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Beginner's Guide for Keeping a Bearded Dragon

Updated on January 21, 2012

Beginner's Guide for Keeping a Bearded Dragon

Welcome to the Beginner's Guide to Keeping a Bearded Dragon. This guide will help lay down the foundation that is needed for owning a bearded dragon of your own.

Bearded dragons are arguably one of the easiest lizards to care for as a pet. There are a few things you should be familiar with before deciding to bring one home as a pet.

Hrere we will go over a few of the topics that you should be comfortable with when owning a bearded dragon.

Bearded Dragon Puffing Its Beard Out
Bearded Dragon Puffing Its Beard Out

A Little Background on the Bearded Dragon

Get To Know The Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons are native to the arid, desert outback areas of Australia, and are part of the Agamidae family of lizards. They have a distinctive shape, which includes a broad, triangular-shape head and a relatively flat body. The jaw and torso are lined with thorn-like scales that resemble the thorns on a rosebush. Adult bearded dragons can reach lengths of 18 to 24 inches long, including the tail. Males tend to be much bigger than females in most cases.

Bearded dragons get their name from the gular pouch on the animal's throat. When the bearded dragon feels threatened it will flare the gular pouch out to make its head look much bigger than it really is. The throat area will also darken to a blackish-purple color that resembles a beard, hence the name bearded dragon.

The majority of bearded dragons available in the pet trade today are Inland or Central bearded dragons, although there are 8 bearded dragon species total.

Next, we will discuss why they make such excellent pets.

Bearded Dragons Make Excellent Pets
Bearded Dragons Make Excellent Pets

Why Bearded Dragons Make Excellent Pets

Learn Why Bearded Dragons Are Such a Popular Pet

In recent years, bearded dragons have soared in popularity amongst pet owners and enthusiasts. They have even began to outrank the iguana as the most sought-after lizard pet available. There are many reason why the bearded dragon is such a popular pet. Here are just a few of the admirable qualities of the bearded dragon:

Calm Behavior

Bearded dragons are renown for their calm behavior and fun demeanor. They are very docile, and even submissive, creatures. It is difficult to find a bearded dragon that doesn't love to be picked up and handled once they get use to their owners.

This great attitude makes it very easy to build a solid relationship with a bearded dragon, much like with a dog. This trait is one reason why the bearded dragon has become such a popular pet.

Easy to Maintain

Bearded dragons are very easy to maintain compared to many other lizards in the pet trade. Their dietary needs are not super finicky like other lizards as well.

As long as you take a little time to properly clean the habitat and do 5 minutes of maintenance a day, keeping a bearded dragon is a snap.

Appearance

One of the most attractive attributes of a bearded dragon is their appearance. They have a cool, dinosaur-like look that is extremely appealing. Bearded dragons can also come in a variety of different colors in the pet world. You can easily find them in shades of red, orange, yellow, and even what is known as pastels.

The billowing beard is also one of the likable qualities of bearded dragons. It can be very cute, and almost comical when they puff out their beard. It's tough not to crack a smile!

Size

Bearded dragons are relatively small, reaching lengths of 18 to 24 inches as an adult. This small stature makes the bearded dragon very attractive to pet owners, since it is much easier to house and handle them. This is one advantage that bearded dragons have over iguanas or monitors, as these lizards can grow to be up to six feet long and aggressive.

Long Life

It's not unlikely that a bearded dragon live up to 15 years old when raised in captivity. Their hardy health is another attractive quality of the bearded dragon. Although bearded dragons can become ill, they are not nearly as fragile as many other lizards, such as chameleons or turtles.

Choosing a bearded dragon for a pet is a wise choice that will bring you years of enjoyment. Next, we will discuss how to select a healthy bearded dragon.

Choose a Healthy Bearded Dragon
Choose a Healthy Bearded Dragon

Selecting a Healthy Bearded Dragon

Choose the Best Possible Bearded Dragon

Once you have decided that a bearded dragon is the right pet for you, it is time to choose one a healthy specimen. This is an extremely crucial step of bearded dragon ownership.

