Care Sheet For Bearded Dragons

Introduction

This section discusses the basic information and facts regarding Bearded Dragons.

What is a Bearded Dragon?

A Bearded Dragon is a reptile (lizard) that originates from Australia. In summary, there are more than several different species of Bearded Dragons. Although, it is the "Central" or "Inland" Bearded Dragon that is most common within the pet industry (also known as Pogona vitticeps).

Picture of a Bearded Dragon.

Quick Stats

  • Common name: Bearded Dragon
  • Scientific name: Pogona vitticeps
  • Place of origin: Australia
  • Lifespan: 5-12 years based on care
  • Active: Throughout the day (diurnal)
  • Max length: Around 24 inches
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Human interaction: Docile
  • Social group: 1 (solitary)

Where Can I Buy a Bearded Dragon?

From breeders - You can find Bearded Dragons for sale from breeders (people that specialize in raising and selling Bearded Dragons). To find a breeder, simply search around on Google or social media. In addition, consider going to a reptile expo. Overall, buying a Bearded Dragon from a reputable breeder is the ideal choice rather than buying one from a place like Petco or Petsmart.

From pet stores - You can find Bearded Dragons for sale at pet stores within your community. For example, at Petco or Petsmart. Going to a local pet store may be the quickest and cheapest way to buy a Bearded Dragon. However, if you plan to buy a Bearded Dragon from a local pet store, then we suggest that you learn how to spot a healthy vs. unhealthy Bearded Dragon.

From people - There's a lot of Bearded Dragons out there. In fact, many of them with improper care. Therefore, adopting a Bearded Dragon and giving it a better home is also a way to get a Bearded Dragon. Of course, adopting a Bearded Dragon requires that you know a person who is looking to give away their reptile. However, if the Bearded Dragon was in fact neglected, then this option might be best for more experienced Bearded Dragon owners since the neglected Bearded Dragon will most likely be in poor health.

Housing

This section discusses the housing requirements for Bearded Dragons.

Types of Enclosures

Glass terrariums - Glass terrariums are a common choice for housing Bearded Dragons; glass terrariums can be found online on websites like Amazon or at local pet stores such as Petco or Petsmart. If you decide to get a glass terrarium, then we recommend buying one that has doors in the front so that it will be much easier to access the reptile.

Custom - A "custom" enclosure is the best choice for housing a Bearded Dragon for multiple reasons. First, these enclosures are specifically built with Bearded Dragons in mind. As a result, custom enclosures will often have better temperatures, ventilation, and UVB exposure. Second, they can save space if you require more than one as they are often stackable. Third, you don't have to worry about custom enclosures breaking as a glass enclsosure might. Last but not least, many of these custom enclosures have doors in the front making it easier to access the reptile. Overall, go with a custom enclosure if it's in your budget. You can find custom enclosures online or you can build one yourself if you are handy with tools.

Enclosure Size

20 gallon terrarium - A 20 gallon terrarium is the size that we would recommend for a baby Bearded Dragon (less than two months old). Essentially, a small 20 gallon terrarium makes it easier for a younger Bearded Dragon to hunt for food (if you keep the decor as simple as possible). Overall, a 20 gallon is a good starting point. However, you will have to upgrade the enclosure to a larger size within a few months if you start out with a 20 gallon terrarium.

40 gallon terrarium or larger - A 40 gallon terrarium is the minimum size that we would recommend for one juvenile or adult Bearded Dragon. Although, it should be noted that anything larger than a 40 gallon terrarium is ultimately better. Thus, if you can get something larger than a 40 gallon terrarium, then do it.

4x2x2 Custom - If you decide to go with a custom built enclosure (which would be the best choice), then aim for dimensions of at least 4 feet wide, 2 feet deep, and 2 feet tall. Again, anything larger is better.

Cohabitation

WARNING!

Picture of Bearded Dragons fighting in the wild.

