Caring For Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragon care is one of the easiest providing they have a healthy diet, plenty of space, the right heat and lighting you generally won’t get any health issues providing this is followed, but if you are experiencing problems with your Bearded Dragon, stop reading this and please visit your nearest vet.

Bearded dragons are very popular pets. If you care for yours dragon properly, he can live up to 12 years. There are many things you need to learn about proper bearded dragon care. This website will teach you some of the most important things that you need to know. Feel free to browse through the articles containing essential bearded dragon info. In the meantime, here are a few tips on caring for bearded dragons.

Housing

Adult bearded dragons need at least a 32″ x 32″ x 32″ cage similar to the dimensions of a rabbit hutch.

A fifty-gallon aquarium is also enough to house an adult pair of bearded dragons.

Baby bearded dragons should be housed in a minimum of a twenty-gallon aquarium as described above, with a screen lid on top. The basking lamp should be placed on one end of the screen top. The UVB coil or tube light can be placed on the other side of the tank.

Climbing branches should be placed on the warmer side and be approximately 6 to 8 inches from the light. The basking area on the closest climbing branch to the light should be 90-95 deg F. The other (Normal) end of the tank should remain room temperature 72-74 F. Babies have such a small body mass they can dehydrate very quickly so monitor those temps.

DO NOT use ten-gallon tanks to house baby bearded dragons because a ten-gallon tank does not have enough space for heat from the basking light to dissipate.

Using a ten-gallon tank to house a bearded dragon or any other reptile can have dangerous results. A ten-gallon tank with a basking bulb will heat up so much that will dehydrate or literally bake the bearded dragon to death. They will also stop eating if overheated.

Read more on bearded dragon housing.

Light

Another important aspect of bearded dragon care is proper lighting. You need a special UVB light for your lizard. Without this, they can’t manufacture vitamin D3 which is essential for calcium metabolism. In addition to UVB light, he will also need a bright daylight bulb.

Temperatures at IIO F or above can cause HEAT STROKE in reptiles. High temperatures can also cause sterility in males. The basking light should be placed on one end of your tank with the temperature directly under the light reading 95 F with the other end of the tank staying room temperature 72-74 deg F.

Buy a digital indoor/outdoor thermometer and make sure to monitor your basking temperature (can be found at any local garden center like Lowes). DO NOT USE STICK ON THE SIDE OF THE TANK BLACKFISH TANK THERMOMETERS!

You may use a regular sixty-watt household incandescent bulb or 50-watt Halogen as your heat emitting bulb and buy a coil or tube 10.0 UVB/UVA emitting bulb and set it up on the opposite side of your tank. Having two lights will require the purchase of a second light fixture. You can set your lights up with timers to come on and off at the proper times.

As already described above the cage should have a basking light at one of its ends. The temperature at the basking area should be somewhere between 90-95 deg F with the other end of the enclosure being room temperature 72-74 deg F.

Bearded dragons need proper basking temperature to digest their food. Incorrect basking temperatures will also result in poor coloration of the bearded dragon and poor organ function. It is important that the temperature in bearded dragon cage is monitored and controlled by a digital thermometer.

Again, exposure to natural sunlight, whenever possible is much more beneficial. Make sure the outside enclosure allows for good ventilation so that the bearded dragon is not overheated while being exposed to the sunlight. A proper shaded area should also be provided within the cage. Ideally, in the warm weather months, bearded dragons should get a minimum of 30 minutes of exposure to the sun several times a week.

Do NOT put your dragon in a glass tank outside as this will cook it.

A word of warning.  There have been reported cases of photo-kerato-conjunctivitis reported caused by compact UVB bulbs (burning of the eye) manufactured with phosphors. If you use compact UVB bulbs follow the directions for placement distance exactly. Use bulbs made with linear and not phosphors. If your not sure the bulbs contain phosphors call the manufacturer and ask.

