Ultimate Bearded Dragon Care Sheet
February 18, 2021
Table Of Contents
- Bearded Dragon Enclosure
- Bearded Dragon Substrates
- Bearded Dragon Temperature and Humidity
- Importance of UVB for Bearded Dragons
- Feeding your Bearded Dragon
- Handling your Bearded Dragon
- Choosing a Healthy Bearded Dragon
Bearded Dragon Care Guide
Bearded dragons make excellent pets, and are perfect for both a first time reptile owner, or an experienced hobbyist! Native to the dry bushlands of Australia, these medium sized lizards typically grow to be between 15 - 24 inches long. Bearded dragons generally live to be between 5 and 10 years old. These lizards have outgoing personalities, and are diurnal, meaning that unlike most reptiles, they are active during the day. There are quite a few bearded dragon morphs (colors and patterns) to choose from as well, so you don’t have to settle if you want something more exotic looking.
Bearded Dragon Enclosure
Bearded dragons are large lizards, and therefore require large living spaces. An adult bearded dragon needs an enclosure that is at least 4 feet X 2 feet X 2 feet (bigger is typically better). Baby bearded dragons can be kept in smaller enclosures, such as the exo terra 20 gallon, but keep in mind they grow quickly, so you will need to be ready to upgrade them when the time comes. It is important to have a well ventilated cage (to reduce the risk of a respiratory infection), and because of this a glass tank with a screen lid is highly recommended. It is important to check your bearded dragon’s enclosure daily and spot clean when necessary. Once a month you should give the enclosure a deep clean.
Can I Keep Multiple Bearded Dragons in the Same Tank?
Bearded dragons are solitary creatures that should be housed alone (with the exception of breeding). Keeping more than one bearded dragon in a tank will cause them unnecessary stress, and can lead to fights over territory, heat, and food.
Bearded Dragon Substrate
When deciding on the best substrate for your bearded dragon, it is important to take into consideration a few things. You want to choose a substrate that is non toxic, does not have a risk for impaction, and is easy to maintain. Avoid loose substrates such as sand and soil. These are extremely dangerous for your bearded dragon, as they can cause impaction, which can ultimately lead to death. Don’t be fooled by calcium sands either, they are just as dangerous as regular sand. The absolute best substrate option for your bearded dragon is ceramic tiles. There's no risk of impaction with these, plus they hold in heat for your bearded to curl up on. You can have these custom cut for your enclosure size at hardware stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot. If tiles aren’t for you, reptile carpets also make a good choice, and are readily available at most pet stores. If you go this route I recommend buying a spare carpet so you can easily switch them out for cleaning. I have an in depth article on bearded dragon substrates here if you'd like to dive deeper into the subject.
Bearded Dragon Temperature and Humidity
Bearded dragons are cold blooded creatures, meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperature, and rely on their surroundings to stay warm. Because of this, you will need to supply your bearded dragon with a heat lamp, and closely monitor the temperatures in their enclosure. A bearded dragon’s enclosure will need a thermal gradient for them to comfortably move between. The enclosure should have a hot side between 95°F - 105°F, and a cool side around 80°F - 90°F. At night the temperature in your bearded dragon’s enclosure can safely drop down to the upper 70's. You will need to purchase two thermometers — one for the hot end and one for the cool end of your enclosure. A temperature gun is also recommended, as it will help you get an accurate reading of the actual surface your bearded dragon is laying on. The humidity in your bearded dragon’s enclosure should stay between 30 - 40%.
You should NEVER use heat rocks. The heating mechanisms in these are oftentimes unbalanced, causing the rocks to become hotter in some parts than others, which can lead to serious burns on your reptile. Because heat rocks have unbalanced heating, they are not even considered safe when used with a thermostat. If you wish to supply your bearded dragon with “belly heat”, you should look into either a heat mat or heat tape, both of which can be safely monitored with a thermostat.
