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Bearded Dragon Care

How To Care For Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragon care sheet

General Information

Natural Habitat

Wild bearded dragon

The bearded dragon's natural habitat is the deserts of Australia where these reptiles bask in hot locations including arid and subtropical woodlands and deserts. The dragons are dominant and territorial animals, often taking possession of their favored basking area to soak up the sun for hours each day. When it gets too hot they burrow underground.

In order to create the optimum habitat for your new bearded dragon you need a good understanding of dragon behaviors in their natural habitat, ensuring your new pet is comfortable.

Temperature Regulation

Temperature helps the bearded dragon to regulate their body temperature. Adding heat to their habitat is essential to their health. The bearded dragon will obtain heat from their surroundings. This is called ectotherms. Surprisingly your bearded dragon can keep a relatively stable body temperature, this is due to the fact that they are metabolically inactive when food is scarce and in general, they are low energy animals.

Optimum Day And Night Temperatures

Unlike many other lizards, the bearded dragon is very active during the day time, this includes the hottest times. They obtain their body heat from the sun and while they can withstand high temperature, too much can be deadly. 85ºF (29.4ºC) is the ideal maximum temperature and something to aim towards.

Hibernation

Yes bearded dragons do go through a form of semi-hibernation called brumation. This hibernation can last a couple of weeks to a few months. Your bearded dragon is more likely to hibernate when temperatures drop below 60 – 70ºF (15 – 21ºC). Not all “beardies” will hibernate.

Predators And Prey

Bearded dragons are not picky eaters, due to food being so scarce in their natural habitats. These lizards are omnivores, which means they eat both plant and animals.

Your bearded dragon has a very large stomach and after a healthy meal, it's not uncommon for these lizards to be unable to run and escape from predators effectively.

Fighting

While you may think you have the calmest and most docile bearded dragon, they do fight. The good news is that most beardies are lazy and don't enjoy moving, this includes when they feel threatened. They rely on their effective camouflage.

If confronted by a predator, the bearded dragon will flatten their body to the ground, blow out their beards and open their mouth slightly. They will fight back if attacked.

Bearded Dragons Size And Age

The average size of a bearded dragon can range from 12 to 24 inches (30 – 60 cm). German Giants are largest bearded dragons which tend to reach 22 - 24 inches in length. Every bearded dragon has different development speed so there is no way to determine the exact age of a bearded dragon without recorded document. However, you can use below chart for a rough estimation on a bearded dragon's age based on its size.

Length

Age

3 – 4 inches

0 – 1 month (Baby)

5 – 9 inches

2 months (Baby)

8 – 11 inches

3 months (Baby)

9 – 12 inches

4 months (Baby)

11 – 16 inches

5 months (Baby)

11 – 18 inches

6 months (Juvenile)

13 – 20 inches

8 months (Juvenile)

16 – 22 inches

12 months (Adult)

18 – 24 inches

24 months (Adult)

There are numerous factors that impact the growth of your bearded dragon, these include breed, gender and health. The first year of growth is rapid and very noticeable. Bearded dragons grow ninety percent of their full size in the first year and are fully grown by the second year. A bearded dragon can grow to 16 or 22 inches in their first year and then grow to 24 inches in their second year.

A baby beardie of between zero and six months of age goes through its fastest growth period and can weigh around 40g. A juvenile dragon of six months to one year will still grow fast, but not as fast as the first six months. Thier weight should range between 183g to 378g. An adult beardie of twelve months can weigh up to 500g. This is all determined by the breed and health of the dragon.

Lifespan

These are very hardy reptiles, which is what makes them such great pets.

In the wild the average lifespan of a bearded dragon is three to five years. This lifespan is also given to the bearded dragons that have been in captivity and neglected.

Most bearded dragons cared for in captivity will last between five and twelve years with twelve to fourteen years being possible but not that common. Over fourteen years is extremely rate, but bearded dragons have been recorded up the age of nineteen in captivity.

Before Having A Bearded Dragon

Before you rush off to your local pet shop and buy the first “beardie” you see, there are some important things to consider. The same as you wouldn't bring a cat home without having a litter box, food bowls and toys in place, you shouldn't bring your bearded dragon home until you have everything set up and ready.

Costs

The initial set up costs of having a bearded dragon can be on the expensive side. Once your initial costs are covered, then there are basic monthly costs you need to consider, including an urgent visit to the vet if needed.