Again, a regular incandescent sixty-watt household bulb or 50 watts halogen will emit enough heat for a proper basking temperature of 90-95 deg F. Failure to provide the correct basking temperature will result in respiratory infections.

As already mentioned above,  it is possible to expose the bearded dragon to the sun through an open window if outside temperatures allow the opening of the window. Again, UVB rays can go through the window screen but cannot penetrate window glass. DO NOT use glass tanks/cagr for sunning your bearded dragon as they overheat to dangerous temperature levels. Keep the TEMPERATURES Below 110 degrees, ABOVE CAN CAUSE HEAT STROKE AND DEATH IN REPTILES!

Read more on bearded dragon light.

Substrate

DO NOT USE SAND AS A SUBSTRATE in bearded dragon enclosures. Substrate materials should be free of sand because sand causes impaction in bearded dragons as well as all other reptiles. DO NOT use ground calcium carbonate (simulated sand) as there have also been reported cases of impaction with bearded dragons kept on ground calcium carbonate.

I’m not sure how sand ever got suggested as a substrate source for the bearded dragon species or any other reptile,  but it has been one of the most detrimental substrates used. Sand also harbors a lot of bacteria.  Bearded dragons do not live among sand dunes.

One substrate option is simple store bought top soil and peat moss mixed with equal parts of water. Place a heat lamp on the mixture, and it will dry firm. This is an organic mix and is safe if ingested and is completely digestible and controls odors naturally.

Make sure your topsoil and peat moss have NO fertilizers or perlite.

Another great substrate option is a newspaper or reptile carpet.

With babies, I use nonslip shelf liner. These are easy to clean in the sink and dry. If you have several cuts out, you can rotate them easily.

DO NOT use wood chips or ground bark for substrates. Walnut shell and orchid bark are toxic especially when wet. There are allot of substrates sold in pet shops today. Just because it’s sold in a pet shop does not mean it’s safe. Wood products can also cause irritation and harm mucus membranes.

Read more on bearded dragons substrate

Temperature

Your dragon needs a temperature gradient in his enclosure. One side should be between 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit, while the other should be 95-100 degrees. At night, the temperature should drop into the low 70s. The basking area should be between 100 and 105 degrees.
Read more on bearded dragon temperature.

Food

Feeding bearded dragons the proper diet is very important. They’re omnivorous, so they eat fruits, vegetables, and insects.

Adult bearded dragons need to be fed once daily. They need a varied diet in order to be healthy. Bearded Dragon diet should consist of live food such as crickets, dubia roaches, super worms, a small amount of fruits, vegetables, and a protein source. Of course, this is just a few of the food items they can have, and there are many more.

Vegetables and fruits should be fed twice weekly. Fruits and vegetables may include collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, parsley, shredded carrots, shredded sweet potatoes, squash, kale, apples, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. A varied diet is the key to good health. Provide a variety of different foods each week.

Collard greens are very high in calcium and should be a part of every meal. Stems should be removed and discarded, and only the green leafy part of the green should be used. I also recommend feeding turnip and mustard greens.

Bananas are high in phosphorous and may cause some blocking of calcium intake so only use banana occasionally and not more often than twice a month.

Kale is high in iodine, and they need some iodine in their diet, but it should be used in moderate amounts.

DO NOT use Iceberg, Boston or Romaine lettuce as they contain very little nutrition and are 96% water.

Apples should be offered only occasionally because they are a bowl irritant and will cause loose stool.

Boiled egg, shredded chicken, tuna or salmon can be added to any salad mixture for a nutritional protein source. Bearded dragons love eggs are an excellent source of protein and fat for babies and adults.

Bearded dragons are omnivores so their diet should consist of a balance of protein, plant matter, fruits and crickets of the appropriate size for their age.

All food items should be dusted once a day with a high-quality calcium powder with D3. A vitamin supplement should also be used once every week.