You never, ever want to purchase a sick, or unhealthy bearded dragon. Starting out with a sick bearded dragon tends to always end up in disaster. I know it's very easy to feel sorry for a sick, and hurting baby bearded dragon, but it is very difficult for an amateur to bring one back to good health. Plus, frequent visits to the veterinarian can become quite expensive.

Here are a few things to look for when choosing that perfect bearded dragon.

Check Out the Surroundings

The majority of baby bearded dragons are purchased via pet stores, while many can be bought directly from breeders. When selecting a bearded dragon from a pet store, the first thing you want to do is observe the bearded dragon habitat.

You want to make sure it is well-maintained, with no old fecal matter, or food laying around. Check to see if the habitat is overly populated. If there are 20 or 30 babies housed in one 10-gallon habitat, that is way too overcrowded. An overcrowded habitat could lead to injured (like missing tails, broken and missing toes) baby bearded dragons.

Check to make sure the pet store is providing a basking area with plenty of heat for the babies, and that there is a light that provides good UVB rays. These are both very important to the bearded dragon's health, which we will discuss later.

Observe The Bearded Dragons

Next, look at the bearded dragons themselves. Sit back and watch them for a few minutes. You want to choose a bearded dragon that is very active and alert. Move your hand in front of the habitat, and see how the bearded dragons react. It should move its eyes attentively towards the movement. Some bearded dragons may jump at quick movements towards it, but most will just watch with a certain curiosity.

You want a bearded dragon that is alert, active, and appears to be eating well. Avoid any bearded dragon that look lethargic and too skinny.

Ask for a Closer Look

Once you have picked out a specimen that meets all your criteria, ask someone at the pet store to take it out of the habitat so you can take a closer look.

The bearded dragon should act lively, and may squirm a bit at first. Make sure you have a good hold on it, but not too tight. Be gentle, yet firm until it gets used to you.

You want to examine the bearded dragon's eyes. Again, make sure they are clear and alert. Make sure there is no crust around the mouth or eyes. Check the toes and feet to ensure they are intact. There should be five toes per foot, and they should have the entire claw. Make sure the toes aren't swollen or deformed.

Check to make sure the tail is complete and not broken or deformed. Examine the entire body for any lacerations, lumps, or bruises. Rub the skin to make sure it feels healthy and in good shape. The skin should retain some elasticity.

Flip the bearded dragon over and examine the belly. It should be a white to off-white color with no lumps, or lacerations. Examine the anal region, it should be clean and not have any left over fecal residue, or clumps.

Once all of the criteria have been met, you have a very healthy bearded dragon that will be an awesome pet!

Selecting a Healthy Specimen

Clear, alert eyes

Active, not lethargic

Has an appetite for both insects and vegetables

Clean anal region

No lumps, or lacerations on skin

Jaw and mouth appear normal, no sagging or disfigurement

Contains five toes on each foot, with claws

Complete tail

Good coloration, no dark or bruised areas

Bearded Dragon Snacking On a Mealworm
Bearded Dragon Snacking On a Mealworm

Feeding Your Bearded Dragon

Provide the Proper Diet and Nutrition

Certainly you must feed your bearded dragon in order for it to survive. Although bearded dragons have a wide palette, and their tastes are varied, there are some things to know about supplying a well balanced diet. Bearded dragons have different dietary needs at different stages of their life. Next, we will discuss how, and what to feed a bearded dragon during each stage.

Feeding a Baby Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons are considered babies when they are from hatchling to four or five months in age. During this stage, the baby will grow rapidly and need nutrients and vitamins the most. At this stage, bearded dragons are the most frail and fragile.