A regular vet check up for your bearded dragon can set you back between $60 and $70.

Initial Costs

  • Bearded dragon - $200 to $400
  • Tank/vivarium - $60 - $200
  • Decorations - $20 to $60
  • Initial Costs average between $400 and $600

Monthly / Ongoing Costs

  • Food - $10 to $50
  • Substrate and cleaning - $2 to $10
  • Lighting - $50 to $100 annually
  • Total monthly costs per bearded dragon is between $10 and $50.

Responsibilities

It's important to note before you run out and purchase a bearded dragon that this is at least a ten year responsibility. This will require an investment of your time and money to ensure you keep your pet healthy and well looked after.

Daily responsibilities including turning on and off the light and heat lamp at set times. Some bearded dragon owners choose to use a timer switch to ensure that they provide the ultimate habitat.

Feeding will include a mix of fresh fruit, vegetables and greens along with insects, which includes crickets, cockroaches and meal worms, to name a few. (More details to follow in the feeding section).

Bathing is an important part of your bearded dragons health and you will be responsible for cleaning their cage once a month at least and giving them a welcome bath, which your beardie is guaranteed to enjoy.

Where can you get a bearded dragon

Most people will head off to the pet shop, this is always the first and most convenience choice to find a new pet. But there are numerous resources you can make use of to find a healthy beardie.

Consider buying from a responsible breeder. They will have more experience and will provide a healthy beardie.

Some owners visit a reptile rescue center. These beardies were once neglected and you are offering them a second change at life. The same applies when making use of the classified adverts in your local paper, you are giving the bearded dragon a second chance at a happy life.

What Age Should You Get

There are significant differences on buying a young or adult bearded dragon. Some of the important factors you need to understand is listed below.

Young Bearded Dragons

It is more common for owners to choose a younger bearded dragon, this is because it helps with bonding and is less of a risk than buying an older bearded dragon that has problems and bad habits.

It is important to note that when handling younger bearded dragons, they are more fragile than the adults and therefore should always be handled with care. To avoid disappointment, it's important to note that bearded dragons which are younger than four months have a high mortality rate.

Their diet consists of mostly insects and they will need to be fed multiple times each day, which can quickly get expensive. Young bearded dragons generally don't develop gender characteristics until they have reached sexual maturity (usually 5 - 6 month old). So there is no easy way to tell if a young bearded dragon is male or female.

  • Birth to 8 inches – the dragon grows rapidly at this age with a big appetite for mostly insects. Young dragons are more likely to attack their tank mates if they are hungry.
  • 8 inches to adult – During this growth period, the dragon's diet will change to include more vegetables, fruit and greens. They are less aggressive towards other bearded dragons at this size, even though the growth rate remains relatively rapid. It's at this size where sexual maturity begins.

Adult Bearded Dragons

The benefit to adult bearded dragons is that they are less fragile and more stable when it comes to their diet. While you will pay more for an adult and their previous history will be unknown, they can be an ideal choice if you're worried about handling a smaller and more fragile beardie.

What Gender Should You Get

Males

Male bearded dragons are bigger than the females and often much brighter in color. Most owners will tell you that the males have more personality and character, but at the same time they can be more aggressive. You cannot keep two males in the same habitat.

Females

The females tend to be less aggressive, but their color isn't as vivid as the males. They are also smaller in size. Female bearded dragons will lay eggs with or without a mate once they reach sexual maturity.

Housing

Housing your bearded dragon is a very important exercise, providing your reptile with a home that is as close to their natural habitat as possible, ensuring that they remain healthy and happy for years to come. A bearded dragon is a long term commitment and to ensure the best for your pet, you will want to take some of the following factors listed below into consideration.

Bearded Dragon Cage

Tank

The tank is where your bearded dragon will spend most of its time. The tank is often referred to as a tank, cage or vivarium. Most new bearded dragon owners start with a basic glass tank (a fish tank).

The general requirements when selecting a bearded dragon enclosure is an easy to view tank that offers fresh air to your reptile. The tank should be built to keep your dragon safe from other pets in the home and insects. In addition to this, ensure the tank is tall enough to eliminate the risk of your pet escaping.

