A Care Guide For Raising Bearded Dragons
Owning a bearded dragon will bring many years of joy and curiosity. They are wonderful animals, and make for excellent pets. They are naturally curious and amusing, and just as caring and interesting as a feline or canine. But owning a dragon isn’t common, and knowing how to start your bearded dragon care is challenging due to how uncommon they are. So it’s a great step in the right direction to learn everything you can about proper bearded dragon care. So here are some excellent tips to get any beginner or novice started with how to care for a bearded dragon, and the best bearded dragon substrate to use.
We will cover the following topics in this Bearded Dragon Care Guide article:
Now that you’ve acquired a wonderful bearded dragon, you’re probably filled with joy and excitement. But also some lingering questions. And whether you’re an inexperienced care giver, or you’ve cared for one before, these tips can come in handy to help ensure your bearded dragon can receive the highest quality of life through quality bearded dragon care.
Essential Items For Your Bearded Dragon's Habitat
A vivarium is the reptile tank that you'll be using to house your bearded dragon. It requires a bearded dragon substrate, some heat, some lamps, some hiding spots and the actual reptile tank. Here is a quick-checklist for all your Bearded Dragon care essentials. Each item is followed with a brief summary. But you can scroll deeper into this bearded dragon care guide to find more in-depth information.
- Vivarium: Adult bearded dragons require 40 gallon vivarium tanks or larger. It is recommended to buy a large tank for initial set-up, as your bearded dragon will eventually become adult sized. And although a brand new reptile tank can be expensive, always consider searching on Craig's List, or at a good will store. It's not too difficult to find used tanks and aquariums. And since your tank doesn't need to be water-tight for the bearded dragon, it's ok if the sealed edges are worn through.
- Substrate: There are many viable substrate options for your bearded dragon. But there are also bearded dragon substrates that should not be used. The good and the bad are detailed below.
- Basking spot: A large/medium sized rock or log that retains heat.
- Hide: A medium/large cave, log or shelter where your bearded dragon will be able to relax. It’s best to wait a couple of weeks before placing the cave into the vivarium. If you do it too quickly, your dragon may use the cave to hide instead of acclimating to his new home.
- Basking lamp: A UV light/lamp or bright white light bulb. Do not use coated and colored bulbs, as it may not be suitable for your bearded dragon. For baby dragons, the basking area needs to remain between 105° F and 110° F. For an older dragon, the basking area should remain between 100°F to 105°F. Make sure your bulb is able to adjust to that temperature level.
- Reptile basking light dome: The dome will be used to house the basking lamp/light. Make sure your bearded dragon cannot get a hold of the light, as it can cause burns.
- Reptile Heat Mat: Heat mats for bearded dragons are a debated topic. We don't recommend them, because bearded dragon's don't feel pain on their bellies. This means they won't know when they're getting burned from a heat mat. There are reputable sources that contend this, however. But if you decide to use a heat mat, then it needs to be an alternative to the basking lamp. The reptile heat mat will need to be placed beneath the reptile tank. And it will need to be placed beneath one half of the tank. This will leave the other half cooler.
- Full Spectrum Light Bulbs: These UVB lights will activate vitamin D in your bearded dragon’s diet. This is a critical nutrient, and should be a top priority for all pet owners. And The ReptiSun 10.0 Tube is a highly recommended UVB light that does not lead to illnesses, unlike compact or coil UVB lights, which can be damaging to your bearded dragon.
- Thermometer: You can either purchase an infrared temperature gun or a digital thermometer with a probe. Both work well. Try to avoid gauge or dial and strip style thermometers as they usually provide inaccurate readings.
- Food + Food bowls: There should be two food bowls available to your bearded dragon. One bowl should be assigned to greens and the other one for live feeders such as grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms.
- Dietary supplements: Supplements that are highly recommended for your bearded dragon are calcium with D3 powder and a multivitamin powder.
- Reptile Foggers: Reptile foggers might look ultra cool. But it's important that you do not get a reptile fogger for your bearded dragons. Bearded dragons aren't tropical animals. And too much humidity can cause respiratory problems.
7 Safe Bearded Dragon Substrates
- #1 Glass tank: Glass tanks are readily available at the majority of pet stores. There are many sizes, but a medium/large sized tank of at least 20 gallons long is recommended for a baby dragon. For a larger adult bearded dragon, a 40 gallon long tank is highly recommended for easy mobility.
- #2 Reptile rack: If you purchased your bearded dragon for breeding purposes, the reptile rack is perfect for your vivarium. Racks can get a bit pricey, but they do come in a variety of sizes and is a viable option if you own more than one reptile.
