Is Your Bearded Dragon Stressed? Signs, Reasons, and How to Help!

Bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are a commonly kept reptile species that have a reputation for being highly personable and fairly straight forward to care for. Their vibrant personalities and vast availability have resulted in the bearded dragon becoming one of the most popular pet reptiles to keep.  

Frequently, pet reptiles, including bearded dragons, are prone to experiencing stress, which can negatively impact their overall health and well-being. Understanding the causes of stress in bearded dragons is crucial to provide them with the best possible care. 

Symptoms of a Stressed Bearded Dragon

A stressed bearded dragon may show any (or all) of the following symptoms: 

  • Darkened or black beard (beard may be puffed out) 
  • Head bobbing/hand waving 
  • Glass surfing (pacing back and forth along a wall of the enclosure) 
  • Change in frequency and/or consistency of feces 
  • Lethargy/sluggishness (may have reduced interest in basking) 
  • Hissing 
  • Mouth gaping 
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Weight loss 

Reasons for Stress in Bearded Dragons

Understanding the reasons behind bearded dragon stress is crucial for providing the proper care for your pet. In this section, we will explore the various reasons for stress in bearded dragons in detail.

Inadequate Habitat 

One of the most common causes of stress in bearded dragons is an inadequate habitat. 

Bearded dragons require a minimum habitat size of 4’ x 2’ x 2’, or 120 gallons. Unfortunately, many pet shops do not stock habitats that are large enough to accommodate a bearded dragon into adulthood. This is because many pet stores prioritize products which won’t take up much shelf or warehouse space.

Habitats that are too small can make it difficult for the animal to move around comfortably and makes it impossible for them to exhibit natural behaviors, causing them to feel cramped and stressed. Additionally, habitats that are too small are not able to provide the proper thermal gradient needed for proper body functions, like digesting food. 

Another cause of stress relating to habitats is all-glass enclosures. Enclosures made entirely of glass can cause territorial aggression due to the bearded dragon seeing its own reflection, which can trigger a territorial and aggressive response. Bearded dragons may bob their heads up and down, wave their hands, and darken/puff up their beard as a response to the perceived intruder. As you can imagine, a stranger with an angry face who is constantly peeking through your window would be stressful! 

Top-opening enclosures are also a culprit of stress in bearded dragons. While the enclosure is being cleaned, during feeding time, or when taking out your bearded dragon, they may think they are being swooped up by a predator when being grabbed from above. This is because bearded dragons have a third eye, known as the ‘parietal eye’. To the human eye, it looks like a semi-translucent scale on top of the dragons’ head, but in reality, it helps these lizards to regulate their photocycles, and detect the shadows cast by predators hiding overhead in the rays of the sun. 

When purchasing a habitat for your bearded dragon, look for an enclosur