How To Take Care of Your New Bearded Dragons!
How to Choose a Healthy Bearded Dragon
You will want to make sure that the bearded dragon you choose is healthy before your purchase. Fortunately, there are a few easy things to look for to determine the health of the bearded dragon you’re wanting to buy. Carefully inspect your bearded dragon. Look for any scars or signs of a past wound that could indicate future issues. If you do see a wound, make sure it has healed correctly and doesn’t look infected. Some lizards can quickly regenerate their body parts, however, bearded dragons cannot. If your bearded dragon is missing his tail or a limb he/she will stay that way forever. Keep in mind, it’s not too unusual for a bearded dragon to be missing the very tip of their tail or a toe on their leg. Look for any puss or fluid around the bearded dragons mouth that could indicate a sick bearded dragon. You should also make sure that the bearded dragons eyes do not seem droopy and that their mouth and jaw are not swollen. Healthy bearded dragons are very alert. They do catch fast bugs for food after all. A perked up and active bearded dragon can be a clear sign of good health. However, keep in mind that not all healthy bearded dragons are active 24 hours a day. Many times very healthy bearded dragons will be tired and resting.
How Big of a Tank Do You Need?
You will need to make sure your bearded dragon’s tank is large enough for him/her to easily move around and feel at home. Too small of a tank can cause anxiety issues and can also negatively affect their growth. We have highlighted some general tank-size guidelines below. Keep in mind that you can’t have too large of a tank, so it’s always best to go bigger. The only drawback of having a very large tank is it will give their food (crickets, worms, etc.) more space to hide and will be harder to keep warm.
Bearded Dragon Size Tank Size
Baby bearded dragons Ideal is 20 gallon
10-16 inch dragons 40 gallons or larger
16-20 inch dragons 50 gallons minimum, 75 gallons is ideal
20+ inch dragons
75 gallons minimum, 120 gallon is ideal
Your bearded dragon will not get enough light from the room his/her tank is in (even if the tank is right next to the window). In order to give your bearded dragon the light he/she needs you will need to illuminate the tank with a UVA/UVB fluorescent light for 12-14 hours each day. Since bearded dragons are from the desert, they rely on the sunlight to stay healthy. This means you will need to use a full spectrum UV light (it provides all types of UV rays just like the sun). Don’t forget, your bearded dragon will also need a basking light for warmth, so make sure both lights will be able to fit into the tank. The most recommended full spectrum light is the Reptisun Full Spectrum Light. It will provide all the UV rays that your bearded dragon needs to remain healthy. Many owners claim that these lights not only make their beardies more happy, but it also helps with their color as well.
Again, bearded dragons come from a desert environment which means they like HOT temperatures. Your bearded dragon will need his/her tank temperature to be no cooler than 85F and no warmer than 110F. Babie beardies need to have a basking area of 105-110 degrees and adult beardies need a basking area of 95-100 degress. Do not use electrically heated rocks as they can burn and injure bearded dragons. If your tank is large enough you will want to have a hot side and a cold side of the tank. Your hot side will be where the basking light is and the cool side will be the side without the basking light. You should monitor both the temperature and humidity of your beardies tank to make sure it matches their habitat as closely as possible.
Choosing A Basking Light
A basking light is pretty much a heat lamp that focuses the heat into one specific part of the tank. It is very important to get a good quality basking light. Do not use regular house light-bulbs. The basking light will stay on for 10+ hours each day and will get very hot. The heat cause lower quality bulbs to burn out quickly and some to explode. Zoo Med Reptile Basking Spot Lamps or some type of mercury vapor basking bulb are recommended.
Monitoring The Temperature and Humidity
You will need a way to monitor the temperature and humidity of your bearded dragon’s tank. You will want to keep the humidity as low as possible and the temperatures between 85-110 during the day and no lower than 65F during the night. Temperature and humidity gauges are fairly inexpensive, so it’s recommended to get two thermometers (one for the cool side and one for the hot side) and one humidity gauge. A popular gauge of bearded dragon owners is a combination thermometer humidity reader, which display both temperature and humidity.