Babies should be feed a variety of insect feeders and finely chopped vegetables. Insect feeders should make up about 60 to 80 percent of their diet. Insect feeders that are excellent choices to feed babies are pinhead crickets and small wax worms. Always make sure that what you are feeding your baby bearded dragon is never bigger than the space between it's eyes.

Feed the bearded dragon three or four pinhead crickets per meal. To facilitate their rapid growth, babies need to be feed smaller, but frequent meals each day. It is better to give them three or four smaller meals than one large meal each day. Avoid feeding it too many wax worms, because they are high in fat content and can lead to obesity later in life. Offering one or two wax worms per day is a great start.

Avoid feeding a baby bearded dragon mealworms at the baby stage. Mealworms can contain a hard outer coating (or shell) that can be very difficult for a baby to digest. Also avoid giving crickets that are too large. The jagged hind legs of the cricket can cause tears in the tender digestive system of the young bearded dragon.

It is also a good idea to start your baby bearded dragon off early with an offering of finely chopped vegetables, such as:

  • kale
  • turnip greens
  • collards
  • mustard greens
  • dandelions (leaves and flowers)
  • watercress
  • endive
  • escarole
  • carrots
  • sweet potato
  • green peas
  • yellow squash

It is important to make sure the vegetables are chopped finely to make it easier for the baby to chew and digest. Offer a good mixed variety of vegetables to give the baby bearded dragon a well-balanced diet.

They can also be feed a variety of fruits, such as:

  • chopped apples (with skin removed)
  • seedless grapes (with skin removed)
  • orange chunks
  • chopped pears
  • chopped pineapple

It is best to offer a good mix of fruits and vegetables each day to your bearded dragon. This will help to build up its taste for vegetables and fruits that will be very beneficial for it later in life.

Mixed vegetables and fruits should make up about 20 to 40 percent of the baby bearded dragon's diet.

Feeding a Juvenile Bearded Dragon

A bearded dragon is considered to be a juvenile when it is between 5 and 18 months old. At this stage of it's life you should steadily increase the amount of mixed fruits and vegetables offered and slowly decrease the amounts of insect feeders. The variety of insect feeders will also multiply.

At this stage of its life you can also increase the size of the insects offered, but always remember - never feed your bearded dragon anything that is larger than the space between its eyes.

Here are some insects you can feed a juvenile bearded dragon:

  • crickets
  • mealworms
  • wax worms
  • super worms
  • roaches
  • fruit flies

During the juvenile stage of life the amount of insect feeders offered should drop to about 40 percent, while the amount of fruits and vegetables offered should increase to about 60 percent. Juveniles can be feed two small offering of vegetables each day and one small offering of insect feeders.

Feeding an Adult Bearded Dragon

The adult feeding routine is much different than the baby bearded dragon. Adults require much more leafy vegetables and less insect feeders. After the bearded dragon comes to any age over 18 months, their diet should consist of 80 percent vegetables and fruits, with 20 percent insect feeders.

Adults should be offered a decent portion of leafy greens, mixed with diced vegetables, like carrots, sweet potato, and green peas about twice a day. Cut down the insect feeders to about two or three times per week. The adults do not need as much protein and fats contained in insects, as much as the babies and juveniles do.

Vitamins and Minerals

When feeding a baby bearded dragon, each meal should be dusted with a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. This is to promote healthy bone growth and development. It is very important to supply this during the baby stage in order to keep up with the demand of the fast-growing bearded dragon.

Once it reaches the juvenile stage the supplement can be reduced to a dusting every other day, and with adults, a dusting once or twice a week will suffice. Adults can also be given a broad-spectrum vitamin supplement once per week to provide added vitamins and minerals needed at this stage.

The key to a healthy bearded dragon is supplying a varied and balanced diet that contains plenty of nutrients and vitamins.

