Bearded Dragon Died and Came Back to Life – How is this possible?

Everything seemed normal with your bearded dragon pet when suddenly it stopped breathing and moving. Seeing your pet die is a terrifying and devastating experience. However, watching your bearded dragon come back to life can be more shocking.  

My bearded dragon died and came back to life – how? Well, if you went through the scare of having a dead, bearded dragon that miraculously came back to life, it probably was not even dead in the first place. Bearded dragons have the remarkable ability to hold their breath for 10 minutes. Plus, they are a brumating (reptile version of hibernating) species. 

In this article, we will explain the brumation process in bearded dragons. We will also explain why bearded dragons sometimes play dead, and finally, we will help you differentiate between a brumating, playing dead, and a really dead bearded dragon. 


DO BEARDED DRAGONS PLAY DEAD?

Yes, as weird as it may sound, bearded dragons can sometimes play dead. However, they do not play dead for the sake of fun – they pretend to be dead as a form of protection mechanism.

Namely, in the wild, bearded dragons often pretend to be dead when faced with an immediate threat. For example, if a predator is approaching, the bearded dragon will pretend to be dead to avoid catching the predator’s attention. 

The fact that bearded dragons can hold their breath for as much as 10 minutes is quite helpful when pretending to be dead. 

In captivity, there are no predators, but pet bearded dragons can still play dead if stressed. For example, some bearded dragons play dead when it is bath time, while others play dead when picked up by a stranger. 

Even in captive conditions, there can be many different stress triggers for bearded dragons. A bearded dragon that often plays dead is a red flag indicating the environment is too stressful. 

If your bearded dragon plays dead often, take a look at the bigger picture and try figuring out what makes your pet overly stressed. 

WHAT IS BRUMATION IN BEARDED DRAGONS?

Brumation in reptiles is the equivalent of hibernation in mammals. The phenomenon is not identical, but it follows the same concept and principles. 

From a scientific standpoint, brumation can be defined as a naturally occurring life cycle occurring when the essential resources for life are scarce (in the natural habitat, these would be the winter months).  

While in brumation, the bearded dragon will stop moving, eating, and defecating. However, unlike mammals in hibernation who are in a deep sleep state, bearded dragons in brumation can occasionally wake up to take few laps of water. Bearded dragons are picky when it comes to brumation spots – they usually like to be buried in the darkest and coolest parts of the enclosure. 

Pet bearded dragons do not face periods of scarce resources meaning they can go into brumation at any time of the year – usually as a response to the changes of ambient light and temperature. 

It is advisable to have your bearded dragon regularly checked by a vet. A thorough veterinary checkup is critical before your bearded dragon goes into brumation. Since this moment is hard to predict, practice at least two wellness checkups per year. 

Do all bearded dragons brumate?

In theory, all bearded dragons can go into brumation. However, juvenile bearded dragons less than one year of age do not brumate. Also, in captive settings, some bearded dragons may never go into brumation simply because there is no need for this behavior. 

Interestingly, although male and female bearded dragons generally go into brumation at the same time (in their natural wild habitat), males emerge from sleep earlier than females. 

How long does brumation last?

The length of the brumation period varies from as short as one week to as long as several months. There is no way of determining how long will a bearded dragon be in brumation. 

It is also impossible to predict how will the bearded dragon behave during brumation – while some bearded dragons take long naps and often wake up to drink, others will not leave their brumation spot until it is wake up time. 


IS MY BEARDED DRAGON DEAD OR HIBERNATING? – KNOW THE SIGNS

When considering something is dead, pet owners often rely on two things – stiffness and closed eyes. However, bearded dragons are not regular pets meaning these signs are not be as reliable as you might think. 

Namely, the lack of stiffness is not an indicator, but its presence is a sign of a dead, bearded dragon. What does this mean? Well, stiffness usually develops around six hours after death and lasts for about 24 to 48 hours. Therefore, if you check your bearded dragon before or after this timeframe, there will be no stiffness present.  