The Importance of UVB for Bearded Dragons
In the wild, bearded dragons are provided with ultraviolet lighting from the sun. These ultraviolet rays are what helps reptiles to synthesize vitamin D3, allowing them to absorb calcium. In captivity, it is important for you to provide your bearded dragon with a UVB bulb to ensure they absorb an appropriate amount of calcium. If your bearded dragon is not supplied with a UVB bulb, they can begin to develop metabolic bone disease. Metabolic bone disease will leave your bearded dragon’s bones brittle and prone to fractures. Oftentimes it will cause spine deformities as well. In extreme cases, lack of UVB can lead to death.
UVB bulbs should be changed out every 6 months. They will still put off light after 6 months, but will not put off UVB. It is also important to note that glass and plastic enclosure lids will prevent your bearded dragon from getting UVB from the bulb. Screen lids will filter out a small percentage of the UVB too, but are much more efficient than glass and plastic. The bulb should be about a foot away from your bearded dragon, any farther than that will decrease the effectiveness. You can dive deeper into the subject in my Importance of UVB for reptiles article.
Feeding your Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of insects, and cut up fruits and vegetables. An adult bearded dragon’s diet should be made up of 75% greens (fruits and veggies) and 25% insects. A juvenile bearded dragon’s diet can be split into 50% greens and 50% insects.
Insects: Juvenile bearded dragons should be fed insects once every day, and adults should be fed insects every other day. These insects should be dusted with a calcium supplement at least once a week. The insects that you offer your dragon should be no larger than the width between their eyes. Insects larger than this can be too large to digest, causing impaction. NEVER feed your bearded dragon insects that you find outside. These can transfer parasites to your lizard, and also run the risk of containing pesticides. It is important to offer your bearded dragon a variety of staple insects, not just one kind. Without a balanced variety of feeder insects, your bearded may develop issues such as obesity, organ failure, and vitamin deficiency. To learn what exact insects you should be feeding your bearded dragon for optimal nutrition and why, read my article on the subject here.
Fruits and Veggies: Your bearded dragon’s salad will make up a huge part of their diet, and should be offered to them every day. Your dragon’s salad should consist of mostly vegetables, with some fruits sprinkled on top. Some appropriate vegetables for their salads are broccoli, kale, dandelion, parsley, and bell peppers. Some good fruits for bearded dragons are apples, bananas, pears, peaches, and mangos. Don’t forget to always rinse them before offering them to your lizard! Bearded dragons have taste buds just like us, so if yours is being picky about a certain fruit or veggie, try switching it up. If you have tried multiple kinds and are still having no luck, check out my article on encouraging your bearded dragon to eat greens, where I go more in depth on the solutions for getting your bearded to eat their salad.
Handing your Bearded Dragon Safely
When you first bring home your bearded dragon, it is important to set them in their enclosure and not handle them for the first week. This will give them time to adjust to their new surroundings. Always wash your hands before and after handling your bearded dragon to prevent the spread of diseases such as salmonella. When holding your bearded dragon it is essential to support their full weight (including their tails) in your arms. Many beardeds love to perch on their owner’s shoulders, but make sure you’re ready to catch them in case they lose their grip! Never hold a bearded dragon only by the tail — this can break their tails and cause spine damage.
One of the best parts about bearded dragons is their curious and docile nature. You can purchase harnesses specifically made for bearded dragons online (some of them even have wings and look really cool!) to take them out for walks! They love exploring the grass (don’t let them walk on the hot pavement as it can burn their toes). Only let them explore in places you know are pesticide free.
Choosing a Healthy Bearded Dragon
When picking out your bearded dragon it is important to pick one that is healthy. Make sure to look for one that is alert and active. They should be tilting their head to check you out and have wide open eyes. Check over their body for any small bugs, you don’t want to get one with external parasites. Another sign that they may have an external parasite is if you see small bugs in their enclosure. You should also check to make sure there's no crusty buildup around their nose or eyes. Listen to their breathing to make sure it is calm and steady. If the bearded dragon is wheezing, it could be a sign of a respiratory infection.
Best Substrate For A Bearded Dragon
Bearded Dragon Won’t Eat Salad?
Best Feeder Insects For Reptiles
The Importance of UVB Light for Reptiles