Bearded dragons are such majestic reptiles especially when they puff up, but is this behavior normal? In what situations do bearded dragons puff up? As much as we enjoy seeing the glorious view of a puffed-up beardie, we need to look into it to know if something is bothering them.
Bearded dragons puff up for the following reasons: stress, excitement, gearing up for mealtime, getting comfortable, preparing to shed, attracting a mate, and being territorial. The puffing up of bearded dragons is usually a defensive mechanism.
Is there anything that you can do when your bearded dragon puffs up? In this article, we will discuss the reasons for this behavior as well as the times when you should worry. We have a lot to cover, so read on!
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Why Your Bearded Dragon Puffs Up
When you see your bearded dragon puffed up for the first time, you might panic as you may think that something is wrong with it.
No need to fret as this behavior is natural to them. Usually, they do this due to their fight-or-flight response. Have a look at the infographic below first. After that, we will explain everything in detail and tell you how you can help.
Now let’s have a look at the reasons in detail!
1. Bearded Dragon Is Stressed
A lot of things can stress your bearded dragon. It can be the things that it sees outside, new decor in the enclosure, or even your presence. As a result, your beardie will puff up as part of its defensive mechanism.
When they puff up due to stress or feeling threatened, it is also possible that their beards turn into a darker color.
This also happens when you just brought home a baby bearded dragon. Due to their age, practically everything is intimidating to them.
You will notice that when you first put them in their enclosure, they will puff up more than usual as they still have not adjusted to their new environment.
It is also possible for a bearded dragon to puff up during bath time. If the water level is too deep, they will puff up in an attempt to float.
A good gauge for the bath water level is to not let the water go up their shoulders. Anything above their shoulder level is already stressful for them.
What You Can Do
You do not want your bearded dragon to always be stressed as it can weaken its immune system. Also, it is not best to leave them feeling frightful towards you as later on, it can develop bad habits such as biting. Here are some tips:
- When dealing with a baby beardie, it is best to let it get used to your presence early on. Bond with them early to establish trust.
- Make sure that your bearded dragon is in an enclosure with proper setup and lighting. A properly set up enclosure will make your beardie feel safe.
- If your bearded dragon is suffering from chronic stress, try to cover a part of the enclosure with a cloth.
- Keep the enclosure in a quiet area and if possible, away from windows.
- Ensure that other pets or children cannot disturb the enclosure.
- Only bathe your bearded dragon when it is impacted, has a stuck shed, is dehydrated, or if it is extremely dirty.
- In addition to a proper bath water level, you can add a rock to the bath so that there is something that your bearded dragon can hold on to.
- Read our article “What do bearded dragons hate?” here.
2. Bearded Dragon Is Excited
Bearded dragons garnered the title “the dogs of reptiles” as they are known to show affection towards their owners. Although there are still no scientific studies to explain this, it is still happening in reality.
As you bond and gain the trust of your beardie, you will notice that when you approach its enclosure, it goes near the glass as if trying to reach you.
It can be excited due to your presence, or it is looking forward to eating or even excited to be let out of the tank.
When they are excited, they can also puff up. You will notice that this is a positive reaction as their beards do not darken. Meaning, they feel safe and are just waiting for the next thing to happen (i.e to be fed or handled)
3. Bearded Dragon Is Eating Or About To Eat
There are still no studies as to why bearded dragons puff up before they eat or while they are eating, but the number one theory is that they do this to make more room for food.
Some owners have tried to determine if it is a reaction to the actual food or an effect of being hungry. Both of which have inconsistent results.
Sometimes, even when the beardie is hungry, it still puffs up. The same goes for a well-fed beardie that may not puff up when offered food.
Another thing to note is that they can puff up when you give them live feeders. It is their wild instinct to appear scary as a predator hunting for its prey.
4. Bearded Dragon Wants To Be Comfortable
Have you seen a bearded dragon puff up while it is basking? Beardies do this so that they can get more comfortable while they bask. At the same time, while puffed up, they can also expel some air as they gape to avoid overheating.
You can read this article to know more about the gaping behavior of your bearded dragons.
They also tend to puff up while resting as doing so pops their ears. This releases the pressure in their ears, much like what humans do after a plane ride.
The same goes when they are in the process of digesting a meal. They puff up to release pressure from their abdomens.
Lastly, bearded dragons can also puff up while they are stretching. It is normal for bearded dragons to stretch, just like how cats and dogs stretch their bodies in the morning when they wake up.
5. Bearded Dragon Is About To Shed Or Shedding
In preparation for an impending shed, bearded dragons will puff up their beards in order to loosen the skin. This will make it easier for them to have a full shed. They can also puff up while in the process of shedding.
Some owners get worried when their beardies keep puffing up regularly come shedding time. There is no need to worry as some beardies do this in anticipation to have a good shed.
Just check for waxy and dull skin around their beards and on their head to confirm.
6. Bearded Dragon Is Attracting A Mate
Keep in mind both male and female bearded dragons puff up. However, male beardies tend to puff up more come mating season. When they do this, they are showing the females that they are dominant and as such, a fitting mate.
In response, female beardies may also puff up, bob their heads, or wave their arms. What if your beardie is puffing up when you do not have other beardies around?
It is good to note that male bearded dragons still exhibit mating behaviors even without the presence of female bearded dragons.
This is due to the shift in hormones when they come out of brumation which is like the mating season for them.
7. Bearded Dragon Is Being Territorial
Bearded dragons are by nature territorial, even if they are calm and docile reptiles. This is the reason why it is not recommended to house two bearded dragons in one enclosure, as issues will surely arise.
You may notice your bearded dragon puffing up when you first got it and it is still not used to you. They are simply protecting their space.
Owners who have tried hand-feeding beardies without bonding and handling training first get a lot of puff-ups, hisses, and even nips.
Your beardie is simply protecting its space. The same goes when you first introduce another beardie to your current beardie. They will puff up to look more intimidating to establish dominance over an area.
Tip: Is your bearded dragon’s mouth open all the time? Read this article to learn if that is a bad sign!
Should I Worry When My Bearded Dragon Puffs Up?
As far as we have discussed above, it is established that puffing up is normal behavior. On the other hand, you should still be on the lookout for other signs other than puffing up to see if your beardie has any issues.
- If you notice that your bearded dragon is puffing up while gaping, and continues breathing in and out, it can be a sign of overheating and/or dehydration. It is best to rehydrate your beardie first, before going to the vet.
- Take a closer look at your beardie and see if its belly is heaving in and out as it is struggling to breathe. Check for mucus around the eyes and nose. If this is the case, the puffing up is incidental to its attempt to breathe. It is possible that it is suffering from a respiratory infection. Immediately go to the vet.
Tip: Are you worried that your bearded dragon has something serious? This article will show you signs that a bearded dragon might be dying and what you should do.
For the most part, the puffing up of bearded dragons is normal behavior. It is still considered normal even though for some of the reasons we mentioned, it is part of their defensive mechanism.
Even so, it is best to deal with the defense mechanisms of your bearded dragons with regard to stress.
Consistent bonding and proper handling training are key to lessening the instances of puffing up due to stress, which in the long run will benefit you and your beardie.
Lastly, it is always best to keep a close eye on your beardies when puffing up becomes regular behavior. It is likely that the puff-up was brought about by other signs of illness or injury.