Your bearded dragon will also need some type of flooring for his/her tank. Most bearded dragon experts do not recommend loose flooring such as sand, wood chips, pebbles, etc. because bearded dragons can accidentally ingest the substrate which can cause impaction. Impaction is a very serious issue with bearded dragons and should be avoided at all costs. Because of this, we only recommend you use reptile carpet for your bearded dragon’s tank. If you cannot get reptile carpet, you can also use newspaper, paper towels, or butcher paper.
Your bearded dragon will need a place where he/she can have some privacy. Having a hide will give your bearded dragon a place to feel secure as well as seek shade from the lights. You can purchase hides that resemble the natural rock hides that bearded dragons use in nature, or you can attempt to build your own hide. Some owners feel their bearded dragon stays in the hide for too long and will remove their beardies hide during the day. However, it’s recommended to keep your beardies hide in his/her tank 24 hours a day so your bearded dragon can use it whenever they’re feeling tired vulnerable, or just want some alone time. When choosing a hide, make sure it is large enough that your bearded dragon can move around once inside. If the hide is too small, your bearded dragon will not use it.
Bearded dragons love climbing and perching on various items to bathe in sunlight, so it’s no surprise that beardies absolutely love reptile hammocks. These reptile hammocks use suction cups to easily attach to the inside of your beardies tank and can easily support even the heaviest bearded dragons.
As mentioned earlier, bearded dragons are great climbers so having a branch or two in your tank that your bearded dragon can climb and/or sunbathe on will not only add decoration to the tank, but it will also help to make your bearded dragon feel more at home. When choosing a branch, make sure it is thoroughly cleaned before you put it in your bearded dragons tank. If you’re using natural wood, make sure all the bark is stripped from it (you don’t want your beardie accidentally eating a piece of wood) and verify there are no holes that crickets can hide in.
A basking platform will be the place where your bearded dragon sunbathes beneath the basking light to get warm. It can be as simple as a rock, the top of your reptile’s hide, or a tree branch. The best basking platforms will absorb heat and stay warm (like dark rocks), this way the basking platform will be warm to the touch which can warm your beardies underside while he/she basks beneath the light.
Bearded dragons are not used to walls and expect to see scenery in all directions. Because of this, many bearded dragon owners claim that their beardies seem happier and less grumpy when they use a tank background. Since plain painted walls are not in nature (and not impressive to look at), getting a background will help perk your beardies mood as well as improve the tank’s appearance. Feeding your bearded dragon the right food and keeping him/her on a diet will increase your beardies life span, increase the deepness of their color, and increase their mood.
Bearded dragons are omnivores, which means that they will eat both insects and vegetables. Your bearded dragon’s diet will depend on his/her age. Younger bearded dragons will eat 80% insects and 20% vegetables, while adult bearded dragons will eat 20% insects and 80% vegetables. When you feed your bearded dragon you will need to make sure that none of the food is wider than the gap between his/her eyes. If an insect or vegetable is wider than the gap between your beardies eyes, then there is a high risk of him/her choking and/or getting injured. So before feeding your bearded dragon you will need to verify the vegetables or fruit are cut into small enough pieces and none of the insects are too large.
Feeding Young Bearded Dragons
Young bearded dragons are quickly growing, and because of this they will require more insects than fruit and/or vegetables. Many owners claim that it is sometimes difficult to get younger beardies to eat their vegetables, so you should leave the vegetables in their cage during the day while they’re awake. You should feed your bearded dragon as many crickets as they can eat within a 10-15 minute period three times per day. After 15 minutes you should remove any uneaten crickets from your bearded dragon’s cage. On average, expect your bearded dragon to eat anywhere between 20-60 crickets (or other insects) per day.
