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Keeping Bearded Dragons as Pets

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 28 Aug 2020 | comments*Discuss
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Although not as famous as kangaroos bearded dragons are a well-known export from Australia and quite popular as pets, despite their complex dietary and environmental requirements. Their popularity is due in part to their sociable natures but also to their range of endearing behaviours which make them fascinating to watch. Almost all bearded dragons in the pet trade are captive-bred as Australia has very strict laws on exportation of its native wildlife.

The most commonly available species is the central or inland bearded dragon, so named because of the spines lining their throats. These spines can be made to stand up by inflating the throat when the dragon feels threatened. However, these aggressive displays are rare in captivity as these reptiles tend to be docile and easy to tame. Bearded dragons will grow to about 24 inches and can live up to 10 years, particularly if they are given good nutrition and housed in the ideal environment.

Housing Bearded Dragons
For adults, a minimum tanks size of 40 gallons is essential and larger is better – ideally over 55 gallons. Remember to fit a secure screen top cover. A thermal gradient must be set up, along with a basking spot, and temperatures should range from 80-85 F (26-30 C) on the cool side, up to a basking temperature of about 95-105 F (35 -40 C). At night, you can allow the temperature to drop down to 65-70 F (18-21 C).Heating can be provided by an incandescent lamp or by ceramic heaters or even a mercury vapour bulb in a dome reflector hood. Undertank heaters can also be used to provide supplementary heat.

Providing a consistent light-dark cycle to mimic conditions in the wild is very important and you can use an appliance timer to provide the 12-14 hours of light necessary per day. Some keepers like to provide their bearded dragons with natural light and this can be very beneficial. However, if you do leave your dragon outdoors, make sure you provide some shade and shelter – never leave it in a glass tank as this can overheat quickly in the sunlight with fatal consequences. In addition, make sure that you provide your bearded dragon with exposure to UVA and UVB rays through a special UV light source designed for reptiles.

Not everyone agrees on the suitable subtrate for bearded dragons. In general, you should avoid using loose substrate such as sand when your dragon is still young as there is a strong risk of ingestion and intestinal impaction. Thus, it is better to use paper towels, newspapers or Astroturf instead. Adults can cope with sand, providing it is washed play sand and not fine silica sand.

Avoid wood shavings, corn cob and walnut shell which can cause problems if swallowed. If you are using sand, remove faeces regularly with a cat litter scoop and clean out the cage completely (including disinfection) several times a year.

As bearded dragons are semi-arboreal, it is good to provide them with sturdy rocks, logs and branches to give them something to climb on and perch off the ground – especially near their basking spot. Make sure you also provide hiding places, ideally one at each end of the thermal gradient, and some artificial plants also make interesting additions to the environment.

Feeding Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are omnivorous and in the wild, would eat a variety of insects and small animals, as well as plant material. In captivity, they do well on a diet that is a mixture of insects and some greens and vegetables.

Since bearded dragons can be prone to impaction in their intestines, especially when young, it is a good idea to avoid feeding insects with “crunchy” exoskeletons, such as mealworms in large quantities. You can reduce the risks by feeding insects straight after their moult, when their exoskeletons are still soft. Adults can cope fairly well, though, and you can feed them a main diet of crickets, supplemented by silkworms, waxworms, red worms, butterworms, earthworms, and newly molted mealworms and superworms as occasional “treats”. Adults will also appreciate a pre-killed pinkie mice from time to time.

Never feed wild-caught insects as these can harbour toxic pesticides. In addition, make sure your insects are gut loaded with nutritious food and lightly dusted with a calcium and Vitamin D (no phosphorus) supplement. You can also dust them with a complete multivitamin once a week.

The diet should also be supplemented with fresh green leafy vegetables such as spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens, parsley, and vegetables such as squash, carrots, green beans, peas, bell peppers. You can also add some fruits, such as bananas, apples, berries and grapes. A common way to feed all of this is chopped up in salad. Overall, plant material should make up 20-30% of the diet. Lastly, water should always be available in a shallow dish and occasional misting can be done but be careful of making the environment too wet or humid.

