Having a reptile as a pet is something that can be intimidating when you’ve never had one before. Everyone knows how to take care of cats and dogs, but reptiles are a whole new story. Before you start, it’s important to know if an animal will work well for you before you commit to getting one. So for bearded dragons, do they make good beginner pets?
Bearded dragons are calm and good natured pets that will work well for families. They do require a special diet and enclosure, which can be initially expensive to buy and maintain. As long as you can give them the right environment, these lizards make great pets.
It’s important to learn all you can about an animal before you choose to get it as a pet. In this article, we’ll go through important things to know, such as why bearded dragons can be good beginner pets, what you need to know about them before you get one, and how to take care of them.
How To Take Care Of Them
Bearded dragons are omnivores and are allowed to eat a variety of greens, vegetables, fruits, and insects. Babies need more insects than other foods and should be fed up to 3 times a day. Adults really only need to be fed once a day. Feed them fewer and fewer insects as they get older because they don’t need them as much anymore, and having too many will cause them to become obese.
Since they’re domesticated, pet bearded dragons don’t get as much exercise as wild ones do. Adult bearded dragons should only be fed insects 2 to 3 times a week, with vegetables being given every day.
The following are lists of what main foods bearded dragons can and can’t have.
Vegetables and Greens: Make sure to give these to them more often than any fruits, and make sure that the amounts are small enough to swallow safely and effectively.
- Sweet potato
- Broccoli – just small bits and only once or twice a week at most
- Green beans
- Carrots – only once or twice a week and in small amounts
- Yellow squash
- Dandelion greens
Fruits: These should only to be fed sparingly because it could lead to obesity and raise their yeast levels. There is a lot of natural sugar in fruit, which isn’t naturally part of their diet. Small portions are best!
- Pineapple – only safe for them to eat once or twice a month
Insects: Insects are great sources of protein and keratin, both of which are important to the health of a bearded dragon. These insects can either be given live or dead.
- Mealworms – Should only be given to older bearded dragons because of the tough outer skin the worms have. Impaction could happen if given to younger bearded dragons.
- Waxworms – Should only to be given as a treat
- Mice – Yes, these aren’t insects, but it’s something bearded dragons can enjoy on occasion. Bearded dragons eat animals whole in the wild so don’t be afraid to give them a whole mouse. Make sure it’s not too big of a mouse though. Only adults should eat mice. Pinkie mice are probably the best, safest option when it comes to giving mice to your bearded dragons. The mouse must be at a warm temperature (you can freeze it but then heat it to 80° to 90° F before giving it to them). Giving bearded dragons something too cold or hot can mess with their digestive systems.
Foods they can’t eat (they can’t tell what’s bad for them so they will consume what you give them even if it is bad for them):
- Lemon and orange – Citrus will upset their stomach
- Spinach and beet tops- In small amounts every once in a while can be okay, but it contains things that can cause calcium deficiency, which can turn into metabolic bone disease.
- Fireflies – any insects that glow are toxic and can kill your bearded dragon
- Rhubarb – has high levels of oxalic acid which can be poisonous
- Avocados – has toxic chemicals for them – small amounts will make them sick and large amounts are fatal. Source
You can get food from any pet store or supermarket. Another thing is you should dust their food with calcium dust 4 to 5 days a week. And twice a month you should dust it with a reptile multi-vitamin instead. Source
Enclosure: Juvenile bearded dragons should have about a 50-gallon terrarium tank, while full adults should have a 75 to 120-gallon tank on average. They might need bigger tanks as they grow. Make sure the tank has a secure screen top. Bearded dragons love to climb so give them lots of vertical space and things to cling onto like branches and logs and little structures. These tanks don’t always come cheap, but it’s important to give your lizard the space it needs to feel comfortable.
Give them good hiding spots too – like in hollow logs or under rocks – for them to feel comfortable and shaded. clean the tank regularly of feces and anything else to keep it clean and make a good environment for them.
You should cover the floor with substrate. Don’t put in a substrate that can be easily swallowed, like wood shavings, sand or walnut shells. The best substrate to use would be reptile carpet, paper towels, newspaper, or slate. Babies and juveniles are particularly likely to eat the substrate, so make sure it’s not something that would be harmful.
Heat, light, and humidity: Heat is very important for reptiles obviously, since they’re cold-blooded. Make sure your bearded dragon has at least one basking spot in their tank. And you will need to make sure you can change the temperature between a range of 70° and 100° F. During the day, keep the basking area at around 100° and the rest of the enclosure at around 80°. The nighttime temperature should be between 60° and 70°.
You can provide heat through things like mercury vapor bulbs with a dome reflector hood, incandescent lights, or ceramic heaters. It’s a good idea to have a thermometer in the tank to monitor the heat.
