Care Sheet For Bearded Dragons

Introduction

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

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)

What is a Bearded Dragon?

A Bearded Dragon is a reptile (lizard) that originates from Australia. In brief, there are more than several different species of Bearded Dragons, but it is the Central/Inland Bearded Dragon that is most common within the pet industry.

Picture of a Bearded Dragon.

Where Can I Buy a Bearded Dragon?

From breeders - You can find Bearded Dragons for sale from breeders. There are multiple places to find a Bearded Dragon breeder. For instance, on social media, at a reptile expo, or through a simple Google search. Overall, finding a reputable Bearded Dragon breeder would be the ideal choice if you plan to purchase a Bearded Dragon.

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 - Adopting a Bearded Dragon is always an option assuming you can find one that needs to be rehomed or rescued. However, if the Bearded Dragon was neglected, then this option might be left best for more experienced Bearded Dragon owners since the neglected reptile may be in bad condition health wise. If you feel that you are capable of taking on the task, then you can probably ask around in your community or on social media to see if there is anyone that might be trying to get rid of their Bearded Dragon for whatever reasons.

Housing

This section discusses the housing (enclosure) requirements for these reptiles.

Types of Enclosures

Glass terrariums - Glass terrariums are a common choice for these reptiles; 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.

Custom - Custom built enclosures are the best choice for housing your Bearded Dragon. Overall, custom built enclosures offer many benefits, such as build quality, being stackable, holding in heat well, proper light exposure, etc; custom enclosures are also known as PVC cages, melamine cages, ABS cages, or vision cages.

What Enclosure Size Should I Get?

20 gallon terrarium - A 20 gallon terrarium is the size that we would recommend for a baby Bearded Dragon. Essentially, a small 20 gallon terrarium makes it easier for a baby Bearded Dragon to hunt for food (if you keep the decor as simple as possible). With all of that said, keep in mind that you will have to upgrade the enclosure to a lager size within a few months if you decide to start with a 20 gallon terrarium.

40 gallon terrarium or larger - A 40 gallon terrarium is the minimum size that we would recommend for a juvenile or adult Bearded Dragon. However, it should be noted that anything larger than a 40 gallon terrarium is ultimately better.

4x2x2 Custom - If you decide to get 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. As in the last paragraph, anything larger is better.

Cohabitation

WARNING!

Picture of Bearded Dragons fighting in the wild.

We do not recommend cohabitation! You should only have one Bearded Dragon per enclosure. Unfortunately, Bearded Dragons do not get along well with other Bearded Dragons (in the wild, they live in solitude). In fact, if given the chance, two Bearded Dragons may fight causing serious harm or death. Aside from fighting, if two Bearded Dragons are forced to live in the same enclosure together, not only may this cause stress for each reptile, but the two reptiles will ultimately be competing for space, food, and resources in general. For example,which Bearded Dragon will get the better basking spot? Overall, cohabitation is not something we recommend for various reasons. It's just not worth the risks and potential issues. Please do not cohabitate these reptiles. Thank you.

Lighting

This section discusses the lighting requirements for Bearded Dragons.

Picture of enclosure setup.

Daytime Lights

During the day, your Bearded Dragon will require two different bulbs; a heat bulb and a UVB/UVA bulb. For both of these bulbs, you will need a fixture that is compatible.

Heat bulb - For the heat bulb, your 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, your 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 and we recommend using a digital thermometer with a probe or a temperature gun to accurately check the temperatures.

Fluorescent UVB/UVA bulb - Providing good UVB/UVA exposure to your 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 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.

Lighting Schedule - 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 mange the on and off schedule, you can purchase a timer for the lights.

Natural Sunlight

Going outside - We would like to take a moment to mention that natural sunlight is good for a Bearded Dragon. In other words, if you live in a hot or warm area (such as the desert), then taking your reptile outside to bask under the sun (natural UVB/UVA), can be very healthy for it. However, some pet Bearded Dragons love going outside while others hate it. If you are not sure how your reptile will behave for the first time outside, then use a proper outdoor enclosure or a reptile leash.

Nighttime Lights

During sleep hours, all lights should be off (light will disturb a Bearded Dragon's sleep). In short, your Bearded Dragon does not need anything for night unless it gets colder than 65F in your Bearded Dragon's enclosure. If so, continue reading below.

Ceramic heat emitter - If your Bearded Dragon's enclosure falls below 65F at night, then you will need to provide some heat using a ceramic heat emitter; a ceramic heat emitter is a heat bulb that provides heat but does not output light. As we said earlier, light will disturb their sleep so a ceramic heat emitter is the best bulb to use for night. Overall, the night temperature within the enclosure should be around 70-80F.

Monitoring Temps & Humidity

Humidity - We weren't sure where to fit in information regarding humidity in this article, so we figured that we would squeeze it in near temperatures and "knowing your stats" since the two are somewhat related. With that said, the humidity for a Bearded Dragon's enclosure should be around 30% (it can be a tiny bit higher if your Bearded Dragon is shedding). Overall, high humidity is not good for a Bearded Dragon as it may cause health issues such as a respiratory infection.

