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Bearded Dragon Fat Pads – What Are They? [Role & Importance]

What are bearded dragon fat pads? If you have a beardie, you must have heard of this term.

But what are these fat pads, and what do they mean for your reptile’s health?

That’s what I’ll delve into in this article.

So, let’s get started!

What Are Fat Pads on a Bearded Dragon?

Bearded dragon fat pads are integral parts of its body that store extra fat. They are usually flabby and can be in several parts of the dragon.

The pads act like fat stores for when the dragon will need it, often when hibernation. They are also an essential diagnostic part when examining a dragon’s health. (1)

The most common areas where you’ll find these fat pockets in beardies are the base of the tail, the abdomen, and in between the eyes. 

Let’s have a more in-depth look at the role and importance of fat pads in beardies.

Shay-Reiner-Oller-Bearded-Dragon
Credit: Shay Reiner Oller

Understanding Fat Pad Role and Importance

Did you know that bearded dragons hibernate? For these lizards, it’s specifically called brumation. (2) This is, however, not very common in captive lizards.

The fat in the fat pads comes in handy, especially during brumation. The stored fat acts as the food source until the beardies can look for food again. Fat pads are also useful when the dragon is spending time in the shade. 

Fat pads are part of the normal weight for bearded dragons. According to veterinary doctor Laurie Hess, the disappearance of fat between the eyes or tail in lizards signifies a concerning weight loss. (3)

What Should a Bearded Dragon’s Fat Pads Look Like?

Any healthy beardie should have visible fat pads but not excessively bulging ones. But what should they look like? First, you need to know that fat pads have different appearances depending on the beardie’s health.

Overweight reptiles have large squishy fat pads on the base of the tail, between the eyes, and on the belly. Some can have them behind their limbs as well.

Dr. Thomas H Boyer of the Pet Hospital of Penasquitos attributes the appearance of such large fat pads to regular overfeeding with no brumation at all. (4)

When you touch the fat pads on such dragons, you’ll feel them squish or move slightly. Take the example of the overweight dragon in this video.

The beardie is so fat it even has fat pads under its forelimbs! This kind of condition isn’t ideal for beardies who need to maintain healthy body fat levels.

In malnourished beardies, the fat pads will seem sunken in. They won’t be as large as is seen in a healthy bearded dragon. A malnourished dragon has little body fat across its body. Its fat pads may even appear free of any fat.

That could have you wondering, what does a healthy dragon look like? How will the fat pads appear in such a dragon?

A healthy lizard will typically have moderate-sized fat pads. That means you won’t see sunken or bearded dragon puffy eyes.

Although the pads will be visible, they won’t be bulging pieces of fat you see in an obese dragon.

Is Your Bearded Dragon Skinny? 4 Warning Signs

You already know how to tell whether your bearded dragon is overweight, but sunken fat pats, thin legs, and a flat stomach could be indicators your pet is underweight.

This brings up a question many bearded dragon owners might wonder, “how do I know if my bearded dragon is too skinny?”

While this could be difficult to tell, especially for someone new to dragons, there are some telltale signs you can’t miss. When I first bought my dragon, I couldn’t tell how healthy he was just by looking at him, but there were clear signs of health issues.

Here are some physical signs to watch out for when your dragon is too skinny:

1. Sunken Fat Pads

A healthy dragon should have a moderate fat content in the fat pads. That means its head should appear curved thanks to prominent fat pads.

But when you see sunken fat pads, you can immediately tell the dragon is too thin. Sunken fat pads will result in bearded dragon sunken eyes.

However, dehydrated bearded dragon eyes are also usually sunken, which could also be a sign your dragon isn’t getting enough water. 

2. Flat Stomach

The beardie’s belly is one place you’re likely to find fat pads. Therefore, you’ll expect it to have some fat in a healthy dragon.

But if you see a flat belly on your dragon, that could mean it is pretty skinny and far from its ideal weight.

3. Thin Legs

Thin or slender legs in a dragon also tell you it’s too skinny. Some dragons have fat pads on their legs, and you can expect most dragons to have somewhat large limbs.

When the legs become too small, then that means that your bearded dragon is probably underweight.

4. Visible Ribs and a Bony Tail

Fat in a healthy fat bearded dragon is often balanced from head to tail. So, you shouldn’t expect to see any bones showing anywhere in the dragon’s body.

A well-fleshed dragon won’t show visible ribs because that only happens for thin beardies.

A skinny pet reptile will also have a smaller tail than the rest of the body. If the beardie is healthy, its tail should be roughly the same width as the rest of the body (4).

The learn more about how to tell if your dragon is underweight, check out this video.

How Do I Fatten Up a Skinny Bearded Dragon?

A diet and management change is required to fatten up a skinny beardie.

While it’s not in your best interest to have a fat bearded dragon, it’s just as bad having a bearded dragon that is too skinny. 