Best Vegetable Food Items

Kale

Red cabbage

Mustard greens

Collard greens

Carrots (including the tops)

Arugula

Parsley

Okra

Bell peppers

Alfalfa sprouts

Green beans

Green peas

Dandelions (leaves and flowers)

Squash

Sweet Potato

Endive

Escarole

Watercress

Best Fruit Food Items

Apples (skin removed)

Pears

Pineapple

Grapes (skin removed)

Orange slices (Peel removed)

Kiwi

Mango

Papaya

Strawberries

Give Your Bearded Dragon an Awesome Perch
Give Your Bearded Dragon an Awesome Perch

Bearded Dragon Housing

Create a Great Home for Your Bearded Dragon

Of course, once you have decided to own a bearded dragon you will need to supply adequate housing for it. The right habitat can be key to keeping a happy bearded dragon. You must try as best as possible to give it all the comforts of its natural home. This can be very helpful when trying to accommodate a new bearded dragon so it feels right at home.

The Enclosure

First, you must figure out what type of enclosure you plan to use. There are many different types of terrariums and tanks available on the market especially made for housing reptiles. If you choose, you could also build your own enclosure for a custom look.

It is best to initially use an enclosure that is large enough to house an adult bearded dragon right off the bat. This will eliminate the need to continually buy enclosures as the bearded dragon grows.

Bearded dragons are not much for climbing, but are free-roaming animals. Because of this, an enclosure that has ample floor space is recommended.

An enclosure that is at least a 30 gallon breeder tank should be used as a minimum. This tank measures 36 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 13 inches tall. The more floor space an enclosure provides, the better. This will provide ample space for your bearded dragon to roam around.

A glass terrarium is one of the best options as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain. There are also terrariums constructed of acrylic. Acrylic enclosures are much lighter than glass, but are also much easier to scratch. After a couple years of use an acrylic tank can begin to look sandblasted from the scratching of the lizard. This will hamper the visual appeal for you and your pet.

Make sure to use a snug-fitting wire mesh screen cover on top of the cover to keep children and other pets out of the bearded dragon's home, and also keep the lizard inside. Avoid using glass lids as they will filter out needed UV-B rays from the full-spectrum lighting.

Substrate

Substrate is what you use to cover the floor of the habitat. What substrate to use is a highly debated topic within the bearded dragon community. Many owners prefer to use natural non-silica sand as a substrate to offer a more realistic habitat, while some prefer to use old newspaper because it is easier to maintain.

You can use whatever suits your needs but avoid using substrates that contain small particles to avoid impaction. Impaction is when the lizard swallows an object that it cannot digest. The object then creates a blockade in the intestinal tract. Impaction can be fatal unless it is caught early on and treated by a vet.

Avoid using pebbles, aquarium rocks, ground walnut shells, and anything else that could easily lead to impaction. This is especially true for baby bearded dragons.

Plants and Furnishings

To liven up the habitat you can add plants and other furnishings. Choosing plastic or silk plants is the best option. They are easy to clean, never need water, and reduce the chances of your bearded dragon swallowing them. If you select live plants make sure they are not toxic to your pet, and that they are free of any chemicals. Always have live plants in a small pot to make it easier to move when cleaning, or rearranging the habitat.

Bearded dragons also need a hide box. There are many hide boxes available in pet stores that offer a good place for your bearded dragon a place of refuge. Many of these hide boxes are constructed to look like rock caves and make an excellent looking addition to the habitat.

Perching in the basking zone is one of a bearded dragon's favorite past times. You can find a great selection of sandblasted driftwood pieces at pet stores that make the perfect perch. Make sure it is sturdy enough to support your bearded dragon.

Baby Bearded Dragon Basking
Baby Bearded Dragon Basking

Heat & Lighting Requirements

Make Sure Your Bearded Dragon Is Warm and Happy

Providing your bearded dragon with the proper heating and lighting is extremely vital to its survival. Since bearded dragons come from the warm desert regions of Australia, it is important to mimic that environment as much as possible.

In the wild, bearded dragons perch upon rocks and other items while basking in the sun's warm rays. It is important to replicate this environment as much as possible while in captivity.

