Bearded Dragon Care Sheet
~ Caring for your Bearded Dragon Lizard ~
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Bearded dragons are one of the best reptile pets. They grow to a modest size of about 24 inches (61 cm) or less. When properly cared for, they can live a long time with an average of 7-10 years. They are smart, friendly, and very personable. Most are very tame and can be held and petted. They look equally cute wandering around your supervised living room or swimming in a partially filled bathtub. Although they do have specific care requirements, they can be a fun and relatively easy addition to the family. We hope this Bearded Dragon Care Sheet you will provide you with all that you’re looking for to keep your pet healthy and happy for years to come.
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Finding a good reptile vet is the first thing you should do when you get your dragon. Bearded dragons can get many kinds of parasites and when left untreated can kill your pet. Taking a fecal sample is the cheapest way to solve this problem. Ask if they will check the sample without seeing the dragon first. Many Vets will do this but will not give out medications until they have seen the reptile. Finding a good reptile vet in your area is not always easy but is necessary. Check out this site for a good list of vets: Anapsid.org If you live local to us please email us for a reference to the vet we use and love.
Bearded Dragon Enclosures
Baby bearded dragons can be kept in small 20 gallon long tanks. Reptile tanks are usually wider and lower in height to give the maximum floor space. Juvenile (4 months or so) and adult dragons are very active and need larger enclosures to keep them happy and healthy. Once your dragon is 10-12 inches (26-31 cm), it needs to move up to a bigger tank. The smallest size tank a juvenile or adult can be housed in is a 40-gallon breeder tank. A pair should be kept in a minimum 75-gallon tank. Tank size can also vary according to the size of your dragons. A 24 inch (61 cm) male will need more space than an 18 inch (46 cm) male. The larger space you can give your bearded dragons, the happier they will be. Males and females should be kept together ONLY as babies! Once they reach Juvenile age they should be separated. Males should live alone at this point, but females can usually live together. But watch carefully for any dominance issues, or one of the dragons hiding too much. If one is doing poorly, then separating them will most likely help. We don’t recommend keeping more than two “Beardies” together.
What to use on the bottom of your bearded dragon cage is a highly debated topic. We keep our babies with no substrate at all. When they grow to 10 inches (25 cm) or more they can be introduced to a substrate if you wish. You can use paper towels, newspaper, washed play sand, outdoor carpeting (without loops for the toes to get stuck in), reptile carpet, non-adhesive, non-slip shelf liner or what we use at Sunshine Dragons, indented kraft paper. It comes in rolls that can be cut to size for your cage. It’s not the best looking of the substrates, but it is easy to change often. Changing your cage often will cut down on the chance of your dragon getting sick. Some dragons ingest a lot of sand while eating. If you notice this, you may want to feed your dragon in a separate feeding container. The best place to get sand is at your local home improvement store because it is far cheaper than anywhere else. Buy a 50 lb bag of washed and screened play sand, or 2 bags for large tanks. Fill the tank with a couple of inches of sand. This will allow you to anchor rocks and branches into the sand, and also most Bearded Dragons like to dig. Most substrates such as Calci-Sand, walnut shells, and lizard litter sold at pet stores can harm your pet.
You want your beardies to be happy but try not to go overboard and crowd the cage. Remember that furnishings take up space and so you want the furnishings to be functional. Branches large enough for the beardie to lay on are good to get your pet near his basking site. If your cage is tall, find a way to use the space up high. Beardies love to climb high. Hemp rope can be wound tightly around to make the branches easier to grip. Rocks are also excellent because they warm up from the lights. Make sure the rocks are stable and that your beardie can’t dig under them and hurt themselves.
You can also include real or artificial plants. Ponytail palms, snake plants, jade, and pothos, all seem to work well. Make sure they are free of chemicals because your beardie might eat them. Be prepared to replace them as the dragons can be hard on the plants. You do want a hiding spot for your beardie as they LOVE to hide. Half logs that are sold in pet stores work well (get a large one since they grow fast) and so do flower pots turned on their sides. Be creative. It can be a flat space.
Cleaning the Cage
You will need to scoop the feces out of the cage daily. You can use a small cup. I take some of the sand from around the poop also to keep the cage cleaner. The sand should be changed about once a month depending on the size of the enclosure and the number of beardies in it. A small cage with two dragons will have to be changed much more than a large cage with one dragon. When emptied, the tank should be scrubbed with soapy water, Nolvasan, or very diluted bleach?] (10% bleach, 90% water). It needs to be rinsed off well and dried. No matter what you use, make sure you soak all rocks, branches, and other things in the cage in the cleaner and then rinse and dry well. Make sure the food bowls are washed in soapy water daily.
