Bearded Dragon Care
Bearded dragons together, image by fro_Ost
Bearded Dragons are native to the arid and semi arid regions of Australia but have been captive bred in North America since the mid 1980’s. Known for their calm and inquisitive demeanour and endearing social behaviours bearded dragons have become one of the most popular reptiles housed in captivity today.
Bearded Dragons are territorial by nature and social hierarchies will form that will contribute to one dragon assuming the dominant role. Dominant bearded dragons will tend to be first to eat, occupy the prime basking areas, display more aggressive behaviours and literally Bully the others into submission. When housing more than one dragon together, their behaviours as well as growth rates should be closely monitored. Two Females of the same size will possibly house together, although more often than not fail, sooner or later. 3+ Females, is almost never successful. Male bearded dragons should not be housed together due to the dominance issue and the potential to injure each other in the process of establishing it. Male/Female combinations should only be housed together temporarily and only for breeding purposes. When housing more than one bearded dragon together, a much larger enclosure is recommended.
Bearded dragons together, image by andedam
Bearded Dragon housing
A minimum 20 Gal. size enclosures is the smallest useable size for a young bearded dragon that will allow for the proper temperature gradient required, but they will require a larger enclosure as they grow. Adult bearded dragons should be housed in a 40+ gallon sized enclosure. It is often more cost effective to start with a larger enclosure and divide a smaller section for housing young juveniles as young dragons will fair better in a smaller area until they become settled in and comfortable with their surroundings.
When looking for or designing an enclosure, keep in mind floor space is important so whilst height is important for beardies width and depth are preferable to height. Avoid placing enclosures in excessively active areas or in direct sunlight as this has the potential to increase ambient temperatures without providing any benefits (the beneficial UVB rays of the sun do not penetrate solid filters such as glass or plastic). Enclosures should be spot cleaned daily and thoroughly cleaned on a regular schedule.
Bearded Dragon Substrate
There are several options for substrates for bearded dragons including paper towel, newspaper, butchers paper, slate tile, non-adhesive shelf liner, textured ceramic tile, repti-carpet or children’s play sand. Beware of commercial substrates that state they are “dragon safe” as many are not. Avoid wood chips, crushed walnut shell, coconut fibre, cat litter, pet beddings & rabbit pellets, or any similar substrates as they do pose a higher risk of potential harm. Despite the negative “hype” children’s play sand is one of the best options when properly maintained. Calcium Sand is also available but is highly over priced and serves no additional benefit & is a possible high impaction risk if ingested due to clumping. It is therefore recomended that calcium sand is avoided at all costs.
Bearded Dragon Decor
Keep a baby bearded dragon's home simple to start with. Excessive "furniture" in a young dragon's enclosure can make it difficult for them to find and/or catch their live prey. A small flat, basking rock is sufficient. After your bearded dragon becomes comfortable in its enclosure you can begin adding accessories such as hammocks, logs and branches to climb on, hiding holes and imitation plants (please research edible plants that will not harm your dragon before adding live plants to the enclosure). All enclosure accessories acquired naturally (i.e. rocks, branches etc.) must be bacteria and parasite free before introducing them to your dragon's home. Clean items by soaking them in a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water (not recommended for porous materials such as wood), rinse thoroughly and bake them for approximately 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Weekly cleaning of enclosure items can be done with a solution of 30% vinegar to 70% water. Use the bleach solution once per month for a thorough cleaning but make sure you also rinse thoroughly! As a general rule of thumb bleach is strong smelling and the human nose is quite good, so use your nose after rinsing thoroughly and if you can still bleach, scrub some more! Accessories bought from the pet store should also be washed in the vinegar solution prior to adding them to the enclosure. Do not use detergents or other soaps as they may have the potential to be toxic to your dragon.
Heating, Lighting and Humidity
Bearded dragons thrive in bright light but specifically require Ultra Violet light from the “B” spectrum. Simply this means you will need a UVB bulb to ensure their ongoing health. UVB bulbs are available in several styles, linear fluorescents, compact fluorescents or Mercury Vapour (MVB). The size and design of your setup will dictate the most appropriate style to use. UVB lighting is essential to the health of your bearded dragon and bulbs should be replaced at least every 8-12 months or as recommended by the manufacturer. Unless the MVB is used, you will require a second light source as a means for heat. One end of the enclosure should be equipped with a “basking” bulb & a “UVB” bulb. Generally an incandescent bulb in a domed fixture will be acceptable to provide an area where a temperature can be maintained in the 38-43C (100-110F) range.
Bearded dragon, image by cybershot70
Light/Heat should be provided 12-14 hours per day (digital timers are very inexpensive and available at any hardware store). Bearded dragons do not require any light or additional heat source during their ”night time” hours unless your ambient room temps drop below 15C (60F). In this case, an under tank heat pad or ceramic heat emitter is recommended. Never use heat rocks, they are dangerous. Temperatures should be monitored with an accurate digital, sensor thermometer or an infrared spot type thermometer (Temp Gun). Analog or stick on thermometers tend to be inaccurate and highly unreliable - for the sake of a few more dollars you may as well get something good an accurate for your beardy. While the “basking” area should be maintained in the 38-43C (100-110F) range for juveniles, 35-40C (95-105F) for adults. The “cool” side of the tank should allow for temperatures in the 27-29C (80 - 85F) range.
