Bearded dragons are fascinating creatures that make great pets. However, they require proper care and attention to thrive in captivity. If you’re considering getting a bearded dragon or already have one, it’s important to understand their specific needs and how to meet them.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about taking care of a bearded dragon. From setting up their enclosure to feeding them a healthy diet, we’ll walk you through the essential steps to ensure your pet is happy and healthy.
Whether you’re a first-time owner or an experienced reptile enthusiast, these tips will help you provide the best possible care for your bearded dragon.
How To Take Care Of A Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are popular pet reptiles that require a certain level of care to keep them healthy and happy. Here are some key tips on how to take care of a bearded dragon.
1. Bearded Dragon Housing
When it comes to housing bearded dragons, it’s important to be cautious about the products you purchase for your pet.
A minimum of a 75-gallon terrarium is necessary for adult bearded dragons, with a larger enclosure always being better. The top of the terrarium should have a screen for proper ventilation, and acceptable substrates include tile, newspaper, indoor/outdoor carpeting, or reptile carpet.
To keep bearded dragons healthy in captivity, it’s important to create a temperature gradient in their housing. This should include a warm side, a basking area, and a cool side. Two thermometers should be used to monitor temperatures, with one placed 1 inch above the bottom of the cool end and the other at the level of the basking site on the warmer end.
Daytime temperatures should range from 80–88 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot of 95–105 degrees. At night, temperatures can drop to as low as 70 degrees.
UVB lighting is crucial for the health of bearded dragons because it helps them process calcium and vitamin D. Reptisun bulbs are a common source of UVB, but overhead self-ballasted mercury vapor lamps like Powersun can provide heat, UVB, and UVA in one bulb.
It’s important to keep UV bulbs at least 12 inches away from the basking site to prevent burns and to use a second bulb for proper heat gradients. Bearded dragons need 12-hour photoperiods, meaning lights should be on for 12 hours and off for 12 hours.
All UVB/UVA bulbs should be replaced every six months, even if they still emit visible light. A UV meter can be used to monitor UVB output.
Bearded dragons are ectotherms, which means they need a consistent source of heat to stay comfortable. To provide this, you can use heat lamps or basking bulbs designed for reptiles. It’s important to create a temperature gradient in their terrariums with a cooler area and a warmer area.
To measure humidity in a terrarium, use a hygrometer and maintain a humidity level of 40-60%. While bearded dragons are from the desert, provide fresh water in a shallow bowl to prevent dehydration. Some bearded dragons may not drink from bowls and get enough water from their diet.
To prevent dehydration, give them showers or baths, a shallow pan for soaking, increase humidity in a hiding area, and rinse dietary greens with water before feeding. Be sure to clean the water bowl frequently to avoid an unhealthy environment.
It’s best to line the bottom of your bearded dragon’s terrarium with reptile carpet or tile. For younger bearded dragons shorter than 8 inches (15 cm), a reptile carpet is a better choice to avoid accidentally swallowing the bedding material. Clean the bedding at least once a month and scoop up waste when you notice it.
To provide a suitable environment for your bearded dragon, make sure to have hiding areas on both sides of the terrarium so they can choose their temperature and lighting. They also need thick branches or rocks for climbing and should not be housed with other males.
Small treat balls with holes can provide stimulation, and their enclosures hide, and climbs should be rotated regularly. It’s important to supervise them and not let them roam the house unsupervised to prevent various risks.
2. Foods for Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are omnivores and need a balanced diet of vegetables and animal protein. Juveniles eat more insects, while adults consume more greens. Water should always be available in a shallow container and refreshed daily. Insects should make up about 25% of the adult’s diet, and a variety of insects should be offered, gut-loaded with a nutritious diet before feeding.
Vegetables should comprise about 50-55% of the diet, including dark, leafy greens and other veggies like carrots, squash, and broccoli. Fruits can be fed sparingly as treats and should not exceed 5% of the diet. Flowers like hibiscus and squash blossoms are good treats in limited quantities.
When feeding your pet bearded dragon insects, it’s important to feed them gut-loaded insects, like crickets, once a day. This means the insects have been fed with nutrients like calcium to make them more nutritious for your reptile.
