Bearded dragons are a popular exotic pet that is a particular favorite for beginner reptile owners looking to dip their toes into caring for a reptile.
Unlike more common pets such as dogs and cats, bearded dragons have some behaviors that amateur reptile owners might find odd or even concerning.
One of these behaviors is when bearded dragons eat their own skin!
If you aren’t familiar with bearded dragons, then it will probably come as quite a shock if you catch them doing this. After all, this is a pretty odd thing for them to do and something that you wouldn’t see with most other animals.
Even most other reptiles don’t do this – for example, when a snake sheds its skin, it will usually leave it alone. So why do bearded dragons eat their own skin, and is it something you need to be concerned about?
Don’t worry – we’ve got the answers to all your questions.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some reasons why bearded dragons eat their own skin, as well as cover whether this strange behavior is safe or if it’s something you should be worried about.
We’ve also included a small FAQ section to help answer any burning questions you might have about caring for your beardie while it’s shedding. So without further ado, let’s jump right into it!
Bearded Dragons And Shedding – What You Need To Know?
The first thing we need to cover is no – your bearded dragon hasn’t turned to self-cannibalization. Like many other reptiles, bearded dragons shed their skin from time to time.
When you see a bearded dragon eating its skin, this is actually part of its shed; the skin is coming off anyway as part of the shedding process, and your beardie is eating it as it is coming off.
This will happen as your bearded dragon grows, where the outer layer of skin is shed to reveal a new one that has been growing underneath.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Shed?
As mentioned above, bearded dragons shed their skins in order to grow new ones. This is because, like other reptiles, their skin isn’t capable of stretching.
A bearded dragon’s skin is made up of rough scales. These scales are made of keratin – a stiff material that doesn’t stretch.
As your beardie grows, it will eventually become too large for its skin. As a result, it will form a new layer to suit its size and shed the old outer layer when it becomes too large to fit comfortably.
Humans and other mammals will constantly be shedding our old skin cells and replacing them with new ones. Because this is a constant process happening on a microscopic scale, it’s impossible to tell that it is happening.
Meanwhile, reptiles like bearded dragons, snakes, and geckos will shed an entire layer of skin at once.
This will reveal a fresh and shiny new outer layer beneath the old one that will leave them much more comfortable.
While snakes are known for shedding their entire skin in one piece, beardies tend to shed their skin in flaking patches that they help remove with their claws and mouth.
Shedding is a completely normal process, and it’s nothing to worry about. If you see your bearded dragon removing and eating parts of their skin, that just means that it’s time for them to shed.
So Why Do Bearded Dragons Eat Their Own Skin?
Now that we’ve covered why a beardie will lose its skin let’s take a closer look at the reasons why it eats the skin that it removes. There are actually several reasons why it might be doing this.
Here is a breakdown of some different reasons why a beardie will eat its shed skin.
1) Extra Nutrients
One of the most common reasons why bearded dragons eat their skin is to take advantage of the many nutrients it contains. The skin is full of proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and even amino acids.
All of these things can make up a healthy diet for your bearded dragon.
By eating its own skin, your beardie can get all of these nutrients without having to rely on its regular food. The skin supplements its normal diet and helps to give it extra nutrition as it grows.
This isn’t just beneficial for the bearded dragon as it increases in size. However, the nutrients in its old skin are actually great for helping the new layer of skin stay strong and healthy.
Remember how a beardie’s scales are made of keratin? By recycling the keratin into their diet, they are able to make their new skin stronger and less likely to get damaged.
Bearded dragons aren’t the only reptiles that eat their own skin as it sheds. Geckos, iguanas, and chameleons all exhibit the same behavior during their shedding process!
2) To Hide The Skin From Predators
Another reason why bearded dragons may eat their own skin is to hide it from predators. When they shed, they do so in small pieces that they can easily swallow.
However, if they were to simply drop the whole thing, then predators would have no trouble finding it and using it to track the bearded dragon.
Instead, by swallowing smaller bits of skin, they are able to get rid of their skin so predators can’t find it.
While this is only really useful for a bearded dragon in the wild (pet beardies aren’t at risk of predators), their natural instincts can still make them do this when they shed.
This clever technique is hard-wired into your beardie’s brain, so even if they are being kept in a tank, they may still eat their own skin to keep themselves safe.
This isn’t normally something you should worry about, but if you notice your bearded dragon eating their shed skin, then you should keep an eye out for any signs of stress in your beardie.
While they aren’t at risk of being attacked by predators, there could still be something that makes them feel unsafe enough that they feel the need to hide their shed.
