Bearded Dragon Care Guide
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Bearded Dragon Care Guide [ultimate how-to for beginners]

Bearded Dragons are great pets but require specific care. You need an enclosure with proper heat and UVB lighting as well as providing them with a nutritious diet of plant matter and insects. These reptiles are fascinating, curious, and enjoy human companionship.

So you’ve just adopted a Bearded Dragon. Now what? I have owned several Bearded Dragons and want to share with you all I have learned about these excellent pets.

Bearded Dragon Definition
Bearded Dragon Definition

If you want to know how to provide the proper care for them, keep reading! These pet reptiles are a good choice for both novice and experienced reptile keepers.

Bearded Dragon Definition

There are eight total subspecies of lizards known as Bearded Dragons. The most commonly kept subspecies is Pogona vitticeps, or the central Bearded Dragon.

They are also known as the inland Bearded Dragon. 

These lizards are very popular amongst reptile keepers because they have calm temperaments and inquisitive personalities.

Bearded Dragons are native to the driest deserts throughout Australia but have been bred in captivity all over the world since the 1970s. 

There are now many different color morphs that have been developed over the past few decades of careful breeding, ranging from fiery orange to solid white in coloration.

Why Are They Called Bearded Dragons?

Bearded Dragons, often affectionately referred to by enthusiasts as “beardies,” get their name from their beard-like scales under their chin.

When threatened or upset, their “beards” turn black and flare out from their bodies as a defense mechanism.

The scales appear to be pointy and sharp, but they are actually quite soft and smooth to the touch. These lizards’ beards are one of their most striking and admired qualities.

Why Are They Called Bearded Dragons
Why Are They Called Bearded Dragons?

What is a Bearded Dragon Natural Habitat?

The Bearded Dragon’s habitat is native to the driest, most arid deserts and scrublands of Australia. 

Since they are cold-blooded and depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature, the hot areas of the Australian Outback are a perfect habitat for this reptile to thrive.

When caring for these lizards, you will need to take into consideration their natural habitat.

Try to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible to keep your dragon enjoying a healthy life.

How Hard are Bearded Dragons to Take Care of?

Proper Bearded Dragon care requires some planning. 

Although they do have quite specific care requirements and a rather expensive initial setup cost, they are one of the most common reptiles kept by beginner reptile enthusiasts.

You can do this! You just need to understand the lizard’s care, diet, and lifespan.

Can you handle the lighting and temperature settings as well as providing them with a complex and varied diet?

How Long Does a Bearded Dragon Live?

If you are up to the task, this lizard will be a very rewarding and delightful pet for as long as eight to 12 or more years.

Bearded Dragons as Pets

Reptiles in general are considered to be somewhat difficult animals to raise in captivity by beginners, but the Bearded Dragon is the best option as far as your other choices of pet lizards.

Bearded Dragons as Pets
Bearded Dragons as Pets

If you are new to keeping reptiles and want to introduce yourself to the world of reptile husbandry, you should strongly consider the Bearded Dragon for your first pet as a reptile owner.

These lizards love human companionship and have calm, curious personalities. They are fairly sedentary animals and enjoy basking in the sun or under their heat lamps for hours on end.

Bearded Dragon Enclosure

The first and most important purchase you will make as a new Bearded Dragon owner other than the lizard itself will be the enclosure in which you plan to build its habitat.

The best tanks for keeping beardies in are sturdy glass enclosures with clear walls for the lizard to see out. They will also have easy-to-open lids so you can easily feed them and clean their environment.

You may find yourself needing to purchase a small tank at first for a baby dragon. Then purchase a larger enclosure later as it grows to be an adult dragon of 18 to 22 inches from its nose to the tip of its long, spiky tail.

Bearded Dragon Enclosure Size

Enclosure sizes will vary depending on the age and size of your dragon. 

You don’t want to put a baby beardie in a tank that is too large as it will overwhelm them. You also don’t want your adult beardie to be in a tank that is too small. This will stunt their growth and make them upset.

According to PetSmart’s care guide, as babies and juveniles, these lizards may be kept in enclosures of 20 to 30 gallons in size. As they grow into adulthood they will require a larger 40-gallon tank, at minimum.

It is recommended to choose a tank even larger for an adult. These lizards are able to truly thrive in enclosures of 50 to 55 gallons or more.