Tank Sizes

It's imperative when choosing a tank that you choose the right size. It should be large enough that your bearded dragon can claim his/her territory with ease. If it is too small, your pet will become stressed. A sign of a tank too small and a stressed dragon is when the reptile starts attacking the sides of the tank. Below are recommended rectangle tank sizes for different bearded dragon's lengths.

Tank Size

Bearded Dragon Length

20 gallon

Baby dragon (less than 10 inches)

40 gallon

10 - 16 inches

50 - 75 gallon

16 - 20 inches

75 - 120 gallon

20 inches and above

The bigger the better

Bearded dragons are used to roaming in the wild so they will need to have a large enough tank that they can claim it as their territory. If there is not enough space, the dragon will become stressed.

Tank Types

There is a variety of different tanks to take into consideration:

Glass Tanks – The most popular choice, often used as a fish tank.

Melamine Cages – An effective cage built using melamine board. The white of the board is effective in reflecting light.

PVC Cages – Similar to melamine except made from PVC to make them lightweight and easy to clean.

ABS Cages – Same as PVC. Often preferred as doesn't have that new plastic smell.

Vision Cages – Professional displays out of plastic. Attractive, lightweight and easy to clean.

Tank Tops

The tank should have an effective screen cover. This cover has a dual purpose, the first is to keep pets and insects out, while ensuring that it keeps your bearded dragon in.

Mesh is preferred as it allows for generous air flow.

Setting Up Your Tank

Where should you set up your tank? You will want to choose a room in the house that has the most consistent temperature. Never put your bearded dragons tank directly in sunlight. While they love heat, this could get too hot.

Keep your bearded dragon habitat away from sun rooms, rooms with wood burners, rooms that are used regularly and any rooms that use an oven or heating.

Lighting And Heating

The temperature and lighting in your bearded dragons housing area is imperative to their health and happiness.

Basking Light Bulb – Heating light that is vital to your dragons health. Should be on for 12 to 14 hours per day. Specifically designed for heating reptiles and plants.

UV Light Bulb – Ultra violet results in a healthy bearded dragon. With improper lighting your dragon can experience health issues. The UV light helps to improve color, mood and appetite. UVA rays stimulate appetite and energy, while UVB rays synthesize vitamin D3, essential in helping your beardie absorb calcium.

Light Timer (Optional) - If you have busy schedules, the timer will help turn the cage's lights on and off automatically at the correct time of each day.

Under tank heater (Optional) – Keeps your dragon warm when your basking light is off. This heater is valuable when temperatures drop below 70ºF (21ºC).

Don't Use Hot Rocks

Hot rocks are basking stones that simulate a rock that has been baking in the sun all day. Be warned, your bearded dragon may like this too much. It's not uncommon for dragons to get burns as a result.

Temperature and Humidity Sensors

It's recommended that to ensure you provide your bearded dragon with the best care that you ensure you have the following at hand:

  • 2 Thermometers – One should be pleased close to the basking light. The second should be placed as far away from the basking light as possible.
  • Humidity Gauge – This gauge will help you ensure the tank doesn't become too humid. Being desert reptiles, the bearded dragon does not enjoy too much moisture.
  • Infrared thermometer (Optional) – Ensures there is no hot or cold spots. Gives you the exact temperature.

Substrate

There is an extensive range of substrates you can use to provide your bearded dragon with a comfortable and healthy habitat. The substrate is decorative, but be warned that bearded dragons tend to use their tongue and lick things when experiencing them. For this reason you want to try and stay away from substrates with small and loose particles, which they could ingest.

  • Sand – Not recommended due to the tiny particles. This substrate is the most natural option, mimicking the environment.
  • Crushed walnut shells – This is not recommended due to the sharp edges.
  • Paper towel or newspaper – Ideal for younger dragons.
  • Tiles – Not recommended. While tiles may look visually appealing, they can be unhygienic and frustrating. Dragons will run through their feces, insects will climb under the tiles and it will require a lot of cleaning.
  • Reptile carpets – Specifically designed with lizards in mind. They are soft and easy to clean.
  • Shelf liners – Easy to clean. The beardies claws don't snag and there is no accidental ingestion.

Furniture

The furniture you add to your bearded dragons habitat will make your beardie feel right at home. The good news is that it not only gives your dragon something to do, but it makes your tank look more visually appealing from the outside.

Backgrounds

Backgrounds can be used to improve the habitats appearance. Interestingly, your bearded dragon is used to seeing scenery in all directions, making backgrounds a welcome addition to your tank.