- #3 Slate tile: Slate ceramic tile is a highly recommended substrate for a bearded dragon. It is cost effective because only one set of tiles need to be purchased, as long as frequently clean your bearded dragons house, and you don’t break the tile. It is easy to clean, and due to the tiles hard surface, it has the ability to naturally trim your dragons nails, as well as tone its muscles. Ceramic tiles can be bought at any hardware store, which makes it a convenient substrate to find
- #4 Paper towel/newspaper: This type of substrate is easy to obtain. You can basically go to any supermarket or recycle center to pick up newspapers that are outdated. The vendor may even give it to you for free. Paper towels are cheap, and can be bought at any supermarket or store. They are both absorbent, and easily replaceable.
- #5 Reptile carpet: Reptile carpets are fairly popular, as it is extremely absorbent and non-abrasive. It is also safe, as it cannot be accidentally ingested by your bearded dragon. It can be difficult to clean effectively, which can lead to potential bacteria or fungal blooms. It is recommended to purchase two or more reptile carpets. Make sure you put them into the washing machine as frequently as possible (at least once a week) in order to keep it clean.
- #6 Wooden enclosure: Wooden enclosures are a good option for your bearded dragon as it can provide a spacious home, and is an easy enclosure to place lights or lamps on the roof of the vivarium. Normally, a wooden enclosure is customized specific to your bearded dragon. It can get a bit costly, and weigh more than your average enclosure, so make sure you have saved up a reasonable amount of money, and can carry some weight.
- #7 Non-adhesive shelf liner: Non-adhesive shelf liners are affordable and easy to clean. You can purchase these shelf liners at online or at a chain store, such as Walmart. The downside to them is your bearded dragon may scratch up the liner quickly, which would mean that you may have to replace the non-adhesive shelf liner quite often.
4 Dangerous Substrates For Bearded Dragons
- Play sand: Play sand can be purchased at a hardware store, but it does have a risk of bacterial or fungal blooms. This is because your bearded dragons fecal matter easily filters through the sand, which can make it difficult to clean without having to empty the entire vivarium. This may become costly, only because you would have to restock every week or so on play sand. Risk of impaction is quite high for play sand.
- Calcium sand: Calcium sand, and anything alike are dangerous to bearded dragons. Since the sand is made of calcium carbonate, your dragon may eat it for more calcium intake, which could lead to impactions as well as other digestive problems. This happens because the calcium carbonate in the sand neutralizes stomach acid, and clumps up when wet, which is extremely dangerous for your bearded dragon. This could potentially lead to death.
- Crushed walnut shells: These shells are considered to be extremely dangerous, more than sand substrates. The reason behind it is the edges of the shell pieces can be sharp, which can cut your dragons mouth, and injure its digestive tract if ingested. This can also lead to impaction and sanitation concerns. If ingested, crushed walnut shells can lead to internal bleeding, and ultimately, death.
- Other substrates: Substrates such as aspen bedding, wood chips, eco earth and any other substrates that come in small pieces can be dangerous for your bearded dragon. It is easy to ingest small pieces of substrate, which can lead to issues such as impaction, sanitation, humidity and eye irritation. These ‘smaller’ substrates would be great if you intend to purchase crickets, or animals alike.
- Solitary: Make sure to never keep more than one bearded dragon in the same vivarium. This is because bearded dragons are solitary animals, meaning they prefer to be alone. Placing multiple bearded dragons in the same vivarium enclosure can lead to the death or injury of your bearded dragon(s). Do not take the chance.
- Temperature: The right Bearded Dragon temperature is crucial for your bearded dragon's digestion. Baby bearded dragons should have a basking area with a temperature that ranges from 105° F to 110°F. As your bearded dragon ages, the basking temperatures should decrease to ranges between 100°F to 105°F. Temperatures should never be below 98°F, as this could lead to digestive issues for your dragon. And during the night, the temperature range should decrease further to about 70° F to 75°F
- Humidity: Make sure to check the humidity levels in your bearded dragons vivarium. They require low humidity levels at a range of 20% to 40%. If the humidity levels are too low, it can cause dehydration and shedding. If the humidity levels become too high, it can cause upper respiratory issues and infections for your dragon. And as stated above, it is not necessary to get a reptile fogger. And it can actually cause harm for your beloved bearded dragon.
Usually, the lighting in your dragons vivarium will regulate the humidity levels. If that does not work, you can purchase a dehumidifier if the humidity levels are too high humidity. Or, you can add a water dish to the enclosure if the humidity levels are too low.
