Many bearded dragon owners may face the challenge of having an underweight or malnourished dragon, which can lead to various health issues. There are several key steps you can take to help them gain weight and improve their overall health.
In this post, we will discuss some of the causes of weight loss in bearded dragons, how to measure their weight and body condition score, and how to fatten them up with proper diet and husbandry.
How to Tell if My Bearded Dragon is too Skinny?
There are a few ways you can tell if your bearded dragon is underweight.
1. Body Condition Score
A Body Condition Score (BCS) can help you identify if your bearded dragon is underweight, overweight, or ideal, and adjust their diet and environment accordingly.
To perform a body condition score on your bearded dragon, you will need to gently palpate their body parts and observe their appearance. You can use the following table as a guide:
|1||Narrow head with prominent bones; hollow eyes||Concave torso with protruding ribs; spine visible||Thin tail base with exposed bones; folds present|
|2||Narrow head with slightly visible bones; sunken eyes||Slightly concave torso with slightly visible ribs; spine slightly visible||Thin tail base with slightly visible bones; wrinkles present|
|3||Round head with no visible bones; normal eyes||Smooth torso with no visible ribs; spine not visible||Thick tail base with no visible bones; smooth surface|
|4||Round head with slight fat deposits; normal eyes||Slightly convex torso with slight fat deposits; spine not visible||Thick tail base with slight fat deposits; smooth surface|
|5||Round head with excessive fat deposits; bulging eyes||Convex torso with excessive fat storage spine not visible||Thick tail base with excessive fat deposits; smooth surface|
A body condition score is important because it can help you detect any health problems that your bearded dragon may have. For example:
- A BCS of 1 or 2 may indicate malnutrition, dehydration, parasites, illness, stress, or poor husbandry.
- A BCS of 4 or 5 may indicate overfeeding, lack of exercise, metabolic bone disease, fatty liver disease, or reproductive issues.
A BCS that is too low or too high can also affect your bearded dragon’s immune system, behavior, and lifespan.
Some other signs to help you determine if your bearded dragon is underweight.
2. Sunken Fat Pads
Fat pads are integral parts of a bearded dragon’s body that store extra fat. They are usually flabby and can be found in many areas on a beardie’s body. It can be seen on the base of the tail, the abdomen, and in between the eyes of a bearded dragon.
A bearded dragon is considered healthy if the pad behind their eyes has a slight bulge. If you find your bearded dragon’s fat pads sunken, then it’s a sign that your bearded dragon is underweight or losing weight.
3. Visible Ribs
It’s a very common sign of weight loss in your bearded dragon and in general. Your bearded dragon in normal conditions should be fit enough that their ribs aren’t visible. However, if you can see their ribs peeping out of their skin, this is an alarm that your bearded dragon is getting too skinny.
4. Loose Skin
Loose skin is an evident sign of weight loss, as it indicates where the skin used to be in healthy conditions. If you find the skin of your bearded dragon loose even if it is properly hydrated, then your beardie must be losing weight.
Ensure weight loss by giving it a warm bath, as sometimes the loose skin indicates dehydration too. If the skin gets plump and shiny right after the bath, then you don’t have to worry about the beardie losing its weight. However, if the skin hangs loose even after the bath, then your beardie is getting skinny.
Bearded dragons are active most of the time and enjoy playing and roaming around in their territory. A dull and lethargic bearded dragon indicates sickness or something that is putting them off. Now, if you find your bearded dragon being lethargic, then there is a chance that it’s underweight or losing weight.
How to Fatten Up a Bearded Dragon
If your bearded dragon is underweight, you need to fatten them up with proper diet and husbandry. Here are some tips to help you do that:
1. Increase the Fat Intake
You can increase the fat intake of your bearded dragon by adding fatty insects to their diet, such as waxworms, mealworms, superworms, or butterworms. These insects have a higher ratio of fat that will help your bearded dragon gain weight and stay healthy.
However, you should not feed these insects exclusively or too often, as they can also cause obesity or digestive problems. You should limit these insects to once or twice a week as treats.
High-Fat Foods to Give Your Bearded Dragon
If you intend to make your bearded dragon gain some weight, you have to feed them a high-fat diet. Following is a list of food items that are rich in fat, and you can use it to help your beardie gain weight.
|Waxworms||Mealworms||Super worms||Dubia Roaches ( Low fats but adds variety to the diet of the bearded dragon)||Phoenix worms|
|Frozen pinkies (occasionally)||Hopper mice (occasionally)|
2. Offer a Variety of Foods
You should offer your bearded dragon a variety of foods that are high in protein and calcium, such as crickets, roaches, dubia roaches, silkworms, hornworms, or phoenix worms. These insects have a high ratio of protein and calcium that will help your bearded dragon grow and strengthen their bones.
You should also offer your bearded dragon a variety of vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamins and minerals, such as collard greens, kale, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, apples, blueberries, peaches, strawberries, and watermelon. These foods will provide your bearded dragon with essential nutrients and hydration.
You should avoid foods that are high in oxalates or goitrogens (such as spinach or broccoli), as they can interfere with calcium absorption or thyroid function.
3. Adjust the Feeding Frequency
You should adjust the feeding frequency of your bearded dragon according to their age and weight.
Baby bearded dragons (up to 4 months old) need to eat more often than adult bearded dragons (over 18 months old), as they are growing rapidly and need more calories.
You should feed baby bearded dragons insects three times a day and allow them to eat as many insects as they want in a 10-15 minute period each time.
You should also offer them vegetables and fruits daily. Baby bearded dragons can eat up to 60 insects each day. Adult bearded dragons need to eat less often than baby bearded dragons, as they are fully grown and need fewer calories.
You should feed adult bearded dragons insects once or twice a week and allow them to eat as many insects as they want in a 10-15 minute period each time. You should also offer them vegetables and fruits daily. Adult bearded dragons can eat up to 20 insects each week.
4. Provide Adequate Lighting and Heating
You should provide adequate lighting and heating for your bearded dragon, as they are cold-blooded animals that rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature and metabolism.
You should provide your bearded dragon with a basking spot that has a temperature of around 95°F to 110°F (35°C to 43°C) during the day. This will help your bearded dragon digest their food and absorb nutrients more efficiently.
You should also provide your bearded dragon with a UVB light that mimics natural sunlight and helps them synthesize vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption and bone health. The UVB light should cover at least half of the enclosure and should be replaced every six months or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Finally, if your baby beardie is not gaining weight, that’s not a big deal as it uses all the nutrients to grow in length. However, for adults, the visibility of hips and ribs, sunken fat pads, and loose skin is a sign of weight loss.
In each case, find out the reasons behind the bearded dragon’s weight loss. If it’s just the diet, add fatty foods to the diet or enough nutrients for the beardie’s health. However, if the diet is acceptable and you see symptoms such as loose droppings, impaction, swollen limbs, and tails, then you must get your bearded dragon checked by the vet.
Lastly, follow your instincts, as your gut will never lie to you.