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Bearded Dragon Care Guide

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Bearded Dragon

If you’re in the market for a more exotic type pet, bearded dragons may be just what you’re looking for.  They’re affectionate, easy to maintain, and you don’t have to take them for walks.  With just some basic care, bearded dragons can be great pets for years to come.

Before we get to that basic care, here are some fun facts about bearded dragons:

  • They are named for the scales on the underside of their head that when puffed out resemble a beard.
  • Bearded dragons are 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) in size depending on species, gender, environment and diet.
  • Native to the Australian deserts, they have also been known to inhabit woodlands and savannahs.
  • With proper care, beardies can live into their early teenage years as pets.

Making a House a Home

Bearded dragons can live comfortably in a tank, cage or terrarium.  Glass fish aquariums are a popular choice as they come is proper sizes, are see-through and easy to find.  Other possibilities include vision cages, PVC cages, or melamine cages.  These cages vary in cost and pros and cons.  It’s all about what is best for you and your beardie.  Whatever type of cage you choose, make sure that it has a lid that is breathable in order to keep the humidity inside the cage to a minimum.

As stated above, the size of bearded dragon can partially be determined by the size of their cage.  The bigger the cage, the more opportunity for growth, so the bigger the cage you can manage, the better.  Most baby beardies do fine in a 20 gallon tank, while adults need more like a 100 gallon tank or larger.

 

Once you have your tank or cage, it’s time to add the necessary accessories.

  • Lighting, think desert sun. Bearded dragons are used to spending their days basking in the hot, dry desert so the tank lighting needs to closely mimic that sun.
    • Your bearded dragon will need two light sources. The first is a full spectrum UV light that spans the length of the tank.
    • The second light is a basking light that provides heat. This is a bright white light that is capable of making the basking spot temperature of 95-110 degrees.
  • Bedding for the tank should be a solid type material rather than loose. Easy and available materials include newspaper, butcher paper or a great product called reptile carpet.
  • Don’t forget the furniture. You wouldn’t want a living room without a couch, so don’t leave your beardie without some comforts as well.  The barebones for furniture would be a basking platform that allows them to get within 6-8 inches of their basking light in order to warm themselves.  Don’t be afraid to look into hammocks, branches, and hides to engage your bearded dragon and make it more like home.

What’s to Eat?

In the wilds of Australia, bearded dragons eat small insects, fruits and vegetables.  Therefore, your pet’s diet should mimic that.

    • Insects are the foundation, especially for a baby beardie. Growing bodies need more insects than the adults, so feed our baby insects 3 times a day to the adult’s one feeding.  For both age groups, feed as many insects as your lizard can consume in 10 minutes and then remove the remaining insects.  The best insects to feed include:
      • Black Soldier Fly Larvae
      • Crickets
      • Earthworms
      • Locusts
      • Butterworms for baby beardies only

 

    • Fresh fruits and veggies should be left in the tank at all times for your bearded dragon to snack on as he pleases. Be sure to keep them fresh and replace them as needed.  A few good choices of both vegetables and fruits are:
      • Bell peppers
      • Cucumber
      • Carrots
      • Cabbage
      • Celery
      • Apples
      • Blueberries
      • Pears
      • Plums
      • Raisins
      • Bearded dragons can also munch on basil, chives, clover, dandelion greens, oregano, sage, thyme

 

    • The list of foods not to feed may be more important and include:
      • Insects that you capture yourself. They can contain parasites or other harmful things that can make your lizard sick.
      • Lettuce and spinach
      • Avocados

 

  • Don’t forget the vitamins! Bearded dragons will need some vitamin and mineral supplementation, mainly iron, vitamin D3 and calcium.  There is a large variety of commercial supplements available at any pet store or online.

What about Healthcare?

Bearded dragons exhibit some normal behaviors that may seem fairly abnormal if you are not aware of them.  The key to knowing if your reptile is sick is knowing what a healthy one acts like.

