People often ask me, 'what is it like to have a Bearded Dragon?' or 'what do Bearded Dragons need?' The answers to those questions are not simple ones, because these are not simple creatures. A Bearded Dragon can be a wonderful, rewarding pet for those who are willing to do the research and care for them properly. They are docile, friendly lizards who do very well in captivity. That said, there are requirements that must be met in order to have a happy, healthy beardie.
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about reptiles in general, and Bearded Dragons are no exception. If you've done any research before coming to this site, you've probably already experienced some frustration and confusion! I certainly did when I first started keeping beardies.
There are some hard and fast rules to keeping a Bearded Dragon (for example, they need certain temperatures, they MUST have proper UVB light, and there are certain foods and bedding that must be avoided) but for the most part, it is your job as the pet owner to weed through all the opinions, research and experiences and decide what is best for your pet. I have attempted to include both sides of some of the controversial subjects, as well as what my personal opinion is on the matter. All opinions given here are based on my own personal experience, or the experiences of trusted friends and breeders with whom I have become acquainted. I tend to err on the side of caution, and in some cases, I have avoided certain practices because I feel they are just not worth the potential risk. You may see some things repeated in the care sheet, since I know people (myself included!) have a tendency towards skipping from section to section rather than reading it as a whole. If I have included something in multiple places, it is because it is very important, and I want to make sure you don't miss it! It is a lot of information, and I have tried to make it as straightforward and easy to understand as possible. If you have questions or concerns about anything written here, or if you would like clarification on any of the topics listed below, please do not hesitate to contact me, using the web form provided.
There is no 'one care sheet' which rules them all! For many aspects of animal husbandry, there are no certainties, only theories and good or bad experiences. On the main page, there are several links that you may find helpful. It is my hope, through creating this site, that I can help other beardie owners (and potential owners) avoid some of the mistakes that others have made, and help their beardies live long, happy lives.
*This page contains a lot of information, and is designed to be easily printed out and used as an overall reference for Bearded Dragon care. Some information may also be available in other areas of the site.
How big should the enclosure be? Can I house multiple beardies in the same enclosure?
Many times, you will see baby Bearded Dragons in the pet store with several in the enclosure together. This is a very deceptive practice, as beardies should NEVER be housed together. They are not social creatures and behavior that may be interpreted as 'bonding' or 'friendship' (such as laying on top of one another or 'waving' to each other) are actually dominance or submissive behaviors, indicating a problem. Bearded Dragons have a complicated communication style and social hierarchy. While there are sporadic instances of beardies being housed together without a problem, more often than not one will end up being dominant and aggressive, resulting in missing toes, limbs and other injuries, up to and including death of one of the dragons. Pet stores (in the interest of making a sale) will tell you that they can be housed together, that females can be housed together, or that siblings can be housed together without issue. This is incorrect information. If you would like more details on what can happen when beardies are housed together and why it is a bad idea, please see our 'Housing Multiple Dragons' page. In general, if you purchase more than one Bearded Dragon, be prepared to also purchase a separate enclosure, heating, lighting and UVB for each one. A good way to remember this is "keep them separate - keep them safe".