No matter the age or sex of your Bearded Dragons, we DO NOT recommend housing multiple Bearded Dragons in a single enclosure. Again, it does not matter if you have both female Bearded Dragons or two babies that have been together since birth. Overall, cohabitation is dangerous for various reasons and it only takes a few seconds for something to go wrong. To clarify, Bearded Dragons do not get along well with other Bearded Dragons. In the wild, Bearded Dragons live in solitude and they are very territorial. Unfortunately, Bearded Dragons 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 if not mate (assuming you put a male and a female Bearded Dragon together). For obvious reasons, fighting (or even mating) can cause serious injuries. Sometimes, fighting results in death. Sadly, many new Bearded Dragon owners (and even veteran owners) still support cohabitation. However, it's wrong and you should not listen to anyone that tells you cohabitation is fine. Again, Bearded Dragons do not want nor do they need friends. If an owner decides to put two Bearded Dragons together, then he or she has done so for personal enjoyment. Moving on, fighting is not the only concern when it comes to Bearded Dragons. For example, if you put two Bearded Dragons together in one enclosure, then the two reptiles will have to compete for space and resources. For instance, which Bearded Dragon will get the better basking spot? Many people don't know this, but when one Bearded Dragon sits on top of another, this is a dominant behavior (it's not them cuddling). Aside from competition, sometimes tail or toe nips occur (often seen when young Bearded Dragons are housed together). A tail or toe nip happens when one Bearded Dragon attempts to bite another for whatever reason. For example, maybe the reptile was hungry or maybe it decided to attack. As a result, this bite might cause serious injury to the other reptile such as a missing limb. With all of this in mind, it is too dangerous to have multiple Bearded Dragons living in the same enclosure (even having them near each other outside of an enclosure could be dangerous).

Lighting (Temps & Humidity)

This section discusses the lighting requirements for Bearded Dragons.

Picture of enclosure setup.

During the Day

Heat bulb - A Bearded Dragon will require a basking spot temperature around 95-110F (younger Bearded Dragons prefer a temperature closer to 110F and older Bearded Dragons prefer a temperature closer to 95F). In addition, a Bearded Dragon will require a cool side temperature around 80F (in order to escape the hot side and cool down if needed). To achieve these temperatures, you will need to purchase a heat bulb with a wattage hot enough to appropriately heat up the enclosure. Overall, getting the proper temperatures will require a bit of trial and error if you're unlucky. We recommend using a digital thermometer with a probe or a temperature gun to accurately check the temperatures.

UVB bulb - A Bearded Dragon will require a UVB bulb, providing good UVB exposure to a Bearded Dragon is extremely important. In the wild, Bearded Dragons get UVB from natural sunlight which provides more than enough for them to synthesis vitamin D3 (vitamin D3 helps with absorbing calcium). For obvious reasons, they do not have access to natural sunlight indoors which is why it is important to provide a UVB bulb that outputs good amounts UVB and spans at least two-thirds of their enclosure. With that said, we highly recommend buying the Reptisun 10.0 T5 High Output bulb by Zoo Med. If not that, then the Arcadia 12% is another good choice. For the fixture, Zoo Med creates fixtures for these bulbs. Otherwise, you can use an under the cabinet fixture.

During the Night

Ceramic heat emitter (CHE) - At night, all lights should be off since light will disturb their sleep! However, if the nightime temperature falls below 65F, then the Bearded Dragon will require a nighttime heat bulb. To do so, we recommend using a ceramic heat emitter to provide heat (not a colored bulb). A CHE bulb provides heat only and does not output light which is good. With that out of the way, we recommend a nighttime temperature between 70 to 80f.

Lighting Schedule

Digital timer - Both the heat and UVB/UVA bulb should be on for 12 to 14 hours per day, then turn them off for the rest of the night. To help manage the on and off schedule of the lights, we recommend using a digital timer.

Humidity

Keep it low - Frequent exposure to high humidity levels can cause health issues (such as a respiratory infection) for Bearded Dragons. As a result, we recommend keeping the humidity level low or around 30%. If the Bearded Dragon is shedding, then increasing the humidity level a tiny bit might help with shedding. However, remember that you want to avoid frequent exposure to high humidity levels for the most part. To keep the humidity low, avoid leaving water in the tank and make sure the enclosure has good air flow.

Monitoring Temp & Humidity

Know your stats - Before we move on, it is extremely important to know that a Bearded Dragon's enclosure has the proper temperatures as well as humidity levels. With that in mind, we recommend purchasing something that is most accurate when it comes to checking the above. To clarify, we recommend using a digital thermometer with a probe that can read temperatures as well as humidity. Furthermore, you may want invest in a temperature gun as an added bonus but it's not required if you go with the digital thermometer.

Natural Sunlight

Going outside - If you live in a hot or warm area where the sun likes to shine, then we recommend taking your Bearded Dragon outside for some natural sunlight. If you recall from earlier, we stated that Bearded Dragon's get UVB from natural sunlight. To add onto this, natural sunlight is more powerful (duh) than artifical lighting. In other words, a Bearded Dragon can soak up a lot of UVB in a much shorter amount of time from the sun compared to a UVB bulb. Considering this fact, let your Bearded Dragon enjoy the outdoors whenever possible. However, be cautious as some captive Bearded Dragons might get scared of the outside world and run off. If you are not sure if your Bearded Dragon will behave outside, then we recommend using a reptile leash, a custom enclosure, or some sort of playpen.

