Bearded Dragon Care Sheet
Bearded dragons have become on of the most popular pets in the reptile trade today. They are friendly and tame and great for the first time reptile owner. We would suggest visiting www.beardeddragons.org to research bearded dragons. There’s lots of good information on this site.
A hatchling can be housed in a 20 gallon terrarium for a short period of time depending on its growth rate. This will last them for a few months only though as they grow quickly. Adult Dragons should be housed in nothing smaller than a 40 gallon terrarium. Screen lids should be used for the top of any aquarium style cages you use. Do not use glass, Plexiglas or wood to cover your cages. This will not allow enough air circulation and will also trap humidity in the cage. Screen tops allow air flow, allow your lighting and heat sources to work correctly and also allow humidity to escape.
Heating & Lighting
Beardies require a temperature gradient in their enclosures because they can’t regulate their body temperatures like we can. They have to thermo regulate, which means that they have to move between areas of differing temperatures in order to regulate their internal temperature. You should have a basking spot for your Beardie that is around 95-105 degrees F, as they need to get their bodies around 95 degrees to digest their food. Your Beardie will also need an area to cool down if he gets too warm. At the opposite end of the tank, you should try to keep the temp around 75-85 degrees. Night time temps shouldn’t be allowed to drop below 60 degrees, whereas 70-75 degrees is more comfortable for them. Don’t guess on temps – you could cook or freeze your Beardie! Use a good thermometer, one on the cool side and another near the basking site. If using a stick on thermometer it is best to place it in the cage when you want to know the temperature in that spot is. Then remove it when you get a stable reading. When sticking the thermometer to the glass, you will also be reading the glass temp making your temperatures inaccurate. Digital thermometers are available, accurate, and are less of a hassle. We do not recommend using hot rocks as they are dangerous. They can overheat and produce serious burns or short out and produce electrical shocks. Also, Beardies do not have heat sensors on the underside of their bellies so they don’t realize they’re being burned. This can result in some pretty nasty burns. There are two types of bulbs that produce UVB – mercury vapor and fluorescent tubes (replace your fluorescent tubes every 9-12 months). Don’t be mislead by “full spectrum” bulbs. “Full spectrum” does not mean that it produces UVB. Beardies synthesize vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB, and D3 is necessary for calcium metabolization. In the wild, Beardies expose themselves to the natural UVB in the sun’s rays, but in captivity, especially in colder climates, they just don’t get as much sunlight as they need to produce enough D3. Beardies who are deprived of UVB develop MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) where the Beardie uses calcium out of it’s own bone sources to fuel bodily processes. If the MBD isn’t treated early, skeletal deformities, broken bones, kidney failure, seizures, and eventually death will occur. Natural sunlight is the best. Try to get your Dragon outside when the temperature is good and the sun is shining. Don’t place your Beardie in a glass cage in direct sunlight as you will overheat him and could kill him. The glass of the terrarium acts like a magnifying glass in the sun – it will heat up the tank very quickly. Always provide a shady area for your Beardie to escape the heat of the sun if he gets too warm. If the temperature drops below 65 degrees in your home at night, you might want to consider a nighttime heat source for your Beardie. You can not use a bright light of any kind for heat at night. Imagine trying to sleep with the lights on! You wouldn’t sleep very well. Your Beardie could get stressed out, stop eating, develop behavioral abnormalities, and depressed immune function if you keep his lights on all the time. Nocturnal reptile heat bulbs produce a dim light which is usually available in blue, purple (black light) and red.
There have been many controversial issues with substrates. We recommend that hatchling stay on paper towels until they are a month old and have grasped the consept to stil non food items out. Crushed walnut shells and play sand are often used because it is relatively dust free and easy to maintain, although there have been reports of intestinal impaction. Keep in mind that substrate impaction can happen with nearly any substrate you use. Pay special attention to feeding vegetables on a plate big enough that sand doesn’t invade the food bowl will reduce risks of impaction. When using carpets and shelf liners, keep in mind, these need to be cleaned regularly. They can house and breed bacteria it you spot clean them.
Feed very small prey to baby Beardies. The rule-of-thumb for feeding is not to feed anything larger that the space between the Beardie’s eyes. When fed prey that is too large for them, serious physical problems can result including: partial paralysis, seizures, ataxia (loss of motor control), inability to self-feed, gut impaction, and even death. Start with feeding small crickets and gradually increase to larger sizes as the Beardie grows. Also offer a daily mixture of greens and veggies for your growing Beardie. Beardies consume a wide variety of invertebrates and small vertebrates in the wild, and a variety of protein sources should be offered in captivity. Prey items such as appropriately sized crickets, cockroaches, mealworms, super worms, silkworms, and wax worms can be fed. If you feed freshly molted supers or mealworms, that will reduce the amount of tough, indigestible exoskeleton. Exoskeletons (chitin) can cause intestinal impaction so the least amount ingested the better. As the Beardie reaches adulthood, you can feed less live prey and more vegetarian-based diet as the Beardie’s body no longer requires the high protein diet to grow. Adult Beardies need approx. 50 – 75% vegetarian to 25 – 50% live prey/protein. Remember to dust crickets and worms with a calcium and multivitamin supplement just before feeding them to your Beardie. Adults don’t require as much supplementation as growing beardies and egg-producing females. Multivitamins should be used a few times a week for an adult bearded.
Dilute bleach to a solution of 10% bleach and 90% water for a super strong disinfectant. Anything you spray with bleach must be rinsed well with water and free of any bleach odors before allowed to be returned to your Beardies cage. New cage furnishings such as branches from your yard or rocks should be thoroughly cleaned before added to the enclosure. To clean a branch or rock, soak it in the bleach solution for 30 minutes then bake in the oven at 250 degrees until nice and dry. Heating the wood will kill anything that the bleach happened to miss. It is a good idea to remove feces everyday as Beardies are notorious for tromping through their poop and getting it everywhere. Also, change the substrate at least once a month or as needed.
Bathing is an important part in keeping a healthy dragon. Regular bathing helps keep the beardie hydrated, clean, and helps to relax the muscles thus making it easier for them to go to the bathroom. Make sure that the bath water is warm to the touch (95-99º F) and fill it full enough to reach their shoulders. Remember if it feels too warm to you then it’s definitely too hot for them. Some beardies are comfortable bathing in the sink or the bath tub and others may not like bath time at all. You can try placing a see through Rubbermaid container on your countertop and gently placing your beardie inside. He may feel more comfortable resting on your hand while it is submerged in the water. Or you could try rolling up a wash cloth and letting him rest his arms on it. They need to feel secure or they will never enjoy bath time.