As for light, bearded dragons need UV light, and should get around 12 hours of light a day. You can find special builds for this at the pet store. Don’t point the UV light through the glass of the tank, but through the screen top, so the rays aren’t interrupted. Make sure your dragon can get within a foot of the bulb at least. It might be helpful to have the lights on a timer so it’s consistent with certain hours for your pet. Your bearded dragon can go outside with supervision as long as it’s warm enough. Just don’t keep them outside in their glass cage and make sure they have access to shade and water.
As for humidity, their natural environment is a level of between 30% and 40%. You can monitor the tank using a hygrometer. If you find your bearded dragon needs more humidity, one thing you can do is mist them every couple of days.
Supplies You Will Need
- Water – Most water comes from their food, but you can either put dish in their enclosure or soak/mist them twice a week to make sure they’re getting enough water.
- Food and supplements
- Food and water dish
- Appropriately-sized tank
- Appropriate substrate
- Heat lamp and UVB light
- Thermometer and hydrometer for measuring temperature and humidity
- Items for terrarium (basking rock, logs, branches, etc.)
- Sand sifter (for cleaning out cage)
- Other cleaning supplies like brushes, soap, and sponges
Personality And Temperament
Most bearded dragons are friendly, peaceful, and passive. Domesticated ones rarely show any signs of aggression, and typically get calmer as they age.
They may bite when they feel threatened or scared, so as long as you are gentle and kind with them you shouldn’t have a problem. Their teeth won’t usually break your skin anyway. Another sign that they may be threatened is that their throat will expand and the spines on it will stand out. Male lizards can be territorial, so they should be housed separately from females if you have more than one.
Bearded dragons are mostly active during the day. They typically do well with handling and will even choose to sit on their owner’s head and shoulders sometimes.
Common Health Problems
One of the biggest health concerns for bearded dragons is metabolic bone disease (also known as Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism). Basically what this disease does is that it brittles the bones and makes it much easier for them to fracture and break. It usually happens because of some sort of imbalanced calcium to phosphorus ratio in their body. They can also develop it if they don’t have enough UV exposure.
Many bearded dragons also face trouble because of impaction in their digestive system. It probably appears because of certain insects the bearded dragon has been fed, so just be careful what you feed them. Eating substrate can also cause this. Another common health problem, especially for reptiles, is respiratory infections. Some symptoms to look out for in this case are wheezing or extra mucus from the nose and mouth.
Parasites are another hazard to watch out for. Atadenovirus is the name of the virus that specifically impacts lizards like the bearded dragon. It’s an infectious viral disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system, and immune system. There is, unfortunately, no current cure for this infection, and it can often be deadly for bearded dragons.
Other common health problems are:
- Obesity, probably brought about just by being fed too many insects or just too much overall.
- Trauma, which could be caused by things such as your bearded dragon being dropped, falling from a surface like their cage, being attacked by another animal, etc.
If you notice any unusual signs or symptoms in your bearded dragon (such as discolored skin, discharge/ mucus around the eyes, nose, or mouth, or swollen joints), make a visit to your vet as soon as you are able. The first initial vet visit after getting your pet should take place within the first week of you having it, and will cost about $75 to $150. And you should go to the vet at least once annually to give your bearded dragon a normal checkup and make sure they don’t have any parasites or other health issues.
More General Information
The lifespan of a bearded dragon can be anywhere from 6 to 15 years. As for size, a grown one will usually be between 16 and 24 inches long. These animals are native to Australia, with at least 8 different species of them found in the wilds of the continent. They were first introduced in the U.S. around 1990, and most bearded dragons in the U.S. now are captive bred because Australia doesn’t allow them to be taken directly from their wilderness.
They come in a variety of colors, with the common ones being tan, yellow, and light green. They also use body language with each other, like head-bobbing to show dominance and hand-waving to show submission.
Bearded dragons can cost anywhere between $40 and $900. Some factors that will influence cost are the age, color, breed, and morph. You can find them for sale at pet stores, reptile exhibitions, and private breeders.
Bathing Bearded Dragons
When it comes to bathing your bearded dragon, here’s what you need to do. First, fill the tub or sink with lukewarm water, but don’t fill it up too much as bearded dragons can get water into their lungs pretty easily. Next, slowly introduce your bearded dragon to the water and allow them to get used to it as you place them in.
Make sure they’re comfortable and then you can begin to clean them. When cleaning them, just gently rub them – don’t scrub them or apply a lot of pressure! Brush them in the direction of their scales and avoid the eyes. Then you can just give them some time to soak before gently drying them off. Once dry, get them under their basking light again as quickly as possible.
Taking Your Bearded Dragon Out of It’s Cage
It’s okay to take them out every day just to get them used to being handled. When picking them up, lay your hand out flat and hold it low on the ground while waiting for them to come to you. Once they’re in your hand, support their body from underneath and never squeeze them because it will make them extremely uncomfortable.
Let them leave your hand whenever they want to. It’s important to let them out of their enclosure every so often to help get them used to human touch and to keep them healthy and comfortable.