominance in the cage, which does not give the rest of the tank-mates peace to feed adequately. This aggression can cause significant weight loss in any animal that’s being bullied and is unable to find safety from the aggressor.

If your bearded dragon has become skinny as a result of bullying then it might need some time alone or with fewer animals for a period before they’re able to gain its full strength again (losing too much weight at this point could lead to permanent weakness and illness that will threaten the pet’s life).

While aggression is often due to food/territorial issues, it also manifests as social aggression – which means two lizards simply don’t like each other. Aggressive behavior should be managed carefully if you must have tankmates.

Bearded dragons need plenty of space so make sure that the cage has room for an enclosure (which comes with many different options), food dishes, water dishes, hiding areas, substrate material.

Illness

Bearded dragons might not eat because they’re sick. If you suspect that your lizard has an illness, it’s important to get them checked out by a vet right away so the appropriate treatment can be prescribed early on.

Coccidiosis is a major cause of death in bearded dragons as it can easily be passed from one animal to another through faeces (contamination).

Illnesses such as mouth rot and even metabolic bone disease can interfere with the feeding habits of bearded dragons, making them lose weight excessively. Some illnesses are not easy to spot, but if you suspect your bearded dragon is skinny without a reason yet you’re providing the appropriate quantities of food, you might want to have the lizard checked out by a reptile veterinarian.

Dental problems

Mouth rot and dental problems are two of the most common reasons why bearded dragons might lose weight. Dental issues can interfere with feeding and lead to malnutrition which is one reason why lizards don’t eat their food like they normally would. A dry mouth – too – makes it difficult for them to eat and swallow wood properly.

If you suspect dental problems in your lizard then you should take him/her to a vet so that dental work can be done to make sure the pet does not feel any pain when swallowing.

You should get your dragon checked out by a reptile veterinarian if an illness or dental problem could be affecting his/her eating habits because this will help prevent any life-threatening complications from occurring due to chronic dehydration or starvation.

Improper lighting and heating

If you’re not using a heat lamp and your bearded dragon is losing weight, this could be due to the animal’s inability to digest food properly without heat. Heat in the enclosure is very important as it activates enzymes for the digestion process to take place.

Likewise if one of these lizards has been spending too much time in a UVB-free enclosure then it might lose its appetite because they need so many hours of exposure every day (a full spectrum light will help them grow).

Bearded dragons are sensitive creatures that deserve love and care – as well as heat/UVB lights. Make sure you provide what they need for their health. If your pet lizard doesn’t eat or drink water enough when they don’t have heat or UVB, it is time to check their enclosure to see if the heating pads are working.

How to Help a Skinny Bearded Dragon Gain Weight

The first thing you want to do to help your skinny bearded dragon gain weight again is to determine the cause of weight loss. This is so important because feeding an ill bearded dragon even more fatty foods will not guarantee that he or she will add weight again.

Here’s how to fatten up a skinny bearded dragon:

1. Increase fatty foods

Providing fatty foods is a great way to improve the weight of your bearded dragon fast. If there aren’t any other underlying problems, consider adding high fat foods to the diet – like mealworms, locusts, crickets (high in protein), wax worms, and butter worms.

Feed your skinny adult bearded dragons on 2-4 pinky mice every week to improve their fat sources significantly.

Hornworms are also fatty, so increase their quantities in the beardie’s diet to help the lizard gain weight.

CAUTION: Since fuzzy mice are risky for small-sized bearded dragons or juveniles, you want to avoid offering them unless the beardie is at least 15 inches in length.

Try to feed 12 months old bearded dragons with bugs at least 3 times every week while those that are over 18 months at least 2 times a week. Keep this feeding schedule until the lizard gains weight again.

Also, keep in mind that you still need to feed your bearded dragon with vegetables such as cactus or even cilantro choppings to increase their fiber intake. Vegetables help reduce the risk of impaction.

2. Provide heat and light sources

If the reason for being underweight is a lack of heat that’s causing the reptile not to digest food and absorb nutrients, then the right solution is to provide a UVB light and heat source to help fix issues of indigestion.

Provide UV or UVB rays can be provided using full-spectrum lights, while infrared heating pads will do their job as well in maintaining normal body temperatures. Maintain a basking spot in the enclosure at 88-100°F (or 31-38 degrees Celsius).

You may choose from ceramic heat emitters that provide warmth but not UV rays or incandescent bulbs with low wattage if you want a more natural environment. It doesn’t matter which type of emitter you use – your lizard would still benefit from it.

3. Feed more frequently

If your bearded dragon is a baby and feeding too infrequently is the problem, you may want to consider feeding him or her twice daily. You can try feeding smaller portions in order not to overfeed them but it’s still important that they get enough calories and fat to sustain their growth.

It also helps if you feed more frequently when there are problems of malnutrition causing the reptile to look skinny. Adult beardies that appear to be underweight due to inadequate food can show signs of improvement if you feed them 3-4 times a week.

For growing and even near-adult bearded dragons, feed them as many bugs as they can eat as many times as you can in a day to make sure they are storing the excess food reserves under their skin. Soon enough, you’ll see the dragon showing signs of weight gain.

 4. Treat diseases

If there are underlying illnesses that could be the cause of weight loss, then you need to treat them first before attempting to adjust the diet for weight gain. However, even though you might know a few medications you can give the reptile, it is a good idea to take them for a proper diagnosis by a reptile veterinarian.

Your reptile veterinarian will be able to treat your dragon with the right medication and in turn, you’ll be able to adjust their diet for weight gain.

When necessary, provide fluids through an oral syringe if they are not taking food or water on their own. This should give them enough energy so that they can digest better and absorb nutrients properly.

5. Get rid of parasites

Parasites can contribute to the problem of weight loss in a bearded dragon and this is one reason why it’s important to check for them before adjusting their diet.

If you have no idea about how to check if your reptile has parasites, then take him or her back to your vet who will be able to identify any parasites that may be inside the lizard. 

It might also help if you provide treatments such as internal parasite medications every two weeks along with external dewormer treatments on an annual basis. Parasite infestations are very common among reptiles so make sure you check regularly for signs of infection.

6. Provide water

If dehydration is the reason for an underweight bearded dragon, then providing water in the enclosure is the solution. The water needs to be replaced regularly in order for it to remain clean. Availability of water will provide your dragon with plenty of drinking water as well.

You can also get bottled fruit juices without added sugar, which have fewer calories than their sugary counterparts but still provides the same amount of nutrients along with more sweetness from natural sources such as orange rinds or apple cores.


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