What Type of Lighting Do Bearded Dragons Need?
Correct lighting is an important aspect of your bearded dragon's care. And it's important for their health to mimic the lighting they would normally receive in the wild. As creatures from the Australian outback, bearded dragons get exposed to a lot of heat and light. The sunlight emits wonderful UVB and UVA rays.
UVB rays are critical for bearded dragons to metabolism calcium and the vitamin D3. Both the D3 vitamin and calcium are vital nutrients for your bearded dragon's health. They will encourage bone growth, bone strength, and prevent metabolic bone disease.
UVA rays help simulate a bearded dragon's parietal eye. A parietal eye (ubiquitously known as a "third eye"). It is positioned on top of the bearded dragon's head. It is a photosensory organ, that triggers hormone production, reproduction, and thermoregulation. It located on the top of the bearded dragon's head, but is difficult to notice. When UVA isn't present, a bearded dragon will display loss of appetite, depression, and even mental problems.
We love all bearded dragons, and care for them dearly. So here are some recommended light bulbs to help stimulate these amazing animals.
- Fluorescent tube UVB: This type of light is highly recommended. It is your dragons best option, and does not need to be changed very often. At most, your tube should be changed out every 5 to 6 months. Experienced dragon keepers recommend the ReptiSun 10.0 tube UVB. The purchase of one bulb will work well for your dragon. But be mindful that these florescent lights loose their potency, and should be replaced every 6 months.
- Mercury vapor bulb (MVB): This bulb is another option recommended by experienced dragon keepers. This type of bulb should normally be placed about 12 to 18 inches above your dragons basking spot to ensure safety. Also, never use a mercury vapor bulb in vivariums smaller than 40 gallons. The high intensity of light and heat can pose as a danger to your dragon is placed too close.
Florescent bulbs come in a variety of sizes. The rule of thumb is that the bulb should be atleast 80% of total length of your bearded dragon's habitat. This ensures that enough light is being offered.
Summer/Winter Lighting Schedules
Your bearded dragon care will require rotating their light schedules due to the season. When it's summer time, your bearded dragon will need somewhere between 14-16 hours of light. So be prepared for a higher electricity bill. And the remaining hours should be for night time.
When the winter months roll around, your bearded dragon will naturally start brumating. This is similar to a lite-version of hibernation. But your bearded dragon will naturally start to slow down, and she won't require the same amount of light. So you can decrease her light exposure to about 10-12 hours per day.
But Never Use These Types of Lighting
- Coil UVB lights
- Compact UVB lights
Both of these lights have proven to cause harm to bearded dragons. The UV emitted from these bulbs is too intense, and releases an abnormally high amount of radiation. This exposure has caused blindness, lethargy, diabetes, and burns.
Proper bearded dragon care requires lots of greens and proteins. All feeder insects must be gut-loaded, which means they must be fed nutritious foods for 24 to 48 hours before offered to your bearded dragon. Here is a list of major feeder insects that your dragon would love:
Crickets are a commonly used feeder. They are cheap, available at most insect/pet stores and are a good source of protein. Be sure you are able to maintain them though, because crickets can easily be noisy, smelly aggressive and experts at escaping from the enclosure. Also, make sure you remove all leftover crickets immediately after a feed, as they can become bite your bearded dragon, which can lead to infections.
Dubia roaches are large tropical roaches that come in a variety of sizes. They are considered a favorite among experienced bearded dragon keepers and are much higher in protein compared to crickets. They breed easily, so if you can maintain these roaches, they could make for a cost-effective feed, as you won’t have to purchase very many to start a colony. They are not noisy, nor are they aggressive.
Black Soldier Fly Larva
Black soldier fly larva develops into calci-worms, reptiworms, and phoenix worms. They are easy to maintain, and do not require feeding. They are great feeders for your bearded dragons as they are high in calcium, and are best for baby dragons, as well as juvenile dragons. They are very small, and can be expensive compared to other types of insect feeders.
Silkworks are considered the healthiest option of worms, and are an extremely nutritious insect feeder for your bearded dragon. But, they are expensive, difficult to breed and can be difficult to maintain.
Waxworms and Butterworms
These worms are considered to be a great treat for bearded dragons, but are too high in fat, so try not to make it a common insect feeder for your dragon.
Hornworms are perfect as a supplement to your bearded dragons routine diet. Mostly because they are made mostly of water weight, which means they are not as nutritious and fatty as other worms. They are a good source of water if your dragon ever has hydration issues.
