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Why Does My Bearded Dragon Puff Up? Vet-Reviewed Reptile Behaviour Explanation

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Bearded dragons are unique, robust reptiles, especially when they “puff up”. It looks cool, but sometimes this behavior can be a sign of stress, discomfort, or territoriality, as well as harmless reasons like simply being hungry or starting a shed.

Let’s explore the possible reasons that your bearded dragon may puff up and what you should do about it.

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Vet approved

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Reasons Why Bearded Dragons Puff Up

1. Stress

Reptiles are prone to stress, which can be devastating to their health 1. Stress has a negative impact on everything, including humans, but when reptiles are stressed, it can lead to serious illness if left unaddressed.

If your dragon is puffing up, they could be feeling stressed because they feel threatened, their environment has changed, or they’re seeing too much activity around their enclosure. For example, is your cat roaming and stalking your beardie?

Sometimes, a stressed dragon’s beard will get darker when they puff up. Baby bearded dragons are also more prone to stress and, therefore, more likely to puff a lot until they adjust to their new home. Occasional stress is unavoidable, but you don’t want a beardie that’s always showing signs of stress. You also don’t want a defensive dragon that’s more likely to bite when you handle them.

The first step is checking the enclosure to make sure the lighting, temperature, and humidity are correct. You should also make sure there are plenty of hiding spots in the enclosure to give your beardie some natural cover.

In addition, make sure your beardie is kept in a quiet, relaxing place in the house. If you suspect other pets or children are giving your beardie too much attention, try to keep them separated.

man holding bearded dragons hand
Image Credit: Emma Grimberg, Shutterstock

2. Excitement

Bearded dragons are among the most affectionate reptiles, which is part of why so many people enjoy keeping them. Most beardie owners will tell you that their pet has a strong bond with them and chooses them over other people.

When you bond with your beardie, you will notice signs that they’re excited to see you, much like the way a dog greets you when you come home. Your pet may come to the glass, paw at it, or jump around, looking forward to eating or being handled. They may also puff up, without darkening, to show that they’re excited about what’s happening.

3. Preparing to Eat

Some owners suggest that beardies puff up before eating to make more room for food, but it’s because your beardie is puffing up to look intimidating to their prey—especially if you feed live feeders. It’s not generally a cause for concern.

orange bearded dragon
Image Credit: Rangga A Firmansyah, Shutterstock

4. Shedding

Bearded dragons, like other reptiles, know when they’re about to shed their skin. Puffing up before this process helps to loosen the skin on the neck and body to help it slough off more easily.

Not every dragon will puff up before a shed. If you notice that yours does as they come into a shed consistently, it’s safe to assume that this is part of their individual process.

5. Mating

Male and female dragons can both puff up to attract a mate, though it’s more often the males that display this behavior. The male is displaying dominance and showing the female he’s interested, and the females may puff up to signal their receptivity. Females may also bob their heads or wave their arms.

Bearded dragons usually mate in the spring. They tend to mate right after brumation, which is a period similar to hibernation that occurs when the weather becomes cold.

bearded dragon in terrarium
Image Credit: Phuwadon Phichairat, Shutterstock

6. Territoriality

Bearded dragons can be territorial and don’t like to share their space, especially with beardies that are the same size or sex. These animals are direct sexual competition and invite a challenge.

All bearded dragons should have their own enclosure. While you may have two of the opposite that can coexist peacefully in a very large enclosure, this can lead to territoriality, competition for resources, stress, and other negative experiences. Two male beardies should NEVER share an enclosure, no matter how big it is.

7. Trying to Float

Beardies enjoy baths. A regular part of keeping bearded dragons is bathing them, which may happen because they’re impacted or because they have some stuck shed. If you overfill the bath basin and the water level is above the dragon’s shoulders, your pet may puff up reflexively to attempt to float. This is dangerous and something you should be mindful of. Their bath container should be shallow enough for them to comfortably swim in. The water level should be lower than their shoulders, and they should also have a rock in the container to rest on whenever they wish to do so.

Bathe a Bearded Dragon
Image Credit: Emily Frasier, Shutterstock

bearded dragon divider

Vet approved

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Final Thoughts: Decoding Bearded Dragon Behavior

Beardies can be just as quirky as other reptiles, including the occasional puff-up. Many of the reasons on this list are harmless and just part of your beardie’s personality, but if you notice other signs of concern like going off food, weight loss, unusual aggression, or puffing up and darkening, it could mean your beardie is stressed. You may need to modify their enclosure to prevent the occasional stressful episode from becoming a chronic issue.

Featured Image Credit: h1r0maty31official, Pixabay

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