You may have seen your bearded dragon rub his face from time to time – on objects in his cage or even on you!
But what does it mean? Why do bearded dragons rub their face on things like rocks or even people?
Most of the time, bearded dragons rub their face on people, rocks, or anything else when they’re going into a shed. Bearded dragons that rub their face on glass may have an enclosure that’s too small or may be seeing their reflection. Unless there’s a stuck shed, it’s usually nothing to worry about.
All reptiles shed their skin at relatively regular intervals to replace old and damaged skin cells. You can tell your beardie is going into a shed by noticing a few different physical signs and behavioral changes.
Let’s look at a few of them so you know if shedding is responsible for your beardie’s face rubbing habit before we get into the other possible reasons.
Signs Your Bearded Dragon Is Getting Ready To Shed
There are 3 big things to look for when it comes to a bearded dragon shedding.
Your Bearded Dragon’s Skin Starts To Get Duller or Lighter
The most common change you’ll notice as your beardie is going into a shed is a change in the color of its skin.
Just before going into shed, the old, damaged skin separates slightly from the new skin cells. This space fills with fluid, called “lymph”, which has enzymes that help lift and separate the old skin so that it can be sloughed off. This old skin sits more loosely on top of the beardie’s body, and has a duller appearance.
Even though it’s much further along in this video, you can see the change in color here:
Changes In Behavior
Many reptiles will display some changes in behavior just before beginning the shedding process, such as decreased appetite, sleeping more, or general inactivity. They may even turn down their favorite bugs during this time! These changes are temporary and shouldn’t last more than a week or so. Appetite and activity should return to normal immediately after shedding is complete.
The reason that many bearded dragons slow down just before shedding is that the process takes a lot of energy from the body, so it makes sense that your beardie might be a little more subdued just prior to getting his shiny new look. It’s not just beardies that show this change either- snakes and other reptiles may also reduce their appetite before or during a shed.
Rubbing Their Face On Items In The Cage
Some owners will notice that just before shedding, their bearded dragon will start to rub his face or snout on objects in and around his cage – maybe even on you! This is typically the way that they “start” their shed, by rubbing off a small piece of loose skin on the face. It could be a rock, your hand, or just about any other item.
In a healthy bearded dragon, the skin will fall off gradually in large pieces over several days. This is usually not a process that requires any intervention from you as long as there is no evidence of old skin remaining at the end of the process – ensure that the delicate areas around the eyes, mouth, toes, and tail tip are all free of shed. These areas tend to experience the most difficulty.
Why Is My Bearded Dragon Rubbing His Face On The Glass Of His Cage?
Another behavior you might see as a beardie owner is your pet rubbing his face on the glass of his cage. As we talked about above, this can sometimes be a way for your pet to get the shedding process started, but sometimes it can indicate a problem or stress in your pet’s environment.
He Thinks His Reflection Is Another Beardie
One common behavior, especially in male bearded dragons, is less of rubbing on glass and more of a “swaying” motion.
Sometimes they’ll even launch themselves at the glass! If you look closely, you might notice that there’s a reflection of your beardie on the glass itself. Your beardie sees it, too, and changes are he thinks it’s another bearded dragon – AKA, a competitor!
Bearded dragons are very territorial of their space, and will try and challenge any potential invaders. While the behavior in itself may seem silly or even cute, it actually can be stressful for your pet to constantly feel his territory is being invaded. A good way to remedy this is to cover three sides of the cage (back and sides) with paper or cardboard. This helps minimize the reflection and reduce stress for your pet.
The Enclosure May Not Be Appropriately Sized
Even though beardies are often somewhat infamous for lazing around, bearded dragons have a large territory in the wild. They also grow quite quickly! You’ll soon find that the itty bitty baby lizard you brought home will grow into quite a sizable and robust critter – bearded dragons can grow up to 10-15” from nose to tail! This means you’re going to need more than a 10-gallon tank!