Create Basking and Cooler Areas

Bearded dragons need a warm basking area to perch on that is between 95 to 100 degrees F for babies, and about 90 to 95 degrees F for adults. Use heating lamps, ceramic heat emitters, or heating pads to develop the correct basking temperatures. There are instances where a combination of these may be needed. Avoid using hot rocks as a heat source for bearded dragons. Hot rocks are infamous for causing burns on the belly of bearded dragons, and are not recommended.

On the opposite end of the basking area, a cooler zone should be created that should stay between 80 to 87 degrees F. The cooler region is where the bearded dragon will go in order to cool off a bit in case it gets too hot in the basking area. Maintaining a temperature gradient throughout the habitat is important to the well-being of the bearded dragon.

Always place a digital, or mercury, thermometer on both the basking area, and the cooler area so that you can constantly monitor temperatures and adjust accordingly.

Supplying UV-A and UV-B Rays

UV-B and UV-A rays from the sun are also vital for a bearded dragons survival. These rays are produced naturally by the sun, but may not be present inside a home. Therefore, special lighting is required in order to provide your bearded dragon with these rays.

A full-spectrum light, specifically designed for reptiles, will be required in order to replicate UV-A and UV-B rays. UV-B rays are essential to aid in the synthesis of vitamin D3 and calcium, which is needed for good bone development. UV-A are believed to help increase appetite and produce hormones.

Full-spectrum light bulbs should be replaced every 6 months to ensure the bearded dragon is receiving adequate amounts of UV-B and UV-A rays.

Bearded Dragon Habitat
Bearded Dragon Habitat

Bring Your New Bearded Dragon Home

Make Sure The Habitat Is Ready For Its New Occupant

The bearded dragon habitat should be fully operational and set-up long before you ever bring the new bearded dragon home. It is best to have all heating, lighting and décor already set-up and functioning at least a week before the new arrival is introduced to the habitat.

This is to reduce the chances of stress and shock the bearded dragon may experience while adjusting to new surrounding. Never bring a bearded dragon home that has no heat, no ultraviolet lights, and especially no food. It is important to have food items on hand when you bring the baby home. You want to begin offering it food as soon as possible.

As mentioned previously, set up the habitat about a week before you acquire the new bearded dragon. Turn on all the equipment to make sure they operate properly, and achieve the desired environment for your new pet.

Operate the lighting just as you would if the bearded dragon was living there. Turn on the basking lights, heat pads, ceramic heat emitters, and monitor temperatures in the basking and cool zones. Make sure they are at desirable levels.

Have all the décor items in place, such as the substrate, wood, or rock perches, any artificial plants you may want, and have the hide box ready to go. Place a small bowl with some chopped vegetables and fruit in the habitat just before picking up the bearded dragon from the pet store. Also, provide a small, shallow bowl of water. It is good to have these available when placing the new bearded dragon in its home. It will help to encourage his appetite.

Never bring a bearded dragon home without having the habitat set-up first! This can cause a great deal of stress for the baby bearded dragon, and create a slow start to his growth and prosperity.

What You Will Need!

Enclosure (at least a 30 gallon Breeder tank)

Wire mesh Screen top

Fluorescent full-spectrum light bulb for reptiles with shielded fixture

Heat lamp, or ceramic heat emitters with dome-style fixtures

Heating pad (if needed)

Minimum two digital or mercury thermometers

Substrate

Food & water bowls

Hide box

Decor items

Driftwood or rocks for a perch

Insect & vegetable food items

Own One of The Greatest Pets Ever!

Bearded dragons are wonderful pets to own, and you will have years of enjoyment while owning one. With a little maintenance, and a lot of love, you will have no problem keeping one of the most amusing and entertaining pets imaginable.

What Say You? - Leave Your Comment Below!

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    • bestbloodpressu profile image

      bestbloodpressu 5 years ago

      Nice lens!

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      This is definitely an interesting looking pet.