Brumation – What Is It And Why Does It Suck?

Think of brumation as a form of hibernation for lizards during a cold season.   This is an excruciatingly worrisome time for the parents of lizards!

Why? …

Well, as you read what happens below, think of the love you have for your pet – perhaps it’s your sweet & snobby cat, loyal dog, or smart bird. …

This may help better understand how scary what I’m about to tell you can be!

So, the weather is cooling, your darling begins to act “blah” (an appropriate &  descriptive term). 

Then, it gets very cold outside and often more chilly within the home.   All of a sudden, your pet won’t move, never wants to awaken, & stops eating & pooing!! 

At times, lizards will experience this dreaded brumation whether or not their cage temperature remains as the settings have always been.

So, sometimes this occurs even if your pet is as warm or nearly as warm as it ever was.  That said, what’s happening to your lizard & why?

Is he or she dying?

Maybe. 

Probably, they’ll be sleepy and behave this way for a couple of months and be okay. But, sometimes, they don’t make it out of this episode alive, and what are you supposed to do?

Murph: “I am feeling blah.”

Take a look at what brumation is here:

https://www.petinsurance.com/healthzone/ownership-adoption/pet-ownership/pet-behavior/reptile-brumation/#:~:text=In%20a%20nutshell%2C%20brumation%20is,changes%20again%20for%20spring%20time.

Now, here’s where things get even more messed up ….

° Occasionally or even often, lizards in captivity don’t experience this at all.

° Most, if not all, do not brumate their first year of life, but will later – every year,   or only some of them.    Which years … we won’t know until then!!!

° Sometimes, our lizards will only experience a noticeable lack of energy, appetite, & pooing frequency (this has been Murph’s category).

During this time, all that stuff doesn’t make much sense to us, we miss our scaly sweetie’s consciousness & personalities. We know they love us also & we worry won’t hug them again come the spring.

Do you have friends/family who will sit in silence in the sun’s heat with you and experience the warmth, breezes, birds’s songs, and calmness of the moment with no sense of obligation for conversation??  That is but one gift a lizard bestows upon their human Mom or Dad or siblings or grandparents!

We can’t lose that special being. So, what can you do to prepare yourself & your lizard for brumation?   

We can only do so much for peace of mind during this experience so alien to us.     

For starters, before your lizard becomes too lethargic, you can schedule a visit with an exotic animal vet to be certain your lizard is in the best of health to withstand this seasonal episode – meaning no parasites, not already dehydrated, no existing concerns, & so on. As soon as you notice a behavioral change, collect the next fecal sample. Much can be detected after a fresh poo is tested, such as parasites, blood, irregular amounts of bacteria or mucous, and the consistency is considered. yuck, I know.

Collect the little poo preferably by scooping it into a ziplock baggie & see to it you can drop it off for testing as soon as possible, with a telephone call. Keep poo at room temperature.

A way to do this is to keep a designated poo spoon or scooping mechanism. Sterilize w/ bleach or rubbing alcohol after the scoopage has been performed to reuse later or keep a disposable supply. Wash hands afterwards, of course, & place bag (or whatever you have) away from kids & pets. Keep the scooper with your lizard’s belongings : )

Never foresaw yourself owning a poo spoon, did ya?!

I use to keep old pill bottles with lids for stool samples. However, upon speaking with a tech, she informed me they actually prefer the collection be in a plastic ‘zip lock’ baggie & for accurate results, they need the poo within 4 hours.

Call your local exotic animal vet to see to it they are capable of performing the test when you may offer it. Often, you can simply drop it off along with the means of paying for testing & they’ll call you with information & maybe a suggestion for an appointment. If they cannot test it that day, try another vet or wait hopefully, that you get another chance & another poo soon.

If the blah-ness is extreme, such that your lizard won’t eat or poo, make a small amount of smoothie in a blender. Make the smoothie with a variety you know your lizard should eat (no avocados, onions, or citrus). No, you do not have to grind live food in your blender. you can add freeze-dried crickets, but I think vitamins & minerals take priority here. Add to the smoothie their calcium powder (w/ d3) & multivitamin.

I suggest Fluker’s Reptile Vitamin with Beta Carotene because it doesn’t contain mysterious “filler” ingredients & beta carotene is better assimilated than vitamin A).

When you offer numerous drops of a  smoothie via syringe (the type used to administer liquid medicine – not the needle type : ), your lizard will often begin to lick if they become alert enough inside to realize IF they are dehydrated or hungry.

*Note: A person can expect a healthy lizard to eat 1 – 3 dishes of a variety of vegetables & fruits daily (unless they’re stubborn & will only eat if hand-fed). Poo expectancy is once daily – 2 or 3 days.