  • Brumation is a hibernation cycle that occurs naturally in bearded dragons. It usually occurs in the fall or winter in response to lighting and temperature changes.  Bearded dragons are individuals and therefore, will each have a different brumation cycle.  Some bearded dragons will sleep for the entirety, while others will take long ‘naps’.  The brumation cycle can last anywhere from one week to several months.  Bearded dragons may or may not eat during this period of time, but should retain their normal weight regardless.  If your beardie is one that wakes for brief periods during brumation, you can offer fruits and vegetables to see if he has an appetite.  However, if he doesn’t eat, don’t worry about it.
  • Shedding is a process all bearded dragons go through. It’s like spring cleaning, out with the old and in with the new, skin that is.  Baby dragons will shed frequently to make room for their growing bodies, while adults will shed just once or twice a year.  You can help your beardie by keeping him hydrated with warm baths or spray bottle misting.  You should not help him by pulling the skin off yourself.  When it’s ready, it will come on its own.  Signs your bearded dragon is starting to shed include:
    • Dullness in color and appearance
    • Puffed out eyes as the skin loosens to shed
    • There should be no abnormal discharge from the eyes or discomfort in your dragon.

 

Now onto the bad weird stuff.  We’ve covered the weird things that your bearded dragon will do normally, so let’s hit on some abnormal behaviors that could be signs of illness.

    • Impaction and paralysis. Feeding your bearded dragon food larger than the space between their eyes can cause impaction or paralysis.  This is because as the large food bolus moves through the intestinal tract, it can put pressure on the spine causing loss of the use of their legs.  You may also notice that your beardie hasn’t gone to the bathroom in a while.  To remedy either or both of these problems start by:
      • Bathing in warm water and gently massaging the belly. This helps warm the lizard and get things moving again.
      • Keep your bearded dragon off his stomach. Maybe easier said than done, but you can make a sort of hammock sling that supports his front and hind legs but lets his belly swing free.  This will allow gravity to draw the large food products down, away from the spine and relieve that pressure.
      • Make sure you are feeding your beardie the proper sized diet and offering plenty of fresh water.
      • If none of these at-home measures help, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.

 

    • Diarrhea, on the other end of the spectrum, bearded dragons can experience diarrhea. Mainly due to stress or eating bad food, diarrhea can also be caused by parasites.  So if the diarrhea doesn’t go away with alleviating stress and providing proper food, it would time to see your veterinarian.

 

  • Dehydration can be a concern. Even desert animals need water, so bearded dragons are no exception.  Common signs of dehydration include:
    • Sunken eyes
    • Lack of energy and appetite
    • Wrinkled, shriveled skin

If dehydration is suspected, offer your beardie some drinking water additives like Pedialyte or sports drinks.  If that doesn’t work, you can eye dropper water into his mouth until he perks up.

  • Metabolic Bone Disease is due to a lack of calcium or vitamin D in the diet that causes weakening of the bones. Remember the vitamin and mineral supplements we talked about earlier?  Here’s why your bearded dragon needs them.  You also need to make sure your UV light is adequate and your lizard is eating a variety of healthy foods.  Signs of Metabolic Bone Disease include:
    • Jerky, twitchy movements
    • Swellings or bumps in legs, jaw, and backbone
    • Spasms or tremors when standing still

See your veterinarian if your bearded dragon displays any of these signs to help get him back on track.

  • Mites, parasites and other things that suck blood. Fortunately your bearded dragon carries around a thick layer of armor that keeps most mites and parasites out.  However, sensitive areas such as the eyes, ears, and GI tract are up for grabs.  See your veterinarian if your bearded dragon exhibits any signs of mites or parasites such as:
    • Discharge or swelling in the eyes while not shedding
    • Weight loss with a good appetite
    • Diarrhea that doesn’t respond to normal treatments

Finally, if your bearded dragon is showing any worrisome behavior, whether abnormal or not, it’s worth seeing your veterinarian.  It’s better to be sure for your peace of mind and that of your pet.