Bearded Dragon

a close up of a Bearded Dragon's head

Bearded Dragons are native to Australia, and are one of the oldest reptilian species still alive today. They are very colorful, and can be a variety of colors including reds, greens, blues, and yellows. They are very territorial, and will defend their home against intruders. They are also very aggressive towards other reptiles, and should never be housed together.

Bearded Dragons are gems. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, you might just think these are big, ugly lizards that eat their young. But they’re not, they’re beautiful and fascinating animals that are fiercely loyal to their owners. They have personalities, they’re energetic, and they’re fascinating.

The real reason Bearded Dragons are amazing is that they’re great first pets for young families. Sure, you can have a few other pets in your house before you get a bearded dragon (such as a hamster, guinea pig, rabbit, or gerbil), but if you go with the Bearded Dragon route, you’re set for life.

Bearded Dragons are arguably one of the best pets ever. They are cute, fun, and the perfect size for a home. They are not only tough, but they also make wonderful pets for children. They are great with the whole family, and kids will love seeing their pet up close. They are also easy to care for. Many families have happy bearded dragon experiences.

Bearded Dragons are very active animals, and will require a large enclosure. They can reach lengths of 2 feet long, and weigh as much as 15 ounces. They are very fast moving, and need a lot of exercise.

Bearded Dragon Information

  • Average Length: 20 inches
  • Average Weight: 15 ounces
  • Skin Appearance: Mix of scales & skin
  • Skin Colors: Tan, Yellow, Green, Red
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: Cannot tolerate cold
  • Good Pet: They allow people to hand them, so yes! 
  • Safe with Children: 5 and older
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Metabolic Bone Disease, Infectious Stomatitis, Parasitic Infections, Respiratory Infections and Adenovirus.
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 6 to 12 years

Physical Appearance of Bearded Dragons

a Bearded Dragon climbing up a branch in their enclosure

Bearded Dragons are smaller lizards that are commonly tan, yellow, green or red, or less commonly blueish green. They are called bearded because they have spikes under the chin that can flare out when they get scared. Their body is fairly flat which makes these spikes look more pronounced when they become territorial or feel threatened. It’s not common for captive-bred bearded dragons to flair out their spikes.

These lizards have a wedge-shaped head and a long thick tail. Their tail is almost as long as their body. There are 8 species of Bearded Dragons with the Central Bearded Dragon being the one that is most commonly kept as a pet.

Young male and female Bearded Dragon look the same but when they mature it becomes easy to tell them apart. The males will have larger and darker beards than females.

Temperament of Bearded Dragons

Captive Bearded Dragons are generally docile and are not aggressive. They are sociable and enjoy human handling. Young Bearded Dragons may be reserved but once they mature, they will enjoy being handled.

They are active during the day and sleep at night. They like to move around and explore their enclosure. Because they are more active, a larger enclosure is best for them.

Like most lizards, Bearded Dragons are territorial. While a male and female dragon housed together may get along, the male generally becomes aggressive during the breeding season. We recommend keeping males in separate enclosures.

Their Compatibility with Children

a Bearded Dragon on a branch looking for food

Bearded Dragons can make great pets for families with children. The dragons are calm and enjoy being handled. It’s rare that they’ll become aggressive or try to bite children.

Always teach your children how to handle the Bearded Dragons and behave around them. Teach them to gently hold the Dragon by their belly and let their tail rest on your children’s hand. Children should pet them gently to calm and relax your Dragons. They can keep the Dragon on their hand, shoulder or chest. Once the children are done handling the Dragons, they should place them back in their enclosure.

Children should always wash their hands after handling the Bearded Dragons. This is because most reptiles, including Bearded Dragons can be carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella. The bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain in humans. Anyone handling the Dragons should wash their hands after to prevent them from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses. Avoid letting children younger than 5 handle the Dragons because younger children have weaker immune systems and are more susceptible to infections.

Living Space for Bearded Dragons

Wire cages are not recommended for Dragons. Their toes can get caught between the wires and cause injuries or they may get stuck. Fish tanks can be used because they are transparent and nothing for their feet to catch on. The top of their tank should be tightly secured with a lid to keep them from escaping.

A single Bearded Dragon can be kept in a 55 to 75-gallon tank. You can use smaller tanks for younger Bearded Dragons but they will need a larger cage when they start to grow.

a Bearded Dragon resting on a branch in their enclosure

Decorations like different sized branches should be added inside their tank. Branches will allow your Bearded Dragons to climb and hide. The branches should be at least as wide as their body. A branch should be placed under the basking light to allow your Bearded Dragon to comfortably soak in the heat. 

