People who have recently welcomed bearded dragons to their families usually wonder if they are caring for their pets correctly because they hardly, if ever, give tangible feedback. It’s trickier to find out what pet dragons feel because, unlike more expressive pets like cats and dogs, they can’t (or maybe WON’T) convey their agreement, pain, or displeasure in terms humans understand.
To know if your bearded dragon is happy, you want to make sure it is active, responds to stimuli, and interacts with you. One major indication of happiness is if it lets you hold it and pet it, as this means it trusts you. There are a lot of other signs as well, which we’ll cover below.
I went to vets and pet store managers, as well as bearded dragon experts, enthusiasts, owners, and breeders to learn all I could about bearded dragon happiness. Read on to find out what I discovered.
If your bearded dragon is constantly playing with its toys, it’s probably pretty happy.
The key is in choosing the right toy for your beardie.
Many dragon parents attest that bearded dragons love fuzzy blankets. The proof lies in the way they interact with or use them. Males will try to mate with them. Both genders will burrow into them, sleep soundly while wrapped in them, and even defecate on them. These actions show they appreciate the material.
Toys originally meant for hamsters and gerbils can also be given to bearded dragons. These include plastic balls, wheels, and obstacle relays.
Dragons, like most pets, are easier to suss out when it comes to food. If they come out of their shelters scampering after the yummy insects you set free in their tanks, you know immediately that they’re appreciative. An empty food container after lunch or dinner is a sure indication your dragon is at least satisfied in the hunger department.
Placing a bearded dragon in water with the right temperature will tell you if it is contented with its existence. Keeping in mind that (though abundant water isn’t part of their natural habitat) dragons are competent swimmers, watch how yours behaves in water.
If it normally likes swimming but suddenly flounders in the water—or wades very slowly through it, or worse, doesn’t move at all and allows its body to sink—then you know something is wrong. If it enjoys bath time and even lingers afterward, it’s happy in its current environment.
It’s easy to know if your pet trusts you:
- It slithers toward you when you approach its tank.
- It will crawl up on your arm when you put your hand under its chin.
- It lets you pick it up and stroke it.
- If you put it on your chest, it will stay there or go to sleep.
In the wild, sleeping while in proximity to another living creature (unrelated to the sleeper) means ultimate vulnerability to danger and is an absolute no-no. So a dragon’s falling asleep on your chest is a testament to your trustworthiness. Trust means contentment, which translates to happiness.
When you’re around, a happy dragon will dance or shuffle about while in the tank. This means, “Here I am!” If it props itself up on three legs and slowly waves its arm (front leg) at you in a counterclockwise motion, it’s acknowledging that you’re the dominant animal, and it’s relinquishing its power over to you.
If it likes the rest of your family, it will go toward the vivarium window when they’re nearby. If it hates them, its head will make a weird nodding motion aimed at them.
A bearded dragon bobbing its head at a human being or a fellow dragon conveys aggression: “This is my kingdom. Buzz off!” This is either slow up-and-down motion or a fast bob with a stop in it.
Most bearded dragons don’t mind being petted by people they trust. They like being stroked on the head and the length of the back. Bearded dragon enthusiasts and experts are unanimous on this one. But the following information is up for contention.
One owner, a Youtuber by the name of Zaxtor99, claimed his pet dragon liked being stroked around the ears and edges of the mouth. He demonstrated this on video. The dragon closed its eyes while its owner stroked these parts, but opened its eyes when its back and head were being stroked.
Many owners take the shutting of their dragons’ eyes as a conveyance of pleasure. Even the more knowledgeable of the YouTuber bearded dragon owners, Lizard Guru, agreed with Zaxtor99 in the eye-closing-means-happy theory. She bases this on the fact that her dragons close their eyes while being massaged.
Pierre, the resident expert on Bearded Dragon Tank, an online resource on bearded dragons, disagrees with these pet parents. He claims bearded dragons express discomfort by closing their eyes. This action, directed at fellow dragons or humans, shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign of contentment, much less, comfort.
Bearded dragons close their eyes when petted because they’re uncomfortable or feel threatened. They want the stroker to stop because it’s scared or wants to be left alone. If your dragon does not close its eyes while being held or petted, then it accepts the gesture. One may then surmise that it’s happy with the extra attention.