Avoid These Products

WARNING!

Picture of do not use for heat.

Not all products are safe to use or ideal for Bearded Dragons. For example, it is best to provide heat to a Bearded Dragon from above and not from below. To clarify, Bearded Dragons do not sense heat well on their underside. As a result, heat rocks or under tank heaters may cause severe burns to these reptiles. To provide another example, colored bulbs will disturb a Bearded Dragon's sleep and it may cause problems with their parietal eye (a photosensory organ sensitive to light changes). To provide one last example, not all UVB bulbs are created equal (some are better than others). In general, it is often recommended to avoid using small coil or compact UVB bulbs (with the exception of mercury vapor bulbs) as these bulbs are not as effecting in outputting UVB compared to fluorescent tubes.

Safe Substrates

This section discusses substrate requirements for Bearded Dragons.

It may not be pretty, but it's safe - For substrate, we recommend using something that is safe and easy to keep clean. For example, paper towels, non-adhesive shelf liner, tile, or reptile carpet would all be good choices.

Dangerous Substrates

WARNING!

For Bearded Dragons, we DO NOT recommend using loose substrate! What is loose substrate? Loose substrate would be something like sand, ground walnut shells, alfalfa pellets, wood chips, and so on. Basically, anything that is particle based or contains small objects like tiny pebbles and rocks. With that said, why not? Well, I can think of two reasons. First, loose substrate can cause impaction (especially if the overall husbandry is not up to par). What is impaction? To put it simply, impaction is a blockage in the digestive system which can be fatal. Unfortunately, Bearded Dragons can be messy eaters (especially when they are young and still developing their hunting skills). In addition, Bearded Dragons have a habit of licking their surroundings. As a result, if you use something like sand, then the reptile might accidentally ingest some of it while trying to catch food or while licking the ground. Therefore, if too much of the sand is ingested, it may clump up within the digestive system causing impaction. Again, impaction can be fatal. Aside from sand, the risk of impaction is even greater when you use a substrate that contains solid objects like wood chips for example. Overall, it's just not worth it. Second, impaction is not the only concern when it comes to loose substrate. In fact, using loose substrate may cause other issues. For example, let's say your Bearded Dragon is using sand. Not only may it cause impaction, but it's also like forcing the reptile to live in a litter box. Why? Think about it, when your Bearded Dragon poops, the liquid from the poop will absorb into the sand. No matter how hard you try to keep it clean, it's just not possible to have it squeaky clean. Eventually, the sand will harbor plenty of bacteria and whatnot given enough time. Thus, if a Bearded Dragon does happen to ingest the substrate, now it might be ingesting bacteria that may lead to infections. To conclude, it's just not worth the risks. Instead of using loose substrate, please use a solid type of substrate such as reptile carpet, non-adhesive shelf liner, tile, or even paper towels.

Bearded Dragon impaction Bearded Dragon impaction

Providing Food

This section discusses food requirements for Bearded Dragons.

Variety

Bearded Dragons are omnivores - An omnivore is an animal that eats food of both plant and animal origin. As seen in the image below, you should always offer a good mix of live food, greens, and vegetables.

How Often to Feed

A good rule of thumb is that a Bearded Dragon should be fed around 2-3 times per day - To provide an example, let's say you have a baby Bearded Dragon and the lights turn on at 8am and then turn off at 8pm. In the morning, for the first two hours, let the Bearded Dragon bask to warm up before offering food. After the reptile warms up, offer the first feeding. In this example, let's say it is now 10am. With that in mind, let's say our primary daily feeder are dubia roaches. To offer food, all you have to do is gather some appropriately sized dubia roaches and lightly dust them (see the calcium section below for more info on dusting). After dusting, drop the dubia roaches into the enclosure (preferably into a food dish with greens in it as seen in the image below). At this point, continue offering as many dubia roaches as the Bearded Dragon is willing to chase down and eat within a 10 minute timespan. As soon as the reptile stops showing interest, stop offering food. Overall, repeat this process about 2-3 times per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) but remember to have variety in your Bearded Dragon's diet along with proper dusting.

Picture of a Bearded Dragon drinking water.

Live Food

Daily feeders - Below, is a short list of live food that offer great nutrition for a Bearded Dragon, these live food choices can be offered daily.