A dragon with a healthy weight equals a happier owner. That’s why you need to fatten a thin dragon and put it on a consistent diet.

How do you do that, though? Here is how.

Understand Why It’s Skinny

The first step is to look for the likely reasons your dragon is underweight. It could be problems with nutrition, sickness, or poor living conditions.

You need to find the cause of the bearded dragon’s problem in order to fix it quickly.

Place The Beardie On a Proper Diet

Bearded dragon food is a common culprit in making bearded dragons underweight. Changing to a healthy diet that includes fatty food will help fatten your pet.

A high protein and fat diet will fatten your beardie naturally. Waxworms, spiders, earthworms, moths, mealworms, crickets, and grasshoppers are excellent protein sources that will help increase your beardie’s body weight. (5)

Of course, you need to ensure you balance out the feedings. Throw in some leafy greens, healthy plant flowers, and some fruits.

The fruits, too, should be given in moderation to ensure a healthy ratio of vegetables and other foods. (6) You will see your bearded dragon gain weight over time as you continue to feed it a healthy, balanced diet.

Improve the Beardies’ Living Conditions

Beardies have specific heat needs since they are cold-blooded animals.

Though temperatures of 90-105 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal, variations in these temperatures, according to the beardie’s needs, should help make the cage more habitable. (6)

Inconsistent temperatures and lighting in the cages could stress the reptiles and make them too skinny. Make sure to check if you have everything necessary to ensure the best living conditions for your bearded dragon. (7)

bearded dragon outside

What if My Bearded Dragon Refuses to Eat?

This is a question I often see in dragon forums. A loss of appetite can be caused by different things, from disease to stress. 

If lack of appetite is common for your dragon, you need to get it to a vet fast. Dragons aren’t necessarily choosy eaters, so when you see your pet refuse to eat, it could point to a deeper issue. (8)

When Should You Contact The Vet For A Skinny Beardie?

Contact a vet immediately if you see your reptile become bony or overly thin. It could be a serious underlying issue causing your beardie to lose weight.

Potential health concerns could also make your beardie struggle to gain weight. If you see that your beardie isn’t responding to a change in diet, then get it to a vet.

Vets specializing in exotic pets will help determine the issue to see if you can remedy the problem.

FAQs

What weight is too skinny for a bearded dragon?

beardie in a cage

A healthy dragon should weigh a minimum of 250-800 grams. Weights below that or way higher or below that are a health concern.

Why are my bearded dragon’s eyes bulging?

Many experts believe that when a bearded dragon’s eyes are building it is preparing to shed. This, alongside head bobbing and arm waving, is normal for a breaded dragon. It shouldn’t worry you.

Conclusion

I hope you now have a better idea of what bearded dragon fat pads are in your reptile and how they function.

If the fat pads on your bearded dragon are either very prominent or appear sunken, you should take a closer look at your dragon’s diet or take it to a vet to have it checked out.

closeup shot of an adult bearded dragon

Resources

  • 1. Perpiñán D, Addante K, Driskell E. Gastrointestinal Disturbances in a Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps). Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery [Internet]. 2010;20:54–7. Available from: https://meridian.allenpress.com/jhms/article/20/2-3/54/137048/Gastrointestinal-Disturbances-in-a-Bearded-Dragon
  • 2. Bearded Dragon brumation [Internet]. Exoticdirect. Available from: https://www.exoticdirect.co.uk/news/bearded-dragon-brumation
  • 3. Body Condition Score for Reptiles [Internet]. www.petmd.com. Available from: https://www.petmd.com/reptile/nutrition/body-condition-score-reptiles
  • 4. Pet Hospital of Penasquitos-Veterinary Specialist-Exotics [Internet]. www.pethospitalpq.com. Available from: https://www.pethospitalpq.com/
  • 5. Bearded Dragons Feeding | VCA Animal Hospitals [Internet]. vcahospitals.com. Available from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/bearded-dragons-feeding#:~:text=Appropriate%20animal%2Dbased%20protein%20sources
  • 6. Bearded Dragon Care [Internet]. www.pethospitalpq.com. Available from: https://www.pethospitalpq.com/bearded-dragon-care.pml
  • 7. RSPCA. Bearded dragon care including diet, set up and more | RSPCA [Internet]. Rspca.org.uk. 2017. Available from: https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/other/beardeddragon
  • 8. Schabacker S. Bearded Dragons [Internet]. National Geographic. 2019. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/bearded-dragon
Alina Hartley
Alina Hartley

Alina Hartley is a small-town girl with a ginormous love of bearded dragons. It all started with Winchester, a baby bearded who was abandoned at the shelter by his former owners because of a birth defect that caused one front leg to be shorter than the other. Alina originally went to the shelter looking for a guinea pig, but one look at Winchester and it was love at first sight. From that day on, Alina has dedicated her life to learning everything she can about bearded dragons. She loves helping new beardie parents start their incredible journey with these magnificent reptiles.
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