Eye closing may also mean the dragon has an eye infection or has something in its eyes.
On a side note, vets say pet massages have the added benefit of helping with bonding and mobility. It also promotes circulation, as strokes and kneading increase the flow of oxygen in the blood—especially useful for lazy beardies. Suffice it to say, a dragon with good circulation is a happy dragon… or at least, one with a healthy heart.
If you let your dragon frolic in the sun and it explores merrily away, you know it’s excited to be out and about. Regulate its active time so it won’t get tired. Then observe it when you return it indoors. Unless it’s exhausted, it will show the same level of enthusiasm as it had outdoors.
See if your beardie notices changes in its tank/playpen. Does it react when you introduce something new in it? If it does, then it’s in good shape. If it doesn’t respond, you should be concerned. Have a vet check it out.
Bearded dragons have a tendency to react to bright colors. Observe its behavior in front of a TV showing a colorful cartoon program. If your dragon ignores the visual treat and noise disturbance, it isn’t joyful. If its eyes follow the characters’ movements, it has healthy motor coordination.
Bearded dragons have been ecologically trained to be attuned to predators and other threats. This is essential for their survival. This finely honed skill, which has stayed with the modern-day beardie, shows mainly in its eyes, which should be clear and alert. Listless eyes may mean your pet is sick or lethargic.
Check the eyes for mucus, pus, or foreign particles. Use a damp cotton swab to clean the area around the eyes as a temporary measure. Bloodshot eyes are more of a concern. Both conditions merit an immediate visit to the vet.
Dragons love climbing, exploring, hiding, and digging. If you provide tools that encourage movement and exploration, and your dragon uses these regularly, you know it appreciates these accessories. They may be in the form of caves, tunnels, ladders, huts, sticks, mini trees, hills, walls, rocks, and movable toys.
Dragons like basking in the sun. Indoors, they usually lounge near the heat lamp. If your dragon suddenly withdraws from your company or won’t come out for its normal dose of Vitamin D (or artificial heat), you have to investigate.
If your dragon doesn’t appear to move or lies under the heat lamp all day, your pet may be cold. The temperature of the heating lamps may be wrong. Always have a temp gun handy because it’s the most accurate way to gauge temperature. The optimal temperature for the basking spot is 100 to 110°F (38 to 43°C). A warm dragon is a happy dragon.
If the temperature is correct and there’s still no movement, your pet may either be sick or have brumation laziness*. Get a fecal test and a general health exam to find out what’s wrong.
All bearded dragon parents want their children happy and fit. We hope that the pointers above will help in sussing out your dragon. Here’s wishing you and your pet a mutually beneficial coexistence based on trust, health, wellness, and a joyful disposition.
* Brumation is a type of hibernation that wild bearded dragons go into when it gets colder and food dwindles. While in this state, dragons usually don’t eat or move for a long time. Not all bearded dragons will bromate, especially those in captivity. —from Dragonland Reptiles
- Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences: Reptile Emotions
- Herp Fun: Don’t Feed Mealworms To Dragons!
- Howcast: 7 Cool Facts About Bearded Dragons
- Bearded Dragon Tank: Can Bearded Dragons Swim? What You Should Know
- Bearded Dragon Tank: Bearded Dragon Behavior List—11 Things You Must Know
- Bearded Dragon Tank: Are Bearded Dragons A Lot of Work?
- Bearded Dragon Tank: 5-Step Bearded Dragon Starter Guide
- Bearded Dragon Tank: Where Do Bearded Dragons Like To Be Pet?
- Bearded Dragon Tank: Why Do Bearded Dragons Close Their Eyes? The Real Reason!
- Lizard Guru: What Your Beardie is Trying to Tell You
- Jungle Bob’s Reptile World: Bearded Dragon Care Sheet
- Dragonland Reptiles: Bearded Dragon Care Sheet
- Hades Dragons: Care Sheet
- Zaxtor99: How Do You Know If Your Bearded Dragon Is Happy?
- Pets on Mom: Pros & Cons of Owning a Bearded Dragon