Updated: November 14, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell
As a pet parent, you may sometimes forget to feed your lizard. Maybe you had a long day at work and fell asleep on the sofa the second you got home. Or maybe you got distracted with your partner and your (human) babies, so you forgot to refill your beardie’s food dish.
But how long can a bearded dragon go without eating? If your lizard has no access to food, they can survive 2 to 3 days. If they’re hydrated and healthy, they probably have a good amount of stored body fat, so they could go as long as a month without consuming anything, though this should be avoided at all costs as it is very stressful for the dragon.
On the other hand, if your bearded dragon is brumating, they’re not using much energy. So they could potentially live up to three months without eating while in brumation, assuming they stay asleep the whole time. However, even during brumation, bearded dragons sometimes wake up to eat, drink, or find a better spot to sleep.
The number of meals your beardie can skip depends on their age as well. Baby beardies can often eat 5 or more times in a day. Babies shouldn’t stay hungry longer than 6 hours or so during the day. Adult beardies, meanwhile, eat once or twice a day, as their metabolisms slow significantly as they age. Some beardie owners only feed their adult dragons three or four times a week on alternating days.
So what’s the best response to how long bearded dragons can go without food? It depends. Your dragon’s age, physical size, fat stores, metabolism, gender, health, morph, location, and diet all make a difference. Ideally, as long as your scale baby is hydrated, they can miss a few meals.
Overview: How Long Can Bearded Dragons Go without Food?
In a regular week, your pet bearded dragon can go without eating for two or three days max if they’re getting fresh water daily. However, if your scale baby is in brumation (and is therefore spending all their time asleep), they can live as long as two months without eating.
So, if you need an answer at a glance, this is generally how long beardies can go with water but no food:
- Baby beardies – 12 to 24 hours without food
- Pubescent beardies – one to two days without food
- Accidentally skipped adult meals – two to three days without food
- Traveling for work or staying with a pet-sitter – one week without food
- Stressed by household conditions or a new diet – three to four weeks without food
- Active brumation, asleep or awake – two to three months without food
These are the average times bearded dragons can last without eating. You don’t want to push your scale baby too far, so feed them the right foods at the right times with frequent misting and a bowl of fresh water always available!
What If You Forget to Feed Your Beardie?
You should be feeding your bearded dragon in sessions of around 5 to 10 minutes at most. Additionally, when your beardie is younger – at least for the first three months of life – you need to be present more often for more feeding sessions, as their metabolisms are much faster as babies.
But if you work outside the home, things could get tricky. You may miss the train or get stuck in traffic. Or you may be traveling for work or for the holidays. And due to the 10-minute feeding sessions, you can’t just toss food into the enclosure and leave it out afterward – it may decompose or encourage pests and parasites.
In such cases, adult bearded dragons will be fine for a few days at most if they have clean, fresh water. So consider using an automated water supply or a timed mister if you’re not going to be home for a while. That way, your scale baby stays hydrated until you feed them again.
What If Your Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat?
Now, what about the other extreme – you’re offering food, but your bearded baby won’t take it? It’s time to troubleshoot. Is the tank too hot or too cold? Overheating can harm the beardie. If it’s too cold, the beardie may instinctively start a winter response: less eating, more sleeping.
Try raising the tank temperature and lowering humidity. Change the bulbs in your heat lamp and UVB dome. If your beardie is brumating, don’t wake them, but confirm this is a willful winter lag rather than a health issue. If you’ve recently changed their diet, change it back.
You should also pay attention to how often they have bowel movements. If they’re not eating, they’re not pooping. You’ll soon notice if they haven’t pooped in a few days. If it’s been more than a week, they may need to see a vet, as impaction could be affecting their appetite.
You should also be sure your dragon isn’t having to compete for food in their enclosure. Cohabitated dragons can sometimes get along well, but more often than not they will fight over resources.
If there’s a beardie that is being bullied, they may get stressed and hide at mealtimes. Or maybe the food is all gone before they eat. If your dragon is dealing with hunger and stress, they probably won’t make it past a week. Try feeding them separately or put the dragons in separate tanks altogether.
Finally, stress can also affect your dragon’s appetite. Make sure your beardie’s enclosure is in a quiet, well-lit room away from any loud noises, young children, or other pets to prevent them from becoming stressed out.
How Often Do Bearded Dragons Need to Eat?
As you may know, bearded dragons grow fastest during their first year of life. In their first three months, they shed once or twice a week and grow an inch or more per month. To accommodate their growing bodies, they need to eat a lot, preferably protein from feeder insects. These are the ideal feeding schedules by age:
- Under 3 months – 5 meals a day
- 3 to 6 months – 3 or 4 meals a day
- 6 to 12 months – 3 meals a day
- 12 to 18 months – 2 meals a day
- 2 years and over – 1 meal a day
Bearded dragons are fast feeders, so if you let them eat as much as they want, you risk them becoming obese. You should time your feeding sessions and only feed your beardie for around 10 minutes at a time. If any uneaten food remains, take it out of the tank until their next meal.
