Maybe you just got a bearded dragon and it is behaving aggressively, or maybe you already had a calm and friendly bearded dragon but it has suddenly become aggressive. In either case, it is not surprising that you are worried, and you should be! Why would a bearded dragon become aggressive? What could have happened?
Bearded dragons can become aggressive for many reasons including feeling threatened, improper or new enclosure settings, poor handling or diet, sickness, unwelcomed cage mates, shedding, brumation, mating, or pregnancy, and even when they have suffered prior abuse or neglect.
If your bearded dragon has been aggressive right from the beginning, or if your beardie became aggressive suddenly, keep reading! We will explain every reason for aggression in beardies thoroughly and tell you what to do and what to avoid.
Table of Contents
Why Your Bearded Dragon Is Aggressive
Bearded dragons are not aggressive by nature. They are cherished as pets because they are known for being docile and friendly with humans.
However, they can indeed get aggressive under certain circumstances. Let us take a look at the possible reasons why your beardie is having this behavior:
1. Your Beardie Feels Threatened
Bearded dragons can display aggressive behavior when they feel threatened by you or by anything around them.
Your beardie can get scared for many reasons, from sudden movements, to loud noises, and even when they perceive a new scent in the environment which they don’t particularly like.
They can also get scared if you approach them from behind or from where they can’t clearly see you.
Bearded dragons have something called the “third eye” or parietal eye, which is a small dot located on top of their heads and between their eyes. This eye is not a regular one and does not allow them to see.
Instead, the parietal eye is believed to have several functions, including sensing changes in light and dark.
Therefore, if you put your hand over your beardie’s head, you will cast a shadow that will make them believe that a possible predator is approaching them from above.
Of course, this will frighten your pet, and they will show signs of aggression and even may accidentally end up biting you.
2. Improper Handling
Although bearded dragons like -or at least tolerate- being petted, when you or any other person holds your beardie, you need to be careful and do it properly.
You can’t just pick up a reptile from its enclosure. You must learn to recognize the signs that will let you know if your beardie wants to be petted.
Furthermore, if your beardie is hiding or showing signs of aggression, or if it is sleeping, eating, or hunting, then it might not be the best time for you to try to interact with it.
Once you decide it is indeed a good time to pet your bearded dragon, then you should slowly approach it from the front, never from the back or above its head.
Then, gently stroke your beardie’s head and slide one of your hands underneath its belly and limbs until you are fully supporting its weight to lift them from the enclosure.
You can pet your bearded dragon by gently rubbing, stroking, or scratching its head while slowly working your way down to its tail.
If at any time, your beardie feels you are not supporting its whole weight, it may feel unsafe and start wiggling out of your hands and getting aggressive toward you.
Beardies can also get uneasy and aggressive if they get tired of you petting them for too long.
If you want to know everything about how and when to pet your bearded dragon, you can read our other article here.
3. New Environment
A new and unknown environment can be scary for your bearded dragon and make it feel stressed and uneasy.
It does not matter if you recently relocated your pet to a completely new enclosure, if you only changed one or two things inside its old enclosure, or even if all you did was just move the tank to another room.
In any of these cases, your beardie will feel like its whole world changed.
So, even though you feel the change was minor, if your beardie starts showing signs of stress or aggression, it is best to avoid handling it too much for the first few days after the change, so it can get used to its new environment.
Allow your pet enough time to get to know its surroundings (this can take one or two weeks) and do not make any new changes for at least 2 to 3 months at a time.
4. Inadequate Enclosure
In the book “Handbook of Exotic Pet Medicine”, Marie Kubiak suggested that a single or pair of adult bearded dragons should live in an enclosure that measures a minimum of 72 x 18 inches (183 x 46 cm) with a height of at least 24 inches (61 cm).
However, the bigger the enclosure, the better for your beardie. A smaller habitat may stress your pet because it won’t have enough space to move, hide, sleep, and eat, which will result in aggressive behavior.
Furthermore, the temperature gradient may not be ideal in a small enclosure, which will cause even more stress for your pet.
Even if the enclosure is the right size, other husbandry factors may influence your pet getting stressed, including improper temperature or humidity settings, wrong lighting, not enough hiding sites, lack of basking area, etc.