Superworms are best for bearded dragons over 16 inches in length. This is because they have a shell that could cause impaction for smaller or younger dragons that do not know how to properly feed on them. Superworms are primarily composed of more fat than other worms, so be sure to monitor your bearded dragon, so that she does not become overweight.
Leafy Greens & Fruits
Greens should also be available at all times in your dragons vivarium. Twice a day is the minimum, but a hearty dragon will dine about 4-5 times a day. Some of the best greens & vegetables to offer are:
- Collard, dandelion, mustard, and turnip greens
- acorn and butternut squash
- green beans
- snap peas
- sweet potatoes
- yellow squash
Never Feed These 6 Items To Your Bearded Dragon:
- Mealworms - The chitin is difficult for the bearded dragon to digest, and can cause impaction.
- Pinky mice - normally too large. Crickets and other insects are more protein-rich.
- Lettuce - Lettuce has no nutritional value. It is mostly made of water, and can cause diarrhea.
- Fireflies - Fireflies are extremely toxic, and can kill a bearded dragon and many other reptile pets.
- Avocados - Avocados have high amounts of oxalic acid. Small doses of avocados can make your bearded dragon ill. And large doses can be fatal.
- Rhubarb - Rhubarb is very toxic for a bearded dragon. If ingested, give the bearded dragon water, and contact a vet near you immediately.
Tips: Do not feed your bearded dragon within an hour of turning the lights on in the vivarium (in the morning), or within two hours of turning the lights off in the evening.
Bearded Dragon Care Schedules
- Feeding schedule: Feeding is a critical step in your bearded dragon care. You should feed your dragon from 50 to 100 feeders per day. Baby dragons and juveniles must eat about 2 to 3 times per day, and should be allowed to eat as much as she wants. Feedings typically last about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Supplement schedule: Feeder insects should be coated in the supplement powder before being fed to your bearded dragon. Adult dragons must be dusted with calcium powder 3 times a week, and with multivitamin powder once a week. Baby to juvenile bearded dragons should have their food dusted for one live feeding each day, with an added supplement. Adolescent/Sub-adult dragons should have their food dusted 4 times a week with calcium, and once a week with multivitamin powder.
- Hydration: Keeping your bearded dragon hydrated is essential in making sure it maintains a healthy life. Most bearded dragons do not drink still water, so they often leave water bowls untouched, which can raise humidity levels and cause respiratory infections.
And one of the most overlooked steps in your bearded dragon care is bathing your dragon. Give your dragon regular baths. Every day for baby dragons, and every 2 to 3 days for adult dragons. The water should be lukewarm, and no higher than your bearded dragons shoulders. This will help your dragon to absorb water through their vents, which will keep them hydrated. Bath time should last about 15 to 20 minutes.
Regular baths are also good for your dragon because it often stimulates bowel movements. If your dragon defecates during bath time, immediately remove your dragon from the bath, sanitize the container, and wash your dragon off to make sure all feces are removed.
Common Bearded Dragon Health Problems Caused by Poor Sanitation
- Relocation stress
- Hunger strikes
- Egg laying
- Upper respiratory infections
- Tail/mouth rot
- Eye problems
- Metabolic bone disease
- Cuts and scrapes
- Egg binding
In order to assess your dragons health, make sure to regularly measure and weigh her. If you notice a significant weight loss in your bearded dragon, or her being lethargic, there may be something wrong.
Bearded dragons have many needs to maintain in order to live a healthy life, but if you follow this guideline, your dragon will be cared for. Make sure you handle your dragon with care.
When picking her up, try not to approach her from directly above, as this could scare your dragon. Most baby dragons think human hands are predators, so be wary of that when handling her. Do not put your dragon on its back, as its lungs can collapse and potentially lead to death.
If you are unsure about your dragons health, take your dragon to a reptile veterinarian near you in order to have her properly assessed.
How to Bath your Bearded Dragon
One of the most enjoyable activities you can do with your dragon is to give her a bath. Which is why it's important to include a bathing schedule in your bearded dragon care. Not only is it a fun excuse to handle and care for your dragon, but it is also important for proper hygiene. Bathing will help keep your bearded dragon healthy by removing old skin and scales. It also removes bacteria and germs that build up on the bearded dragon’s feet and claws. While it might seem like a simple task, there are some important things to know before giving your bearded dragon a bath.
