Bearded Dragon Care Info
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Lifespan: 7-10 years
Behaviour: The bearded dragon is a small lizard, native to Australia. The bearded dragon has grown in popularity as a household pet due to its docile and friendly nature. “Beardies”usually range in size, measuring between 12-24 inches at maturity. A fun fact about Bearded Dragons is that they have a third eye on their foreheads, called a parietal eye. This isn’t a fully developed eye, but a set of photo-receptive cells that sense the difference between light and dark. This eye helps Dragons escape predators coming down from above. In the wild, Bearded Dragons live in solitude and are very territorial. Unfortunately, they do not want nor do they need friends. If you put two Bearded Dragons in the same enclosure, then there is a good chance that the two Bearded Dragons will attempt to fight each other which can cause serious injuries. When beardies are stressed or upset, their beard/throat will change in colour to black.
Housing: Bearded dragons require a fairly large habitat, as they can grow up to 2 feet long. When selecting a habitat for your beardie, it is important to be generous with size, but you will likely have to upgrade the tanks as your bearded dragon matures and grows since a young beardie may be too stressed out in a large enclosure. A tank or enclosure for an adult beaded dragon should measure at least 4 feet in length. For this reason, it is important to mind the length of the tank, as opposed to the gallon size. It is also recommended that the tank be covered with a screen lid, as opposed to a glass or plastic lid to allow for proper air circulation within the tank and no risk for plastic melting from your heat bulbs. Spot clean the enclosure daily and do a thorough clean once a week with warm water and antibacterial soap mixture to kill the bacteria that is in the tank. Make sure to rinse all surfaces thoroughly to be sure all the soap has rinsed away. Do no use any harsh kitchen or bathroom cleaners and stay away from bleach since these chemicals are toxic to your dragon. It is not reccomended to use loose substrate such as sand, ground walnut shells, alfalfa pellets, wood chips, and so on for young bearded dragons. These substrates can be ingested by the dragon and cause an impaction in the intestinal tract which can be very serious and may require surgery to fix. For substrate, it's recommended to use something that is safe and easy to keep clean. For example, paper towels, tile, or reptile carpet would all be good choices. A rock cave or something similar for your beardie to hide under is a must since they like to hide and some may even sleep in there. This can help them to feel secure and can also double as a basking spot if they climb on top of it.
Lighting: Bearded dragons require both a cool side and a warm side within their tank. This is because they lack the ability to maintain a constant internal body temperature. For this reason, their behaviour is strongly influenced by the temperature of their environment so it is important to have a temperature gauge for both the cool and hot side of the enclosure to be able to accuately cater to their specific temperature needs. The hot side and basking area of the tank should be approximately 95 F - 110 F, whereas the cool side should be approximately 85 F. Night time temperature can drop to 70 F but if your tank temperature drops below 65 F when the basking bulbs are turned off at night, it is recommended to have a ceramic heat emitter for extra heat since these do not give off any light and a lighted bulb during the nightime may interupt their sleep patterns. Your beardie will require a spot for basking which could be a raised flat surface such as a rock/cave, sticks, logs, or branches that are placed on the warm side of the enclosure. Please note that adult bearded dragons usually prefer their warm side to be on the lower range of temperature (around 95 F). A digital thermometer with a probe or a temperature gun are the best ways to measure temperature. Dragons need 12-14 hours of UVA/UVB light every day, and most pet stores will sell basking bulbs that have UVA and UVB in them. UVA is important for regulating their mood and stimulating their appetite. UVB is vital because it provides the dragon with Vitamin D3 which triggers the absorption of calcium from their diet.
Nutrition: Bearded Dragons are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both animal and plant matter. For younger bearded dragons, they can have about 20% vegetables and 80% insects but adults should have about 80% veggies and 20% insects. Young dragons should be fed 3 - 4 times a day whereas adults can be fed 1 - 2 times a day with a mix of insects and veggies. Even though your dragon will receive most of its water from its foods, fresh drinking water should always be available. A shallow bowl that can’t be tipped over is preffered by most beardies. There are many options for feeding your dragon. For insects brown crickets are usually preffered and are easy to find in pet stores, but you can also try locusts or dubia roaches. You can use other insects such as hornworms, waxworms, or mealworms as occasional treats. You will have to make sure to give your feeder insects a nutritious diet. This is called gut loading and will insure that your dragon benefits from it's diet. Insects make up a good part of a bearded dragons diet so if the insects are healthy, your beardie will absorb some of those nutrients as well. This insect food can be found at most local pet stores. Vegetables such as kale, arugula, mustard greens, and collard greens are all great options along with squash, bell peppers and carrots. Lettuce should be avoided as a staple vegetable since it contains mostly water and has little to no nutritional value for your beardie. It is important to note that the insects and veggies you feed your dragon must not be larger than the space between it's eyes, if they are too big, your dragon may have trouble swallowing them. You will need to supplement your bearded dragon with calcium as this will be vital for it's growth and well being. Most pet stores sell calcium powders that you can sprinkle onto the veggies or dust onto the insects before you feed them to your beardie. Avoid feeding insects from outside to your bearded dragon since they may have been exposed to pesticides or contain parasites that may be given to your pet.
Health Concerns: Some common health concerns for bearded dragons include Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), mouth rot and respiratory infections. Metabolic bone disease is a very serious condition that affects the bones of reptiles and is triggered by a deficiency of calcium and Vitamin D3. Signs may include: swollen and sometimes crooked joints, jerky movements and sometimes a swollen lower jaw. This can be prevented with proper diet, UV lighting, temperature and supplementation with the proper vitamins. Mouth rot is a bacterial infection of the gums and sometimes bone in the jaw of a reptiles mouth. It causes a decrease in appetite since it can be painful and the mouth can become swollen. It is recommended that you take your beardie to a Veterinarian as soon as possible if you suspect that it has a mouth rot because the dragon will need to be prescribed a course of anitbiotics. If a bearded dragon’s tank is too humid or too cold, it may develop a respiratory infection. Symptoms of respiratory infections can include: nasal discharge, swollen eyes, breathing difficulties, and open mouth breathing. In order to avoid this, make sure that its tank is warm enough and the humidity is low inside the tank (about 20-40%). You can get a gauge for humidity called a Hygrometer at most pet stores. If your dragon develops a respiratory infection, it will need to be seen by a Veterinarian.