So, the bottom line is you should always provide a safe and adequate tank that is the right size for your pet, and make sure all husbandry conditions are properly met.
This will keep your pet happy and healthy, decreasing the chances of it becoming stressed and aggressive.
5. Poor Diet
When bearded dragons do not get properly fed, they can become hangry, just like humans. They can even accidentally bite you because they are too eager to eat and can sometimes mistake your fingers for worms.
This is especially true when you have a young beardie as they require more calories and nutrients due to their increased metabolism rate. So, make sure your beardie gets a balanced diet according to its age.
In general terms, babies and juveniles should be fed appropriate-sized insects 2 to 3 times per day, and chopped vegetables every other day; while, adults, should be fed once every 1 to 2 days and their diet should be comprised of mostly veggies or leafy greens, and fewer insects.
Malnourishment or obesity can happen in bearded dragons when they eat an unbalanced diet or their feeding schedule is wrong. This will lead to other health issues that can make your beardie behave aggressively.
So, always make sure to allow your bearded dragon to eat as much as it wants during a period of 20 minutes, after that time has passed, remove any remaining insects or greens from the enclosure.
Also, limit the portions of fatty insects you offer to your adult beardie.
Your beardie may get aggressive the days before, during, and after shedding because it feels uncomfortable, so it might not be as open to being handled and petted as usual.
If your bearded dragon is aggressive and you notice it is shedding, you can help it out by misting it and/or giving it some soaks to loosen up its skin.
Since shedding happens somewhat frequently in beardies, it is very important that you learn how to take good care of your pet during this process.
Brumation is a common occurrence in cold-blooded reptiles such as bearded dragons. It happens when the colder months approach and is the equivalent of hibernation for warm-blooded animals.
During the weeks preceding brumation, your pet will become less active, will start spending more time hiding, will sleep more, and will not eat as usual.
Unfortunately, this also means your pet can become aggressive and won’t like being handled as much.
The good news is that brumation is normal and you can expect it to start happening when your pet is around 12 to 18 months old.
During this time, your best option is to let nature take its course and give some alone time to your beardie until they decide to emerge outside again.
When bearded dragons are ready to start mating they can begin showing signs of aggression, especially males. However, this is not a common occurrence.
Mating-related aggression may last a couple of weeks and happens more frequently at the beginning of spring or just after bearded dragons have come out from brumation.
In females, this behavior may start as early as six to eight months of age. While, in males, it can appear closer to their first year of age, but sometimes it can start much later when they are around four years old.
Only keep a female and male beardie together if you want them to breed, otherwise, it is better to keep them separate.
Make sure to never let two male bearded dragons stay close to each other or even see each other. These reptiles are very territorial animals and won’t allow another male near their territory.
This one should be very easy to figure out if you had your beardie for some time and have bred her recently.
However, it might not be so easy if you got your female bearded dragon very recently. So, how can you know if your beardie is showing signs of aggression because she is pregnant?
Your pet will start showing some signs that will let you know she is expecting:
- She will run away when you try to pick her up
- If you manage to pick her up, she will wiggle out of your hands
- Her appetite will increase
- She will start to pace back and forth in the enclosure
- She will start digging and looking for a place to lay her eggs.
If you notice this behavior, congrats! You are about to have little baby beardies everywhere.
Just avoid holding or touching your beardie until she has finished laying all her eggs.
10. Your Beardie Is Sick
Unfortunately, this is a common reason for bearded dragons to become aggressive and not want to be touched.
If your beardie is hurting or is not feeling well, you can notice it because its behavior is going to change and some other signs of illness may appear.
Of course, you need to get to know your pet’s normal behavior and schedule so you can notice any change right away and address it as soon as possible.
You need to pay attention to your beardie’s physical appearance, hydration status, and feeding routine, as well as be on the lookout for any sudden changes in its weight or bowel movements.
Common signs of illness may include lack of energy, decreased appetite, having a black beard, head-bobbing, walking difficulties, diarrhea, arm waving, sneezing, deformed or bent limbs, and/or excessive mouth gaping, among others.
If you suspect your pet may be sick, do not waste time and take it to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.
11. Unwelcomed Roommates
As we mentioned before, bearded dragons are solitary creatures who don’t like being around other pets.