You will need…
- Container to use as a bath tub
- Warm water
- Water conditioner
- Vinegar-water solution
- Washcloth or soft-bristled toothbrush
- Soft towel
Preparing the Bearded Dragon Bath…
Choose a container with sides high enough that your bearded dragon cannot easily escape. A plastic storage bin will work well. Some enthusiasts like to use a kitchen or bathroom sink for their baby or juvenile bearded dragons. You can even put your adult beardie in the bathtub. (If you decide to use a bath tub, it is important that you use a bleach-water solution to clean the tub after your beardie’s bath. Reptiles can carry salmonella.)
Reptiles are very sensitive to chemicals. The bathing tub should be cleaned ahead of time with a solution of vinegar-water to avoid the chance of exposing your bearded dragon to harmful chemicals you might have used the last time you cleaned the bathroom.
Fill the container with a few inches of warm water (between 85-92 F), up to the top of the dragon’s legs (just 1-3 inches of water for adults, about ½-1 inch for babies).
If you are using tap water, add a few drops of water conditioner. DO NOT add soap. Most bearded dragons will drink the water, and cleaning agents can be damaging.
Allow your beardie to soak for 10-30 minutes. If the water starts getting too cool, add some warm water (don’t forget to remove the cool water first to maintain the water level). This will give him time to splash around, which most bearded dragons enjoy.
Using the cup, gently pour cups of the conditioned water down your dragon’s back and tail. Avoid pouring water around its eyes and nose.
Using the washcloth or soft-bristled toothbrush, gently wipe any areas of shedding skin. Skip this step if your beard dragon is still actively shedding or if the skin doesn’t come off easily.
When you are finished cleaning your beardie, gently pat him dry with a soft towel and place him back in his habitat so he can warm up. It is especially important to get him back under the basking lights as soon as possible during cold winter months.
Most experts recommend bathing your bearded dragon in warm water at least once a week. Twice a week is even better, especially in the summer months. Not only do baths keep your bearded dragon’s body clean and help him shed, they also have other added benefits:
- Helping him relax
- Relieving constipation
- Providing a change of scenery
- Allowing him to swim, which provides exercise
Please supervise your bearded dragon at all times while bathing to prevent accidents and escapes.
How to Clean your Bearded Dragon's Habitat
While your bearded dragon is enjoying his time in the bath, why not take the opportunity to clean out his digs so he can return to a clean habitat? After all, wouldn’t you love going home to a clean house after a day at the spa?
Cleaning your bearded dragon’s home is an essential part of taking good care of your pet. Not only is a messy habitat stressful for many reptiles, but it can also cause serious health problems like parasites, respiratory infections and impaction.
You will need..
- Plastic gloves
- White vinegar
- Soft brush and/or sponge
- Small shovel or plastic cup
- Paper towels
Remove feces and uneaten food (this should be done every day to keep the habitat clean and your beardie healthy), and remove all soiled substrate and discard. You can use a small shovel or plastic cup to clean sand (if you have more than one beardie, don’t share the same cup or shovel between enclosures). Wipe soiled tile with soap and thoroughly rinse. Dirty glass can be cleaned with a solution of 20% white vinegar. Keeping paper towels and a bottle of vinegar solution near your beardie’s tank will make cleaning up much easier.
If your bearded dragon’s enclosure is till emitting odors after these quick touch-ups, its time for a whole house cleaning.
You should clean your bearded dragon’s entire habitat at least once a month. This involves cleaning all accessories, replacing the substrate and cleaning the entire tank. If you use a reptile carpet, it’s a good idea to keep a few extra on hand to alternate them when cleaning. Replace the carpet often. They are difficult to clean, stinky and can hold parasites. You might consider replacing the reptile carpet with flooring that is easier to clean, such as tile or paper towels.
You can place your beard dragon in the same container used to give your him a bath, but don’t add water. Make sure your bearded dragon is far enough away that it will not be exposed to any fumes.
Remove all the accessories in the tank and soak them in a bleach-soap-water (with at least 5% bleach and dish soap) solution for at least 20 minutes. Scrub them thoroughly with a soft brush. Rinse until the solution is removed (you should no longer be able to smell any bleach) and allow them to air dry.
Use a vacuum to remove any left over substrate and dirt in the tank.
Scrub the entire tank with a solution in the 5% bleach-soap-water solution. Scrub the entire enclosure and allow the solution to sit in the enclosure for at least 20 minutes. Rinse the tank several times until you can no longer smell bleach.
Clean the glass with vinegar-water solution and paper towels or a microfiber cloth.
Replace all the substrate and accessories, and make sure the entire habitat is warm and dry before you return your bearded dragon to his enclosure.
Bearded dragons love new experiences. Consider rearranging his decor or changing up the accessories a bit. Most of all, take the opportunity to enjoy time with your pet while keeping him happy and healthy.