Lighting and Heating
You will need two types of lighting: UVB and heat lighting. UVB light is essential for many kinds of reptiles. The bulbs simulate the sun, allowing the dragons to produce Vitamin D3 which helps them metabolize the calcium they need to maintain health. Without UVB many reptiles get Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). We use unique reptile florescent bulbs like the Reptisun 5.0 or the Reptisun 10.0. They come in different lengths. The new Reptisun 10.0 is better in tall cages as it gives off more UVB. It is also useful with a screen lid, as the screen does block out some of the UVB light. These lights need to be within 12 inches (30 cm) of the basking spot and need to be replaced every six months because the amount of UVB diminishes.
There is a new type of light called a mercury vapor light, some favorite brands being T-Rex’s Active UVHeat, Zoo Med’s Powersun, Or Mega-Ray. These combine UVB and heat in one bulb. We don’t use these bulbs, as our cages are not high enough to accommodate them. They are also very expensive and have been known to break easily. There is also some controversy whether they are safe. Research the two types and make your own decision on what is best for you.
For heating, you can use your standard household bulbs, reptile basking bulbs, or standard spot lights. If you need larger then 100 watts you can find 150 and 200 watts at home improvement stores. In a taller cage, a spotlight or basking bulb is best to make sure your basking spot is warm enough. Standard light bulbs work well in cages that are low in height. Make sure the bulbs are over what will be your dragons basking spot, which should be at one end of the cage. This area needs to be between 100-110° F (38-43° C). Babies usually need a warmer spot than adults. Beardies need this heat to be able to digest their food. Use a thermometer in the cage to monitor temps or better yet, buy a non-contact temp gun and use it to check your temps frequently.
The cooler side of the tank away from the basking site should be around 75-80° F (24-27° C). At night you should not need heating unless it goes below 65 degrees (18° C). Then you can use special evening heat lights or under-tank heater attached to a thermostat on low. Without the thermostat, the under-tank heater will be really hot. Your lights should be on a cycle of about 10-14 hours on in the summer and 10-12 hours on in the winter. We prefer to keep them as close to what is happening where you are. You can regulate the lights with simple timers.
Feeding Your Bearded Dragon
Leafy greens must be offered daily. Mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, dandelions, escarole, chicory, and arugula can be staples in their diet. Lettuce does not have much nutritional value and should NOT make up their whole diet or even a large part. Romaine could be given occasionally if you can’t find the other greens. Spinach, kale, and swiss chard are both high in oxalic acids that bind calcium. They can be given, just not too frequently. Variety is a good idea, though. Remember, you don’t have to buy the whole huge bunch of greens. They will weigh whatever you separate out of a big bunch, which is a good way to get a wide variety without buying too many greens.
Make sure you wash all the veggies to get any pesticides off. Remove large stems (like collard stems), and any rotten parts and then rip the greens into pieces about the size of your dragons head. We cut up all our greens at once and place them in a Tupperware container lined with paper towels. This should last about a week in the fridge. Before feeding make sure to rinse the greens you are going to give to your dragon that day if you haven’t done it before. Also wetting the greens before giving them to your dragon is an excellent way to get extra water into them.
Vegetables like winter squashes, green beans, parsnips, carrots, sweet potato, and others can be grated up and added to the salad. They need to be in chopped very small or grated pieces. Dragons can not chew large chunks, and it will be hard for them to digest.
Fruits such as all the berries, mango, papaya, grapes, can be added in a small amount. Offering greens in the morning before get insects is a good way to make sure they eat their vegetables.
Bearded Dragons also eat live insects such as crickets, super worms, roaches, phoenix worms, horn worms and silk worms. Meal worms or pinky mice should never be fed to bearded dragons
Got questions about POOP?
Visit Sarah’s Bearded Dragon Rescue for the scoop.
We do not provide water dishesfor our dragons. We find they either defecate in it; the crickets drown in it, or they just kick up sand into it. You can wet their greens when you feed them. You also should mist your Bearded dragon with a spray bottle daily or put them in the tub weekly. Make sure the beardies can stand in the water so they don’t have to swim the whole time. Make the water lukewarm. Make sure to watch them while in the water. They seem to enjoy bath time. Some dragons will drink from a spray bottle. A light spray dripped on their nose will usually run into their mouths. It’s tricky to figure out, but once you do, most dragons will drink this way.