Bearded Dragons Habitat

Bearded Dragons Habitat
Bearded Dragons Habitat

The North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital recommends that you have the following setup in your Bearded Dragon’s tank for your pet to thrive.

  • Substrate

    This is the lining for the floor of your tank. Stay away from loose substrates such as sand, rocks, or paper towels as your dragon could eat them and either choke or become impacted.

    Some people use specially designed reptile carpet on the floor of the tank.
  • Heating

    White heat lamps are best to keep your dragon warm. Avoid heating pads or heat rocks because your dragon could burn their tender bellies and limbs.

    You will need a basking spot of around 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while the rest of the tank should be around 85 degrees or so.

    At night, the temperature may safely drop to as low as 70 degrees.
  • Humidity

    Since Bearded Dragons are desert animals, they require very little moisture.

    If you buy a hygrometer for their tank, you will be able to monitor the percentage of humidity in the air.

    The recommended humidity level is around 20% to 40%. You will likely not have to add any additional moisture to the tank.
  • UVB lighting

    This is one of the most important factors to your Bearded Dragon’s survival and wellbeing.

    In the wild, these lizards get most of the ultraviolet rays they need from the hot Australian sun overhead.

    In captivity, your lizard will require a UVB bulb mounted in their tank that you will turn on for at least 10 hours per day.

    NOTE: Do not use fluorescent bulbs designed for your home or office in your Bearded Dragon habitat. Utilized a fluorescent bulb that is specifically manufactured for reptiles.
  • Furniture and Decor for Enrichment

    You may choose to purchase rocks and branches for your lizard to climb on as well as a dry hide for them to seek shelter.

    There are many safe plants that may also be used, like the Red Rooster ornamental grass or aloe vera.

    Many Bearded Dragon owners choose artificial plants as they are easier to clean and maintain.
  • Elevated Basking Light Area

    It is a good idea to place a large rock or elevated platform under your dragon’s basking spot for them to seek warmth as needed.
  • Water

    A low, shallow water bowl should be provided for your beardie and cleaned at least once per day or as needed.

    It is also recommended to soak your dragon in warm water once a week and mist them with water occasionally to help with the process of shedding and to stay hydrated.
  • Food Dish

Be sure to clean the enclosure regularly. Remove any waste or uneaten food as soon as possible to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and mold.

Additional Bearded Dragon Tank Setup Ideas

You may choose to get creative with your Bearded Dragon’s enclosure to keep them happy and comfortable.

Bearded Dragon Enclosure
Bearded Dragon Enclosure

Remember that your main goal in terms of tank setup should be replicating their natural desert habitat as closely as possible.

Here are some additional items you could furnish your lizard’s tank with:

  • Mesh hammocks for your dragon to sleep and relax in at their leisure.
  • Soft blankets. Some beardies enjoy a soft bed to cuddle up in.
  • Decorations to make the tank more visually appealing to both you and your lizard.
  • Varied elevation created with logs, rocks, and platforms for your dragon to climb on for exercise.

What NOT To Put In Your Bearded Dragons Enclosure

There are a few things you should avoid at all costs when furnishing your dragon’s tank, such as:

  • Improper substrate

    Never use loose substrates like sand, pebbles, walnut shell, wood chips, or anything else your dragon may end up eating by mistake or curiosity.

    If they consume these loose substrates, their digestive tracts will become impacted, and they will be unable to pass bowel movements as a result.

    Note: There is a bit of disagreement on the use of calcium sand. Some people suggest it mimics a dragon’s natural environment and allows them to burrow in it.

    Others say it can be dusty and harmful if ingested by your dragon causing a risk of impaction. Most all agree that calcium sand should never be used with young Bearded Dragons.
  • Toxic plants

    Belladonna, Caladium, Angel’s Trumpet, Lily-of-the-Valley, and Morning Glory should never be placed in your Bearded Dragons habitat.

    There is a long list of plant material that is toxic to Bearded Dragons, so always be sure that any plants you provide in your dragon’s tank are safe.

    You never know when they might decide to eat them!
  • Other Bearded Dragons or Reptiles

    These lizards are solitary animals that typically do not enjoy being cohabitated with others of their species.

    While there are rare reports of pairs of dragons doing well together in captivity, it is extremely risky and should be avoided, particularly by novice reptile keepers.