Try to remove any stressful stimuli that could be upsetting your beardie, such as loud noises, other pets, and harsh lights. Give them plenty of space while they shed, and don’t worry if they move into a hiding spot as they do it.
3) They Have A Calcium Deficiency
We’ve already covered that your beardie might want the extra nutrients in their skin and that is why they eat it as they are shedding.
However, this could be more of a warning sign if your bearded dragon isn’t getting all the nutrition that it needs.
Any beardie owner can attest to the fact that bearded dragons need a lot of calcium in their diet. If they aren’t getting enough, they could look to their shed skin as a solution to this.
A calcium deficiency can cause all sorts of health issues in bearded dragons, including metabolic bone disease, incomplete shedding, and lethargy.
If you think that your beardie might have a calcium deficiency, the first thing you should do is take it to the vet for a check-up.
You can make sure that your beardie is getting enough calcium in their diet by making sure they are eating plenty of calcium-rich foods. Luckily, most of a beardie’s favorite foods already contain high levels of calcium.
Leafy greens are packed full of beneficial nutrients, including calcium, as well as insects such as crickets and roaches.
Adult bearded dragons should have a diet with 20% insects and 80% vegetables, while younger beardies need 80% insects and 20% vegetables.
Make sure that you’re giving your beardie plenty of calcium-rich foods if you’re worried that they might have a calcium deficiency, especially if they are a juvenile going through the shedding process.
Do I Need To Be Worried?
If you see your bearded dragon eating its own skin, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are sick or injured.
In many cases, they will just be doing what comes naturally. As long as you don’t see any symptoms of illness or injury, then you shouldn’t worry too much.
Generally, the best thing to do for your bearded dragon when it is shedding is to just give it some space and privacy.
However, if you see your bearded dragon chewing on their tail or legs, you should definitely get them checked out by a veterinarian.
These behaviors are often associated with pain, which could indicate that your bearded dragon has some sort of medical issue.
You should also keep an eye out for signs of calcium deficiency; these include lethargy and trouble eating, muscle twitching in the limbs, and swelling around the face and mouth.
Generally, there’s nothing to worry about when your bearded dragon is eating its own skin.
It’s a completely natural process, and can even be beneficial for your beardie’s health due to the great nutrients their old skin contains.
As long as you’re aware of the warning signs if something is wrong, you don’t need to be concerned at all.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Do Bearded Dragons Shed Their Skin?
Bearded dragons will shed more frequently when they are younger, with fewer sheds as they mature and reach adulthood.
While the frequency of shedding decreases with age, it will normally take much longer for an adult bearded dragon to fully shed all its skin.
Young bearded dragons will shed every couple of weeks until they reach about 9-12 months of age. These sheds will only take a few days for younger beardies and hatchlings.
After this, the frequency of sheds will decrease but it will take longer to do.
Juvenile bearded dragons between the age of 12 and 18 months will only shed every couple of months, with sheds taking around a week.
This is because the bearded dragon is growing more slowly and doesn’t need to replace its skin as often.
Adult bearded dragons that don’t need to grow much more will only shed 2-3 times a year, with shedding taking up to two weeks to complete.
Do Bearded Dragons Like Eating Their Own Skin?
It’s hard to tell whether beardies eat their shed skin because they enjoy it or simply because it is hard-wired into their brains.
The more likely explanation is the latter, considering a lot of the time they won’t eat the whole skin (or any at all) and instead will leave large pieces of their old skin around their enclosure.
But while they don’t necessarily eat their skin because they enjoy it, there is nothing wrong with a bearded dragon eating their skin to reap the benefits it provides.
How Do I Help My Bearded Dragon If It’s Stuck Shedding?
Shedding isn’t always an easy process, and sometimes your bearded dragon can get stuck part way through removing the old layer of skin. If there are pieces that it is unable to remove, you can give it a hand by giving it a bath.
Fill a small bowl or basin with warm water and let your bearded dragon soak in it for no more than 15 minutes, making sure you supervise them the whole time.
Then, gently brush the stuck skin with a toothbrush to loosen it. You could also use shedding aids and oils, which are special products designed to help your beardie get rid of stubborn skin.
In general, there’s nothing to worry about if you catch your bearded dragon eating its own skin. This is a perfectly normal thing for them to do, and can even be good for them.
As long as you know the signs of any issues and keep an eye on your beardie as it sheds, you don’t need to be concerned at all.
Shedding is a natural process for bearded dragons, and there are several reasons why they will eat their old skin. Just do your best to keep your beardie happy and healthy, and you’ll be able to see them flourish as they grow!