Caring For Your Bearded Dragon
KEEPING YOUR PET BEARDED DRAGON
The bearded dragon came by his name because of the darkened patch under his chin, resembling a beard. When puffed out, the beard is quite a unique feature with his appearance bearing a striking resemblance to prehistoric dinosaurs. These reptiles are hardy, resilient and have an even temperament, making them a favourite among reptile lovers. The bearded dragon has an exceptional personality and will happily greet their owner each time they enter the room. Unlike many other reptiles, they love to be handled, which is ideal, even for the beginning reptile enthusiast.
One, Two or More?
Bearded dragons enjoy company; it is not uncommon to find them piled one on top of each other. Caution should be taken when housing unsexed bearded dragons together, since males may become very territorial and will spar if kept in the same enclosure. Sexed pairs and colonies (with only one mature male) may be kept together, provided the enclosure is large enough.
As in many reptile species, males have a hemi penal bulge, at the base of the tail, displaying two bumps. There are few secondary characteristics, so males and females know “who’s who” from a distance. Male bearded dragons have a darker beard once mature. Most of the time they are also larger, have a more triangular head shape and prominent pre-anal pores. The size of the bearded dragon’s beard may also indicate it is a male.
The life expectancy of a bearded dragon can range between five and ten years. Captive bred pets live longer than wild specimens, since they do not have any natural predators. The record for the longest lived bearded dragon is 18 years.
Bearded dragons are from the family Agamidae. The bearded dragon most commonly kept as a pet is the Inland Bearded Dragon. All bearded dragon originate from Australia. Today they are all captive bred. Bearded dragons are desert dwellers that typically reach lengths of 18 – 24 inches. With this information, we can conclude that the bearded dragon will require a roomy, dry land enclosure. They will also need many climbing and hiding areas to be completely comfortable.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your new pet, Petland recommends the following necessary accessories. We have listed them as your new pet’s four basic needs: Environmental, Behavioural, Nutritional and Maintenance. If these needs are met and a loving environment is provided by you, your bearded dragon can live a long and healthy life.
Housing – Consider the amount of space needed for the size of your bearded dragon. They like to climb and bask, so some vertical height should be offered. An aquarium with a secure screen lid works well to maintain appropriate humidity and temperature requirements. Juveniles can be kept in a 30-40 gallon enclosure. A mature bearded dragon should be kept in a tank that is at least 60 gallons in capacity. Whatever size enclosure you chose, including the following environmental elements is essential for your bearded dragon’s health.
Decorations/Plants – A bearded dragon’s enclosure should resemble a landscape that mimics the area they originate from. This means small brush, with plenty of grapevine and basking areas, lots and lots of rocks and large aquarium ornaments and/or driftwood. Live plants aerate the enclosure (allow for refuge), provide shade from basking areas and the leaves make perfect drinking areas. Although live plants may provide benefits for your bearded dragon, he may ingest them, so choose your foliage wisely.
Substrate – With the exception of very young bearded dragons, which should be kept on paper towels, bearded dragons should be housed on reptile carpet, though watch for loose threads, ideally the desert sand option. Substrates such as corncob, walnut shell, calci-sand and repti bark should be avoided as they may pose a danger to your bearded dragon’s health, with impaction being the primary concern. Spot clean the enclosure daily.
Relative Humidity – As previously mentioned, bearded dragons originated from Australia; therefore, they do not require a high humidity level. However, a misting bottle and a humidity gauge are helpful in monitoring and sustaining a 25-40% relative humidity at any given time. The enclosure should always have good ventilation.
Temperature – A bearded dragon is an ectotherm, which means he depends on the temperature in his environment to regulate his body temperature. The natural habitat must be laid out wisely in order to achieve the optimum temperature ranges for his health. Temperatures should range from approximately 80°F (26.7°C) on the cool end of the gradient to 110°F (43°C) on the hot end.
A Spotlight with a ceramic base is the best choice to provide localized heat for the basking area and as a light source. The wattage of the bulb will depend on your enclosure. Situate the light fixture, so that it is far enough away from the basking area that your bearded dragon does not get burned, but close enough to maintain a basking temperature.
An under-the-tank heater is useful to ensure the substrate is warm and dry at all times, though it should be used as a secondary heat source and not the primary source of heat.
