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Why Does My Bearded Dragon Close Its Eyes When Stroked?

Have you ever wondered why your pet bearded dragon closes its eyes when being stroked? You reach into your beardie’s enclosure and pull him out to spend some quality time together and like most pet owners we want to pet our animals to make them feel comfortable, so we stroke their heads, neck, back and they close their eyes.

You may think this is a sign your beardie is content, but reptiles are different from humans and our furry pets like dogs and cats. We as humans generally enjoy the affectionate touch of loved ones, and we close our eyes in direct response to that touch.

When you go get a massage, you don’t stare intensely into the masseuse’s eyes. No, your eyes roll up into your head and you close your lids and slump into the chair as all the stresses and tense muscles melt away—at least that’s what I do!

When your beardie closes her eyes in response to touch, it’s actually a defense mechanism. It’s a sign that they can’t get away, and they are closing their eyes to show they are not a threat in hopes that the big, frightening threat leaves her alone.

Don’t be discouraged though, beardies actually do like to be handled, touched, petted, and are really loving reptiles, they simply have different ways of showing it. Read on to find out other reasons beardies may close their eyes while being stroked.

Table of Contents

  1. Eye Contact in the Wild
  2. Bearded Dragon Communications
  3. What Does it Mean?
  4. Don’t Take it Personally
  5. Closing its Eyes While Being Held
  6. How Do I Build Up Trust With my Bearded Dragon?
  7. How to Pet Your Bearded Dragon
  8. Is Your Bearded Dragon Winking?
  9. Basking With Their Eyes Closed
  10. The Light Could be Too Bright
  11. Do bearded dragons like to be petted?
  12. Hold Your Beardie Close
  13. Conclusion

It’s a Wild World Out There

Bearded dragon closing its eyes laying on top of a skink
A Bearded dragon closing its eyes laying on top of a skink. – Source

In nature, eye contact is shown as a threat. When a rabbit locks eyes on a fox, it knows the fox is hungry and sees Peter Cottontail as a meal.

Animals can’t talk so they have to rely on body movements, gestures, and other physical means of communication, and prolonged eye contact usually means danger or threatening behavior.

Wild bearded dragons also have their own ways of showing aggression.

Bearded Dragon Communications

Bearded dragon in its sand enclosure
A Bearded dragon in its sand enclosure. – Source

Bearded dragons use many different physical movements to communicate their needs and wants. When they are head bobbing, showing their big black beards, or flattening out, they are feeling aggressive or threatened and are saying “Back away, I’m big and bad so leave me alone for now.”

If you are reaching for them in their enclosure and your beardie runs away from you, it’s another sign they don’t want to be touched or held at this moment. If they are exhibiting this behavior, leave them alone for right now, maybe they are having a bad day, but it shouldn’t last long.

Other times, when you come home after work, or after being gone for a while, your little buddy may run up to the enclosure and start climbing along the glass like she’s waving at you, this is a perfect time to go pick her up, she is looking for attention, or maybe treats.

If you reach for your beardie, try not to stand directly over the top of them, instead come in along the side. Usually, your little friend will let you pick them up, or even crawl onto your hand because they really do enjoy our touch most of the time.

Understanding bearded dragon behavior is the first step to figuring out more about your little friend.

What Does Eye Closing Mean When I Stroke My Bearded Dragon?

Bearded Dragon being stroked by owner
A Bearded Dragon being stroked by owner. – Source

As we quickly went over above, when a beardie closes its eyes while being petted, the behavior isn’t actually a sign of trust and content. They are showing that they feel they can’t escape the situation, and the only thing they can do is close their eyes.

Other pets like cats and dogs close their eyes as a sign of trust, love, and happiness when they are petted or scratched. We as humans do it as well.

When you hold a small child in your arms or give them a hug, they often close their eyes; so we are trained at a young age to associate this behavior with all the good feels.

If your bearded dragon is sitting on you and you pet them and they close their eyes, they are not feeling comfortable. Stop petting them when they exhibit this behavior.

You are much bigger than they are, and they are trying to show you they are not a threat by closing their eyes.