Feeding Adult Bearded Dragons
Adult bearded dragons will eat much fewer insects than younger dragons. This is less exciting to watch, but it is a lot cheaper! If you overfeed an adult bearded dragon he/she can easily become overweight or unhealthy. Adults main diet will be vegetables, but once per day you will want to feed them insects. You will feed adults insects the same way you feed younger bearded dragons. Once per day feed them as many crickets/insects they can eat within a 15 minute time period. After 15 minutes remove the food from their tank.
Common Bearded Dragon Behavior
Before you immediately assume your bearded dragon’s ill, make sure their behavior is normal. Below is a list of common behavior from bearded dragons that may cause alarm with inexperienced owners.
Think of brumation as a hibernation cycle for bearded dragons. Bearded dragons will respond to the changes in temperatures and lighting. Learn the ideal temperature for your bearded dragon. During brumation a bearded dragon will become less active and have a decreased appetite. It’s not uncommon for bearded dragons to sleep for days at a time and skip countless meals. During the brumation cycle your bearded dragon may get up every once and a while to eat and move around, but for the most part they will rest. Brumation is completely different for each bearded dragon. Some bearded dragons will brumate for a week, others for a few months, and some will never brumate. Since each bearded dragon’s brumation cycle is different, it causes many inexperienced owners to assume their bearded dragon is sick. One day their bearded dragon will eat well and then he/she will nap for 5 days straight without eating. If you’re concerned your bearded dragon’s not eating enough during brumation, you can weight them on a scale (in grams) and monitor their weigh throughout their brumation cycle. Healthy bearded dragons weight will not fluctuate during brumation. It is recommended, however, to not wake your bearded dragon when he/she is in brumation. Doing so can cause a lack of rest which can extend their brumation cycle.
Bearded Dragon Shedding
Depending on your bearded dragons age, he/she will shed anywhere from twice a year to once every few months. As you can imagine, since younger bearded dragons are constantly growing they will shed much more regularly than adult bearded dragons. When a bearded dragon begins to shed, their color will dull and their eyes will seem more puffy than normal. Most dragons will shed without any issues, but it is recommended to bathe them regularly to help them shed. Try to resist helping them shed by picking at loose skin. If you peel off their skin too early it can damage the new skin. If you want to help, try using a damp warm washcloth to gently exfoliate the already loose skin that is barely attached to their body.
Unusual Bearded Dragon Behavior
Bearded dragons will usually behave differently when they’re not feeling well or if something’s wrong. This section lists the most common bearded dragon issues that you should know about.
Bearded Dragon Impaction
If your bearded dragon is eating regularly he/she should also have a regular bathroom schedule. If your beardie has eaten well, but has not used the bathroom for several days, it could be sign of an impaction issue. Most minor impaction issues can be helped by gently massaging your bearded dragon’s stomach in a warm bath. However, more serious impactions will require medical care from a reputable herp vet.
Diarrhea can be caused by change of diet, stress, or bad food. It shouldn’t cause concern if it happens every now in then, but if it’s a regular occurrence it could be a sign that something’s wrong such as parasites or worms.
Since the bearded dragon’s environment is very dry and very hot, proper hydration is very important. You can tell if your bearded dragon is dehydrated by gently pinching their skin with your fingers and letting go. If the skin doesn’t return to normal instantly, it’s a sign that they are dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, lack of energy, and a lack of appetite.
Droopy eyes is when your bearded dragon’s eyes begin to droop (similar to a bloodhound’s eyes). Droopy eyes can be caused by kidney issues in bearded dragons. If you suspect your bearded dragon has droopy eyes, it is recommended that you contact your local vet.
Paralysis is a serious issue that is most commonly caused when your bearded dragon eats something too large to digest. Whenever a bearded dragon eats food larger than the space between its eyes it puts pressure on his/her spinal cord during digestion. If the pressure on their spinal cord lasts too long it can cause paralysis or even death. If you suspect your bearded dragon has eaten an item too large and has become paralyzed then you should immediately contact your local vet, because the paralysis can be reversed if your bearded dragon receives quick medical care.
