Authored by Pete Hawkins: Chameleon Network / Bearded Dragons Network / Snake Network / Lizard Network / Amphibian Network
Does my Bearded Dragon look Fat?
“My bearded dragon will only eat morios (supers), and wax worms”…absolute rubbish
Quite frankly, I’m getting appalled seeing ‘obesity‘ in people’s adult Bearded Dragons. It’s become an issue which is seemingly growing at a rapid pace. I’ve noticed it more so over the past few years. Probably due to the fact we have social media, and species specific groups/forums supplying constant images for our viewing.
With also the same old excuses being made, “my dragon will only eat morios (supers), and wax worms”…absolute rubbish.
There are NO excuses. We have ample live-foods and greens/vegetables/plants available at our fingertips with ease, more-so with the convenience of online delivery.
The only reason your bearded dragon is fat, is because of you.
Harsh…Yes. But it’s true.
Of course, with obesity, comes health problems. Fatty liver disease is a very common occurrence when I asked the reptile Vet’s in research for this article.
In simple terms – To much fat in the diet, causes the liver tissue to be replaced by fat. Thus, the organ can no longer function properly and break down toxins. These then build up in the blood stream. Eventually leading to liver failure at the extreme up until that point numerous other complications.
You try to mention this to the keeper in these groups, and I’ll always ask the same questions:
- How often do you feed the bearded dragon?
- What do you feed the bearded dragon?
- Has the bearded dragon has a health check via a Vet?
Causes of Obesity in Bearded Dragons
It’s when the answers come, or not in many cases, that you realize the common issues
- No diet variety
- And, no Vet visit. But their friend, who breeds bearded dragons says the dragon is fine.
Like all our reptiles, a bearded dragon will only eat what the keeper provides. To a certain extent, if you are on a bioactive substrate, the dragon can partake in what it loves to do naturally, and forage for food. But these items will only be what you have placed within the vivaria yourself.
Other Causes of Obesity in Bearded Dragons
Adult bearded dragons not eating their greens/veg/fruit/herb/plant IS still a common issue.
I have found much of these cases stem right back to the breeder. Private breeders do tend to be a little better. But I still witness it here.
The bearded dragon needs to be given the greens side of the diet from day one of its life.
Yes, I know when they are growing, it’s all about protein. But it is vital these new bearded dragons see greens as important too, NOT just a secondary food source. Make it the first meal of the day and as much variety as possible. This honestly does save on problematic feeding issues when they get older.
I guess some breeders may feel they need to defend themselves here. But why should you? This is not aimed at anyone in particular. If what you do IS the above. Good on you. If it’s not. Honestly. Please adopt this method. It saves on stress with the keeper trying to get a stubborn bearded dragon to eat greens. But also gives the bearded dragon more of a chance healthwise.
The ‘Rule’ of feeding as much as they want in 15 minutes. Far too much time.
In my experiences, I have also found treatment for a parasite burden can knock them off their food. Both live food, and greens. It can often be a struggle to get them to eat greens again here.
But people often fall into the same trap. They feed the likes of wax worms and supers (morios), as they are pretty much guaranteed to be eaten. Thus giving the keeper a false sense of, “well, at least they are eating.”
True, they are obviously eating. But it can possibly be the start of them refusing other food items, in favour of these ‘Treat’ fattier foods. Its like giving your children the choice of a salad, or McDonald’s. Most pick the fast-food option. Not knowing how unhealthy it is. It just tastes so good.
This is a big problem. Having kept dragons now over the past 28 years, I’ve pretty much settled on a method of feeding.
- 0-6 Months old – Feed 2/3 x Daily
- 6-12 Months old – 1x Daily
- 12 Months onwards – 3 or 4 x a week
- Obviously Greens/Veg/Herb/Plant/Fruit, DAILY, throughout the bearded dragon’s life
Also. The ‘Rule‘ of feeding as much as they want, in 15 minutes. That’s far too much time.
Honestly, 5 mins is far more less overindulging. Thus healthier.
Imagine feeding a baby dragon for fifteen minutes, three times a day. That’s obviously, forty-five minutes of pure eating. Daily, for 6 months. Far and above too much. You’ll be going through 1000’s of bugs weekly. The bearded dragon does not need all that protein for a great growth rate.
So the obese problems arise when keepers are feeding their adult dragons daily. Like our domestic pets, the dogs and cats. It’s just way to much food for what is, in captivity at least, one of the lazier dragons (more on this subject in a coming article I have started).
In-turn. More food = more laziness = more weight gain = more health problems.
Feeding the wrong food as a ‘Staple’ is a BIG problem.
Although I hate to use the word ‘Staple’ when it comes to Reptile diet. With live food, it’s certainly more significant.
The Superworm/morio seems to be the most common fatty item used here (around 18% fat. In comparison a cricket is 6% fat and a Dubia roach is 5% for example).
Although Superworm/morio gut-load very well; nutritionally they have a high fat content. Therefore, these should be treated as a ‘Treat’ food item only. Yet people insist on using these daily often by the handful. A sure-fire way to weight related health issues. Fatty liver disease for example.
Another possible scenario – You have got a Dragon already in adulthood. Therefore, he/she may already be in the unfortunate habit of not eating greens.
Notice I said the word ‘Habit’. With bearded dragons being reptiles of habit and routine, if this routine involved previously not having to eat greens, yet still got live food, then it’s a habit you, the new keeper, must break.
Breaking the Non-Green Eating Habit in Bearded Dragons
First thing I’d recommend you do, is get a Vet check-up, and a faecal parasite test done. This will show any underlying issues that need treating, which could also be the cause from which the additional ‘habit’ established.
If treatment is needed. Do this. Then once all-clear, you can start the task of breaking the habit.
For a ‘healthy’ Dragon, 1 year or older, with-holding live food IS a good tactic.
I have used this method successfully, with a slight modification to its execution.
Here is what worked for me in the past;
- If you normally put out greens, for example, at 9am and then give live food at 1/2pm. Stop this.
- Instead. DON’T give greens at 9am. Give nothing.
- Instead. Give the greens at the time you’d normally give the live food. So, if above, 1/2pm.
- And DON’T give any live food during this process.
This may well take a couple of weeks to work. But I’ve had huge success in the past.
If the Dragons starts to eat the greens, what you then need to do is reduce the times (if possible).
Meaning, get closer and closer to putting the greens out at the time that suits you. Which should be in the morning, a good few hours before live food anyway.
Once the greens are being eating. Re-introduce the live food
So, vary its diet. Reduce live food intake. Let them out for a run about for some exercise. This will also heighten senses. So beneficial in many ways.
By all means, feed wax worms and supers/morios etc. All in moderation. Like most things nutritionally, any one or 2 things constant, is never good.
Also, they are not dogs. Don’t feed an adult live food daily. Greens, yes. But live food, no.
- Reduce live food to once a day at about 6 months.
- Then 12-15 months can go to every other day.
- Or even every third day.
- Greens daily as always