While mealworms, superworms, and waxworms can also be offered, it’s important to give them in small amounts. There are special storage containers available for these reptile insects to prevent them from escaping.
Vegetables and Fruits
Bearded dragons should eat dark, leafy greens, carrots, squash, and peas every day. Fruits such as melons, berries, and citrus should only be given once a week. Be sure to remove any uneaten food after a few hours to prevent it from rotting.
Water And Food Dish
Bearded Dragons need fresh, clean water in a shallow dish that isn’t deep enough for them to get stuck or drown. A food dish is a good way to keep their enclosure clean, but it’s not suitable for insects like roaches and crickets.
Frequency in Feeding
The frequency of feeding for bearded dragons depends on their age and body condition. Hatchlings may eat two to three times a day, juveniles eat insects and vegetables daily, and adults may eat every 24-48 hours. Overweight adults may need to be fed every two to three days.
Lightning bugs are toxic and should not be offered, and wild insects should be avoided unless approved by a veterinarian. Only use products made for bearded dragons or recommended by a vet and never feed them dog or cat food.
Insect Calcium & Multivitamin Dusting
Bearded dragons need additional calcium, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements for their health. Insects and vegetables can be dusted with a supplement containing calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate a few times a week, and a multivitamin should be offered weekly.
Repashy Plus is a product that provides both a multivitamin and calcium supplement in one. To administer the supplement, place insects or vegetables in a plastic bag, tin can, or “cricket shaker” and shake gently. Juveniles may require daily supplementation, while adults may need less.
Consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate frequency of calcium supplementation and have annual bloodwork done to adjust accordingly.
3. Bearded Dragon Medical Needs
Bearded dragons require minimal veterinary care if they have the correct lighting, temperature, supplements, and diet. They should have their nails trimmed every few weeks, and at least one yearly examination by a veterinarian to check teeth, body condition, and assess for metabolic bone disease. They should also have a fecal analysis and bloodwork performed.
Healthy bearded dragons should have an alert attitude, willingness to eat and bask, upright posture, clean vent, well-filled belly, and no swellings in toes or tails. They should have showers or soaks two to three times a week to increase hydration and clean off debris.
Common diseases in bearded dragons include adenovirus 1, coccidiosis, and metabolic bone disease. Pet parents should monitor their beardies for any signs of illness and call their vet with concerns.
4. Bearded Dragon Shedding and Brumation
Bearded dragons shed their skin in large pieces, and younger dragons shed more frequently than older ones. If your dragon has shedding problems, it’s important to improve their environment and consult a specialist reptile vet.
During cooler seasons, bearded dragons may enter brumation, a period of slowed activity and decreased appetite. If your dragon is losing weight, it’s important to monitor them closely and seek veterinary advice.
5. Bearded Dragon Cleaning Needs
To keep your bearded dragon’s terrarium clean, you should spot-clean it daily by removing old food, bowel movements, and refreshing the water dish. Once a week, when your pet is not inside, you should give the terrarium a thorough deep clean.
Make sure to dry the area completely before returning your bearded dragon to the enclosure, as harsh chemicals can be harmful to their respiratory system. Substrates should be changed based on the type, with tiles lasting up to a year and reptile carpet needing to be changed every few weeks. Newspaper and paper towels should be changed as needed.
6. Bearded Dragon Handling
Before handling your bearded dragon, make sure to quarantine them if there are other reptiles in the household to avoid introducing diseases. To pick up a bearded dragon, scoop one hand under the chest near the front legs and support the tail with the other.
Bearded dragons should spend at least 30 minutes outside of their terrarium a day to become more docile. Wash your hands before and after handling a bearded dragon to prevent the spread of salmonella, a zoonotic disease. If you’re concerned about potential infection, talk to your human medical provider.
Baby Bearded Dragon Care
Taking care of baby bearded dragons requires different methods than caring for adult beardies. It’s important to make sure they get most of their nutrition from insect foods, but not from mealworms, superworms, or waxworms until they reach juvenile age.