Bearded Dragons Needs BOTH Heat and UVB To Survive

Bearded Dragons require proper heating and UVB light to stay healthy and happy. 

If you don’t provide adequate warmth and UVB rays for your dragon, they become susceptible to a number of unpleasant and even deadly health conditions.

How to Heat Your Bearded Dragons Enclosure

When heating your lizard’s tank, your best option is a simple white basking bulb, which can be conveniently purchased at most pet shops.

Remember, you want the basking area to be at least 95 degrees and the rest of the tank to be around 85 degrees so your dragon can digest food properly and stay warm.

The wattage of your heat bulb will vary depending on the size of your tank and the distance it is mounted from the floor of the tank. 

In general, a 75- to 100-watt bulb is usually sufficient for adequately heating the tank, but you may need to do some experimentation to find the perfect settings.

Does Your Bearded Dragon Need A Heat Lamp At Night?

As mentioned earlier, it is perfectly fine if your Bearded Dragon’s enclosure temperature drops to 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night. 

Turn off the white heat bulb and UVB bulb at night so that your dragon may sleep undisturbed. These lizards are diurnal, so they are active during the day and tend to sleep at night.

Ceramic Heat Emitters for Bearded Dragons

Ceramic heat emitters put out heat but no light.

If you notice that your thermometer in the tank displays a temperature lower than 70 degrees at night, you may choose to purchase a ceramic heat emitter to maintain the temperature.

Is Your Bearded Dragon Too Cold Or Hot?

The best way to monitor your enclosure’s temperature is to purchase two thermometers for the tank.

Mount one of the thermometers under the basking bulb and the other at the opposite end of the tank.

This will help best keep track of your Bearded Dragon’s environment. Adjust the lighting accordingly if you notice any sudden rise or drop in temperature.

If your dragon is too cold, they will seek their basking area constantly. While Bearded Dragons enjoy basking frequently, they should not be huddled under the bulb all day.

Cold dragons are unable to digest food as they rely on their environment to maintain their body heat.

If your dragon becomes too hot, they will avoid their lamps entirely and seek out the corners of their tank or their hide.

This is a signal to you and should be avoided as your dragon may develop burns if their tank becomes too hot.

UVB Source Bearded Dragons

Ideally, you will want to purchase a UVB with around 10% output of UV rays. 

Most UVB bulbs will have this number marked clearly on their packaging. If it has a 10% output, the packaging will typically state that the bulb has a 10.0 UVB output.

There are many great options for UVB bulbs that can easily be found at your local pet shop, but regardless of which you choose, be sure that the bulb covers the entire length of the tank.

This way, no matter where your beardie decides to hang out in their enclosure, they will be getting the appropriate amount of UV rays to keep their bones strong and their bodies healthy.

Always mount the bulb inside of the tank rather than on top of the screen lid, as mesh screens will filter out much of the vital UV rays your dragon needs. 

It is best to mount the bulb at a distance of around 6 to 8 inches from the floor of the tank.

What Does a Bearded Dragon Eat?

What Does a Bearded Dragon Eat
What Does a Bearded Dragon Eat?

From hatchling to adult, maintaining a nutritious Bearded Dragon’s diet is vital to their health and general wellbeing. Fresh food always provides the best nutritional value so strive for that.

These lizards are omnivores (they eat meat and plant-based food). In captivity, they should be fed a mixture of small insects, vegetable matter, and fruits in order to thrive and get the vitamins and nutrients they need.

Depending on your dragon’s age and size, the ratio of insects to plant material for a healthy diet will vary.

The Perfect Ratio Of Insects To Plant Material

You may have noticed other Bearded Dragon owners mention a ratio of 80/20 and wondered what they were referring to.

For baby beardies, their diet will require about 80% insect protein and 20% plant material. 

As your lizard ages into adulthood, however, this ratio should gradually flip to 80% plant material and 20% insect protein over the first year and a half of their life.

What Vegetables to Feed Your Dragon

The best vegetables for your Bearded Dragon are dark leafy greens. The majority of your beardie’s vegetable intake should be a mixture of the following greens:

  • Mustard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Collard greens
  • Beet greens
  • Swiss chard
  • Watercress
  • Clover

You may also choose to supplement this selection of greens with small amounts of other safe vegetables, such as:

  • Bell peppers
  • Squash (Acorn, butternut, pumpkin, etc.)
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Sweet potato
  • Okra
  • Parsnips

You will want to avoid any vegetables high in oxalates, also known as oxalic acid, as it binds with calcium and prevents your beardie from absorbing the vital amounts of calcium they need to maintain their bone and muscle health.