Crickets need to gut-loaded because they themselves are not a nutritional source of food. If you decide to add crickets to their diet, they should be gut-loaded for at least twenty-four hours with a high protein and multigrain mix before feeding them off to the bearded dragon. You can make your own or find them at your local pet store. Remember what the crickets eat is what the bearded dragon is eating as well.

Never remove a bearded dragon from its environment to feed. Always place food items or prey items inside their habitat where they feel safe and comfortable and at ease with their environment.

Read more on bearded dragon food and diet.

Brumation

In the fall, adult bearded dragons may become very sluggish, dark in color and have lack of appetite. This is the bearded dragons “estivation” period leading into a  cool down before breeding season. This lack of appetite and prolonged periods of sleep and muddy coloration is perfectly normal.

Before the breeding season, it is normal for adult bearded dragons to stop eating and sleep quite a bit so don’t be alarmed when your bearded dragon becomes sluggish in the fall and stops eating for weeks at a time. During this semi-estivation period, they live off of their glycogen stores in their bodies. After coming out of the estivation cycle, the males will begin breeding the females approximately twenty days later.

Although bearded dragons will start to lay eggs at ten to twelve months of age, they do not reach their full growth potential for eighteen months. A cool down should be provided for six to eight weeks during the winter (Usually December & January) before breeding season. Without a cool down your beardie may not breed. Daytime & nighttime temperatures should remain 65-70 deg F during their cooling cycle.

Rearing youngsters together are no problem, but males will begin to become sexually mature at the age of six to eight months. Males will become highly territorial as they mature so once they reach the seven to nine-month point only house one male to a tank.  You may house as many females as will fit comfortably in your enclosure with your male. Females cohabitate in groups with no problems throughout their life.

More on bearded dragon brumation

Bearded Dragon Disease

While reptile vivariums don’t need to be completely cleaned out frequently, other than to remove waste, through day to day handling you should be able to spot any early warning signs.

A very quick way to check the Bearded Dragon’s health is to look at their eyes – they should be bright and alert. Also check their poo to see if they are dehydrated or have parasites. When fresh check the urate, that’s the white part of the poo, if it’s not white e.g. it’s yellow then the dragon is dehydrated, offer water and bath them for a few minutes in warm water.

Below you can find a quick summary on what to look out for when caring for a Bearded Dragons health.

Respiratory issues in Bearded Dragons

Respiratory issues in bearded dragons happens normally when their habitat doesn’t have the correct temperature range or is too humid but can occur from too much stress. The very early signs of this are sneezing – you can actually hear them sneeze. Then this will be followed with discharge from the nostrils and then after this you’ll see them gape/ vent but this will be frequent unlike when they regulate their body heat. After this you’ll see a lack of appetite and lethargy.

If you can catch them at the very early signs of respiratory issues you can get them on a course of antibiotics which will help them clear up very quickly. Remember to check the heat, there should be no cause for humidity, but check anyway.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

This occurs mainly in young dragons, but can develop in older dragons too and is probably one of the biggest signs of owners failing to care for their Bearded Dragons. It results from poor diet, lack of calcium and vitamin D3 along with a lack of UVB which aids the metabolism of calcium and production of vitamin D.

Again with regular handling you should be able to spot this, a lack of UVB will produce lethargy which is a very early warning sign and they will have dull eyes. Providing you have been giving a calcium supplement in their diet then the lack of UVB will be the most likely cause.

It’s worth noting that UVB bulbs need to be replaced every 12 months roughly as the amount of UVB generated from the bulb will decrease significantly over time. Later symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease will be spongy/ weak legs and jaws and you may see deformities in the spine and legs and they may also have tremors/ shaking. Once MBD has reached this stage the effects are hard, if not impossible, to reverse.

Problems with Bearded Dragon Tails & Feet

When kept together nipped toes and tails are very common where there is a lack of space or an aggressive cage mate. Common causes also occur when there is a lack of food for all of them, or a lack of hiding places and basking spots.