You’ll want to make sure that as your bearded dragon grows, his enclosure grows with him. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you have enough space for him to turn completely around, and the space is at least 3x his length. This gives plenty of space for decorations, enrichment, and bowls. If the enclosure has become too small, your dragon may start to feel agitated, or try to find ways to escape.
That’s where you might start to see your pet rubbing his face repeatedly on the cage, often without any real purpose. This is very stressful for your pet and can lead to injury if it continues.
Should I Be Worried That My Bearded Dragon Is Rubbing His Face?
Bearded dragons can rub their faces for a variety of reasons, the most common being they are starting to shed and they’re just trying to get the process started.
Your dragon can usually do this without any help from you, but there are some things you want to watch for that can indicate a potential problem:
The Face Rubbing Doesn’t Stop Or Is Prolonged After Shedding
Sometimes small pieces of skin can remain stuck in certain areas on your beardie, such as the toes, tail tip, eyes, lips, and inside the nose. This is especially true if environmental conditions within the enclosure aren’t appropriate. Reptiles can also have difficulties shedding if they’re unhealthy or have poor nutrition.
Helping Your Beardie With Their Shed
One thing that you can do to help your dragon with a problematic shed is a warm water soak in a plastic container or bathtub. This can help loosen and soften the skin. Test the temperature on the inside of your wrist – it should be warm, but not hot!
Fill the container so that when your bearded dragon is resting, it is no higher than his chest. This should also be separate from your beardie’s usual water dish and reptiles usually just need a small water dish.
NEVER leave your pet unsupervised in water. Reptiles often dislike being in the water for prolonged periods and will try and find a way to escape. But a little water can also help lizards like beardies and leopard geckos get their extra shed off.
A flailing, squirming dragon may accidentally inhale water, which can cause respiratory disease.
Just sit back and relax with your beardie for about 10-15 minutes while he undergoes his spa treatment. Some people use various reptile soaking products, which claim to have enzymes and ingredients that assist with shedding, but these are not necessary – plain warm water will accomplish the same task.
This will often be enough to help encourage shedding to resume normally without further assistance from you, but troublesome areas like toes and tails may require a bit of assistance from you. You can very gently use your fingers or aq-tip and rub at the edges of the shed until it becomes loose.
NEVER force a very stuck shed off of your pet, as this can cause injury. Additionally, sensitive areas like the eyes and nasal passages can be vulnerable to damage, so always seek out professional help before attempting to remove any buildup from these areas.
Your Beardie Begins To Injure Himself With His Face Rubbing
Obsessive behaviors, like rubbing against objects, can often be a sign of pain or discomfort. Have you ever noticed that you can’t stop picking at a scab because it’s driving you crazy? Animals experience that, too! If your dragon just can’t seem to get comfortable or is rubbing himself to the point of scabbing or bleeding, it’s time to examine the behavior more closely.
You’re Noticing Other New Or Unusual behaviors
If your bearded dragon is rubbing his face, and suddenly also starts showing a new or unusual behavior you haven’t seen before (such as not eating or hiding more), it may be a good idea to pay a visit to a veterinarian.
Signs of illness are often very subtle in reptiles – some may not show any visible symptoms until they are quite sick, so it’s important to establish a good relationship with a vet that specializes in reptiles. The earlier you can catch illness, the easier it will be to make a full recovery.
Just like any other animal, sometimes we rub our faces from time to time! Fortunately, beardies often rub their faces as a normal part of the shedding process. A shallow warm water soak for 10-15 minutes can help bearded dragons remove troublesome sheds.
And even though your beardie doesn’t mind being pet, it’s probably not the main motivation for their face rubbing!
Obsessive or repetitive face rubbing on glass can be a sign of stress. If you notice your bearded dragon is hurting himself, doesn’t stop rubbing his face even after shedding, you’re noticing other new behaviors, or your dragon is eating less than normal, it’s a good idea to get him checked out by an experienced reptile veterinarian.