Thermometer – The use of a thermometer is the only way to know if the enclosure and basking sites are maintained at the correct temperature. Stick-on thermometers are useful, although for accuracy a digital electronic thermometer is better. Place one thermometer by the basking area and one at the cooler, shaded end of the enclosure to monitor the temperature gradient which allows the bearded dragon to regulate his body temperature.
Thermostat/Dimmer - A thermostat is used to regulate the temperatures of the heat mat or light fixture that do not have the ability to reduce the heat output. This safety feature is important to prevent burns, particularly if it is possible for the breaded dragon to come in close contact with the heat mat. Most light fixtures are equipped with a dimmer, but if not then a thermostat can also help regulate heat intensity to prevent overheating the bearded dragon.
Lighting – Sunlight raises body temperatures and, as studies have indicated, it allows bearded dragons to synthesize vitamin D3, which is important in the absorption of calcium. Never have your bearded dragon sit in front of the window for his sunbath. Glass filters out beneficial UV radiation and can act as a magnifying glass – harming your lizard. In warmer months, open up the window and have him bask through the screen area. Always provide a source of shade, so he can cool off when he needs to. For your bearded dragon’s enclosure, you will require a light fixture and a high intensity UVB bulb. Your pet counsellor will show you the correct bulbs.
Food Sources – Bearded dragons are omnivorous, which means they feed on both animal and vegetable substances. Very young beardies should not be given mealworms. Crickets (the cricket should not exceed the distance between the eyes of your baby beardie), silk worms and phoenix worms are good choices for juvenile (5-12 months) beardies and must be offered daily. As well, 20–30% of your baby beardie’s diet must be made up of dark, leafy vegetables (no iceburg lettuce or spinach and not too much fruit) cut into small, bite-sized pieces. Spraying (not saturating) the veggies will help your juvenile beardie to stay hydrated. Baby beardies need to be fed two to three times per day. For adolescent or adult beardies, waxworms, mealworms, night crawlers, pinkie mice are also enjoyed. All bearded dragons require a daily salad of dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, dandelion, bok choy, collards and romaine lettuce. Melons, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, carrots, peas and squash may be offered in smaller quantities. A small portion of their diet may consist of prepared foods for bearded dragons. An adult bearded dragon’s daily diet will be made up mostly of vegetables with some fruit, with meat protein sources being fed two to three times per week.
Vitamin Supplements – Bearded Dragons are susceptible to metabolic bone disease, especially when dietary calcium, vitamin D3 and/or UVB light levels are inadequate. . You can maintain a routine of adding supplements to the bearded dragon's food source, such as dusting crickets or their salad with vitamins. You can choose to gut-load the food source before it is consumed. Either way, your bearded dragon must have vitamin and mineral supplementation. Ask your pet counsellor how much and how often you should be supplementing your bearded dragon's diet.
Watering – Much of Australia is hot and dry, which means the animals living there have adapted to their environment. Therefore, bearded dragons do not seem to drink large quantities of water. For this reason, many owners spend a lot of time watching and waiting for their bearded dragon to drink. Dehydration can be very detrimental to bearded dragons. Warm water placed in a spray bottle (when it mists out it is only warm) is the key to getting your bearded dragon to drink. Once he starts drinking, continue to slowly mist your bearded dragon and nearby foliage until he stops drinking. Misting also will facilitate shedding by softening and loosening dead skin. A large clean shallow ceramic water dish should be available at all times for bathing and occasional drinking. For baby bearded dragons, a rock or ceramic ornament placed in the middle of the dish will act as a life preserver, should he fall in and not be able to get out.
Litter Scoop – A litter scoop will make it easier to remove those undesirable droppings your bearded dragon will frequently leave you. Spot clean often to keep his home clean and free from fungus, mould or parasites.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your pet’s needs.
Contact with reptiles, their environments or frozen feeder rodents can be a source of human Salmonella infections. After handling a reptile, its environment or its food, it is recommended that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Clean and disinfect any surfaces where frozen rodents are prepared, thawed and stored.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets can potentially carry diseases that may be contagious to people. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their environments. Regular cleaning of your pet's environment with a pet safe cleaner may help avoid the spread of contaminants.
Hygiene procedures such as washing your hands before and after handling your pet and/or after having any contact with their habitat, is a necessary routine. Children should be assisted with hand washing and always have adult supervision when interacting with pets.
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