Don’t Take it Personally

Bearded Dragon closing its eyes in a glass enclosure
A Bearded Dragon closing its eyes in a glass enclosure. – Source

You’re a good bearded dragon owner—we know this because you are reading this article and educating yourself on your pet— so don’t take it personally if he is closing his eyes when you touch him. Even bearded dragons have bad days sometimes, or maybe he just woke up on the wrong side of the enclosure today. It can happen. 

When they are feeling better or in a happier mood, they should keep their eyes open when you handle and touch them. There could be other reasons they are closing their eyes though, so let’s take a look at some of those behaviors to make sure there isn’t anything else going on with your dragon. 

One quick caution, if your bearded dragon puffs out their black beard and opens its mouth, back away and stop touching it until it calms down. This behavior is very aggressive, and it may bite you.

If this happens it could mean your beardie is in pain, is coming down with an illness, or really just wants to be left alone. If this behavior continues for more than a day, you should contact your vet to make sure it is not coming down with an illness.

Closing Its Eyes While Being Held

Young bearded dragon closing its eyes while being held
A Young bearded dragon closing its eyes while being held. – Source

When you are holding your bearded dragon and she closes her eyes while being held, this could mean the same thing as when she closes her eyes while being stroked. Except this time, she’s completely at your mercy.

Take caution if she does this when you go to pick her up. She could run out of your hands and injure herself. 

If she is closing her eyes when you pick her up, gently set her back down until she calms back down. It may take some time for your dragon to get used to you, especially if you’ve only recently acquired her.

But, if you pick her up and her eyes are open, and she remains calm, you have nothing to worry about. 

How Do I Build Up Trust With my Bearded Dragon?

Young beardie in the grasp of a human hand
A Young beardie in the grasp of a human hand

It only takes some time and consistency to build up trust with your pet. If your bearded dragon constantly closes his eyes while being handled and touched, then you’ll have to work on getting him to trust you. 

You’ll need to show your little friend that you mean no harm, and that you’re not a threat; one way to do this is to spend a little time touching and holding your dragon inside its enclosure.

Touch them gently and don’t make any quick, sudden moves, or position your hand under them and let them rest there for a little while. You may have to do this several times to build up trust, but soon you’ll be best friends. 

Another great way to build up trust is to offer treats and food. This is one of the best ways to build up trust because they will begin to associate you with food.

If this is your first time hand feeding your beardie, I would suggest using feeding tongs such as these 15 Inch Reptile Feeding Tongs Long Tweezers Cricket Clamp Bug Scooper, or use something longer like greens. 

Hand feeding will quickly establish a bond between you and your little beardie. Just keep in mind that small crickets and insects or slippery foods like mango can be hard to hold onto. 

You may also need to come to your beardie’s cage pretty often. This shows them that you are not a threat and do not mean any harm.

Once you are able to get your bearded dragon out of its cage, you shouldn’t handle them or keep them out too long because they lose body heat pretty quickly. Try to keep the interaction time between 45 minutes and an hour. 

How to Pet Your Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragon being petted by owner
A Bearded Dragon being petted by owner. – Source

Believe it or not, the best way to pet your bearded dragon is not with your entire hand. Instead, just use one or two fingers and use slow, gentle strokes from their head down their back.

Take care not to touch their sensitive areas like their eyes and ears. Use care around their tiny toes and their tail, as these areas have tiny, fragile bones, especially when they are babies and juveniles.

Another word of caution, only pets them in one direction, from their head, toward their tail. Going the other direction could cause irritation or pain which will understandably upset your beardie. 

Is Your Bearded Dragon Winking?

Bearded dragon with a closed eyelid
A Bearded dragon with a closed eyelid. – Source

One eye is open, but she keeps closing the other eye. It may seem cute, but this isn’t a wink saying, “How’re you doin’?” Unfortunately, winking one eye could be caused by a foreign object stuck in its eye, a parasite, or illness. 

Do a visual check of the area to determine if you can see something stuck in the eye, or if you can see parasites around those soft and sensitive eyes. Though it’s rare, bearded dragons can get mites, and those mites like to find soft tissue like eyelids and the areas between toes to inhabit. 

