Inland or central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) live for 10-12 years or more if given proper care and can grow up to 24 inches in length. They are easy to care for, hardy, and laidback. These and many other reasons have seen this agamid lizard an increasing exotic pet.
Before you buy a bearded dragon, you need to understand how to properly take care of this lizard as well as the various supplies they need to live happily. Anything less will make these pets stressed and unhealthy.
Let us go through the right way to keep a bearded dragon.
Correct housing and habitat
- Substrate or bedding
- Heat lamps or other heating devices and UV light bulbs
- Monitoring and control devices, including thermometers, hygrometers, thermostats, and reptile timers.
- Décor and furniture, including hammocks, climbing logs/branches, hideouts, basking platform, digging place, artificial/ live plants, terrarium backgrounds, among others.
- Watering and feeding bowls or dishes
Critical setpoints are humidity 30-45%, daytime temperature 100-110 °F on basking area, and 85-95 °F on the cooler side for 12-14 hours and a nighttime temperature of 65-75 °F. Also, the UVB should be at 10-12% UVB light for a photoperiod of 12-14 hours.
Feed your bearded dragon the right food and in its proper proportion depending on their age. How to feed bearded dragon depends on their age since babies, juveniles, and adult’s diets have different compositions.
How to feed them
- Baby bearded dragon – Give them 80% feeder insects and 20% veggies and safe plants. Feed them 3-5 times, avoiding mealworms, kingworms, or those with a tough exoskeleton.
- Juveniles – 60% of their diet is made up of feeder insects, while the rest will be veggies and safe plants with some treats of safe fruits and herbs. Feed them 2-3 times a day.
- Adult bearded dragons – Plant material accounts 80% while the rest will be feeder insects. Feed them 1-2 times a day.
Don’t forget to dust their food. How you sprinkle your beardie’s diet with calcium, vitamin D3, and multivitamin supplements will depend on their age with a higher frequency in babies.
Always gut-load their food to ensure they maximally benefit from nutrients that feeder insects have, gut load the various feeder insects 21-48 hours before feeding them to your beardies.
What to feed them
- Feeder insects and bugs – They include staples like Dubia roaches, crickets, silkworms, locusts, Black fly larvae (Phoenix or Calci-worms), hornworms, and so on. In contrast, others like mealworms, kingworms, butterworms, pinky mice, etc., should be fed occasionally.
- Veggies – Staple veggies include turnip greens, collard greens, cactus leaves, squash, escarole, kales, among others. There are many other safe veggies, plants, and flowers.
- Fruits – They should have them as treats occasionally and not as an essential part of their diet.
Health and vet care
Take them to your herp vet at least once in a year for routine checkouts or if they have any signs of illness. Regular checks should access general health and include bloodwork and fecal tests (for parasites).
Common diseases and conditions they suffer from include metabolic bone diseases, yellow fungus, paralysis, diarrhea, mouth rot, tail rot, parasites, impaction, dehydration, among others.
Signs and symptoms of illnesses include lethargy, not eating, vomiting, diarrhea, having discharges from their various openings, sunken eyes, among many others.
Typical and abnormal behaviors
Some behaviors like arm waving, head bobbing, eye-bulging, beard display, and so on are healthy, while others like glass surfing, hiding, and so on may indicate stress or health issues.
If you have the right housing, health care, and feeding schedule in place, there are a few other things you need to know which include the following:
Cleaning bearded dragon tank or cage
Proper hygiene is critical in ensuring your reptile is not only clean and odorless but also healthy and free of skin infections, parasites, and pathogens (bacteria, viruses, or fungi). Some of the routine practices to ensure they are clean include:
1. Daily and spot cleaning
Remove any remaining food and spot-clean their cages immediately you notice some dirt as they will soon begin decomposing and grow molds. Also, pick any feces as they will drag them to their water or eating bowls.
Spot cleaning is essential because warm vivarium temperature will favor mold growth, especially if you are using a loose substrate type. All this will make their cages to stink.
Finally, disinfect and clean their food and water bowls every day, i.e., at the end of the day or if they get soiled.
2. Weekly cleaning
Every week consider cleaning any non-absorbent hard surface using any reptile safe cleaning product such as the Zilla Reptile Terrarium Cleaner, chlorhexidine solution, or Zoo Med Wipe Out. Besides cleaning, they will deodorize and sterilize your terrarium.