This is especially important for plant matter, because it can rot and make your bearded dragon sick. Decomposing food can also invite parasites and harmful bacteria to your lizard’s habitat. Plus, if you have more than one dragon living in a single tank together, they might fight as they struggle for the leftovers.
Watch your bearded baby and notice their feeding patterns. These animals are individuals with their own quirks and personalities. You might notice your beardie baby prefers eating at certain times or has favorite foods. Similarly, they may have an above-average appetite.
This may mean your bearded dragon can go longer (or shorter) without food depending on their feeding preferences. That said, reptiles are cold-blooded. They need help maintaining body heat and UV rays to complete their dining duty. Their top trick for surviving winters is to nap through it by brumating and avoid food altogether.
How Often Do Bearded Dragons Eat During Brumation?
Bearded dragons come from Australia. The climate there is vast and varied, but in most places, the winter season runs from June to August. This is typically when they brumate in the wild, though in captivity it varies depending on where you live, as dragons can sense when the colder seasons are approaching.
So, while it’s easier for your beardie to sleep through the bad weather, brumation is not as intense or sustained as hibernation. Your lizard will wake up a few times, and when they do, they’ll usually eat and drink. As long as they’re in their winter sleep, they can go weeks without feeding.
In their natural Outback conditions, these bearded dragons forage for food and eat in small portions. In your home, beardies are not free feeders, so it’s easy to monitor and manage their food habits. Still, even if your scale baby isn’t eating while brumating, you should give them clean, fresh water every day.
Bad Food, Good Food, No Food
Like humans, bearded dragons have preferences for certain foods. They could go without food completely because they simply don’t like what you’re feeding them. You could offer them food, but they ignore it and walk away. Always avoid feeding expired, moldy, or otherwise dangerous foods.
Sometimes dragons will go hungry because they’re consuming food that’s not nourishing or appropriate for their diet. Spinach — for example — is healthy for humans. But in beardies, spinach and broccoli make it harder for your beardie to ingest calcium because of their poor calcium to phosphorus ratios and high amounts of oxalates.
If you’re regularly feeding your dragon nutritionally poor foods, they may end up with an upset stomach, which can be just as harmful as starving. Iceberg lettuce is another example of a food to avoid. It’s made of almost pure water and no protein, so your beardie won’t feel full after eating it.
Your next question might be: how long can beardies survive without good food? In the wild, everything they eat is organic. However, because of high predator volumes and no nutrient supplements, their lifespan is only around four or five years.
In your home, they can survive 10 to 15 years or more with a good diet. So, as you think about how long bearded dragons can go between feedings, make sure it’s the right kind of food. Diets high in sugary fruits, fatty worms, and empty calories can kill them just as surely as starvation.
Can You Force Bearded Dragons to Eat?
When your bearded dragon has hit their second week of their hunger strike (and they’re not brumating), you may get desperate. And yes, it’s possible to force-feed your dragon. But first, you need to know why they’re not eating. Check for any changes in their environment, and get them to a vet whenever possible.
Environmental changes could be a new household member, guests, a disturbance from a party, a new food brand, or even daylight savings time, as the shorter daylight hours could trigger a winter response in your lizard. If you’ve tried troubleshooting with no luck, talk to your vet about forced feeding and determining the cause of the issue.
It may seem natural to pry your beardie’s jaw open and push the food down like medicine, but you could hurt your baby. Let your vet show you how to use a syringe to feed them. Additionally, your beardie may get an IV and nutritional fluids. Try walking the beardie on a leash if they have enough energy to build their appetite.
You could also bribe them with ‘beardie junk food’ like sugary fruits or bottled insects that are easier to eat and digest. Don’t get them addicted to this fast food, though – it’s just to get them eating again. Be aware that if your beardie goes through a fasting period, they’re likely to overeat afterwards.
The Tail End of the Matter
Bearded dragons run really fast – up to 25 miles per hour. However, they usually stay around 9 to 10 mph, running on all fours. Additionally, when they’re stressed, adrenaline shoots them upright. Why is this important? Because the bulk of a bearded dragon’s weight sits in their tail.
Specifically, much of your dragon’s body fat is stored at the joint between their tail and body. And since a beardie’s tail accounts for half their length and body mass, that joint is their midpoint or their center of gravity. The girth of your bearded dragon’s tail affects its fasting ability.
Get into the habit of weighing your bearded baby. You can do this every week or so, or every time you give them a bath. Chart their growth against average growth charts to see how your baby is doing. If they’re overweight, it may help to cut down feeding times. Try feeding on alternate days.
Any excess weight will be visible around the tail and belly of your beardie. You may also notice their tummy jutting out and dragging along the ground when they walk, or their limbs may seem weighed down when they walk. You may spot them struggling to run because they can’t balance their bodies. They might have an unusual, unbalanced gait.