A single adult Bearded Dragon should be housed in a 55 to 60 gallon aquarium – ideal measurements should be approximately 48'' W x 24'' D x 24'' H. Since babies and juveniles are smaller, they can be housed in a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium, but this is only temporary. Bearded Dragons do most of their growing in the first year, so they will quickly outgrow this temporary enclosure. Essentially, as soon as you purchase a baby or juvenile, you'll want to begin looking for (and saving up for) an appropriately sized adult enclosure. Since a large, adult sized enclosure can intimidate and stress a baby or juvenile dragon, a method many people use is to buy the adult sized enclosure, but then section it off using an piece of wood, opaque plexiglass or even cardboard. This will allow you to provide adequate space for your dragon while they are small, and once they begin to outgrow the sectioned off space, you can simply move or remove the divider, and allow for more space. You'll want to make sure that the divider is not see through, since small beardies are stressed out not only by the size of the enclosure, but also by what they can see from the enclosure as well. When bringing home a new beardie, you'll want to modify the enclosure so that they can only see out of the front. If you are using an all glass enclosure, such as an aquarium, you can tape paper to the outside of the glass on three sides, to prevent the dragon from seeing out of them. This is only temporary, to allow your dragon to adjust to his new home. Once a few weeks have passed and the dragon is eating well, defecating well and seems happy and not stressed, you can remove the paper. While this is not an essential practice, it helps greatly with relocation stress, which is discussed further below.Cage decorations not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of the enclosure for humans, but are also an essential part of your Bearded Dragon's home. Beardies enjoy a basking spot that is somewhat vertical, and will appreciate branches and items arranged to accommodate this, especially under their basking spot. To aid in digestion and comfort, you'll want to have a branch or item of furniture that provides a slope for them to lay on. Dragons need branches or rocks to climb and bask on and a hiding place where they can feel safe, and get away from the heat. These items should be carefully secured so they cannot fall and injure your beardie, and should be thoroughly washed and disinfected prior to use. This is especially true if they were previously used for another reptile! To disinfect cage furnishings, you will need to soak them in a 1:10 bleach solution (1 part bleach, nine parts water) for 30 minutes. Once the soak is complete, you will need to rinse the items VERY well, until no bleach smell is present. I find that, when working with bleach, I often lose the ability to detect it in the air or on surfaces after a few minutes of exposure. For this reason, I always soak, rinse, then walk away for awhile in order to 'reset' my sense of smell. I often find that, once I've done this, I always have to rinse the items again as I can still detect the smell of bleach on them. Thorough rinsing is extremely important, as bleach fumes (like many chemicals) are harmful to Bearded Dragons. If there is bleach present on any items in their cage, the heat provided will allow the chemicals to evaporate into the air, causing breathing problems, eye problems, lung or organ damage, and even death. It is also important, for these reasons, that chemicals never be used around your beardie's enclosure. If you use any chemicals to clean or disinfect the enclosure itself, you'll want to follow the same rinsing method described above so that no chemical residue is present when the dragon is returned to the enclosure.
Since Bearded Dragons are reptiles, they aren't able to regulate their body temperatures like humans (a process called thermoregulation), and therefore require a temperature gradient, or variation, in their enclosure. They must be able to move between areas of differing temperatures in order to regulate their internal body temperature. This is important for digestion, growth and their overall health. Bearded Dragons should have a basking spot available that is around 105 degrees Fahrenheit, as they need to get their bodies above 95 degrees (F) in order to digest their food. They will also need a cool area in their enclosure, so they they can cool down should they get too warm. This area should be at the opposite end of the enclosure, with a temperature of around 85 degrees (F). This way, your Bearded Dragon will never overheat. Just as they do in nature, at night the temperature should be allowed to drop a bit. An ideal night time temperature for Bearded Dragons is in the 70-75 degree (F) range. Night time temperatures should never be allowed to drop below 60 degrees (F), however. If the temperature in your home (or in the room where the Bearded Dragon is at) drops below 65 degrees (F) at night, you will need to provide a night time heat source for your Beardie. Many versions of night time heat sources are sold in pet stores, but most are not appropriate for a Bearded Dragon. Beardies are diurnal lizards, which means they are awake during the day and sleep at night. Most night time heat sources that are erroneously recommended for these types of lizards are the red or blue “night time” lights. These are not suitable for Bearded Dragons as any night time light source will only serve to disturb their sleep patterns. This can cause them to get stressed out, lose their appetite and even suppress their immune system. An alternative to these types of lights are ceramic heating elements (or CHE's). These bulbs emit heat, but no light. They get quite hot but disperse heat over a very narrow area. Ranges are as follows: for a 60 watt CHE it is 8" down, a 100 watt CHE is 10" down, a 150 watt CHE is 12" down, and a 250 watt CHE is 14" down. Make sure you choose the right wattage for the size of enclosure you are using, as larger enclosures will need a higher wattage bulb to be effective. If you find that the CHE is getting the temperatures too high, a rheostat or dimmer switch may be used for small enclosures to prevent it from getting too hot. With a CHE, it is very important to use a dome lamp that has a porcelain or ceramic socket as the amount of heat the CHE's produce is enough to melt a regular plastic socket. These types of lamps are sold in many pet stores, as well as online.