Which Fruit to Feed Your Dragon

Fruit in general should only make up a small portion, or around 5% to 10%, of your dragon’s overall diet. 

Fruits are high in sugar, which causes dehydration and upset stomachs in Bearded Dragons and may even lead to frequent diarrhea.

In addition, fruits are high in oxalic acid, which, as mentioned previously, prevents calcium absorption.

However, a small amount of the following safe fruits is perfectly fine as a snack or salad topping, as most Bearded Dragons love them.

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Banana
  • Melon
  • Kiwi

Insects To Feed Your Dragon

The best insects are those which are high in protein and low in fat. The amount of live insects you feed to your dragon will vary depending on their age. 

Babies require lots of insect protein to accommodate their rapid growth, while adults only need a small amount to stay healthy.

The following insects are excellent choices for your beardie’s diet.

  • Dubia roaches
  • Crickets
  • Hornworms
  • Silkworms
  • Discoid roaches
  • Mealworms

Feeder Insects for Bearded Dragons

Have you ever heard of feeder insects before? Basically, they are just insects that you ‘feed’ your Bearded Dragon. Often they can be live feeder insects.

Feeder insects are purchased by reptile owners to feed their pets. A word of caution! Many feeder insects are of poor quality and don’t have much nutritional value.

Gut Loading Feeder Insects

To overcome the fact that many insects don’t provide enough nutrition a process called gut loading came about. 

Gut load involves making sure the insects are fed high quality food before those insects are fed to pet reptiles.

There are many companies where you can purchase gut loaded feeder insects online.

Bearded Dragon Toxic Food

There are some foods that are toxic or even deadly to Bearded Dragons if consumed. Avoid these foods at all costs and contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dragon has eaten any of them.

  • Avocado
  • Garlic
  • Eggplant
  • Fireflies
  • Onions
  • Rhubarb
  • Citrus fruits (Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, etc.)

It is also recommended to avoid foods that are high in water and nutritionally poor otherwise, such as iceberg and romaine lettuce.

Too much water will upset your beardie’s stomach and cause diarrhea.

When in doubt, always ask your veterinarian about any foods you intend to give to your Bearded Dragon.

How Often You Should Feed Your Bearded Dragon?

Feeding your Bearded Dragon once or twice per day is sufficient regardless of their age.

Fill up their food dish during the day with a mixture of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and insects, adhering to the appropriate ratio for their age.

When feeding your dragon, always be sure any food you give them is smaller than the width of the space between their eyes to prevent choking and impaction.

Always monitor your beardie during meal times to gauge their appetite for future meals, and remove any uneaten food promptly to keep their enclosure clean.

Vitamins and Nutrients Your Beardie Needs

The most important nutrients your lizard needs to survive are calcium, vitamin D3, and fiber.

What Supplements do Bearded Dragons Need?

While your dragon will get a moderate amount of these nutrients from their diet, it is recommended to purchase an additional mineral supplement such as calcium powder. 

A calcium supplement is commonplace for Bearded Dragon care. Most pet stores have these and they are easy to use. Just ‘dust’ their food a few times per week.

Dusting is simply putting a light covering of the supplement powder on their food.

This way, you will prevent your lizard from developing a calcium deficiency (or other mineral) and its related health problems such as metabolic bone disease.

Other important vitamins and minerals include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • Magnesium

Your beardie will derive most of these nutrients from their diet.

Getting To Know Your Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragons are popular pets amongst reptile keepers thanks to their inquisitive and laid-back personalities.

They are highly recommended for beginners as they enjoy the company of humans and even appreciate being handled from time to time.

As you get to know your dragon, you will learn their individual personality quirks and behaviors.

How To Bond With Your Bearded Dragon

Regardless of your beardie’s age, you should try to bond with them to get them used to you.

Over time, as you gain your lizard’s trust and companionship, they will allow you to handle them more frequently.

When first getting acquainted with your lizard, don’t rush to pick them up right away. Spend some time sitting near their tank and allowing them to come to you.

