What is Brumation?
Some mammals go through a period of hibernation each year when their body shuts down and conserves its energy for the coming year. The same thing can occur in reptiles and is known as brumation.
During this period of your bearded dragon's life, he may not eat, drink, defecate, or move for several weeks. He may bury himself completely underground, go to the darkest, coolest part of his enclosure, and scare you half to death when he doesn't respond to normal stimuli (i.e. poking, and prodding). Males and females can go into brumation, with males usually emerging from their deep sleep first, and may do it at any point throughout the year.
Why Does My Beardie Do This?
Captive bearded dragons have no reason to brumate but it is bred into them. It is a natural thing that is completely safe for your healthy reptile to do. In the wild bearded dragons brumate to avoid cold temperatures and the lack of food and water. In captivity, even though their light cycles and food may stay constant day after day, their biological clock may take over and tell their bodies to shut down for awhile.
Is Their Anything I Can Do To Ready Them For Brumation?
Simply put, yes. Make sure they are healthy, free from parasites, and encourage them to defecate. Also make sure your humidity and temperatures in the enclosure are correct. A yearly check up at the vet wouldn't be a bad idea to make sure their bodies are ready to go into brumation. Many reptiles in the wild never re-awaken in the spring from brumation because of an ailment they had when they went into brumation in the winter. The disease runs it's course over the winter and the beardie's body does nothing to fight it off. Thankfully, captive reptiles are usually much healthier than their wild counterparts and we are able to offer them regular veterinary care.
A warm water bath and a gently belly massage can help them to defecate before they go into full brumation. A bearded dragon who brumates with feces inside him can run the risk of a nasty infection from the feces just sitting inside him all winter.
Can I Stop Brumation From Happening?
You should be able to interrupt your reptile's brumational period by handling him, and it is often encouraged you do so to offer water. Otherwise, it is a natural process, and although it is not without it's risks, you should let your beardie be when you aren't helping him rehydrate.