One of the most common mistakes new Bearded Dragon owners make is to buy a stick-on thermometer which adheres to the glass of the enclosure. These are, essentially, junk and a waste of money. It has been found that these types of thermometers do not accurately measure temps, and could actually be off by up to 20 degrees (F)! The best type of thermometer to get for inside the enclosure is a probe thermometer, which run about $7 in the states. You will want to have one on the cool side, and one on the basking spot in order to determine what the temps are. An alternative to these if you don't want wires inside the enclosure is to get a temp gun. These can be found in many reptile shops as well as on the internet from companies such as Pro Exotics (tempgun.com). These are not only the most accurate but they are also great for people with multiple reptiles since you can use one temp gun to measure temps for all of them, rather than buying separate thermometers for each one. They are also good for measuring bath water temps as well as the water temps for amphibian enclosures and aquariums.
A final note about temperatures... it is vitally important that you know what the exact temps are in the enclosure, since Bearded Dragons depend so much on accurate temperatures for every aspect of their bodily functions. If temperatures are too cold, for instance, they will be unable to properly digest their food, which can cause digestive upset, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and impaction (which can be deadly). Too low temps can also cause respiratory infections and other ailments. If the temps are too hot inside the enclosure, it will literally cook your lizard if they do not have a place to get away from the heat and cool down. In short, the expense of getting (and keeping) correct temperatures will be far less expensive than the vet bills (and emotional heartache) if your dragon falls ill.
Heat rocks are sold in many pet shops, and are even recommended as an additional heat source by pet store staff, however, reptile experts agree that heat rocks are dangerous, for a variety of reasons. For starters, beardies (like many reptiles) do not have heat sensing nerves on the underside of their stomachs so they will not realize when the rock is too hot, even if they are being burned. The result is very nasty burns, skin infections and scarring. The other issue with these devices is that they can overheat or short out and produce an electrical shock. If you feel you must provide a rock for your beardie's enclosure, use a disinfected natural rock, which will not get hot enough to burn them, as it does not continue to product heat once a dragon lays on top of it.
Replicating the Sun
Bearded Dragons are desert creatures. In addition to proper temperatures and heat, they also need UVB wavelengths, which allow them to process calcium for growth and strong bones. Beardies synthesize vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB, which is necessary for calcium metabolization. In the wild, Beardies get their UVB from the sun's rays. In captivity, however, they don't get enough sunlight to produce adequate amounts of D3.
There are two different bulbs which produce sufficient UVB for Bearded Dragons - Mercury Vapor Bulbs and fluorescent UVB tubes. The recommended tube UVB for those in the US is the ReptiSun 10 tube. If you're in the UK, the Arcadia 12% tube is recommended. Never, ever use a coil bulb (of any type) for UVB, light or heat! Coil bulbs have been found to cause serious eye damage in Beared Dragons. Don't be mislead by 'full spectrum' bulbs, as this does not mean they produce UVB.
Tube UVB lights are appropriate for any size enclosure. You'll want to make sure that the light is 2/3 the length of the enclosure you're using. Many different sizes are offered for tube UVB lights. A tube UVB light will only provide UVB, not heat, so if you are using a tube UVB you will need a separate basking light as well, in order to keep the temperature in the basking spot at 105 degrees (F). Important: tube UVB lights should be replaced every 6 months. In many cases, the light itself will still function, however, the capacity to produce UVB is greatly diminished, sometimes non-existent, after a 6 month period.
Mercury Vapor Bulbs, on the other hand, produce both UVB light and heat, allowing for the convenience of using only one blub. These lights get quite hot and are only appropriate for larger enclosures (a 40 gallon breeder tank would be the minimum enclosure size for this type of bulb). Since these bulbs can fluctuate in temperature in the first few days of use, you will want to do a 'burn off' period when you get a new Mercury Vapor Bulb, of about 48 hours. This means keeping the light on for 12 hours, then off for 12 hours, and then back on for 12 hours until it has been 'on' for a total of 48 hours. This should be done outside of the enclosure, away from your beardie. I find that my shower stall in my second bathroom works well for this, but it can be done almost anywhere. In addition, Mercury Vapor Bulbs will need to be housed in a deep dome lamp with a ceramic socket, and must be hung or mounted straight down, vertically (not at any sort of angle) in order to work properly. Mercury Vapor Bulbs should be replaced annually. Like the tube UVB lights, even if the light itself is still functioning, the capacity for UVB is greatly diminished after this time.
