They’re social, easily tamable, and can display a range of interesting behaviors that can be fascinating to watch.
They have a beard, and usually, it doesn’t take them long to get used to being around people.
They can wave their arms and nod their heads.
Affectionately known as “beardies,” bearded dragons can make excellent pets for first-time owners and reptile enthusiasts.
In the wild, they prefer to live in warm, arid areas. Since they’re cold-blooded, bearded dragons can’t generate their own body heat and rely on the environment to regulate their body temperatures. So, they bask in the sun to raise their body temperatures and burrow underground to avoid extreme heat.
Bearded dragons have specific nutritional and environmental needs that you should be aware of as a pet parent. However, generally, they’re easy to care for.
In this article, you’ll learn more about caring for bearded dragons and how to keep them healthy and thriving.
Bearded dragons facts
For good reasons, bearded dragons are among the most popular pet reptiles. Despite their popularity, there’s still a lot you may not know about them.
- They are native to Australia’s deserts, woodlands, savannas, and scrublands. They weren’t introduced to the United States until 1990.
- They are scientifically known as Pogona, or specifically pogona vitticeps, for the central bearded dragon that’s mostly found in many homes.
- There are eight main species of bearded dragons recognized today.
- The name “bearded dragon” comes from the beard-like spikes under their necks, similar to a man’s beard. The beards can puff out and turn black when they feel anxious, threatened, or excited.
- They are omnivorous, meaning they can eat a variety of plant matter and insects.
- In captivity, they can live around 10 years as long as they are kept healthy.
- They can communicate moods and intentions through body language and a range of behaviors such as arm waving and head bobbing.
- They are among the most docile and gentle creatures in the lizard world.
- They have a third eye (parietal eye) that makes them see things moving behind them. Also, they have a full vision, just like humans!
Housing the bearded dragon
Bearded dragon care involves giving them an ideal habitat to ensure that they remain healthy and happy. A habitat, also called a vivarium, is basically where your beardie is housed. It’s similar to an aquarium for fish.
Typically, a vivarium can be made of various materials, including glass, plastic, or wood. Each type has pros and cons ranging from cost to weight to aesthetics.
An ideal vivarium should be big enough to accommodate their normal behaviors and exercise, including;
- Room to move around
- Various temperatures
- Hiding spots
- Climbing spots
- Digging spots
When it comes to the tank size, it depends on the age of the bearded dragon.
The ideal tank size for hatchlings should be at least 20 gallons. On the other hand, juveniles could use a tank of at least 55 gallons, while adults need at least 75 gallons. However, the bigger, the better.
That tank should have a secure screen top for proper ventilation.
The tank’s height matters too. It should be tall enough to enable the beardie to move up and down comfortably.
Being cold-blooded, bearded dragons rely on the environment to raise their body temperatures. Therefore, with a temperature gradient, you should provide them with a basking area and a cool side.
The temperature on the cool side should revolve around 75-85℉, and the basking temperature should be about 95-105℉. The nighttime temperature should be 65-70℉.
You should keep at least two thermometers in the tanks, one on the basking spot and the other on the cool side, to monitor temperatures.
Heat can be supplied using ceramic heaters, incandescent bulbs, and other devices.
UV light (UVA and UVB) plays an important role in a beardie’s growth and development.
UVA is needed for energy, appetite, mental health, and food digestion.
On the other hand, UVB helps to synthesize vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption. Without it, beardies can suffer from metabolic bone disease as well as growth issues.
Bearded dragons are active during the daytime, just like humans. They should get 12 hours of UV light daily, even if their vivarium gets direct sunlight. In short, they should get 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.
You should replace all bulbs every 6 to 12 months, even if they appear to be working, as they tend to lose UV output over time.
Usually, humidity levels depend on your geographical location. Generally, if you live in a high-temperature area, the humidity is low, and vice versa.
You should always keep the humidity level between 40-60%. You use a hygrometer to measure humidity.
If the humidity falls too low, you can increase it by misting your bearded dragon. Alternatively, if the humidity is too high, you can decrease it by improving ventilation.
A substrate is a surface or material you place on your beardie’s enclosure floor. Substrates can either be safe or unsafe for your beardie.
Safe and suitable substrate options include newspaper, reptile carpet, paper towels, and tiles. These options are safe for both young and adult beardies.
However, some substrates, such as sand and other loose substrates (e.g., wood shavings, corn cobs, and walnut shells), are unsuitable because beardies can accidentally ingest them. As a result, they can irritate their respiratory tract and cause intestinal impaction, which is potentially life-threatening.
Bearded dragons spend most of their daytime hours basking in heat and light. Also, they need a place to hide. Therefore, you should provide accessories such as branches or artificial rocks where they can climb and hide.
Bearded dragon nutrition
Bearded dragons are omnivores, meaning they can eat both insects and plant matter. But the percentage of plants versus insects differs according to age.
Young beardies should mainly eat insects rather than plants because they need protein and fats to grow and develop. However, the older they grow, the fewer insects they need. Adult bearded dragons should eat more plants than insects.
What should the diet of your bearded dragon look like?