Keep an eye on dominant behaviour, the more aggressive lizard will grow in size quicker and the problem will accelerate. The best option is to always house individually, although if there is enough space provided then you may not ever see any aggressive behaviour but in the long term more space is a must for the health of a Bearded Dragon.

When you do notice a bitten toe or tail then quickly bath the area in warm water and apply an antiseptic such as Tamadine, it is rare that the tail or toe will ever grow back but at least the deterioration is halted, if left unchecked then the infection can spread and they’ll lose a lot more of their bodies.

In very young Bearded Dragons, you’ll also sometimes see infections caused from insects that have been left in the vivarium with the babies. Insects get hungry too, and will bite anything to see if it’s edible.

Bearded Dragon Parasites

The quickest way to see if your reptile has an parasites is to check their excrement, note especially for any reddish/blood coloured poo as this is a fairly sure sign of intestinal issues. The most common parasite in reptiles is Coccidia, evidence suggests that these parasites can come from crickets/ locusts/ worms etc… that have been bred in unsanitary conditions.

If you suspect that there is a parasitic infection then be sure to quickly remove any poo as this is normally how your Beardie will transmit the parasite back to itself and to others. Take a sample of this to a vets for them to check. Symptoms of parasite infections will normally show in Dragons as a lack of appetite, lack of energy and anorexia. To avoid this, always clean away a Beardies mess promptly, they’re not adverse to treading through their own mess.

Causes of Poisoning in Bearded Dragon

The most common cause of this failure in Bearded Dragon care is feeding your Beardy with anything you’ve caught or picked from the outside world. Normally it’ll be be pesticide that hasn’t been washed off, but also they will eat any vegetation given the chance so if kept outside they may have eaten something toxic and depending upon what they have eaten then it can mean death.

Salmonella in Bearded Dragons

This occurs when you keep your reptiles in filthy conditions and basically from not washing your hands before and after handling them. You can spread Salmonella bacteria to them, just as easily as they can pass it on to you.

Obesity in Bearded Dragons

Fairly obvious symptoms and cause. Overfeeding. Beardies love to eat, but don’t actually need to eat all that often, look out for large bellies, fat legs and tails and reduce feeding. Obesity will create a lack of energy and liver/kidney disease.

Read about bearded dragon diseases in details.

How to Handle Bearded Dragons

Handling Beardies is easy, just be careful as they love to jump so try to handle them close to the floor rather than standing up. When picking them up, do not lift by the tail or head, instead pick them up with a hand behind the neck and a hand under the belly to support them, then let them rest on your lap or arms.

Do not grip them tightly as they will bite and inflate themselves, sometimes they can get a bit cranky and hiss/ inflate their beards but generally you’re quite safe. Regular handling will ease their skittish behaviour and to get a young dragon used to being handled, feed them at the same time as you handle them, gradually stopping feeding them every time you pick them up.

I have a Rankins Dragon that loves sitting by the window and you can leave it there for hours on end as it loves to watch the world go by, but I have another that just wants to explore and find the hardest place that it can hide in. So each dragon’s temperament and personality varies as does their like of handling, just keep an eye on their behaviour to give an indication.

Sexing

Male bearded dragons have a larger and much wider heads.  The femoral pores are very prominent in male bearded dragons. On the other hand, female bearded dragons have narrower heads and are heavier and shorter as compared to their male counterparts. The males also develop a bulge on each side of their tails just above the cloacal opening which quite evident at five months of age.

Resting the bearded dragon on your hand and facing away from you gently lift the bearded dragon tail towards the head of the bearded dragon. The males will have a pronounced bulge on each side of the tail just above the cloacal opening with an indent in the middle between the bulging area. Female bearded dragons tails appear flat with a slight poof in the center.

In sexing baby bearded dragons hold the baby bearded dragon in your hand facing away from you. Grasp the baby’s tail with your thumb and index finger. About halfway down gently lift the tail towards the head-turning the tail from left to right.