Bearded Dragons as Pets
Their sociable natures and docility make bearded dragons great pets, especially for beginners, and most are easily tamed and handled with little effort. When holding these lizards, make sure you scoop them up under the belly and support their belly with the palm of your hand, allowing your fingers to gently curl over the body. As their nails can get sharp, it is a good idea to trim them regularly. Bearded dragons have several behaviour traits which make them fascinating to watch – the most endearing being their tendency to lift a front leg in a circular motion, which looks like they are waving to you!

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I have a new dragon 4 years old coming today I already have a 4 year old dragon both boys and I let the meet the first time out of tanks or leave them in different tanks for a bit ?? And the new dragon hasn't bin handle very much
Shane - 28-Aug-20 @ 7:02 PM
Hi id really appreciate some advice. I've had my bearded dragon for about a year, previous owner said she was about 4 years old. I noticed her teeth and gums are black and yellow and a small lump on her gum that appered about 3 or so weeks ago has grown in size and its turned into two lumps now im very worried but cant take her to a vet, my local vet won't see her they tell me I have to take her to a reptile specialist vet which is hundreds of miles away. I dont work and dont have the money to travel all the way to see one so im desperately trying to help her myself, is their anything i can do or will i have to save up and take her to the vet? Please no hate im trying my best
Carol - 23-May-19 @ 4:00 PM
What do I need to import my bearded dragon to Italy
Dawnie - 7-Aug-18 @ 3:43 PM
Lizard hasn't eaten 2 months only poops once a month help
Heather - 18-Feb-17 @ 8:32 AM
Good Morning. Help... We have an aaprix 11 month old Dearded Dragon. He is great..but.. about 6 weeks ago he stopped coming out of his shelter,stopped basking,stopped eating. He still looks healthy. We have to physically remove him from his shelter and put him on his basking rock. Its git to the point where we have blocked his sheltered area to encourage him to come out. All he wants to do is sleep. We have made his tank really nice with varying diff levels but he just isnt interested at all. We have tried Hoppers/Wax worms/Dubia roaches and fresh veg all with his calcium...he has only had 1 bowl movement in 3 weeks. Please help. Kind Regards.
Dawn - 20-Jul-16 @ 12:49 PM
"I bought a bearded dragon from a pet store 3-4 weeks ago he's around 5 month old. He appears to have swollen joints, seems bloated at times, barely eats at the minute but bowl movements are daily and are fine. I have taken him to the vets. He has been x rayed, the X-ray shows no substrate blockages, no obvious MBD no obvious signs of fractures or injury He has a UVB 10 and UVB 2 bulb... A basking lamp and heat lamp for the night time. His temps are around 40.0C for high point 26.0c for the cold spot. He has water and veg available, when he eats he has a choice of hoppers, crickets, meal worms and wax worms. Everything fed to him is coated in calcium. Do you have ideas as to what could be the issue with him? And how do I encourage or force him to eat to get nutrients and calcium into him?"
Cornlaws - 30-Jun-16 @ 10:41 AM
I have a baby bearded dragon that I bought a few hours ago, about 4, and he was beautiful!! But he is turning black and I don't know why. He was very sweet at the reptile store but won't let me hold him now in his new home. Is this normal for new bearded dragons?
Maddie - 24-Jun-16 @ 2:27 AM
Hi I have a 5 yr old dragon and I sprayed him with water tonight and he started rubbing his belly over the chips and he's changed could whiter and darker plz help I don't know if he's shreding but he's not eating much I got him 3 days ago !!
mikey456 - 16-Jun-16 @ 9:55 PM
I have recently bought a very young bearded dragon. I feed him pinhead crickets about 2 times a day. Once in the morning an hour after I turn his lights on. And an hour before I turn his lights off at night. I have read in many different places that I should be feeding him 3 times a day, and I've also even heard 3 times a week. Is my feeding schedule healthy enough for him?
ash - 2-Jan-16 @ 1:45 PM
Hi I am looking at taking on a beardy soon for my son mainly as his pet and was told only keep one in a viv as they're solitary, but somebody advertising in uk is saying 2 females are fine together ! Is this true as I'm getting conflicting information. Also some are using red I.R. lamps which I was also told is no good at all ? Thanks,
Matt Smith - 13-Nov-15 @ 9:13 PM
My dragon hasn't eaten since end of July he is drinking water but worried
Sharon - 18-Sep-15 @ 8:48 PM
Hol - Your Question:
Hi, I have two bearded dragons both around ten months old. They seem different to other beardies and they don't move around when I get them out! There tongues are always sticking out and they don't eat much at all! I'm worried I may have to take them to the vets. They also walk a little funny. Are they okay?