UVB is very important for Bearded Dragons. Without it, they develop a disease called Metabolic Bone Disease, or 'MBD'. This disease occurs when, in the absence of proper UVB, a beardie must use the calcium from their own bones to fuel bodily processes. Much like osteoporosis in humans, if MBD isn't treated early, skeletal deformities, broken bones, kidney failure, seizures, and eventually death will occur. UVB is essential to your Bearded Dragon's growth and overall health, throughout their entire life.
Of course, natural sunlight is wonderful for beardies, when the temperatures outside are above 85 degrees (F). Your dragon will enjoy being outside when the temperature is good and the sun is shining. Never place your beardie in a glass enclosure in direct sunlight as the enclosure will get very hot, causing your beardie to overheat and could be fatal. Aquarium glass is very much like a magnifying glass in the sun – the tank will heat up very quickly, and the beardie will be unable to escape the rising temperatures. It is imperative to always provide a shaded, cool area for your beardie to go if the heat of the sun gets too hot. Never, ever leave your beardie unattended outside, and never allow them to eat anything outdoors, whether plants or insects. Many different pesticides are used and insects will carry these from one place to another. Even if you don't use pesticides in your own yard, it is best to never allow them to ingest any plants or insects outside. Fireflies (and any insect with bioluminescent capabilities) are DEADLY to Bearded Dragons. One firefly will kill your beardie, so if you live in an area where these insects are common, be sure to monitor your beardie to make sure they do not ingest one.
The good, the Bad, and the Ugly
'Substrate' is a fancy word for the flooring or bedding in your Bearded Dragon's enclosure. There are many options sold (and even recommended) in pet stores which are not appropriate and even dangerous for beardies (are we seeing a trend here? ;) While there is controversy over some of the options, there are a few in which everyone unequivocally agrees.
Never house a baby or juvenile dragon on Sand!
Baby or juvenile Bearded Dragons have a kink in their intestinal tract. This is something which will resolve as they grow, and should not pose a problem. This kink, however, or curve makes digestion a more complicated process. For this reason, they should never be housed on sand of any type. Pet stores sell things like calcium sand or other types of sand which they will tell you is safe. A month later, you'll have a very sick baby beardie with a digestive system full of sand, who is now unable to defecate and most likely will die. Sand (all types) causes impactions, in both babies and adults, when ingested by the beardie. While adults may have the capacity to pass it through, a baby or juvenile, because of that curve in their intestinal tract, cannot. Despite what a pet shop employee may tell you, calcium sand is no more digestible than regular sand, and will cause impactions just the same. In fact, there is evidence that some Bearded Dragons will purposely ingest calcium sand, in order to replenish their calcium reserves, and then end up with impaction. Babies and juveniles should be always be housed on a solid, non-particulate substrate, such as newspaper, paper towels or slate tile. Reptile carpet may also be used, though it can get caught in their nails and cause injury.
Adult Bearded Dragons are often housed on paper towels, newspaper, and slate tile. Reptile carpet is not recommended for adults as their nails are larger and there is great potential for injury due to their nails getting caught in the material. Another available (but very dangerous!) substrate is walnut shells. No Bearded Dragon, of any age, should be housed on or exposed to walnut shells. They are small enough to be ingested but large enough to cause impaction, and they are also not comfortable for your beardie to walk or lay on. Walnut shells can also cause internal injuries, beyond impaction, due to their sharp edges. In short, never, ever, ever use walnut shells, no matter what that guy at the pet store tells you! Likewise, you never want to use corn cob, alfalfa pellets, kitty litter, or wood shavings.