Just as the adults for males there will be a slight indent in the center of the tail with a slightly raised area on each side of the indent. In females, the tail appears flat when twisted from side to side with a slight poof in the center. This sexing method works well, but it is not 100% accurate in determining the sex of young baby bearded dragons.

Under the age of five months babies sold are sexable, but with babies, there is no guarantee on sex due to their small size. Juveniles are site sexable at the age of 5 months, and sex is guaranteed on dragons five months or older.

Breeding

Bearded dragons will begin to breed at somewhere between fifteen to nineteen months of age or around 400 grams. The female bearded dragon’s abdomen will expand quite noticeably when carrying eggs and you may see the bumps in her stomach from the shape of the eggs.

Pregnant (gravid) females should be provided with the box in which they can lay eggs. The egg laying box should be at least 18 inches in depth and 24 inches long. It’s also a good idea to fill the egg lying box with topsoil or peat moss. Failure to provide female bearded dragons with egg laying boxes can cause egg-binding and will result in death for them.

Female bearded dragons usually lay 15 to 35 soft shelled eggs at one time. They will lay each clutch of eggs in twenty-one to thirty-day intervals and generally lay anywhere from three to six clutches in a single breeding season.

The eggs can be removed for incubation once the bearded dragon finishes laying them. Hoovabators are commonly used and can be purchased from any local pet store. The temperature inside the incubator should remain between 83.5- 85 deg F throughout incubation with a hatching time of about sixty days.

There is more danger of losing a clutch if the temp is too high than being too cold. Watch those temps. Incubators need to be in a room that is climate controlled to be set at the same temperature. If the temperature in the room rises, so does the temperature in the incubator.

Vermiculite or Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss make excellent incubation mediums. The Vermiculite should always be kept moist and not wet. The Vermiculite should also have a slight indent, and the eggs should be placed within the indent. Make sure that the top half of the bearded dragon eggs always remain exposed.

Humidity levels should remain between 65% to 88%. If your eggs start to collapse, your humidity may be too low. I keep a small container full of water in the incubator to add humidity. It’s nice to have a temp/humidity gauge in the container of eggs to make sure it’s correct. The bearded dragon eggs will hatch in about sixty days at an incubation temperature of 84.5 deg F. Read more on breeding bearded dragons.

MISC

Being in a captive environment, bearded dragons nails grow very quickly and can be trimmed with a regular nail clipper. If nails are allowed to grow too long, they will curl and cause mobility problems.

You can also place rocks and bricks inside the enclosure to help bearded dragons naturally wear down their nail ends. In the event a nail is clipped too short they will bleed so keep some Styptic powder on hand and dip the bleeding nail in the Styptic powder, and the bleeding should stop immediately.

Bearded dragons should be treated twice yearly for parasites and worms just as you would your dog or cat. This can be done quite safely with over the counter meds. If you do not feel comfortable administering medications, please consult your vet for your routine treatment.

As a rule, bearded dragons should be treated in the fall before estivation or their semi-hibernation period and in the spring before egg laying. A drop in weight could just be lack of fat in the diet, but they can also pick up worms or parasites from their vegetation or your water supply, especially well water.

Signs of weight loss can just be acclimating to its new environment but also can be simply just lack of fat in the diet. Keep in mind food items containing some protein/fat matter should be given or your bearded dragon may drop weight.  Simply greens is not a balanced diet.

We discourage the use of live plants, basically because they will eat them but also because a lot of plants are toxic. If using plastic plants for decoration make sure the foliage is large enough that it can’t be swallowed

Remember, your bearded dragon will love you and live a longer, happier life with the correct care from you.

2 thoughts on “Caring For Bearded Dragons”

  1. We have had our 6mnth old bearded dragon for 5 days. Her tank is next to where we sit. We are unsure what to do when she comes right to the front of the glass and sits there looking at us. Please help as we want to do the right thing.

    Reply

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