Our Response:
While general lethargy loss of appetite can be put down to skin-shedding, bearded dragons can be subject to common illness due to the wrong care. One of these is metabolic bone disease caused either by insufficient calcium intake through lack of a proper diet (inc supplements) and lack of adequate UVB lighting. If you are concerned about your pet's health, it really would be wise to see a vet. If they are genuinely ill, then they need to be diagnosed as most illnesses cannot be treated directly by the owners.
ReptileExpert - 20-Aug-15 @ 2:44 PM
Hi, I have two bearded dragons both around ten months old. They seem different to other beardies and they don't move around when I get them out! There tongues are always sticking out and they don't eat much at all! I'm worried I may have to take them to the vets. They also walk a little funny. Are they okay?
Hol - 19-Aug-15 @ 11:04 PM
I have 2 bearded dragons the male is called Glen and the female is called Smirnorf. I have had 4 clutches from them the 1st I missed the 2nd I collected and put in the incubator the 3rd I only had enough space in the incubator for a few of them and the 4th sadly I had to dispose of. From the 2nd clutch I have had 1 hatch this was 10 days ago none have followed but 1 managed to slit the egg but this was 4 days ago it still looks the same. Could it still be alive in there? Should I cut the egg and see? What should I do? Anything will help Thanks
Lucyb - 15-Aug-15 @ 9:07 AM
My mom got me a breaded dragonstarter kit and it can with a Coil bulb is it ok to use that for uvb are do I need a different one.
Rainbowdash - 12-Jun-15 @ 4:01 PM
Hi all Please help me out! We have recently purchased a 2 year old bearded dragon who we were informed was active and well yet may "go shy" initially when we purchased him. Since having him for one week we have fed him crickets and salad with water each day, he has a large home with rocks and shrubs, the temp avg is 85 degrees, we have handled him every day and taken him out his home to stretch his legs (as this is what we were informed he liked) and we have bathed him once HOWEVER, he has been very quiet, not active, very rarely does he sit on his rocks for heat, he does not eat very well at all and he hides sleeping behind the shrubs furthest from the warmth most of the day. We are considering taking him to a vet or reptile specialist. Please advice on what we may not being doing or any questions or suggestions that may help before we do??? Thanks very much
mypetdragon - 11-Aug-14 @ 3:32 PM
I have a 1yr old bearded dragon & he won't eat crickets or mealworms, he also only eats every 2-3 days is this normal for its age?
slash - 20-Mar-13 @ 11:31 AM
We have bought a 10 week old bearded dragon from a good reptile shop 10 days ago, around 5 days ago she started to closr her left eye which she contiues to do, there are no signs of weeping or swelling and we have the correct UV lighting and a heat bulb, her bedding is the chips which you can use for potting orchids, we purchased the chips from the reptile shop where we bought the bearded dragon. What should we do ? Thanks
Pepi - 10-Sep-12 @ 2:07 PM
I'm about to get a beardie and this has helped me loads with finding out what to feed it and the sort of house it needs. Thanks x
ABC123 - 13-Apr-12 @ 10:17 PM
I really need some advice please if you can help; My male bearded dragon is now constantly head bobbing at the female and neck turning black, I was told this was him showing dominance but its happening far to often as he also jumps on her and bites the back of her neck. Is there anything I can do to prevent this other than seperating them as you well know tank's are not cheap! ? ?
laurenmac - 10-Feb-12 @ 5:20 PM
We bought a bearded dragon for our 8yr old a few weeks ago. He is such a lovely little thing and all is well. But my daughter was worried he wasn't eating his greens. Your information, however, has put her mind at ease as you mentioned about the crickets having a belly full. So now she makes sure the crickets are fed just before feeding him. He does seem to be a very happy little chap and I am even considering getting one for myself. Thank you. x
cuddlykit261 - 20-Mar-11 @ 10:53 AM
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