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General Care Bearded Dragons - Care Sheet

Written by Jeremiah "Podunk" Jaeger in June, 2003
Updated by Deb Buss in May, 2013



Introduction​

These gentle beasts are from Australia but are now readily available due to their willingness to breed in captivity. Bearded dragons make a wonderful pet for both beginners and advanced reptile keepers. Due to their docile nature and relatively small size (usually 16-20 inches), they have become quite popular in recent years. In addition, these beautiful creatures are highly recommended for families with small children due to their love for attention. This article will give you information and guidance for your bearded dragon care.

Choosing your Bearded Dragon​

When buying a bearded dragon from a breeder or pet store, look it over carefully. Some things you should notice right away is how alert and active the dragon is. You don't want a beardie that can't lift its head or looks lethargic. When you walk up to the enclosure, the Beardies should be watching you with interest and should have bright and alert eyes. You also want to check them for sores, burns, external parasites, or deformities. Please ensure no pus or other gunk is built up in the eyes, nose, or mouth area. Many beardies will be missing toes or bits of their tail. This will not cause discomfort as long as the wound looks healed and shows no sign of infection. One of the essential things in my eyes is to look at the size of the Beardie. I do not recommend beardies under 6 inches in total length. Baby beardies can be fragile and more likely to become ill or overly stressed. It is much easier to care for a more developed bearded dragon.

Housing​

Young beardies under 10 inches in length can be housed in a 20gal-long aquarium. However, this will only last them for a few months as they grow quickly. Adult dragons should be housed in nothing smaller than a 40gal breeder tank. I prefer using 55gal aquariums due to the extra length it gives them to run, and they are easily found at most pet stores. Screen lids should be used for the top of any aquarium-style cages you use. Please don't use glass, plexiglass, or wood to cover your enclosures. This will not allow enough air circulation and trap humidity in the cage. Screen tops allow air flow, lighting, and heat sources to work correctly and moisture to escape.

Lighting​

Bearded Dragons require full spectrum lighting for 12-14 hours a day. Reptisun 10.0 or Arcadia 12% tubes provide some of the best full UVB for your dragons. The coils or compacts of the same brand aren't recommended, as they have been shown to cause eye problems and reduce appetite. The Reptiglo brand is also not recommended, tube, coil, or compact, as it has been associated with causing eye problems, lethargy, and not eating. These fluorescent bulbs should stretch the length of your beardie's enclosure, and your bearded dragon should be able to come within 6-8 inches of the light. The UVB should be mounted inside the tank to allow your dragon 100% of the UVB. On top of the tank can filter out up to 50% of the UVB rays your dragon needs. Mercury vapor bulbs are also a good heat & UVB source, but to allow your dragon full use of the UVB, it is best not to use the mesh tank tops. Mounting them on a lamp stand with a dome without using a top will allow full use of the UVB. The correct type of UVB light is also essential to help their bones develop strong and healthy.

Heating and temps​

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To produce heat and a basking spot in your enclosure you can use any type of bright white light or just a plain household lightbulb that will give the proper basking temperatures. A porcelain dome light fixture is the best for any of these choices. The temperature for this basking spot you created should be around 105f to 110f for babies, 105f for juveniles, and can be around 95f to 102f for adults. Although I don't recommend any temps above 110f, within a few degrees of these basking temps will be sufficient. The heat from the basking light is to help them digest their food.

The cool side of the enclosure should be around 80f-85f during the day. Once again, it is just fine within a few degrees of this temp.
Night-time temperatures can fall as low as 65f. It is relatively easy to keep your night temps above this, even in the winter. If you can't keep your temps above this, you should consider buying a ceramic heat emitter, which gives off heat & no light. Colored heat lights are not recommended as they interrupt beardies' sleep patterns. Also, DO NOT use heat rocks, as these can cause severe burns on your animals' undersides.

A digital thermometer with a probe or a temp gun are the best to use to measure temperatures to ensure the proper basking temperatures are achieved.

Substrate​

I recommend newspapers, paper towels, butcher paper, or reptile carpets for baby to juvenile bearded dragons. These choices are cheap, easy to clean, and pose no health risks to your animal. If using reptile carpet, the stuff that looks and feels like grass is the best. The felt kind has little loops of fabric that may catch your dragon's nails and cause injury. DO NOT use sand, shavings, or any other loose substrate for baby to juvenile beardies. They can be very clumsy eaters, and they are also very curious and like to taste everything. Any loose substrate holds serious health risks to your beardie. If they eat a loose substrate, they can become impacted, which blocks the intestines and die.

Crushed walnut shell is dangerous and should only be used to clean up oil spills. This substrate is NOT digestible, and if too much of it is eaten, it will cause impaction. I have seen this occur firsthand with reptiles ranging from lizards to tortoises. So stay away from this product, please.

Please be sure to read our article on the severe risks of Impaction with your bearded dragon.

Feeding and diet​

Bearded dragons are omnivorous, meaning they eat animal and plant matter. All food items your bearded dragons eat should be no bigger than the space between their eyes. If the food items are bigger than the space between their eyes, it can cause impaction and/or hind leg paralysis. Either way, your beardie will suffer horribly.

Baby and juvenile beardies should be offered appropriately sized crickets two-three times a day. Offer as many as your beardie will eat in 5-10 minutes. When your beardie stops eating, stop offering. Young bearded dragons can eat 20-60 small crickets daily. Your Beardie should also be given fresh greens daily. Spraying the greens with water will help them last longer and will also help keep your beardie hydrated.