If you notice anything or the winking goes on for more than a few minutes, you should call your vet, or take them to get checked. They can handle and take care of either situation. 

Basking With Their Eyes Closed

Bearded Dragon basking under its lamp
A Bearded Dragon basking under its lamp. – Source

When your beardie basks in the light and heat does he close his eyes? This isn’t a problem you should have to worry about as long as the behavior is only for short periods.

He’s just sitting in the warm area soaking up the heat and rays while relaxing. He may also sit in the basking spot with his mouth wide open.

This is called gaping and it’s the way they help to regulate their temperature. When beardies get too warm, they can’t sweat to cool off, instead they open their mouths wide to help dissipate some of the heat.

That being said, don’t worry if he likes to sit in the basking spot with his eyes closed. It’s just like me when I go outside after a long, cold winter, turn my face into the warm sun with my eyes closed, and bask in the sun myself. It feels good!

The Light Could be Too Bright

Bearded dragon under the ambience of its basking light
A Bearded dragon under the ambience of its basking light. – Source

One thing to take into consideration is the light. If you have a light that is too powerful for your tank, or it is too close, your dragon may be closing its eyes because the rays coming off the bulb are too strong. 

If your beardie is closing its eyes every time it settles down in the basking spot and keeps them shut most of their basking time, the bulb may be too strong. Though they need UVA and UVB rays, too much intense light can be a bad thing.  

You should have a bulb that puts out 5% to 7% UV rays and it should be 4 to 6 inches above the top of the enclosure. A highly rated UVA/UVB bulb is this REPTI ZOO Reptile Heat Lamp 100W Full Spectrum UVA UVB.

If you have a bulb that is very intense it could cause burns and skin damage to your beardie. UVB light is important for your dragon’s wellbeing but too much can also be a bad thing.

If you are concerned and suspect that they are at risk at metabolic bone disease or might be having problems with shedding, you should consult your pets reptile doctor with your troubles.

Do bearded dragons like to be petted?

Bearded dragon being petted and held by owner
A Bearded dragon being petted and held by owner. – Source

So, if this article sounds as if bearded dragons don’t like to be handled or petted, that is definitely not the intent, because beardies absolutely DO like to be held and petted. They can just be a little temperamental sometimes, especially if they don’t know you well yet. 

If you have bonded with your dragon, you will notice that he or she does enjoy being held, taken out of their enclosure, and sometimes they like to just hang out on your shoulders. Mine likes to hang out on my shoulder while he surveys “his” territory up there. 

Go ahead and pick him up if he is relaxed and watching you, or if he climbs up on your hands when you reach down for him. Keep his body supported with your palm and fingers and of course you know not to hold them by their tails or legs. 

Again, this is a great time to pet them, and offer food and treats. Nothing will have your beardie looking forward to hands-on time like some delicious treats she doesn’t get very often. 

Hold Your Beardie Close

Bearded Dragon being held close by owner
A Bearded Dragon being held close by owner. – Source

You can sit your beardie on your chest while you gently hold her there. This helps them to feel your body heat and strengthens the bond. Make sure you are sitting down while doing this, just in case they get curious and want to rush off to explore, and gently put them back into their enclosure after about an hour or so, to prevent them from getting too cool.

Closing Words

I was mistaken at first when my beardies would close their eyes while I handled them; I thought they were enjoying my touch and interactions. It was my vet who informed me of my mistake during a check-up. 

If you suspect an eye infection or any other more serious issues like eye bulging, be sure to seek help from your reptile vet instead of trying to diagnose more serious symptoms yourself.

It takes time to learn everything about our pets but now we know that when a bearded dragon closes his eyes while being stroked or handled, it’s not a good thing. Again, we shouldn’t get discouraged, just understand that it’s a different world we live in.

Take your time with your beardie if they close their eyes at your touch, give them time to get used to you, get them to associate you with comfort and food, and soon they will be looking lovingly into your eyes when you pet them, instead of closing them in fear and discomfort.

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