The Sand Controversy
There are many who use sand as a substrate for adults, though the practice is controversial. You will have to weigh the risks and decide for yourself whether you feel sand is an option. If you do decide to use sand as a substrate for your adult beardie, you will want to purchase washed, sifted play sand from a home improvement supply store such as Home Depot in America. You may want to resift the sand yourself once you get it home, to remove any large pebbles that are often present, which could harm your beardie if ingested. Calcium and other pet store sands are not appropriate (and are often much more expensive, to boot).
Problems that have been cited with sand include impaction (which does happen to adult beardies), and the very daunting task of keeping it clean. Unless you are able to completely replace the sand every time your beardie eliminates, there is great potential that bacteria will be left behind. The scoop method generally used is fine for things like a cat litter box, as the cat will urinate or defecate in the box and then leave. A Bearded Dragon lives in the sand in their enclosure. They crawl around on it, lay on it, walk on it and even potentially ingest some of it. Bacteria that is present in the sand always has the potential to harm your dragon, manifesting itself as skin infections, mouth infections, cloaca or vent infections (the area which your dragon uses to defecate) bacterial infections and internal parasites. Sand can also be irritating to their cloaca, which to be quite blunt is comparative to when a human gets 'sand in their crack' at the beach. It isn't comfortable for us, so why would it be for our dragons?
But don't they live on sand in the wild?
Bearded Dragons are exposed to a variety of things in their natural habitat, not all of them good. Some of the negative aspects of being a beardie in the wild include impaction from ingesting sand, garbage or plastic particles left behind by humans, and insects too large for them to digest, and being prey for other, larger animals. The sand which beardies are exposed to most often in their natural environment is a packed, hard type of sand, very different from the loose sand often used in captivity. Not everything that happens to beardies in the wild is positive, and our job as their caregivers is to replicate the positive aspects of their natural environment, while mitigating or removing the negative ones. In short, just because it happens in the wild, doesn't mean it's good for them.My personal opinion on sand is that it is an inappropriate substrate for Bearded Dragons, of any age. There are too many risks, too many 'what-if 's and too many better options available. In addition to those concerns, sand is a substrate that has to be continually replaced, and therefor, continually purchased, throughout your dragon's life. I use slate tile, which can easily be washed and disinfected, and never has to be replaced or repurchased unless it breaks. It is not only safer, but more economical as well.
Feeding requirements, including frequency, size and amount, are different for baby beardies than for adults. Baby and juvenile Bearded Dragons should be fed appropriately sized live prey two to three times per day. The rule-of-thumb for feeding young dragons is not to feed anything larger that the space between the beardie's eyes. When fed prey that is too large for them, serious physical problems can result, such as paralysis, seizures, ataxia (loss of motor control), impaction, and even death. You will want to gradually increase the live prey to larger sizes as the beardie grows. In general, a Bearded Dragon will eat it's fill in a 15 minute window. Offer as much live prey as your beardie can eat in that window of time, and then stop. Although babies and juveniles will eat mostly protein, you'll want to offer a daily mixture of greens and veggies. Even if they don't seem interested or don't always eat from it, it is important to offer it as this will be the bulk of their diet as adults. Beardies that were raised with greens as a part of their diet are more likely to enjoy greens as adults.
Beardies consume a wide variety of insects in the wild, so a variety of protein sources should be offered to beardies in captivity. Live prey items such as appropriately sized crickets, cockroaches, superworms*, silkworms, and wax worms can be fed. If you feed freshly molted superworms, that will reduce the amount of tough, indigestible exoskeleton (exoskeletons or 'chitin' can cause intestinal impaction so the least amount ingested the better). As the beardie reaches adulthood, you can feed less protein (live prey) and more greens and veggies, as the beardie's body no longer requires large amounts of protein for growth. Adult Beardies need a diet of approimately 50 - 75% vegetarian and 25 - 50% protein. If you have a female Bearded Dragon who is going through a lay cycle, you'll want to give her extra protein and calcium (daily feedings) in order to help her replenish what she loses through the egg-making process. This is recommended whether the eggs are fertile or infertile.
What about mealworms?
Never, ever, EVER feed a baby or juvenile beardie mealworms!!!! If you've been paying attention, the fact that they often have these available for baby beardies in the pet shop should tell you something! Mealworms are very high in chitin and often can cause intestinal impaction, especially in babies and juveniles. I personally would never feed any Bearded Dragon mealworms, regardless of age. *Superworms are a much better alternative, due to having much less chitin, but should only be offered to dragons who are over 16'' in length.