Choose from a variety of pictures to natural backgrounds made from stone and wood.

Hides

The hide is your bearded dragons home. Every now and then it's not uncommon for your bearded dragon to feel a little vulnerable and want somewhere to hide out for a while. Ensure when making your selection you choose a hide that is big enough for your bearded dragon to get inside and turn around.

Basking Platform

The basking light will be pointed towards the basking platform. This is the hottest place in the tank and probably your bearded dragons favorite spot. The aim of the platform is to get your dragon closer to the light to ensure their comfort.

You can consider a hide / basking platform combo, ideal if you have limited space in your tank.

Perches, Branches, Hammocks

Bearded dragons love to climb. You can get branches in any wooded area. Before adding it to the tank ensure you remove any bark and check for parasites and insects.

Perches and hammocks can be purchased at most pet shops.

Plants

Plants can be rather tricky when it comes to your bearded dragons habitat and therefore you need to make the decision with care on whether to include them or not.

Real plants will increase the humidity in the tank and you already know your beardie doesn't like too much moisture. Fake plants on the other hand, can be deadly as your beardie will try and eat them.

Food and Water Bowls

You will want a food bowl for your beardie, even if he/she is still on a diet of mostly insects. The food bowl is used for your vegetables, greens and fruits.

It's important when making your selection you choose a bowl that won't fall over and is made from a durable and strong material.

When you first introduce a water bowl into the habitat, don't be surprised if your dragon isn't sure what to do with it. It's recommended on introduction of the water bowl, you slowly run or drip water into the bowl creating a ripple effect, which shows the bearded dragon what it is. This can help encourage them to drink from the bowl.

Bearded dragons don't really need a water bowl, though one is always recommended in case. Too much water in the tank will increase humidity.

You can try a misting bottle. This can be used to keep veg and leaves from drying out and also helps to hydrate your bearded dragon.

Diet And Nutrition

Bearded dragons are omnivorous. What this means is that they eat animals and greens. Your bearded dragon shouldn't be a fussy eater once it reaches maturity. In fact, your beardie should be happy eating crickets, cockroaches, super worms, carrots, collard greens, dandelions, frozen mixed vegetables, hibiscus flowers, kale and much more.

Insects

Crickets, super worms, cockroaches and dubia roaches are all tasty to your bearded dragon's pallet. They will even enjoy a feasting on fly lava. This gives you a few options for nutrition and enables you to give your bearded dragon a varied diet.

Feeding your dragon insects does mean you need to be prepared. You should feed the insects with a nutritional diet (purchased from pet shop) before feeding your beardy. This is called “gut loading.” Your bearded dragon will enjoy everything from crickets to meal worm, small mice and small lizards.

dubia roaches

Dubia roaches are high nutritious and come with different sizes

Keeping Insects

You want to keep a supply of insects for your bearded dragon to eat. This means you need to invest in a smaller enclosure. The good news is that these insects don't need much care and maintenance.

Veggies, Fruits And Greens

Bearded Dragon Vegetables

Vegetables are a major staple of every bearded dragon's diet. They will receive most of the water and vitamins/minerals they need to stay healthy through their vegetables.

Bearded dragons enjoy a full range of greens, vegetables and fruits, including: collard greens, carrots, dandelions (leaves and flowers), hibiscus blooms and other nontoxic flowers (as an occasional treat), kale, mustard greens, chopped apples, chopped pears, berries of most varieties. The list is much longer but they are common greens that you can feed your beardie everyday.

Various lettuces should be not be fed as they are not nutrious for bearded dragons. Spinach should also be avoided as it causes calcium to bind to it which makes it difficult for bearded dragons to digest.

Don't Rely On Commercial Lizard Food

Pellets can be purchased at your local pet shop. Some bearded dragons love pellets, others will not go near them. Never rely on commercial foods only, always add a mix of fresh greens, vegetables, fruit and insects to keep your dragon strong and healthy.

Vitamins And Minerals

The same as humans, your bearded dragon is going to need vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure that their health is maintained.

Vitamin D3 And Calcium

Vitamin D3 and Calcium are the most important and essential vitamins and minerals you will need to supplement for your beardie. Calcium ensures proper bone development. It is very important that you give Vitamin D3 and Calcium simultaneously to your dragon. A bearded dragon cannot metabolite calcium without Vitamin D3 present. In the wild your dragon will get Vitamin D3 from the sun.