Insects should be offered to babies two or three times a day, and to juveniles and adults daily. As your bearded dragon gets older, he or she should be eating fewer insects and more vegetables than when they were juveniles Too many insects all through their life will cause kidney damage. Veggies should make up about 10-25% of hatchlings diet and 50% or more of adults diets. You can feed insects such as crickets and silkworms as a staple. Superworms can be feed occasionally to beardies over 12 inches (31 cm). Mealworms and waxworms are high in fat and not recommended. We choose not to give our beardies pinky mice because of the risk of parasites from them. Also, they are high in fat, and most dragons do not need them. Instead, we use silkworms and superworms to fatten them up after hibernation and for the egg laying females. Silkworms are also a yummy option to crickets. They eat them up like candy. Giving them as many crickets as they can eat in a 5-10 minute period is a good idea. Many baby dragons will eat 25-50 crickets in a sitting.
Never leave crickets in the cage overnight, especially with juveniles, as they can seriously hurt the baby lizards by munching on them as food. Some people choose to feed their beardies in a separate tank to avoid this. Never give babies large crickets. They need to be no bigger than the space between their eyes. Hatchings eating large crickets can cause serious harm.
NEVER FEED FIRE FLIES – THEY ARE TOXIC TO YOUR DRAGON AND WILL CAUSE DEATH!
We suggest buying crickets online when your dragon is young since they can eat so many crickets in a week. Take care of your crickets to get the most use of them. We use Rubbermaid tubs to house our crickets. You can cut part of the lid out and glue a piece of screen over it for ventilation. You could also use a 10-15 gallon fish tank with a screen lid. These are very cheap to buy and easy to clean. When your crickets arrive, cut one side off and quickly lower it into the container and bang on the top and shake all the crickets out. In warm weather, doing this outside is best, but with a little practice, you won’t lose any crickets. Place some of the egg crates that come with the crickets in the container for them to hide in. Add a couple of paper towel rolls also. The crickets will hide in the rolls making it easy for you to just shake them into your feeding container to dust with calcium.
You need to add a gut-load product to the container to feed the crickets. You can buy this either from the cricket company or pet stores. If you run out of gut-load, you can always sprinkle in some baby cereal or cheerios, but gut-load is best. It is full of all the healthy nutrients your beardies need. The crickets eat the gut-load and then when the dragon eats the cricket, it will get all those nutrients.
You will also need to add something for them to drink. We use a potato cut up into a couple of pieces. You can also use the stalks from your greens or some orange slices. Just remove and replace if they become moldy.
Superworms can be kept the same way. We usually add an inch (3 cm) of Cheerios with the gut-load because the worms bury in it. The super worms can be kept in a flat Rubbermaid without a lid since they can’t climb the sides. They can live for a VERY long time like this. Up to two months perhaps. Silkworms are the hardest to care for, and you need to learn about them before you buy any. They are more expensive than crickets or super worms.
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Supplementation for Your Bearded Dragon
Dust insects with a calcium with D3 (Rep-Cal) vitamin daily or whenever you offer live insects We put the crickets in a large yogurt container and shake them up with the vitamin dust and then serve them to the beardies. They get very excited when they see this container. About twice a week you should dust with a multivitamin instead of the calcium.
Brumation is a form of hibernation your bearded dragon might do during his second winter. It is not a complete hibernation and is more of a semi-dormant state that your beardie might be in for the winter months. Most beardies will naturally do this, but do not force it if they do not. In many houses, the temperature will drop in the winter months, and you may notice your dragon is eating less and hiding more, which is your dragon responding to the change in season and brumating. Never brumate a sick dragon or one that has recently had parasites. They may not make it through. If you have any doubts, please see your vet for a fecal check before brumating your dragon.
If you want to be in control of your dragons brumating (important if you are going to breed them) then stop feeding him for about two weeks before the brumation begins. Give him about 2 weeks to empty out all his stomach contents and then lower the temps of the heat lights to about 85° F (30° C). Keep the lights on for only about 8-9 hours a day. Then turn off the heat lights and leave the UV lights on their cycle. We do this for a couple of weeks and then turn off the UV lights and cover their cages to keep it dark. Check them occasionally to make sure they still look healthy although they will lose weight. Two to three months later, I turn on the lights again and start feeding them. If you only have one or two dragons, just watch them and when they emerge, start the regular light and feeding cycle.
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A Word of CAUTION about Salmonella:
Almost all reptiles carry Salmonella naturally. Make sure adults and children wash their hands after contact with your Bearded Dragons and make sure you don’t wash your reptile dishes with your household dishes.
***A special shout out and “Thanks!” goes out to Felicia Prieto and her Bearded Dragon, “Harlot” for putting together this Bearded Dragon Care Sheet for us.***
Join Felicia on her Facebook group page: Crazy Bearded Dragon Lovers
I hope you have enjoyed reading my post.
You might also like: Information About Bearded Dragons, Pagona Genus
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