Bearded dragons are one of the most common reptiles kept as pets. Even though so many people enjoy the companionship of this cold blooded creature, keeping these creatures raises questions about how ethical keeping a bearded dragon is. Are they happy? Should we keep them or release them? Should we even worry?
Keeping a bearded dragon as a pet is not cruel as long as they are provided with the proper habitat, food, temperatures, and all of the other necessities of their lives. If a bearded dragon is in want of any of those things, it can be considered cruel or inhumane.
While it is not typically cruel to keep a bearded dragon, there are some important factors that make this fact true. Whether you are considering purchasing a bearded dragon or if you are just curious, here are some things that are necessary for the ethical keeping of a bearded dragon, and how to tell if your beardie is happy.
When it is Unethical
While it is perfectly moral to keep a bearded dragon as a pet more often than not, there are a few circumstances when it would be cruel to keep one in captivity.
Wild Bearded Dragon
If you were to take a bearded dragon from the wild and put it in a tank, that would be considered cruel and inhumane. Bearded dragons who are born in the wild are familiar with a very large habitat, know how to find prey, avoid predators, and find shelter. They are happy in the wild and do not need any extra human protection.
Bearded dragons that were born in captivity are more suited to that kind of habitat. They did not learn how hunt for their own food or take care of themselves without people to help them. Captivity-born dragons are comfortable and happy in their tanks and houses and even like to leave their enclosures to spend time with their owners.
Abused by Sellers
When purchasing a bearded dragon, it is so important to buy from a seller that treats their reptiles respectfully. Some handlers do not provide their animals with proper space, food, or water. Do not buy a bearded dragon from a seller that is cruel to their reptiles. It benefits you to buy from a respectful seller as the dragon will live longer without the trauma and stress from bad care. You are also not supporting someone who treats delicate reptiles with disdain.
How to Considerately Care for a Bearded Dragon
Now that you know what makes it unethical for a bearded dragon to be kept as a pet, you can take steps to learn how to own one of these beautiful reptiles compassionately. Owning a bearded dragon can be very rewarding as long as they are happy and healthy.
Bearded dragons in the wild are used to a lot of space for hunting and exploring. Despite this, a bearded dragon bred in captivity only needs a 20 to 50 gallon tank compared to the 100 meters they can travel in a day in the wild. Their man made habitat should have plenty of wood shavings or sand as substrate, plants or branches, a large rock or two, and can even have a hammock for lounging.
Feeding a bearded dragon the proper diet is such an important part of keeping them healthy and happy. These reptiles enjoy a wide range of live foods like crickets and meal worms, vegetables like sweet potato and kale, and limited amounts of fruit. Like any animal, they also need plenty of water, to bathe in and to drink. Making sure a bearded dragon does not become dehydrated or starve is a huge key in making sure keeping one is ethical.
Correct Temperature and Humidity
Like all pet reptiles, bearded dragons need specific heat and humidity requirements met. The tank for a pet beardie should be kept at 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. They need appropriate heat to be active and healthy. The humidity necessary to care for a bearded dragon is important to avoid dehydration and poor skin. Humidity in a bearded dragon enclosure should be kept at 20%-40% day and night.
This might seem like a peculiar requirement, but a bearded dragon that is stress free is a healthy dragon. When handling a bearded dragon, you should never have to grab them. If they trust you, they will climb onto your hand when you put two fingers under their chest.
If your beardie is frantic or aggressive when picking them up, wait until a different time to do so. Keep their tank in a more quiet room and avoid engaging them in very many activities. They are calm, quiet creatures and they like it that way!
How to tell if a Bearded Dragon is Happy
Whether you currently own a bearded dragon or are thinking about purchasing one, it is very helpful to be able to read their mood. Knowing if a bearded dragon is happy or not can help you know how to help them if they are not happy.
Even though they are not cats or dogs, bearded dragons can show affection toward their owners, the just have their own way of doing so. Bearded dragons are one of the few pet lizards that enjoy interacting directly with their owners. Bearded dragons do form attachments to their owners and show trust by sitting on their chest, shoulders, or lap. They will even fall asleep when gently stroked if they really trust the person.
If a bearded dragon has wide eyes with dilated pupils and a closed, curved mouth (like a smile) then they are comfortable and are showing affection for you. These creatures have also been known to wave which shows friendliness and submission. This is another form of affection.
A happy bearded dragon shows normal behavior in addition to any form of affection they choose to show. When a dragon is eating, drinking, pooping, sleeping, and basking properly, that is a sign of them being happy. A happy, healthy dragon will also look around, appear interested, and will have healthy eyes.