Know your stats - If it is not yet obvious, it is extremely important to know that your 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.

Picture of a digital thermometer and a temp gun.

Avoid the Following

WARNING!

Picture of do not use for heat.

For heat or UVB/UVA, we do not recommend any of the products seen within the image above.

  • Heat rocks & U.T.H. - Heat rocks or under the tank heaters may cause severe burns to your Bearded Dragon's underside because these reptiles do not sense heat well on their bellies. Overall, it is best to provide heat from above and not from below.
  • Colored bulbs - Light at night will disturb a Bearded Dragon's sleep and colored bulbs are not good for their eyes.
  • Compact/coil bulbs - Basically, these type of bulbs do not cover enough area when it comes to outputting UVB/UVA.

Substrate

This section discusses safe and dangerous substrate choices for these reptiles.

Safe substrates - 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 - "Loose substrate" is a term used to describe a type of substrate that isn't solid. In other words, the substrate itself contains many small moving parts or should we say particles. Getting to the point, you should consider loose substrates such as sand, woodchips, alfalfa pellets, small rocks, and so on as a dangerous choice for your pet Bearded Dragon for multiple reasons explained below.

Avoid Loose Substrates

WARNING!

We do not recommend using loose substrate for a Bearded Dragon. In general, if your Bearded Dragon accidentally (or sometimes intentionally) consumes a piece of (or too much of) the loose substrate (such as sand or a woodchip), then this may cause impaction for the reptile (a blockage in the digestive system which can be fatal). In the images below, you will see an x-ray of a Bearded Dragon that had impaction issues with sand. Luckily, after several days, the Vernon Hills Animal Hospital was able to clear the impaction.

Picture of impacted dragon. Picture of impacted dragon.

Aside from the risk of impaction, loose substrates may cause other issues. For example, using sand as the only substrate for your Bearded Dragon is like making your reptile live in a small litter box that your reptile cannot escape. To clarify, when your Bearded Dragon poops on sand, the poop will absorb into the substrate which is not very sanitary. To provide another example, sand can be a breeding ground for parasites such as mites. Last but not least, colored sand may stain your Bearded Dragon's scales or sand in general may get into the eyes of your Bearded Dragon causing irritation or damage. Ultimately, there are just way too many risks and issues when using loose substrates (espicially sand). Therefore, why bother? Just go with one of the safer choices and call it a day.

Unfortunately, some people like to make the argument that these reptiles live on sand in the wild which is not entirely true. For instance, wild Bearded Dragons do not live on pure sand such as what you would buy from a pet store. In fact, wild Bearded Dragons have access to not only sand, but hard-packed dirt, plenty of shrubs or trees, rocks, leaf-litter, and so on. Again, they do not live on just sand such as the sand dunes. Ultimately, in the wild, a Bearded Dragon can avoid sand if it irritates them which is not the case for some captive Bearded Dragons that are forced to live on sand in a small 3x2x2 or 4x2x2 enclosure.

Diet

This section discusses the diet requirements for these reptiles. In brief, Bearded Dragons are omnivores which means that they eat food of both animal and plant origin.

Picture of a Bearded Dragon drinking water.

Live Food

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

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

Treats only - Below, is a list of live food that should only be offered occasionally if not rarely. In other words, imagine them as treats for your Bearded Dragon.

  • Waxworms
  • Butterworms
  • Mealworms
  • Hornworms
  • Superworms

There are reasons for the above feeders being treats only. To clarify, waxworms and butterworms are high in fat. In addition, mealworms and superworms can pose an impaction risk (espicially for baby Bearded Dragons). For hornworms - while good for hydration - are not really nutritous.

Gut loading - It is also important to, "gut-load" your Bearded Dragon's live food. In other words, you should properly feed and hydrate your live food so that they remain nutritous and healthy once your Bearded Dragon eats them.

Vitamin D3, Calcium, and Multivitamins

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 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, then it should be fine to use calcium without D3 (espicially 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 - Multivitamins are also important and should not be ignored! We recommend using rep-cal herptivite. Just to clarify, multivitamins do not replace the need for vitamin D3 and calcium.

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.

Healthy greens

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

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

Fruits

Treats only - Unfortunately, Bearded Dragons do not benefit much from fruits. Thus, fruits should only be offered occasionally 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)

Water

Providing water - There are multiple ways to provide water. Below, is a short list of my favorite methods for providing water.

  • Offer misted greens
  • Offer hornworms
  • Offer water with a syringe/dropper
  • Offer a water dish.

Handling

To handle a Bearded Dragon, keep your hand lower than its head, approach it from the front of its body, slide your hand under its chest, and lift. Also, make sure you are using your hand to fully support the Bearded Dragon's body. To provide a visual example, please watch the following video.