Housing two or more bearded dragons together is a recipe for disaster if you are not a seasoned reptile owner, and even if you are, constant monitoring is necessary to avoid ending up with a stressed and sick beardie.
As a general rule, breeding should be the only time when you allow a male and female beardie to stay together in the same enclosure for a while, and even then, the female may become stressed by the presence of the male.
Never allow two males to be near each other, not even to look at each other. When housing two males together, they will inevitably fight and both of them will get injured, one more gravely than the other.
If you have more than one beardie, make sure to keep them separate and in their own enclosures, and place them far enough that they can even be able to look at each other.
You will even need to wash your hands after touching one beardie and before touching the other. If one of them smells the scent of the other beardie in your hands or clothes, it might become aggressive towards you.
Furthermore, beardies are so territorial that they may even get stressed if they are able to see their own reflection. This is why having reflective surfaces or a glass enclosure is highly discouraged.
The same applies when they are able to see other pets around the enclosure, for instance, a cat or a dog.
Bearded dragons will see the other animal as a potential threat and therefore they will stay in a constant state of alertness and defensiveness.
Finally, your beardie may also be bothered if you leave feeder insects in the tank for too long after a feeding.
Make sure to remove any remaining insects from the enclosure approximately 20 minutes after feeding time is over.
12. Prior Abuse Or Neglect
If you got your bearded dragon from a shady breeder, or if your pet is a rescue, then one of the reasons why it might be aggressive towards you is because it was previously abused or neglected.
When these reptiles suffer from abuse or neglect, they expect all humans to treat them the same way. So, it should not come as a surprise that they don’t enjoy having a human near them.
One of the tell-tale signs of this is when your beardie has any tail nip or toe nip where a section of these areas is missing due to a wound.
So, if you suspect your bearded dragon was abused or neglected before coming into your life, then you need to understand that patience is key in these cases. You can’t expect your beardie to overcome its fear and aggressiveness overnight.
Be very kind and gentle with your pet, but most importantly, take it slow. Don’t attempt to pet it if it doesn’t want to be touched. Just being near the enclosure will be enough for it to get used to your presence.
Give your beardie as many treats as you can (without overfeeding it) and respect its boundaries. You will notice that it will slowly become more trustful towards you and eventually to other humans.
How To Stop Aggressive Behaviors In Bearded Dragons
The first thing to remember is that no matter the cause, when your bearded dragon is being aggressive toward you, it does not mean it hates you. So, do not take it personally.
Just like humans, beardies can also have good days and bad days.
So, once we have established that, the first thing you need to do when your pet is getting aggressive is to leave it alone for a couple of hours and see if that helps to calm it down.
In the meantime, you can start looking out for possible causes of this behavior.
Are you just getting to know your beardie for the first time? If this is the case, then it might just be scared of you or stressed out by the change in environment.
It may feel overwhelmed by everything and just need some time to adjust. It may also be possible that your pet suffered from prior abuse or neglect.
On the other side, if you have had your beardie for a long time and it is just starting to become aggressive, then you need to rule out all the possible reasons listed above that could have triggered this change in behavior.
Maybe you just changed something in the enclosure, or maybe the temperature or humidity settings are not adequate. Perhaps your beardie is about to shed or go into brumation?
Rule out any possible causes and check all husbandry conditions are proper and there are no stressors in the environment.
Once you do that, give your beardie a few days to see if it calms down and gets back to being its normal self.
During this time, keep an eye on your pet to see if it starts showing any signs of illness. If this is the case, then take it to a reptile vet as soon as possible.
Once you have ruled out all factors that might have caused your beardie to become aggressive, and after giving it a couple of days of alone time, you can start approaching the enclosure and start putting your hand inside the tank for a few minutes at a time.
See if your beardie allows you to start gently scratching its head. Do not attempt to lift it up from the tank just yet.
Instead, offer your pet some yummy treats and keep scratching its head and back until you notice it is no longer displaying aggressive behaviors towards you.
Now it is time for you to attempt to slowly pick up and pet your bearded dragon. Keep in mind that you need to provide a quiet and calm environment for your pet and to avoid making any sudden movements.
With lots of time, patience, affection, and treats, your bearded dragon will come to realize that you mean no harm and will get comfortable and docile around you.
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