a bearded dragon standing on a rock

Bearded Dragon

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 Dragon Information

  • Average Length: 16 to 24 inches
  • Average Weight: 10 to 18 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
  • Good 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
  • Suitable for First-Time 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

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 is not common for captive-bred bearded dragons to flair out their spikes.   

These lizards have a wedge-shaped head and a long and 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 Bearded Dragon male and females are similar in appearance but when they mature it becomes easy to tell them apart. The males will have larger and darker beards than the 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.

a Bearded Dragon basking in the sun

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 large 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 the males in separate enclosures. 

Their Compatibility with Children

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.

a Bearded Dragon standing on a branch

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 the children’s hand. The children should pet them gently to calm and relax the 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 cause them to get stuck. Fish tanks can be used as they are transparent and nothing for their feet to catch on. The top of the tank should be tightly secured with a lid to keep them from escaping.

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

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

Boards covered with reptile carpet can be added as 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 as 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

Bearded Dragons live in warm and arid areas like desserts, woodlands and savannas. A large-sized 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 cooler side should be kept between 80 to 85 °F. The basking area should be between 95 to 105 °F. Nighttime temperatures can be kept cooler, as low as 70 °F. Ceramic heater, mercury vapor bulbs or incandescent heating lamps are all good options for creating the desired temperature inside the tank. 

Bearded Dragons need a humidity 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 its 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.

a Bearded Dragon looking at something

Bearded Dragons need access to natural sunlight. 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 a thermometer. The lights should be turned off during the night, and the substrate cleaned every day 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.

two Bearded Dragons laying on rocks basking in the sun

Health Issues

Most common health issues in Bearded Dragons:

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

MBD is a complex nutritional disease that is common in Bearded Dragons, especially in Dragons less than 2 years old. The disease is generally caused by feeding them a diet that is low in calcium or Vitamin D3 but high in phosphorus. MBD can also be caused by a deficiency of UVB lighting exposure. Symptoms include:

  • Softening of the jaw and facial bones
  • Swelling of lower jaws
  • Swelling of hind limbs
  • Tremor in legs

The disease can sometimes cause fractures in their bones. If left untreated MBD can sometimes progress to seizures, loss of appetite and lethargy. Take them to a vet if you see these symptoms in your Bearded Dragons. Metabolic Bone Disease is generally treated with immediate calcium supplementation (given orally), injections, rehydrating them with fluids and feeding them a diet high in calcium and Vitamin D3. 

Infectious Stomatitis

Mouth rot or infectious stomatitis is a bacterial infection that can affect the gums and jawbones of Bearded Dragons. It will appear as bleeding on the gums, swelling or discharge of thick mucus from the mouth. The disease is usually treated by injecting antibiotics and rinsing their mouth with antiseptic liquids.

Parasitic Infections

The most common parasitic infection in Bearded Dragons is pinworms. In most cases, the disease will not show any visible signs and is only detected during the annual examination of their stool. The parasite benefits from living in their intestinal tract usually without causing any significant harm to the Dragons. In some cases the parasites can cause symptoms like diarrhea or weight loss. 

Mites and ticks can be found on their skin which are generally transferred from other Bearded Dragons. The mites may be found moving between the scales, around the head or their skin folds. Deworming medications are commonly used to treat parasitic infections.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections can occur in Bearded Dragons that are stressed, fed nutritionally deficient diets and live in poor tank conditions. Respiratory infections can be caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites. Symptoms include: 

  • Sneezing 
  • Discharge or bubbles from nose or mouth 
  • Difficulty in breathing or open-mouth breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

If you see the above symptoms in your Bearded Dragon, take them to a vet.

Adenovirus 

The disease 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. 

Grooming and Care

You can give weekly baths to your Bearded Dragon. Bathing them will help remove the poop 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.  

Decorations like rocks and branches should have helped naturally wear down the nails of your Bearded Dragon. If their nails are curling under their toes, then their nails will need to be trimmed. You can use a claw trimmer to clip the 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.

a Bearded Dragon hunting for food

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 the 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 the 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.

a pile of mealworms ready to be fed do a reptile

Feeding 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 months 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. 

You can feed them 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 malnourishment, intestinal blockages or 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 the tank. The insects should be removed after 15 minutes. Removing uneaten food will help keep the enclosure clean.

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