3. Monthly thorough cleaning
Once every month, thoroughly clean your enclosure. During this time, you need to move your bearded dragon to a temporary holding place such as in a reptile carrier like the Exo Terra Faunarium Flat Home Home and ensure the ambient temperature is not too low.
Dismantle all accessories and remove your substrate. Wipe every side of the terrarium with a disinfectant and rinse it thoroughly to get rid of any remnant disinfectant.
Secondly, scrub and sterilize any non-absorbent accessories. This exercise may include soaking them in an at least 5% bleach solution for 20 minutes to kill any germs or using good reptile disinfectant as well as reptile waste odor eliminators.
Unless designed to use for a longer time, dispose of any loose substrate, clean carpets and soak or wipe solid type such as ceramic tiles with disinfectant and thoroughly rinse them.
Assemble back the various accessories and setup your terrarium before return your pet inside.
4. What to use
Some of the safe cleaning products and disinfectants include Nolvasan, F10 Veterinary Disinfectant, and the Zoo Med Wipe Out 1 Disinfectant.
Also, Natural Chemistry Healthy Habitat Cleaner and Deodorizer Reptile & Small Pets, Zilla Terrarium Cleaner Spray, and Fluker’s Super Scrub Organic Reptile Habitat Cleaner will serve you well.
Besides relying on commercial products, you can prepare some at home. For instance, using diluted vinegar (1 part of vinegar to 10 parts of water) is effective in thoroughly cleaning their cages.
Proper handling and holding
You need to regularly handle this pet to see if it has any health issues or if you need to bathe him or her. This interaction with them will, with time, make them recognize your touch, voice, or even respond to their names.
However, be careful. Handling may stress some beardies or even make to struggle or want to escape if they feel insecure or threatened.
Also, note that young or new bearded dragons may be skittish. However, as they grow and get used to handling, they will be more laid back or docile.
When picking this pet, approach it slowly from the front and ensure it sees you. Afterward, hand to this pet’s level before gently scooping him while supporting her four limbs and torso. If it tries to be aggressive (wanting to bite you) or struggle, leave it alone. Remember to never pick these pets by their tail, legs, or head. Also, they shouldn’t fall down.
Unless you live in a warm place, do not take them out of their vivarium for long, as this will drop their core temperature. Limit the duration you keep them out of their tanks to 10-15 minutes only.
You can let it walk on you, lounge on your lap, shoulder, or chest. Also, consider holding you beardie close to your body (creates a sense of security). In case you want to speak to it, do it in low tones.
Finally, like any other animal, these agamid lizards can carry parasites as well as germs, including viruses, fungi, or bacteria, especially salmonella. Therefore, after handling them, ensure you thoroughly wash and disinfectant your hands.
How to pet a breaded dragon
Besides handling, petting is another way to show love and grow a mutual bond. You can pet your beardie while handling it or while it is on the ground or surface.
To do it, approach him when he is not eating or hunting and ensure he sees you coming to avoid startling or making him, as this will cause him to feel threatened. Approach him to the front, not from above.
Slowly lower your hand towards him and gently stroke him on his head towards his tail as you look for the various body language he may show. Don’t stroke him from tail to head.
Stop petting or handling in case your bearded dragon retreat from or jumps away, show beard, twitches its tail, flattens its body, or any other sign of aggression, including hissing. Leave him alone.
Furthermore, if they close their eyes as you pet them, they are not enjoying it. Instead, they want you to stop petting them. They also do the same when they don’t want you to touch them
Once you finish petting your beardie, return him to his enclosure and give him a snack. Afterward, disinfect and wash your hands.
When bathing it, ensure you use a shallow tub or skin that with lukewarm water (at about their body temperature or about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The water level shouldn’t go beyond their shoulders.
While bathing, you can allow it to swim. These agamid lizards are excellent swimmers. They can swim for up to 30 minutes. If you are using a large tub, put branches or logs, where they can climb on to if they want to get out of water.
Add more warm water if it cools, drain it, and wash the tub if they poop, and once they finish the bathing, put them on a paper or cloth towel on their basking platform.
Most habitats may not adequately wear down these pet’s nails. Therefore, in case they grow longer, you to clip their nails with a good clipper such as the BOSHEL Dog Nail Clippers and Trimmer with Safety Guard and clip them off.
If you want to know how to clip them properly, bearded dragon nail and claw care have all that you need to do.
Bearded dragons have teeth, and they are prone to dental problems. Therefore, ensure proper dental hygiene. For instance, always dip a cotton pad in oral chlorhexidine solution and clean their teeth with it.