Appropriate greens for babies and adults include a variety of collard and mustard greens, escarole, watercress and dandelion greens. Kale may also be used, but only once or twice a week, due to the high vitamin A content. Carrots should also be used sparingly, for the same reason. Shredded or finely chopped green beans, orange-fleshed squash, bell peppers, and even fruits like strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloup and raspberries can also be used. Due to the higher sugar content, feed fruit less often than veggies and greens. Avoid things like iceberg or romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce and spinach. These are high in water but not high in nutritional content, and often cause diarrhea. A more detailed list of appropriate food for your Bearded Dragon as well as a list of different foods and their nutritional contents can be found at BeautifulDragons.com. Never, ever leave your beardie unattended outside, and never allow them to eat anything outdoors, whether plants or insects. Many different pesticides are used and insects will carry these from one place to another. Even if you don't use pesticides in your own yard, it is best to never allow them to ingest any plants or insects outside. Fireflies (and any insect with bioluminescent capabilities) are DEADLY to Bearded Dragons. One firefly will kill your beardie, so if you live in an area where these insects are common, be sure to monitor your beardie to make sure they do not ingest one.
Much like the cute little creatures in the movie 'Gremlins', you never want to feed your beardie after midnight! In fact, it is not wise to feed your beardie in the evening too close to bedtime, as they have to be able to get their bodies to a temperature of 95 degrees (F) or above to digest their food, which is impossible to do once their lights go out and the temperature drops for the night. Rather than being digested, the food will sit in their stomach overnight and could rot, causing vomiting, bacterial infections and other health problems. The general rule is to remove all food and not feed anything for at least 2 hours before bedtime. My personal preference is 3 to 4 hours before bedtime. This gives them ample time to raise their body temperature and digest their food before the lights go out.
Although most Bearded Dragons will not drink from a water dish, you can provide fresh water for your dragon if you choose. The dish should be shallow enough for your beardie to see into and drink out of. In addition to providing a water bowl, one of the most common and effective ways to hydrate your beardie is to give them a shallow bath in warm (not hot!) water. A temperature of 95 – 100 degrees (F) is appropriate. Like with a baby bottle, test the water temperature against your wrist or the top of your hand. Since beardies absorb water through their skin and vent, baths are a great way to keep them hydrated. An adult beardie should have a bath for about 15 minutes, one to two times per week. A baby or juvenile, sick beardie, or a beardie who is shedding should have a bath at least one a day, for 20 minutes. A light misting with water will also help keep the skin humidified to make it easier to shed. The enclosure, however, should never be damp, as beardies do not do well with high humidity. Always stay with your beardie during bath times!! Beardies have drowned in their bath water, so it is very important that you are present when they're in the water. Never fill the tub, sink or container with water above their shoulders. Once the bath is complete, you'll want to disinfect the area before using it again, for yourself or another beardie. This is especially important, since most beardies will defecate (poop) in their baths! If this happens while they are in the bath, drain the water and get the feces out and resume the bath with clean water.If your beardie's skin appears wrinkled, or the pads behind their eyes are sunken in, the animal is very likely dehydrated. A vet's assistance will be required in this case. If you are unable to reach a vet or have to travel to get to one, you can try baths as well as using regular, non-flavored Pedialyte administered via mouth with a small needleless syringe. Be extremely careful not to give too much at a time, since this can cause choking or aspiration (breathing in) of the liquid.
You'll want to dust live prey items with a calcium supplement just before feeding them to your beardie. Adults don't require as much calcium as growing beardies and egg-producing females. Since babies and juveniles are fed more than once per day, you only need to dust on one feeding a day. Adults will be fed live prey 3 or 4 times per week, and should have calcium on 3 feedings, and a multivitamin supplement dusted on one feeding. For babies, you'll want to do calcium about 5 times per week, and a multivitamin once per week. My personal favorites for supplements are by Rep-Cal. If you are using a Mercury Vapor Bulb as your UVB source, you'll want to purchase a calcium supplement without vitamin D3. If you are using a tube UVB light (such as the recommended ReptiSun 10 tube) you'll want to purchase a calcium supplement with D3. This is because of the difference in UVB the two lights provide. Beardies are able to produce more D3 with a Mercury Vapor Bulb than with a tube UVB, and they need D3 (whether they make it themselves or get it in a supplement) in order to process and use the calcium.