  • Dubia roaches
  • Phoenix worms
  • Crickets
  • Locust
  • Silkworms

Treats only - Below, is a short list of live food that should only be offered occasionally if not rarely. In other words, imagine them as treats for a Bearded Dragon. Of course, most of them are considered treats for a good reason. To provide some examples, mealworms can be hard to digest for Bearded Dragons while waxworms and butterworms are high in fat.

  • Waxworms
  • Butterworms
  • Mealworms
  • Hornworms
  • Superworms

Gut loading live food - A Bearded Dragon's live food should be taken care of properly. In other words, it is important to offer nutritous things to a Bearded Dragon's live food. Why? Think about it, when time comes to feed your Bearded Dragon live food, then you'll want the live food to be healthy right? Therefore, you should make a habit of "gut-loading" live food. In other words, keep the live food well-fed and hydrated.

Greens

Daily Greens - Below, is a short list of greens that offer great nutrition for a Bearded Dragon, these greens can be offered daily.

  • Turnip greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Collard greens
  • Endive
  • Escarole

Fruits

Treats only - In general, Bearded Dragons do not benefit much from fruits. As a result, fruits should only be offered occasionally as treats if not rarely.

Dangerous Foods

WARNING!

Not all food choices are safe or nutritional for a Bearded Dragon - Below, is a list of some foods that you should always avoid.

    Toxic

  • Avocado
  • Rhubarb
  • Onions
  • Citrus fruits
  • Lighting bugs

    May cause issues

  • Spinach (calcium binding)
  • Kale (calcium binding)
  • Lettuce (no nutritional value)

Vitamin D3, Calcium, & Multivitamins

Vitamin D3

What does vitamin D3 do? - To put this simply, vitamin D3 is required to absorb calcium. Without vitamin D3, Bearded Dragons cannot benefit from calcium. Therefore, vitamin D3 and calcium must be provided at the same time. In the wild, Bearded Dragons get vitamin D3 from natural sunlight (natural UVB). In captivity, they get it from artificial lighting (artificial UVB) or from food supplementation (calcium with D3). Keep in mind, some UVB bulbs are better than others. In addition, UVB bulbs weaken over time. Overall, you must provide vitamin D3 to your Bearded Dragon whether it be from artificial lighting (UVB), natural sunlight (UVB), or calcium with D3. At the same time, know that too much of it (vitamin D3 toxicity) can be just as bad as not enough of it.

Calcium

Calcium with or without D3? - Whether or not you need calcium with or without D3 comes down to how well is your Bearded Dragon being exposed to vitamin D3 to begin with. Remember, they need vitamin D3 to absorb calcium. If you have a reptuable UVB bulb such as the reptisun 10.0 T5 high output bulb, then it should be fine to use calcium without D3 (especially if you also expose your Bearded Dragon to natural sunlight frequently). Remember, it is up to you to know this stuff. In other words, if you know your Bearded Dragon has a bad or old UVB bulb and doesn't get out often, then you'll proably want to go with the calcium that has D3 until you can fix these issues.

Multivitamins

Which one? - As the name suggests, a multivitamin supplement provides several vitamins, amino acids and trace minerals. In brief, you'll want to choose a multivitamin that contains beta-carotene to reduce the threat of vitamin A toxicity.

Dusting Live Food

Dust Lightly - At this point, you should have all the information that you need regarding food supplementation and vitamin D3. Next, you'll need to know that you should dust in moderation. In other words, do not dust too much since Bearded Dragons can overdose on this stuff. As a result, it is important dust lightly and to have a good routine (schedule). Unfortunately, there is not really a clear answer for this as it could depend on many things. I'll admit, determining the proper balance of supplementation (along with vitamin D3 exposure) for you reptile might be one of the hardest parts of keeping a Bearded Dragon. To get you started, for non-adult Bearded Dragons, we recommend using calcium once per day and multivitamins at least twice per week. For adult Bearded Dragons, we recommend using calcium two to four times per week and multivitamins at least once per week. Remember, it is up to you to determine if you need calcium with or without D3. If you are uncertain, you could always rotate between the two or consult your local herp vet.

Providing Water

This section discusses hydration requirements for Bearded Dragons.

Staying Hydrated

There are multiple ways to provide water - For example, you can mist greens before your Bearded Dragon eats them. In addition, you could offer hornworms since they are mostly moisture. Furthermore, you could use a water dish and teach your Bearded Dragon to drink from it since they rarely drink from still water. Last but not least (my favorite method), you could use a syringe or dropper to place tiny drops of water on your Bearded Dragon's nose until it licks it off. To provide an example of all these methods, please watch this video.