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NOTE: Sand and other particulate substrates can
pose a risk of impaction, especially in
younger bearded dragons. Sub-adult to adult beardies only need to eat prey items once a day, along with fresh greens. Once they are this age, you can also offer them locusts, cockroaches, zophobas, waxworms (treats only), silkworms, and butterworms. DO NOT feed the beardie insects that you have caught in your backyard. These bugs could have parasites that could be passed on to your Beardie or have been exposed to poisons that could kill your beardie. Lightning bugs can also kill your beardie, so staying away from wild-caught insects is much safer.

For babies and juveniles, bugs should be dusted once a day with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement for reptiles, such as the one made by Rep-cal, five times per week. All bugs should be dusted twice a week with a multivitamin supplement such as Herptivite, also made by Rep-cal. Flukers and other brands also make a good multivitamin/mineral supplement.

For adults, reduce the calcium to 3 times a week and the vitamin/mineral once a week.

Any uneaten prey items should be removed from your dragon's enclosure.

A wide variety of greens are available that are good for your beardie. Dandelion greens, collard greens, mustard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, and escarole are among the easiest to find and the best to use. If the greens you are wondering about say lettuce anywhere in the name, avoid them. Most types of lettuce are composed mainly of water and hold little or no nutritional value. With the wide variety of other greens, it is better and easier to avoid any lettuce. Spinach and kale should also be avoided as calcium binds to them and will not be digested by your animal.

A wide variety of vegetables can also be offered to your beardie. Butternut squash, yellow squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, all other types of squash, green beans, parsnips, sweet potato, snow peas, and carrots. Carrots should only be used as a treat due to the high amounts of vitamin A. Any food with high doses of vitamin A should be avoided as reptiles do not absorb a lot of vitamin A. Feeding your beardie a lot of foods, such as carrots, will end up in a condition called Vitamin A toxicity which is deadly. Squashes can be cooked before hand, but it's not necessary.

Fruits can also be used, just avoid any citrus fruit such as oranges and grapefruit.

The Beautiful Dragons website has provided a fabulous resource for nutritional information for bearded dragons. This resource provides an extensive list and guidance on which foods are safe, which are not, and even what foods should only be fed occasionally.

Water​

Fresh water should be offered daily. Beardies will often not drink from a water bowl, but are more inclined to drink from their bath. Leaving water in the enclosure all day may increase the humidity and risk lung illnesses. If you live in a very low humidity area or in a home with regularly running air conditioning, then a water bowl would do some good in raising the humidity in your beardie's tank. Humidity levels should be higher than 25%, at least.

Bathing​

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Bathing your beardie three or more times a week will help keep them hydrated and will also aid in shedding. Bath water should be warm on your wrist and not hot, much like bath water for a small child. Make the water only as deep as your beardie's chest or half way up their front arms. I usually just fill the tub until the water reaches the second knuckle on my index finger for my adults and the first knuckle for the juveniles, although if they're used to baths and like to swim, you can add more water. Never leave your beardie unattended in the bath because accidents only take a second to happen. It's also a good idea to disinfect your tub when the bath is over because beardies will often defecate in the water. Using the kitchen sink is also a good idea. If your beardie defecates right away, just take the water out, drain and rinse the sink/tub, add the water again and let him soak. Be sure to disinfect after all is done.

The recommended time for a soak is 15-20 min. If a beardie is dehydrated for whatever reason, a daily bath is recommended. It helps hydrate a beardie quickly.

Disinfecting​

I use a 1/4 cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of water. This is done easiest in an old, clean, milk container. After mixing the bleach and water I then fill a spray bottle with the mixture. This makes it easy to cover the entire surface of what you are cleaning and leaves a container full for when your spray bottle is empty. All surfaces that get feces on them should be disinfected, including water bowls, food bowls and cages. This is how I disinfect all my cages, cage accessories and the tub after bathing.

Spray the entire surface of what you are cleaning until it is soaked. Then let it sit for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes scrub the surface with a rag making sure any old food or feces is removed. Rinse all surfaces repeatedly until you can no longer smell bleach. If you still smell bleach rinse again.

There are also disinfecting products available on the net, safe for use with reptiles. Instead of using bleach, vinegar & water are good alternatives. It can be easier to rinse away than bleach.

Hygiene​

Hand washing is very important when owning any reptile. Washing your hands before and after handling your beardie will help keep you and your new pet healthy. If you wash your hands before handling you reduce the risk of passing anything on to your dragon. Washing your hands after handling greatly reduce the risk of you contracting salmonella. The risks of getting this are very slim to begin with but hand washing will even further reduce the risks. Your chances of contracting salmonella from the food you eat are greater than your chances of getting it from your beardie so don't fret.

General​

Before deciding on buying a bearded dragon you should consider a few things. One, do you have a qualified Herp Vet in your area that will be able to care for your new pet if it get's sick? Newly acquired bearded dragons should always have a fecal sample tested for parasites and a general health checkup. It is also a good idea to have them retested for parasites once a year.

Two, are you going to be able to afford to feed, house and care for this pet during its life? Bearded dragons will eat like ravenous beasts when young and will cost you a lot of money. The UV light they require also need to be replaced around every six months which is also going to cost a bit of money. Let's not forget trips to the Vet, these may also add up over the years of your Beardies life.

This care sheet is made up from what I have learned from years of research and keeping these animals. This does not mean that this is the "Beardie Bible" and the only way to keep and care for them. You are the one that ultimately decides how to properly care for your pet.

You are responsible for the life of your pets. If they are sick get them to a Vet. If they are hungry feed them. Animal abuse is a felony in many states and you should remember that.

Other great caresheets (read several caresheets):
Dachiu Caresheets | Beautiful Dragons Caresheet

Written and composed by
Jeremiah "Podunk" Jaeger
(not a Vet)

Updated May 11, 2013 by Deb Buss
(not a vet, just an experienced keeper)
Author
Shinryu
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