At the other extreme, your bearded dragon may be too slim. Maybe you had a hectic week and didn’t realize how many times you forgot to feed them. If your beardie seems underweight, up the feeding tempo and see if they gain weight. If not, plan to visit the vet.
If your bearded dragon is brumating, continue to mist the terrarium daily. Your beardie may then come out seeking hydration, and you can give them a little food. They probably won’t eat it, but don’t worry – a brumating beardie can live off their tail fat for up to two or three months.
But remember, if you do give your beardie a mid-brumation snack, they’re going to need help digesting it. So while the lights should stay off when your beardie isn’t eating, turn them on for a day or two so your beardie can absorb their food. Otherwise, they may get impacted.
Beardie Feeding Problems: Brumating or Sick?
Of course, you can tell whether your beardie is awake or asleep, but you might not be sure whether their appetite is normal. Remember, bearded dragons eat a lot less during their brumation cycles in the winter and tend to regain their appetite during the warmer months depending on where they live.
Bearded dragons should never brumate before they’re 9 months old. So, if your beardie baby is younger than that, barely eating or moving, and sleeping excessively, they need to see a vet.
Also, keep in mind beardies are primarily diurnal. During the day, they’re active and engaged, as long as it isn’t time for them to brumate. They’ll come out of their tank to play with and examine you and other family members. If your dragon is alert, active, and does not appear to be underweight, they are most likely fine even if they aren’t eating as much as you think they should.
Brumating dragons, on the other hand, may seem sluggish and laid back, and you won’t see them as much. They’re responding to their internal clock, which is telling them the weather is becoming colder. As a result, they will avoid basking under their bright lights and won’t be very active.
There are several key differences between a healthy brumating dragon and a sick dragon. A healthy brumating bearded dragon will hide more, sleep a lot, and mostly lie around while they’re awake. A sick bearded dragon may remain out in the open, but they won’t eat and may seem weak, even during the warmer seasons. Also, brumation only uses up 50 grams of tail fat at the maximum.
So if your beardie is slow, slim, and has lost 51 grams of weight or more during a three-month period, regardless of whether or not they’re brumating, they’ve gone too long without food and may need veterinary attention.
FAQs on Feeding Bearded Dragons
You now know how long bearded dragons can live without food and what to do if your dragon isn’t eating. Here are a few more questions you might have about bearded dragons and (inadvertent) intermittent fasting.
Why isn’t my bearded dragon eating?
If your beardie is 10 months or older, they could be in brumation. During their winter sleep, bearded dragons seem lethargic, eat less, and move less, even while they’re awake. So if it’s getting cooler outside and your scale baby is eating less and napping more during the day, that could be the reason for their loss of appetite.
But your beardie could also be unwell, so watch them for a few days. If they haven’t moved, eaten, or pooped in five days or more, take them to the vet for a check-up.
Should I wake my bearded dragon to eat if they’re brumating?
While your bearded dragon may not sleep for the entire three months of winter, they’ll seem lazy and sluggish, even while they’re awake. Thankfully, their bodies are designed for survival during brumation, so your scale baby knows when they need to eat.
Reptiles wake up quickly, even in the winter. They will use their hiding spots more often and avoid their basking area. Turn off the lights, lower the temperature a bit (but no lower than 75º F or so), and leave the tank undisturbed.
Which foods keep my bearded dragon fuller for longer?
Bearded dragons are omnivores, but they need more protein as babies and juveniles. Fatty foods may be more satisfying in general, but they get digested faster. So, for their plant content, give veggies that are heavy in fiber like dark, leafy greens such as collard or turnip greens, bell peppers, or zucchini.
For their protein intake, feed them insects like crickets or Dubia roaches. Worms like waxworms are fatty (and less crunchy), so offer less of those. Sugary fruits should be minimal – they’re the equivalent of lizard candy!
What if my bearded dragon doesn’t like their food?
You may worry that your beardie is rejecting their new menu, but bearded dragons aren’t fussy. They enjoy chasing live worms and crickets, and they like food with some crunch to it.
Most dragons will eat pretty much anything you give them. Always remove all food from their enclosure 15 minutes after any feeding sessions and avoid contamination. If your beardie isn’t eating, it’s probably not because they’re picky. It’s more likely because they’re unwell or brumating.
My bearded dragon hasn’t moved in weeks! Did they starve to death?
Before brumation, your bearded dragon will binge. All that food will sustain them during their sleep. Also, beardies often turn a few shades paler when they sleep, so your scale baby may look frighteningly ‘washed out’ during brumation.
If you’re really worried, check to see if your beardie is breathing. Raise the tank temperature to summer levels and see if they move. In the wild, lizards will wake up if their body temperature rises. If your beardie still isn’t moving, lift them out of the tank and try turning them on their back for a moment to see if they flip themselves back over.
The Bottomline: Beardies Are Toughies
Once they reach adulthood, beardies can survive weeks without food, as long as they have access to water. But remember, that doesn’t give you license to neglect feeding them. Keep your beardie happy and healthy by feeding them good nutritious food at least every other day.