You may choose to put your hand in your dragon’s tank so they can smell you and get used to your presence.

Over the first few weeks and months of Bearded Dragon ownership, you will notice your dragon become more comfortable with you handling them.

Always handle them gently and carefully.

Within a few months or so, most beardies warm up to their owners fairly quickly and grow to greatly enjoy their friendship.

How To Tell If Your Beardie Is Happy

Reptiles don’t exactly show emotion in the same ways that mammals or even birds do.

However, there are still signs to look out for to tell that your lizard is comfortable and happy with you and its habitat.

Bearded Dragons are generally very lax and calm lizards who are mostly sedentary and don’t exercise much, preferring to laze about under their basking bulbs most of the time.

If your dragon appears to be relaxed and at ease, they are likely happy with the habitat you have constructed for them.

It is easier to look for signs of unhappiness and unrest as these are much more readily apparent and easily recognizable.

Signs Your Bearded Dragon Is Upset

If your Bearded Dragon is angry or uncomfortable, they will let you know with a number of behaviors.

The easiest sign to recognize in an upset beardie is beard flaring or darkening. Angry Bearded Dragons will extend their beard from their body in an attempt to appear intimidating and threatening.

While most dragons do not make much noise or vocalizations, an irritated beardie will occasionally hiss at their aggressors or even attempt to bite in self-defense.

If your dragon is displaying aggressive behavior, you may be handling them too roughly or are making them uncomfortable.

Avoid making loud or sudden noises around your lizard, as this will also greatly upset them.

Handle them as gently as possible and support their entire body, including their tail, to prevent angering or startling them.

Keeping Your Dragon Healthy

If you have followed this guide carefully so far, your bearded dragon will likely be happy and healthy.

Still, you should get in contact with a reputable local reptile veterinarian and arrange for annual or even biannual check-ups to be sure they are not ill, malnourished, or injured.

Signs Of A Healthy Beardie

Healthy Bearded Dragons are alert, curious, and have strong appetites.

Their bodies should be full and have brightly colored, taut skin. Bearded Dragons store fat primarily in their bellies, limbs, and tails.

They should have enough fat deposits to appear strong and substantial but never obese.

You should be able to just barely make out the outline of their spine. If their skin is loose or saggy or their spine protrudes from their body, they may be underweight or malnourished.

Their eyes and skulls should never look sunken in or sallow, and your lizard should respond quickly to external stimuli. 

If you have any doubts about your beardie’s health, contact your veterinarian immediately for further instruction.

Common Health Issues In Bearded Dragons

The main health issues to watch out for in Bearded Dragons are:

  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Internal parasites
  • Mouth rot
  • Respiratory infections
  • Adenovirus
  • Impaction 

These illnesses are primarily triggered by the following environmental factors:

  • Lack of calcium in their diet
  • Improper tank heating and humidity
  • Poor diet
  • Dirty enclosures

If your Bearded Dragon shows any unusually lethargic behavior or a decrease in their usual appetite, they may be ill and require medical attention.

What To Do If Your Beardie Is Sick

Whenever you have any doubts about your lizard’s behavior or possible health conditions, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

In the meantime, check their tank conditions for any variations in temperature or humidity, and be sure that you haven’t fed them anything toxic recently.

Never ignore any unusual symptoms displayed by your pet. If their behavior seems troubling, it probably is.

Bearded Dragon Breeders

Pet stores are where most people think about buying their first Bearded Dragon. But you should also consider a reputable Bearded Dragon breeder.

There are many breeders in the United States and I highly suggest you contact at least three of them before making your decision.

And don’t worry, yes, they can safely ship your live baby dragons to you! Who knew!

Bearded Dragon Pet Names

You have to give your new pet a great name! Here are some popular Bearded Dragon names:

  • Blackbeard
  • Cliffhanger
  • Crawler
  • Fluffy
  • Godzilla
  • Princess
  • Puff
  • Rambo
  • Sandy
  • Ziggy

The Beginner’s Guide To Keeping Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragons are rapidly becoming a popular pet. They are wonderfully intriguing and entertaining regardless of your skill as a reptile owner. 

Keep in mind though that their care requirements are very specific.

By ensuring your lizard has the appropriate diet, habitat, and care, you will be rewarded with a delightful companion for many years to come.

bearded dragon care guide

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