As for the eyes, bearded dragons can die with either open or closed eyes, depending on what they were doing at the moment of death. For example, if a bearded dragon dies while sleeping, its eyes will be closed, but if it dies while awake, its eyes might be open or slightly closed. 

Since these two signs are not reliable enough, let us take a look at the objective signs:

  • The mouth looks unnaturally loose or limp 
  • Unresponsiveness and lack of movement
  • Ceased breathing (this is hard to determine)
  • Unnatural discoloration 
  • Discharges from body openings. 

Sometimes these signs can be subtle and hard to notice. Therefore, pet owners seek a more practical approach. 

In those terms, there are few tests you can try. 

Flipping your bearded dragon

All you need to do is flip your bearded dragon on its back or place it lying in a side position. Generally speaking, a bearded dragon in brumation or playing dead will slowly try getting back on its feet and normal position. 

Offering strong-scented food

You can also offer your bearded dragon some tasty fruit chunk (like honeydew or apricot). Strong smell stimuli can wake up bearded dragons in brumation. However, it is not recommended to use this trick for waking up your bearded dragon for no reason. Remember, this is a test and should only be used if trying to determine your pet’s wellbeing. 

Stimulating the bearded dragon’s eyelids

To differentiate whether your bearded dragon is in a deep sleep state or dead, try touching its eyelids. If the bearded is alive, there will be slight blinking. However, the blinking is rarely accented, meaning you need to be extra observant. 

Considering the age and overall health

Finally, it would be best if you considered the bearded dragon’s age. A healthy bearded dragon is supposed to reach its average lifespan of 6 to 10 years. 

COMMON CAUSES OF DEATH IN BEARDED DRAGONS

There are several important and common diseases in bearded dragon pets. Here are some of the most common death-causing illnesses. 

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Metabolic Bone Disease develops due to low calcium and vitamin D intake or eating foods high in phosphorus which impair the normal calcium metabolism. The condition manifests with brittle bones and deformed bodies, and if left untreated, it can be deadly. 

Impaction

Impaction is a common cause of death in bearded dragons. It develops when the bearded dragon swallows a foreign object (sometimes a more significant substrate amount), and eventually, the foreign body blocks the gastrointestinal system. 

Infections

Bearded dragons are prone to various forms of infections – from mouth rot through pneumonia to joint inflammations. The most common cause of infections is poor hygiene within the enclosure. All infections are life-threatening unless promptly treated. 

Egg binding

Egg binding is the reptile equivalent of dystocia in mammals. It occurs when the female cannot lay the eggs, usually because of a lack of a good laying nest. Another reason will be if the eggs overgrow in size. 

Vitamin A toxicity

Bearded dragons are prone to vitamin toxicities, but vitamin A is the most common culprit. This is because lizards metabolize vitamin A slowly and if present in larger amounts, it accumulates, eventually reaching dangerous levels. To avoid this common cause of death, you should use beta-carotene instead of vitamin A. 


HOW DO YOU REVIVE A DEAD BEARDED DRAGON?

Reviving a truly dead bearded dragon is impossible. However, as already explained, if your bearded dragon is brumating or playing dead, it can be tricked into waking up. 

With that being said, we should note that waking up your bearded dragon from brumation or playing dead is not a good idea. Both mechanisms are ingrained habits and serve a purpose. 

If your bearded dragon has decided it is time to go into brumation or play dead, the best thing you can do is let nature take its course. 

CONCLUSION

Having a dead dragon that came back to life can be an unusual experience. However, once we look into the facts – the brumation phase and the dead playing mechanism things become more readily understandable. 

As a pet owner, especially if lacking experience in lizards knowing the difference between brumation, playing dead, and actually dying or dead can be challenging. 

If you have any doubts about your bearded dragon pet, do not hesitate to consult your trusted reptilian veterinarian.