Since you can’t have a real dragon!
How many people watched How to Train Your Dragon and immediately wanted a dragon in their life?
Only me? Wait, can you tell I am a mom from that question since I didn’t use a Game of Thrones reference?
Well, since I can’t have a real-life flying dragon, I would absolutely choose a bearded dragon!
Bearded dragons are one of the most popular pet reptiles because they are so darn cute!!! “Beardies” are also gentle, curious, and active during the day, so you don’t have to stare at an animal that sits on his branch all.
Even though almost all pet stores sell Beardies, proper husbandry information is often not discussed or given to ensure your reptile has a long healthy life.
Let’s start with essential information for Bearded Dragons.
Scientific Name: Pogona
Diet: Omnivore – “An animal that eats food of both plant and animal origin” ~Oxford Languages
Average Life Span: 4 to 10 years
Size: 18 to 22 inches (45.7 to 55.9 cm)
Weight: 10 to 18 ounces
Number of species: 8
Physical Characteristics: A bearded dragon’s coloration is tan to yellow. These reptiles obtain their name from flaring out the skin in their throat region, making a beard. The beard makes an appearance when it feels threatened or territorial. Their head is a classic wedge shape leading to a flattened body, then a tail which is almost as long as their body. Beardies have spines along the throat, sides of the head, and sides of the body, giving them a don’t mess with me appearance.
Now that we have revisited high school Biology class, let’s go into basic care for your bearded dragon.
Fair warning, this is going to be information-packed.
Bearded Dragon Care
Hatchlings and juvenile bearded dragons can be raised in 10 to 20-gallon aquariums but grow quickly and will need upgrades in the future. Adult beardies require a minimum of a 50-gallon aquarium but can be housed in 75 to 120 gallons.
Ensure the enclosure is well ventilated regardless of size. Inadequate ventilation can lead to respiratory disease.
I recommend 3 of the four sides of the aquarium are covered with a background. The addition of a background keeps a beardie from seeing his reflection and feeling threatened. The scenery keeps your beardie feeling safe and prevents escape attempts that can result in injury.
Captive bearded dragons can live on multiple substrate options:
- Paper Towels
- Indoor/outdoor carpeting
- Potting Soil (needs to be changed weekly)
- Butcher paper
- Paper pulp
The substrate needs to be spot cleaned once or twice a day then changed every 5 to 7 days.
DO NOT USE – sand, gravel, coconut fiber, or crushed walnut bedding. These substrates have a high risk of causing impaction in your bearded dragon. Impactions can be life-threatening to beardies.
Daytime temperatures in the enclosure should be between 80 to 85°F (26.7 to 29.4°C) with a basking area of 90 to 100°F (32.2 to 37.8°C). Nighttime temperatures need to be 65 to 75°F (18.22 to 23.9°C). All enclosures need to have two thermometers to ensure proper temperature gradients.
The primary heat source should be an overhead basking light or ceramic heat emitter. Recommended overhead self-ballasted basking lamps include:
- Zoo Med
- San Lois Obispo
Ensure beardies cannot get closer than 12 inches (30.5 cm) to the lights. Bearded dragons that are allowed closer to the lights can obtain burns along their back.
Secondary heat can be used with tank heaters placed under half of the aquarium. Only use this method is needed to achieve a proper temperature gradient.
DO NOT USE electrical heating rocks! Electrical heating rocks can cause thermal burns on your bearded dragon resulting in the need for veterinary care.
Appropriate humidity for a bearded dragon is between 40 to 60%. Ensure to have a hygrometer along with the two thermometers in the enclosure.
The humidity range can be achieved by placing a water dish in the aquarium with daily misting. Ensure the water dish is large enough for your bearded dragon to soak their entire body.
Bearded dragons need ultraviolet B (UVB) lights for proper growth and prevention of disease. UVB lights stimulate the production of calcium in your beardie to help prevent metabolic bone disease.
Natural sunlight is the best source of UVB light, BUT do not place your enclosure in direct sunlight.
Direct sunlight can increase the temperature of your aquarium to an unacceptable level causing hyperthermia in your beardie.
Recommended bulbs for UVB light (in addition to the recommends above for the temperature)
- Repti Sun 10.0 for hatchlings and juveniles
- Repti Sun 5.0 for adults
Bearded dragons should be exposed to 12 hours daily with 12 hours of darkness to ensure appropriate maintenance.
UVB bulbs need to be changed every six months as the strength will decrease over time despite still looking the same.
Bearded dragons need accessories in their environment to help enrich their lives because remember they are an inquisitive species. Also, the accessories in their enclosure can help to meet their husbandry needs.
Items to include in your beardie’s aquarium:
- Wood climbing branches
- Cork bark hides
- Large rock under the basking light
- Burrowing area
- Live plants – aloe and palms
- Artificial plants
- Half log hiding areas
Remember, you can get creative and make custom hide areas for your bearded dragon and replace them every few months to provide enrichment.
Don’t forget the water bowl either. Ensure the water bowl is shallow and large enough for your Bearded Dragon to soak their entire body.
Remember from the beginning that bearded dragons are omnivores, so that they will need a mixture of plant and animal material for healthy living. Juveniles need to eat 50% plant material with 50% animal material. Adults will consume 90% plant material and 10% animal material.
Hatchlings up to two months of age should be fed two to three times a day. Juveniles should be feed daily while adults need to be feed every other day up to every third day if you see your beardie is getting a little chunky.
Obesity in beardie can lead to serious health problems (the same as in humans).
Foods to feed:
Vegetables (Ensure to dust with calcium)
- Mustard greens
- Turnip or beet tops
- Bok choy
- Broccoli rape
- Romaine lettuce
- Super worms
- Dubai cockroaches
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Butter worms
- Tomato hornworms
Ensure the insects are well fed before becoming prey, and they are gut-loaded with greater than 8% calcium.
An excellent online source for the insects mentioned above: https://dubiaroaches.com/
Adult bearded dragons can eat frozen mice as well a few times a month. Please do not feed the mouse still frozen but ensure it is appropriately prepared to keep your beardies digestive system happy.
Unfreeze the mouth by soaking in warm water. Ensure the mouse reaches a temperature between 86 to 95°F (30 to 35°C) before feeding.
Bearded dragons are not always the best drinkers and need some help. Along with having the shallow dish in their enclosure, drink or spray water onto your beardie’s head. Also, spray the sides of your aquarium to help encourage drinking.
Calcium, calcium, calcium!!!
Did I mention that calcium is needed to be supplement in a bearded dragon’s diet? Because calcium needs to be supplemented. Ways to increase calcium include gut-loaded insects or food and insects dusted with a calcium supplement.
Additionally, bearded dragons need a multivitamin given twice a month to help ensure they achieve their nutritional needs. I recommend using the Exo Terra Multivitamin.
Bearded dragons can make a fantastic pet and can be an easy introduction into reptile ownership, but they need proper husbandry and care. If you are not properly maintaining your beardies environment and diet, you can expect to have an unhealthy reptile that requires extensive veterinary care.
Next week, I will discuss the most common bearded dragon diseases seen in captive reptiles.
Spoiler alert: Most of them are caused by improper husbandry!
If you have any questions or concerns about your bearded dragon, make sure to contact your veterinarian.