Misting and Bathing
A twice weekly misting from head to tail with a fine spray mister of room temperature water helps hydration and shedding. Two or three times a month let your bearded dragon have a bath in chest deep warm water, not too hot. Bearded dragons seem to enjoy soaking and it may help to assist in hydration, clearing of any impactions or constipation. Dragons will often defecate in the bath water, change the water immediately and run a fresh bath, they will only soil their water once on most occasions. Baths are ideal prior to allowing your dragon out of the enclosure as it helps to prevent "accidents". Do not leave your bearded dragon unattended!
Feeding Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are omnivorous and must be fed a diet consisting of both vegetation and live prey. Vegetables and greens should be offered daily and a wide variety of acceptable veg/greens is the best approach. There are several websites available that provide very helpful suggestions and information on preferred veg/greens based on their acceptability and nutritional content. An excellent and non biased place to start for this information is Veronica Reilly’s ’Nutrition Content” page at --- http://www.beautifuldragons.com/Nutritionframeset.html
Bearded enjoying his greens, image by fro_Ost
Staple prey items generally consist of crickets, dubia, discoid or laterailis roaches, phoenix worms (soldier fly larva) and silkworms. while insects such as waxworms, butterworms, mealworms, and superworms are considered "occasional" feeders. “Dusting” with appropriate calcium and vitamin supplements is a necessity to maintain good health. Dusting is a process that refers to lightly coating greens or live prey with supplements to ensure all of the additional requirements for proper growth and development are met. It is simplest to sprinkle the supplements into a plastic freezer bag that contains the prey and gently shaking until coated. Only dust live prey or greens, depending on the age of the dragon, but it is not necessary to dust both. Live prey should be “gut loaded” prior to feeding, this means your feeders are fed properly to ensure they have an acceptable nutritional value for your dragon. Live prey should be offered in a size that is relative to your dragon. A common suggestion is that prey should be no bigger than the space between your dragon’s eyes.
For hatchlings and young juveniles (up to 2 months): Fresh greens/veg. 1-2 times daily - Live prey 2-3 times per day
Dusted: Five times per week with phosphorus free calcium – once per week calcium with D3 - Once per week with a vitamin supplement such as Reptivite or Herptivite.
For juveniles and sub-adults (2 months to sexual maturity): Fresh greens/veg 1-2 times daily - Live prey 1-2 times per day
Dusted: Five times per week with phosphorus free calcium – Once per week with calcium with D3 - Once per week with a vitamin supplement such as Reptivite or Herptivite.
For adults (generally 1+ year): Fresh greens/veg 1- 2 times daily - Live prey every 2-3 days.
Dusting: Every other feeding with phosphorus free calcium - Twice per month with calcium with D3 - Once per week with a vitamin supplement such as Reptivite or Herptivite.
As there are different circumstances that may arise, this schedule is recommended only as a general guide and may be altered to accommodate individual situations. Using a tracking method of when you dust prevents unnecessary use of product and more importantly, potential harm to your dragon! With proper and effective UVB lighting, supplementation with vitamin D3 is not imperative for bearded dragons but should provided in small amounts. Excessive levels of oral vitamin D3 can potentially lead to the excessive absorption and utilization of calcium and/or toxicity as can the excessive use of supplements containing high levels of vitamin A. Over use of any supplement can have the potential to cause serious health problems, stick to an appropriate supplementation schedule.
Note from site owner: It should be said that as calcium is water soluble there is little risk of a calcium overdose, I would therefore say using too much is better than too little.
Bearded dragon about to munch on a mealworm, image by fro_Ost
Newly aquired Bearded Dragons
Give your bearded dragon time to become comfortable in its new surroundings before handling regularly, a slow "familiarizing" approach is best and necessary with most dragons. It is recommended that juveniles be handled as little as possible for the first week after entering their new home to allow time to adjust and "de-stress". After this time, short periods of handling are recommended if the dragon remains calm and does not display excessive signs of threat. Use slow movements when placing your hand in the enclosure or approaching your dragon. If your dragon "gapes" when approached, this is often an expression of perceived threat and it may be a good idea to leave it and try to approach it another time. Occasional hand feeding of live prey, veg/greens and especially treats will teach your dragon to associate you with food instead of a threat and may help to speed the familiarizing period. Always keep in mind when handling your dragon that they are proficient jumpers and despite their size, are very fast. Be cautious with having them around other pets or young children.
Stunning Bearded Dragon, image by fro_Ost
I would like to give a huge thank you to Germain Bourassa for this care sheet. It is a fantastic introduction to keeping bearded dragons as pets. Thanks Germain!
If you liked this care sheet, why not provide a link to us? If you'd like to do so please feel free to copy and paste the code below:
<p><a href="http://www.reptileexpert.org/bearded-dragon-care/" title="Bearded Dragon care" >Bearded Dragon care sheet</a></p>