Boards covered with reptile carpet can be used for the back wall and they will help them climb. Flat-bottomed and smooth rocks are also good choices for decorations. The rocks will make the tank look more natural and help wear down their nails. 

Bearded Dragons need a few hiding places. Empty cardboard boxes, flower pots or cardboard tubes all make great hiding places. If your reptile is not using the hiding spots, switch it out with a different material to create one that they will use. 

Substrate

The substrate should help maintain the humidity level inside the tank and help make the tank look more natural. We recommend using washed play sand or reptile carpet as a substrate. Play sand is a good option as it will let Bearded Dragons dig and burrow.  

Loose substrate like sand should be avoided because it can cause ingestion, especially for young Bearded Dragons. Avoid using substrates like walnut shells, corn cob or wood shavings because they can cause problems if swallowed.

Best Climate for Bearded Dragon

2 Bearded Dragons laying together on a rock

Bearded Dragons live in warm and arid areas like desserts, woodlands and savannas. A large enclosure with temperature conditions and decorations replicating their natural living areas will help keep them happy and healthy.

They are cold-blooded animals and need an external heating source to regulate their body temperature. They require a temperature gradient which can be created by having a warm and hot section inside the enclosure. The temperature on the warm side should be kept between 80 and 85 °F. The basking area should be between 95 and 105 °F. Night-time temperatures can be kept cooler, as low as 70 °F. Ceramic heaters, mercury vapor bulbs or incandescent heating lamps are all good options for creating the desired temperature inside their tank.

Bearded Dragons need a humidity level of 35 to 40 percent. A humidifier inside the enclosure makes it easy to maintain the right level of humidity. Unless you stay in a high-humid area, it will be easy for you to keep the humidity this low. If you need to raise the humidity level, you can mist your Bearded Dragon, or items in their enclosure. A hydrometer can be used to monitor the humidity level.

A water bowl with fresh drinking water should always be kept inside their tank. The water bowl will help maintain the humidity and also allow your Bearded Dragons to soak in water. The water bowl should be cleaned and replaced with fresh water every day.

Bearded Dragons need access to natural sunlight or enough UV rays to stay healthy. The sun’s rays, or UV light is important for them to absorb calcium or maintain Vitamin D levels in their body. Keep in mind that most window glass does not let the UVB light pass, so you may have to add UVB lighting to your enclosure.

The temperature should be monitored using two thermometers. One thermometer should be placed in the basking area, and the other in the warm area. With the two thermometers you’ll be able to quickly see if your heating system is working correctly.

The lights should be turned off during the night, using a timer with the lights is the easiest way to set up a day and night for your Dragon.

The substrate needs to be spot cleaned everyday to help maintain the cleanliness.

The Attention a Bearded Dragon Needs

Bearded Dragons do not need a lot of attention. An hour or two of time spent with them is plenty. This time can be used to feed them, spot cleaning the enclosure or holding them.

You can handle them a few times a week. They should be handled by lifting them by the abdomen and gently scoop them. Always wash your hands after handling them

Health Issues

Most common health issues in Bearded Dragons:

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Infectious Stomatitis

Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is an infection in a reptile’s mouth. Mouth rot is very serious and can cause your reptile a great deal of pain, and could eventually lead to their death. Mouth rot is typically caused by an injury to your reptile’s mouth, or their enclosure not being kept at the correct conditions.

Symptoms of mouth rot in your reptile are:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Blood in your pets mouth or their water bowl
  • Swollen areas in their mouth
  • Weight loss

The first step to fixing the problem is finding out if they injured their mouth on something, or if their enclosure’s conditions are not right. If their mouth is injured you should get them to a vet to have them look at your reptile. If the problem is environmental then fix the problems in their enclosure.

No matter what the cause of your reptile’s mouth rot, you’ll still need to take your reptile to your vet because the treatment requires prescription antibiotics. Surgery may be required depending on the severity of the mouth rot. Because this infection kills tissues in your reptile’s mouth, areas may need to be removed, including teeth. It’s better to prevent this problem before it happens by keeping your reptile’s enclosure at the conditions they need to be happy.

Parasitic Infections

Intestinal Parasites like roundworms, hookworms or pinworms can cause serious health issues in reptiles. In mild cases, the disease may not show symptoms but in severe cases it can result in:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Loose Stool
  • Throwing up food

Captive lizards generally contract parasitic infections from other infected reptiles, contaminated food or objects. Regular cleanings to their enclosure can reduce the chances your reptile will be infected from parasites in their environment. Take your pet to your vet if they have the above symptoms.

Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your turtles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed

Mites

Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.

Symptoms of mites on your reptile:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.

Ticks

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.

Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Red spots or deformities on their skin

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Adenovirus

Adenovirus causes gastrointestinal infection and hepatitis. Affected Bearded Dragons will become weak and eat less. Some infected Bearded Dragons may also become paralyzed or die. Young Bearded Dragons are most likely to become infected with this disease. If your Bearded Dragon has any of these symptoms make sure that you get them to your vet.

Salmonella

All reptiles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria is present on their skin and shells (for turtles) but doesn’t seem to harm them. A major concern is that the disease can be transmitted to humans. Salmonella can cause serious and life-threatening conditions in humans. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people shouldn’t handle reptiles. These people are at an increased risk of getting infected because they have a weaker immune system.

Grooming and Care

Weekly baths given to your Bearded Dragon will help remove loose skin and also help them relax. The frequency of the bath will depend on how dirty your pet gets. Most will get a bath on the weekend when there is more time. While most Bearded Dragons will enjoy it, some just don’t seem to like it.

To bathe them, fill a plastic bowl with lukewarm water, up to 2 inches high. The water should not be higher than their limbs. Do not use soap when you wash them. You can let them enjoy the bath alone, but most owners will use their hands to gently rub their lizard’s body. After bathing your Bearded Dragon, place them on a towel and dry them off.

a Bearded Dragon hanging on the side of a branch about to attack prey and eat

Decorations like rocks and branches should have helped naturally wear down their nails of your Bearded Dragon. If their nails are curling under their toes, then their nails will need to be trimmed. A claw trimmer can be used to clip their nails. Sometimes they may resist trimming and taking short breaks while trimming their nails will help them relax.

Bearded Dragons do shed their skin but not all at once, or in one piece like a snake does. They shed gradually in pieces. Avoid pulling any loose skin if you see a part of the skin coming off. Peeling the skin can cause bleeding or infections. They should not need any help shedding their skin. A visible sign of shedding is the dulling or fading of the skin that is about to be shed. Keeping the humidity levels on the higher side, misting them, and their weekly bath will all help them get the old skin off.

Remove any poop lying on the substrate, branches or rocks every day. If you are using a paper substrate, it should be changed every 3 to 4 days. If you are using play sand as a substrate, it should be completely changed once a month.

Wash their food and water bowls every day with a 5 percent bleach solution. Remove all the decorations from the tank every 3 months and spot clean the tank. Disinfect their tank with a 5 percent bleach solution and rinse it with water.

Wash your hands thoroughly after handling or bathing or your Bearded Dragon or cleaning their tank. Reptiles like Bearded Dragons are known to be carriers of harmful bacteria like Salmonella that can cause health issues in humans.

Feeding A Bearded Dragon

crickets are the perfect food for a Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragons are omnivores and need to be fed a combination of plant and meat-based foods. Young Bearded Dragons will mostly eat small insects. As they start to mature, more vegetables should be introduced into their diet.

For a 2 to 4 month old Bearded Dragon a healthy combination is 20 percent vegetables and 80 percent insects. Adults can be fed pinky mice and insects like mealworms, crickets, king worms, cockroaches and wax worms. Wax worms are high in fat and should be an occasional treat and not something they regularly eat.

They can be fed both frozen and live insects. Feeder insects should be coated with calcium supplements 3 – 5 times a week for adults and daily for younger ones. If you are giving them live insects, gut-loaded are the best live insects you can feed your Bearded Dragon. Gut-loading involves feeding the insects nutritious and vitamin-rich food. The insects pass along the added vitamins to your lizard keeping them healthier.

Vegetables like corn meal, sweet potatoes, collard greens, broccoli, spinach and mustard greens are great vegetable choices for them. They can be fed fruits like apples and oranges but they should make up a very small portion of their diet.

The size of the food you give them should be proportionate to the size of your dragons. If you feed them pieces that are too large it can cause problems like choking, malnourishment, intestinal blockages and in extreme cases even seizures. The size of the food should not be larger than the distance between their eyes.

Adults should be fed at least once a day and younger Bearded Dragons should be fed 2 to 3 times a day.

Remove uneaten vegetables and insects from their tank when they’re done eating. The insects should be removed after 15 minutes. Removing uneaten food will help keep their enclosure clean.