The dose is determined by the age of your dragon:

  • Babies – daily dose
  • Juveniles – 3 – 4 times per week.
  • Adults – once a week or once every 2 weeks if your beardie spends time outdoors in the sun.

Vitamin A

Your bearded dragon will get the majority of its Vitamin A from the vegetables and greens it eats. An added supplement can ensure optimum health.

Don't Overdose On Vitamin A

Bearded dragons can overdose on Vitamin A. When choosing the right supplement ensure you choose Beta Carotene, this is closer to what your beardie would get in the wild. Bearded dragons are able to convert Beta Carotene into Vitamin A. They are also able to excrete Beta Carotene easily, reducing the risk of overdose.

Iron

Your bearded dragon will get its iron directly from the plant matter it eats and does not require supplementation.

Feeding Baby Beardies

Young bearded dragons require a lot more care than the adults. These baby bearded dragons require ample protein, along with leafy greens and water. The baby bearded dragon's diet should comprise of 60% to 70% protein.

You should feed a young bearded dragon three times per day as many as they can eat within
10-15 minute. When they are done eating or when the time is up, remember collect uneaten insects and save them for a later meal.

Make Sure Your Baby Dragon Have Enough Water

Bearded dragons need a lot of water in their early stages. Misting the vegetables with water to entice your bearded dragon and offering regular bath are effectivily ways to keep your bearded dragon hydrated.

Feeding Adult Beardies

As a bearded dragon ages their diet changes. You will find once you have an adult bearded dragon on your hands, the diet will change to only 25% protein, with the remaining 75% being plant based.

The adult dragon enjoys a diverse choice of foods and they don't need food that often. Feed your adult beardie once a day. Set a routine, so they know when to expect food.

Some Useful Tips

  • Don't feed anything that is larger than the space between your bearded dragon's eyes.
  • Never feed your dragon around substrate.
  • Don't feed unwashed greens or fruits.
  • Never feed your dragon on insects you find in the home.
  • Don't leave uneaten insects in the tank.
  • Remove and replace fresh food regularly (at least once a day).

Health

Your bearded dragons health is important to you. You want to ensure you provide your bearded dragon with the best care from their habitat to the quality of their food. It's understandable to get concerned when you notice something different about your beardie. Before you become too worried, continue reading to find out about your bearded dragon shedding and hibernating.

Shedding

It's not uncommon to get a fright the first time your bearded dragon starts shedding. All beardies will shed occasionally, though younger dragons will shed more frequently as they are growing at a much faster rate than the adults.

The most common average for an adult bearded dragon is to shed twice a year. Shedding varies from one dragon to the next and can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days.

It's also common for bearded dragons to shed in patches. They may shed in their tails, arms or head separately.

Bearded dragon shedding

They commonly shed in different body parts separately

What To Expect

It's not uncommon for your bearded dragon to get a little grumpy when it comes time to shed. Shedding can be exceptionally itchy and this may result in your dragon not wanting you to touch him/her. This can result in hissing when you approach to a lack of appetite.

A sign that your bearded dragon is about to start shedding is their coloring will become dull just before shedding begins. It's important that you help your bearded dragon to remain clean and hydrated throughout this process.

Frequent baths can help to moisten the skin. It's important that you do not pull off any skin. If you accidentally pull off skin that isn't ready to come off, you could end up injuring your dragon. Keep a close eye on the end of the tail and the toes, these are areas where the skin struggles to come off.

How Often Does a Dragon Shed

  • 0 to 6 months – shed weekly
  • 6 to 12 months – shed once a month to once every few months
  • Over 12 months – Shed a couple of times a year

Brumation

Brumation is a fancy way of saying “semi-hibernation.” That's right, your bearded dragon may semi hibernate from time to time. It's important to note that not all dragons go through this process. If your beardie is going to go through brumation, it will start once they are over a year of age.

During this process your bearded dragon will be less active with a decreased appetite. They will sleep more, but it's important to ensure that they do not lose weight. It's not uncommon for your bearded dragon to start activating differently leading up to and during brumation. It's best you don't interrupt them too much, as this can result in a longer process.

In addition to this, it's important you continue feeding your beardie as normal. Excess food can always be removed and replaced. You will also want to ensure you give him/her a bath at least once a week to keep them hydrated.

Brumation can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

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