Bearded Dragon Diseases
If bearded dragons don’t receive proper diet, lighting, or temperature they can develop certain diseases. Below is a list of the most common disease in bearded dragons.
Bearded Dragon Respiratory Infection
If your bearded dragon’s habitat is too cold or too humid, he or she can develop a respiratory infection. Symptoms of a respiratory infection include gaping mouth, breathing difficulties, puffy body and/or throat, excess mucus around the mouth and nostrils.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
MBD is the weakening of the bones in your bearded dragon and is caused by a lack of calcium, vitamin D3, and/or phosphorous. Symptoms of MBD include: bumps in the legs that you can see/feel, swollen lower jaw, jerky movements, twitches and spasms, as well as bumps in the vertical columns of the back and tail. Fortunately metabolic bone disease can be treated with proper diet, temperature, and UV light. You can also treat MBD with the right bearded dragon multi-vitamin.
Mouth rot is a yellowish/white substance that will appear in and around your bearded dragon’s mouth. Usually your bearded dragon will have a decreased appetite if he/she has mouth rot since their mouth can be swollen and their teeth can be loose. It is recommended to take your bearded dragon to a local herp vet if you suspect your beardie has mouth rot.
Bathing Bearded Dragons
Just like people, bearded dragons needs to be bathed frequently. There are many benefits to bathing your bearded dragon including keeping him/her clean and hydrating your bearded dragon as beardies will often drink bath water more than their water dish.
You can bathe bearded dragons as often as once per day, but most bearded dragon owners will only bathe their bearded dragon this frequently to aid in bowl movements. Some bearded dragons will not defecate in their tank, but will only go when they are given a bath. However, it is recommended to bathe your bearded dragon once every four to eight days. Of course, if your bearded dragon is dehydrated, is constipated, or is shedding you should bathe him/her more frequently to help. If your bearded dragon does defecate in the bath, you should remove the fecal matter quickly so you do not contaminate the bath water (remember most beardies will drink their bath water).
Misting Your Bearded Dragon’s Cage
In nature, bearded dragons receive moisture on their skin every day from the morning dew, and it is recommended to mist your bearded dragon’s cage each morning to replicate this. By misting their cage you will also reduce the number of baths you need to give your dragon.
Preparing the Bath
Water Temp – Bearded dragons are reptiles, which means they are cold blooded, so they will need very warm water. The ideal temperature of the water should be around 94-96 F°. While bearded dragons can swim, you should never fill the bath where your bearded dragon cannot easily keep his head out of the water. Ideally the water should be no higher than his/her elbows on their front legs (usually about 1-2 inches deep depending on the size of your dragon).
You can bathe your bearded dragon in a bathtub, sink, or even in a large plastic container. As long as you can easily rinse off your beardie then it’s okay. However, it is more fun to watch the dragon swim around in bathtubs. Keep in mind that you will need to thoroughly clean whatever you bathe your dragon in both before and after you give your beardie a bath.
You should let your bearded dragon bathe for 10-30 minutes. You may need to add more warm water to the bathtub to keep it a comfortable temperature for your bearded dragon. Some dragons will like baths more than others and if you feel bathing your bearded dragon is making him/her stressed, you should consider putting a rock in their bath so they can take a break. You may notice that your bearded dragon inflates their belly when they are in the bath, this is normal and they do this to help keep them buoyant. If your dragon is shedding, you may want to gently rub the problem areas (toes, feet, tail, etc.) with a soft brush or a washcloth.
After the Bath
After you’ve bathed your beardie you will want to dry him/her off with a soft dry towel. Many owners will do a quick cleaning of their beardies tank before putting their now clean bearded dragon back into his/her tank.