They should also eat their veggies, stay hydrated through regular misting, and have the best UVB lighting. You should record their weight and length periodically and make sure there are no feeder insects left in their terrarium after feeding.
It’s important to never keep a baby beardie on a loose substrate like sand, even if you plan to keep an adult that way. There are also differences in housing babies and adult bearded dragons.
How Do You Know If Your Bearded Dragon Is Sick
There are several signs that your bearded dragon may be sick. One common disease is Metabolic Bone Disease, which is caused by improper husbandry and can result in limb twitching, muscle wasting, and bone deformities.
Another disease is Mouth Rot, caused by poor dental hygiene and leading to symptoms such as poor appetite and swollen gums. Upper Respiratory Infections can also occur due to environmental factors and can result in increased respiratory rate and lethargy.
Adenovirus/Atadenovirus is a serious and often fatal disease that can cause muscle wasting, seizures, and neurological dysfunction. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take your bearded dragon to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
When Should You Call the Vet
It’s important to schedule regular vet visits for your bearded dragon, but there are certain signs that indicate it’s time to visit a veterinarian with reptile experience.
These signs include more hiding time than usual, less eating and drinking, weight loss, swollen joints, skin discoloration, shedding abnormalities, abnormalities in the eyes, nose, or mouth, runny or abnormal droppings for more than two days, and lack of droppings over extended periods.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that all animals can carry contagious diseases, so always wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after contact with your pet or their habitat. Adults should always assist children with hand washing after contact with a pet or its habitat.
How To Keep Bearded Dragon Healthy and Happy
To keep your Bearded Dragon healthy, it’s important to maintain consistent and correct husbandry. This includes bathing them 2-3 times per week to help them defecate and soaking them if they have any abnormal shedding.
For adult Bearded Dragons, fresh veggies should make up 70-80% of their diet, and uneaten food should be removed from their enclosure within 12-24 hours. Young Bearded Dragons need routine handling to get used to people, but once they are comfortable with it, they can be taken on walks in safe areas for enrichment.
During shedding, lukewarm water soaks can help loosen stuck skin, and baths may be necessary for specific circumstances such as constipation or a stuck shed. Bearded Dragons will enter a state of brumation during the winter, which will cause them to have a reduced appetite and seem lethargic.
Enclosure maintenance should include daily removal of uneaten food and cleaning up solid waste, and the tank should be fully cleaned and substrate replaced each week. Spot clean daily for any abnormalities in waste, as this could be a sign of an infection.
What Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons should be fed a balanced diet of both insects and plants. As they grow, they become more herbivorous and eat about 90% of plant matter. Offer them a variety of foods, including bearded dragon pellet food, leafy greens, vegetables, and occasional fruits. Avoid feeding them insects that are too large, as well as toxic plants and insects.
What Kind of Terrarium Should I Buy for My Bearded Dragon?
For a bearded dragon, it’s important to have a terrarium that is at least 40 gallons in volume and 36 inches long, with a screened lid. If possible, a 48″ x 24″ habitat is even better to give them room to run and exercise without needing to let them roam around the house. Make sure to provide them with an ideal home to help them thrive!
Are Bearded Dragons Good Pets?
Yes, bearded dragons make great pets, especially for those who love reptiles. They are beginner-friendly and can grow up to 24” long with a lifespan of around 10 years. Bearded dragons are known for their friendly nature and often form a close bond with their owners.
What is the Life Expectancy of a Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons typically live for 7 to 12 years when kept as pets. They are generally healthy animals as long as they are well taken care of and provided with proper husbandry. Most health issues experienced by bearded dragons are a result of improper care.
Is a Bearded Dragon Good for Beginners?
Yes, bearded dragons are great pets for beginners who love reptiles! They’re easy to take care of and make great companions.
In conclusion, taking care of a bearded dragon can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. By following these tips, you can ensure that your scaly friend lives a long and healthy life.
Remember to provide them with a comfortable habitat, a balanced diet, and plenty of love and attention. With a little effort and dedication, you’ll have a happy and thriving bearded dragon in no time!