Often a pharmacy will give a couple of syringes free of charge. You can even tell them you need to hand-feed an animal & could they kindly assist by finding a large sized one. You could offer a small amount of $ to them, but they have never accepted it.

Upon receiving or purchasing a syringe, if the smoothie does not ooze through when you push the other end, you either need a wider tip or you need to liquify the smoothie a bit more. Freeze the remainder in glass containers with lids, thaw portions as needed. Do not feed more than 1 syringe full per week (or two or three, if no poo). This doesn’t seem right, I know.   But, you do not want food rotting in the gut especially if no poo is happening. Remember, they may not be digesting anything!! Clean the face & chin of smoothie drippage.

Do not add foods high in oxalates to this smoothie. In a search bar or reference books, you may easily find foods high in oxalates TO NOT GIVE to Beardies. The problem is oxalates bind to clacium within the body & prevents proper assimilation of the calcium, thus aiding in metabolic bone disease even if their heat, lighting, & diet is otherwise ideal.

Spinach, for example, is so healthy, but is too high in oxalates, offer small amounts only rarely. Other foods often liked, as Iceberg lettuce, does not offer needed nutrition, so a little research & notes for yourself & others goes a long way. Some foods lessen in oxalates after boiling. Some foods may be blanched, drained, & frozen for a time to offer to lizards at a later time. This saves money or food supply later. They don’t like the taste of freezer-burnt food either.

If you have live food for your lizard when/if brumation occurs, such as crickets or worms, please be humane to them, continue to offer them fresh food & water every day. We never like ending up with pet insects like this, but, they are living beings. If you can release them on a decent weather day, & if they can be found naturally in your region already, give the little crickets, wormies, or whatever, their freedom. Don’t let them starve and die in a tiny container with others and crawling in their own feces. They’re kind of cute, and certainly didn’t want the life they’ve lived thus far.

Another point to mention is: Remember to change UVB bulbs every 6-12 months, as they lose emissions. There are testers for them, if you want to save money in the long term. Have back-up UVB & full-spectrum/UVA bulbs so your lizard is NEVER without proper heat & lighting. This also allows any caretakers to change bulbs if you are away. Bulb changes should be recorded as well. You may even want to flip ahead 6 months to record on a calendar when the UVB needs replaced again.

Make certain your species of lizard is the proper distance from the UVB & remember if it shines through a screen, it is slightly filtered. In a search engine, ask the distance your lizard should be from the UVB bulb. Murph is within 8-10″ (20.32-25.4 cm) from his unless he wants to be on the lower level under his hammock.

Some people suggest no food be offered a lizard until they awaken or until you begin to gradually increase lighting &  temperature in the cage & your reptile stirs into consciousness.

I dont have all the answers folks, I only know what has worked with my particular lizards & the way they experience(d) winters. Learn your lizard. Only love/compassion will teach how to observe & learn. I think a reptile intuition begins to develop over time, and then, more often than not, you will know what is right & sense from your lizard what is needed.

If you think there is a tiny chance of dehydration, soak your lizard in warm shallow water for 20 (ish) minutes while you work in the kitchen or elsewhere. This may also help shed any old scales that remain. You can rub these gently & a few times with an old toothbrush or cloth to see if they will slide off. If not, try again days later (gently). They may not be ready to shed it yet.

Use the inner wrist as a temperature guage, as well as your lizard’s skin at the time for drawing their baths. Warm water feels hot to very cold skin. Don’t shock them. Hold them agaist your chest a few moments to warm them if they are not warm from their lighting.

Do your best to keep the water that warm & cozy. This helps keep lizards hydrated and spa time can be very relaxing.  It may help your lizard to poo.  You can sterilize (bleach or rubbing alcohol) the sink afterwards, after you have placed your sleeping lizard back into it’s ‘bed’.

Sometimes, making them swim in the tub with just enough water that allows for  swimming does the trick of getting them to poo. It forces them to move their hind legs & belly to release any blockage (what a gentle, downward massage on the belly may do). NEVER, EVER, leave them unwatched while in water – not for a single minute!  

*BIG NOTE: It is not uncommon for a lizard to go a week without pooing!! If your lizard is brumated rather deeply, you may not see a poo for a month, this is probably okay as long as he or she refuses to eat. If there is good appetite & no poo, we risk constipation/impaction, which is fatal. Record all days they poo on a calendar. A week happens before we know it!! At some point, you should worry. When that happens, & all poo help has failed, call the vet. Better to be safe than sorry.

Swimming is exhausting, especially  when lizards have NO ENERGY and they may drown because of this. Also, they may pout, float, then lean sideways and sink. – It’s as cute & as pitiful as it sounds!!