Insects – Bearded dragons should eat crickets, Dubai roaches, and worms (in moderation). You should always gut-load the insects before offering them. Gut-loading means that the insects should be fed nutritious foods the night before to increase their nutritional value.
Vegetables – You should feed bearded dragons a mixture of vegetables and leafy greens. Some examples include kale, collard greens, dandelion greens, carrots, peas, and zucchini. Vegetables should be sliced into thin, bite-sized pieces.
Fruits – Fruits should not be the main part of your beardie’s diet. You should offer them occasionally because of their high sugar content, which can lead to obesity and other health issues. Some safe fruits include papaya, mango, melon, apple, etc.
Commercial foods – Bearded dragon pellet food add variety to the diet. It should be moistened with water and served offered daily if possible.
Dietary supplements – You should dust a beardie’s food with calcium/vitamin D3 at regular intervals for proper metabolism. In addition, dust with a multivitamin once a week.
Water – To keep your pet hydrated, provide fresh and clean water in a shallow bowl at all times. Water should be changed daily.
Note: Bearded dragons’ food should be smaller than the distance between their eyes.
How often should you feed your bearded dragon?
- Hatchling (0 – 6 months) should be fed 3 to 5 times a day.
- Juveniles (6 – 12 months) should be fed twice daily.
- Adults (12+ months) should eat once a day.
To put this into percentages, hatchlings should eat 80% protein and 20% plant matter. Juveniles should eat 50% insects and 50% plant matter. Further, adult beardies should eat 20% insects and 80% plant matter.
Bearded dragons should have a 10 to 15 minutes feeding session.
Do not underfeed or overfeed your bearded dragon, as it may cause health concerns.
Bearded dragons health
With a healthy and balanced diet and proper husbandry, beardies are strong creatures. However, they are susceptible to some health conditions, including;
- Metabolic bone disease – This health condition occurs when you feed a beardie an improper diet (high in phosphorous and low in calcium) and when they lack sufficient UVB lighting.
- Respiratory infections – These infections can occur when a beardie is stressed, provided with a poor diet, or living in poor conditions. Symptoms may include unusual rapid or shallow breathing, sneezing, or excess mucus around the nostrils and mouth.
- Impaction – When bearded dragons ingest particles or substances that are difficult to digest, they can suffer from intestinal impaction, which can be fatal if left unchecked.
- Parasites – The most common parasites in bearded dragons are pinworms. Parasites are normal but can weaken bearded dragons’ immune systems if they are too much. Symptoms of a beardie infested by parasites may include weight loss, smelly poop, and diarrhea.
Other health conditions include mouth rot, adenovirus, egg binding in females, skin and jaw infections, tail rot, etc.
How can you tell if you have a sick bearded dragon?
Signs of illness include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Lack of stool for extended periods
- Unusual movements
- Closed or sunken eyes
- Skin discoloration
- Weakness or paralysis of limbs
Any change from normal should be a cause for concern, and you should see a vet immediately.
Shedding in bearded dragons is a normal and natural process. Beardies shed their skin due to growth or to replace damaged skin. When shedding happens, it means there’s a new layer of skin beneath, and the old skin has to go.
Young beardies shed a lot since they grow rapidly. Hatchlings, for instance, can shed weekly, while adults can shed once or twice per year.
Signs of shedding can be similar to those of a health condition. You might notice that during this period, they experience loss of appetite, lethargy, decreased movement, hiding a lot, irritability, a black beard, don’t want to be handled, and patches of skin start to flake off.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to help them since this is a natural process. But here are a few tips to help them during shedding periods.
- Avoid handling them
- Provide rough surfaces to aid skin removal
- Give them a bath
- Add a little humidity in the mornings and evenings.
No matter what happens, DO NOT PULL THEIR SKIN OFF OR PEEL IT.
Brumation is similar to hibernation but for cold-blooded animals. It’s a survival instinct for bearded dragons to help them survive during winter.
Like shedding, brumation is a natural process and can be mistaken for a health condition. Brumating beardies can sleep for extended periods, refuse to eat, and hide frequently.
How can you support them during brumation?
- Adjust enclosure heating and lighting
- Offer food, whether they choose to eat it or not
- Always provide clean, fresh water
- Keep their enclosure clean
Bearded dragon handling tips
Bearded dragons are so popular because of their docile and friendly nature. So, they tolerate handling much better than other lizard species.
Handling a beardie is easy. But we’ll give you some proper handling techniques for a smooth one-on-one time with your pet.
- When you get a new beardie, give them time to adjust and feel safe in the new environment. Then start by handling them for short periods.
- Wash your hands before and after handling to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Approach slowly and calmly. Avoid any sudden movements to avoid scaring the pet,
- Support the beardie’s body weight.
- Use slow movements.
- Never peel the skin of a shedding beardie when handling.
Bearded dragons can make great pets for beginners, experts, and everyone in between. They’re docile, friendly, and easy to take care of.
Proper care for bearded dragons involves caring for their habitat requirements, following a proper diet, knowing when and how to handle them, and caring for their health.
With proper care and husbandry, bearded dragons can provide years of companionship.