Also, during routine vet visits, your herp vet should sedate them and scrap off any plague or tartar at least once in a year and remind him if he forgets.
Finally, avoid sugary or soft diets. Instead, give them crunchy veggies and feeders insects as they will help better their dental health.
During shedding, consider giving them 10-15 minutes baths to promote sloughing and hydration. Also, mist them and provide them with rough or textured décor to rub on them.
Finally, rub their skin with a soft toothbrush and use shedding aids like Zilla Shed-Ease Reptile Bath or Zoo Med Repti Shedding Aid.
While not all bearded dragons brumate, some do. When they start showing signs of brumation, you need to encourage and care for them during brumation.
Ensure they have a hiding place, decrease food, photoperiod, and basking hours over a week or two and stop giving them food for the last week. When they finally they brumate, turn off light and heat but ensure they have water.
While brumating, to help keep them hydrated, you can give them baths and gradually restore their habitat optimum temperature and lighting as they finish brumating.
Looking after bearded dragon FAQs
We know you have so many questions on how to care for a bearded dragon. While it is impossible to cover everything in a single post, we endeavor to update our information continually.
This section will answer some common questions you may be having on caring for a beardie. Some common questions asked to include:
Do bearded dragons smell?
Some people claim that bearded dragons are smelly. The truth is that these pets do not stink, i.e., they do not have any foul body odor. If your beardie is smelly, it could be due to poor care or fungal infections.
With proper husbandry and if your pet is not sick, she will be odorless. If there is an odor, investigate the origin.
Are bearded dragon’s bites and scratches dangerous?
While they hardly bite or scratch, they can at times do so primarily if handled poorly or bites you accidentally as you are hand feeding it.
Bites and scratches that break your skin can transfer zoonotic diseases such as coccidia, worms, salmonella, and so on, more so, in cases where they have poor diets or husbandry.
Do they pass zoonotic disease?
Bearded dragons can pass some zoonotic diseases and parasites like worms, coccidia, or salmonella. Ways in which the spread occurs include:
- Via the skin, they are shedding
- Open wounds
- Their equipment or bedding
Always disinfect your hands after handling these reptiles and ensure they live in a clean environment that maintains good hygiene.
How do I care for a Rankin’s dragon?
How do I care for a fancy bearded dragon?
Unless you have a silkie, care tips are the same for any other fancy beardie. In general, silkies require slightly higher humidity and lower UV and lighting conditions since they have very smooth skins.
How do I care for young beardies?
Caring for a young bearded dragon is more or less the same as adults. You need to ensure you give them the right diet as they are still you. Also, baby beardies require lesser basking temperature and UVB light.
Keep basking temperature at 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit and UVB rays at 5% and not the usual 10-12% UVB. Also, reduce handing as they are more skittish.
For hatchlings, ensure you use a solid substrate type, especially those that are easy to clean as they tend to poop more.
What is the care cost?
Besides buying the necessary supplies, including cost, the other care requirements are not so high. You need disinfectants, cleaning, and deodorizing agents.
What night care do beardies require?
These pets are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night and stay awake during the day. All you need is to keep the temperature between 65 and 75 °F if ambient nighttime goes below 65°F.
Use ceramic heat emitter or any other means that don’t emit light as blue, red, or moonlight lighting will disturb their sleep.
Can I syringe feed my sick bearded dragon?
No. Only syringe-feed these agamid lizards if you know how to do it as well as why they are not eating. For instance, they may be brumating, a time they should not be eating.
Let your vet advise you when it is necessary to force-feed them. We recommend critical diets such as Fluker’s Repta+Boost Insectivore & Carnivore High Amp Boost or Zilla Reptile Health Supplies Jump-Start Appetite Stimulant once your vet has given you an ok.
How do I care for females?
Unless gravid (carrying eggs) care is the same for males and females. If gravid, increase calcium supplementation.
How do I care for a wound?
If your bearded dragon is bleeding, stop the bleeding fast by applying pressure with cotton wool or gauze or CELOX First Aid Temporary Traumatic Wound Treatment. See your vet harm for further care.
For superficial wounds, wash them with warm water and antibacterial soap and apply antibiotic ointment. Vetericyn Plus Reptile Wound and Skin Care and Betadine First Aid Solution 8 Ounces Povidone Iodine Antiseptic with No-Sting Promise will serve you well. For severe cases, let your vet handle it once you stop the bleeding.