If they are already so tired or in deep brumation, they may not fight this and ultimately drown. WATCH THE ANGELS THE ENTIRE TIME, as you would your children. Keep checking the water temperature. Drain & replace a bit of the water a few times, as needed. If they refuse to swim, forget it. If they will, let them rest on your hand a moment after each minute of swimming. When he or she calms down, let them swim another minute or 2. After which, do not try again, just hold them & love them.  Try again in a day or 2. 

Have a towel & cuddle time ready for them. Speaking lovingly to them helps to keep them from feeling abandoned while they swim. Holding them afterwards reminds them you love them & he or she may sense you only mean well.

My previous Dragon became “blah” as Murph, but did experience full brumation two or three times during our 7 1/2 years together. It was not the worst case of brumation. Some lizard parents have mistaken their lizard for dead only to see them move or notice a position change later. How many were buried or tossed out who were alive? How horrible that thought!

It is not wrong or weird to take your pet to the vet to check for life. Remember, their entire system may slow to the point that people have mistaken them for dead! You don’t want to bury (or anything else torturous) your sweet, alive lizard!

This is an informative article here. However, I do not agree with giving a lizard no option for heat, whether or not it sleeps for a week without stirring. Never use a heat rock, but maybe supply a heat night light for reptiles to the far side where your lizard is not sleeping. Remember, give them an option if they stir from slumber, but don’t force them to overheat if they can’t move. Monitor the temperature at your lizard’s resting area. You don’t want it to freeze or be too warm. It is said 40° – 50° F are best brumation temps. That seems too cold (my opinion). Most people keep their lizard’s cage in the living room where it won’t get that cold anyway, and just let them go to the cooler & darker areas of the enclosure as they wish.

It can get chilly during Australia’s winter months, where Bearded Dragons originate. But do all Beardies really find complete shade all day? Maybe it’s alright to turn uva & uvb lights on for 2 hours a day during brumation. Perhaps it does reach below 40° F on cold Australian nights, but I can’t stand knowing my lizard is quite that cold. When it gets that cold in Florida, lizards fall from the trees (I would be wanting to hold & warm every one – I am glad I don’t live there). So yeah, right or wrong, I just don’t want my lizards that cold & believe mine have never wanted to be.

If you have a lizard, do your best. We hope this reading material helps, and we wish you many happy years together! If you don’t have a lizard, well, you’ve had one hell of an education (if you’re still here) that you may never need!

Copper tolerated spring flowers on her beautiful head. She was her sweet & very alert self!

“Give me Lizardry or give me Death! – Dawn Renée

7 comments

  1. well, I do not read all of it, but I’ve had one hell of an education anyway. good article I suppose! In my second life i am a dragon (chinese horoscope) and speaking as a dragon I just can say: Dear my lovely mum. Just leave me alone. I it is cold. It is still winter. I’ll come back to you. don’t worry!!
    take care Dawn ♥♥

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks, Moni. It was a long post, totally okay if you skipped a bunch of reading. : ) If you are a dragon (in this lifetime, hard to believe it’s only your 2nd round in the rodeo, unless I misunderstood), you have told me much about yourself : ) because I have found some amount of truth to the documented attributes of personalities behind the Chinese zodiac rotating every 12 years. So sweet a statement you typed, it’s just so difficult to see our Dragons cold & tired. We wish a warm hug could fix it all. I always enjoy what you tell me. Always, you portray optimism & kindness.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. well, a lot of these attributes of personalities are true with me. I do not know in which round i am. Could be 2nd, could be more.. What are you in the Chinese zodiac?
    I can imagine your worries about Murph. I would do the same. I suppose I would check with a mirror if this is possible, hoping there is any sign of life. I am with you, believe me. Fingers crossed everything will be okay. ♥♥♥

    Like

  4. Oh, I see what you mean now. I suppose I am unaware of ’rounds’ in the Zodiac. I know of the 4 elements. For example, the year of the metal ox is 2021, the next year of the ox will be in 2033 – but, it will be the water ox, beginning 1.31.2033 & ending 2.18.2034. There will not be another year of metal ox for 60 years.
    I wouldn’t mind telling you, but, If I mention my animal here, anyone can know my age : )
    Our Murph is fine. So far he has only become “blah” during winter. When I had Copper, she brumated a couple times. I posted about brumation to help any new lizard parents be prepared for what may come.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You always manage to blow me away with your knowledge. Since following you it has made me view lizards in a new way. I commend you on your willingness to educate the rest of us. Thank you so much.

    Like

  6. That may be the kindest compliment ever to be read since we began lizardplanet.com & posting! Thank you, Sir. That is deeply appreciated – more than typing can convey.

    Liked by 1 person

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