The following products are recommended for cleaning glass enclosures: Nolvasan (fumes are not hazardous) and bleach (fumes are hazardous). Do not mix these products together, or mix any chemical with bleach or a bleach-containing solution. I have also heard that Simple Green works well for everyday messes, and that the fumes are not harmful to animals or humans (it should be noted that only bleach is known to kill Coccidia, a common parasite in Bearded Dragons - Nolvasan was previously believed to work for this purpose but has recently been found to be ineffective at eradicating it). Whatever chemical or disinfectant you decide to use, you must make sure all surfaces that your beardie will come into contact with (the enclosure, food and water bowls, cage furnishings, etc.) are thoroughly rinsed after the disinfectant has had time to do it's job, as these chemicals can be very dangerous to beardies.
Any enclosure or cage furnishings your beardie will be exposed to should be thoroughly washed and disinfected prior to use. This is especially true if they were previously used for another reptile! To disinfect cage furnishings, you will need to soak them in a 1:10 bleach solution (1 part bleach, nine parts water) for 30 minutes. Once the soak is complete, you will need to rinse the items VERY well, until no bleach smell is present. I find that, when working with bleach, I often lose the ability to detect it in the air or on surfaces after a few minutes of exposure. For this reason, I always soak, rinse, then walk away for awhile in order to 'reset' my sense of smell. I often find that, once I've done this, I always have to rinse the items again as I can still detect the smell of bleach on them. Thorough rinsing is extremely important, as bleach fumes (like many chemicals) are harmful to Bearded Dragons. If there is bleach present on any items in their cage, the heat provided will allow the chemicals to evaporate into the air, causing breathing problems, eye problems, lung or organ damage, and even death. It is also important, for these reasons, that chemicals never be used around your beardie's enclosure. If you use any chemicals to clean or disinfect the enclosure itself, you'll want to follow the same rinsing method described above so that no chemical residue is present when the dragon is returned to the enclosure. When disinfecting branches or wood furnishings, you would follow the same procedure as above, and then (if they will fit!) bake them in the oven at 250 degrees (F) until nice and dry. The heat from the oven will kill any lingering bacteria that the bleach may have missed.As far as every day cleaning goes, you'll want to remove feces as soon as you notice it, since beardies do have a tendency to walk through it, and even unintentionally 'paint' the walls of the enclosure while moving around in it. I have one beardie who is a master poop artist! Obviously, this is for sanitary reasons, first and foremost. You'll also want to remove any food items (greens, veggies, fruits, dead insects, etc.) from the cage daily.
Since beardies are prey animals in the wild (meaning, they get eaten by other, larger animals) you never want to approach a new beardie and pick them up from above. This may scare them or stress them out. To them, you're just another big animal who might think they're a tasty snack! Until they learn to trust you, you'll want to get down to eye level and gently scoop them up with your hand under their belly. Once they learn to trust you, (and in some cases, from the very beginning) beardies tend to not necessarily hold on as well as other lizards, so always make sure you have ahold of them. That said, they do not like being firmly held, preferring to rest on your lap, shoulder, chest or in your palm. Never, ever grip them behind the front legs as this is where their lungs are and squeezing them there can cause them to stop breathing, or cause internal damage. I often use two hands to scoop up my beardies, so that there is never a need to squeeze them in order to pick them up.
Beardies are naturally inquisitive creatures, and can go from very docile to sprinting away at a moment's notice. It is always a good idea to create a controlled environment where they can explore without getting injured. They also are fond of jumping, off both furniture and humans, which can have devastating consequences. Bearded Dragons can sustain massive internal injuries from a fall, so you'll want to keep a close eye on your beardie and never leave them unsupervised when they are out of their enclosure.
Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water after handling your beardie, as like with all animals, they can carry Salmonella. With proper hygeine and disinfection procedures, this is rarely a concern. Although lizards and reptiles in general have acquired a 'bad rap' for being carriers of Salmonella, the truth is that any pet has this potential, including cats and dogs, and similar precautions should be taken with all animals.
Having a pet can sometimes be compared to having a human baby. They cannot talk, or tell you they don't feel well, or suggest what may be wrong. Our biggest clues as to potetial problems often involve what goes into our pets, and what comes out! For this reason, a frank discussion on all things poop related is in order.
What does a dragon poop look like?
Generally, a healthy dragon will have a well formed dark or light brown colored stool, which is encased in a long sack. There is a secondary component to their poop which is called a urate. Like birds, Bearded Dragons do not urinate clear liquid, but a more toothpaste-like substance, which is generally half the size of the poop, and bright white. This is completely normal, and is the sign of a healthy, well hydrated beardie. If the urate is discolored, it can be a sign of disease, or in the case of a female, a pink tinted urate can mean she is getting ready to have a lay cycle. Female Bearded Dragons will often lay infertile eggs, and this is one of the first signs. If your beardie has a discolored urate, is producing a very small urate or isn't producing any urate at all, it would be a good idea to get them in to see a vet right away.
There are many diseases and health problems associated with Bearded Dragons. It is especially important to pay attention to their daily behaviors, food intake, feces and urates, and general daily activities, as beardies are prey animals in the wild and will instinctually hide illness or injury, and they are quite good at it! It is your responsibility, as their caregiver, to notice when something is not quite right, and investigate what may be the cause. There are some behaviors that Bearded Dragons display which can be alarming to a new beardie owner. We'll start with these sorts of behaviors, and then examine more serious health problems.
Eye Bulging - This is a common behavior when a beardie is in a shed. They bulge out their eyes in an attempt to loosen the skin. Although it does look quite distressing, it is not a cause for concern. They are just doing what they need to do to get the shedding skin to come loose.
Ballooning - This happens in the bath. The beardie will swallow air and puff their body up to achieve buoyancy in the water. They may do this many times during a bath, inflating and deflating, as they please. This is also associated with what appears to be more rapid breathing when deflated. This is not an issue as long as no other signs of respiratory distress are present. Note: your dragon should never look as though it is gasping for air - since dragons always breathe through their nostrils, a sign of this would be open mouth breathing. If your dragon is breathing through it's mouth instead of it's nose, or if they are making gasping or choking sounds, you need to get them to a vet right away. Other signs of a respiratory infection are mucus (dried or liquid) coming from the nose, eyes, or mouth.
Gaping - If you notice that your beardie is basking, contently, with their mouth open this is called 'gaping'. Bearded Dragons use this as a way to regulate their body temperatures, much like humans sweating or dogs panting. They may do this a few times throughout the day, and it is not a cause for concern unless your beardie always has their mouth open, which would be an indication that they are having trouble breathing in the normal fashion.
Glass Dancing - This is a comical behavior, usually the result of your dragon seeing his own reflection in the glass of his enclosure. It can also be the result of them seeing another beardie. For this reason, it is recommended that multiple beardies be placed in separate enclosures where they cannot see one another - and , yes, this includes across the room, or in some cases, even if they are in an adjoining room but still have the other beardie in their line of sight. Beardies are not social creatures and can become stressed if they see another beardie, even if that beardie is in a completely separate enclosure.
Black Bearding - This is the behavior for which the Bearded Dragon got it's name! It is particularly common in males, though females may exhibit this behavior as well. Initially, their chin will turn black, and they may even make a low hissing sound. Then, they may puff out or extend their beard as a threat or mating display. In general, this does not mean your beardie is about to attack you, as dragons tend to be "all beard and no bite"! That said, this would not necessarily hold true when confronted with another dragon. Since beardies can be quite aggressive with each other they should not be housed together. In addition, males should never be allowed to play or roam about together, since aggression and injuries are often the result.
Head Bobbing - This behavior is often seen in conjunction with (or prior to) black bearding. It is another display of dominance or mating gesture. It can also be seen when a beardie is placed in a new environment, or even when they're feeling particularly pleased and happy in their existing one. One of our male beardies does this every morning in his enclosure, in various places, and after a feeding. It's almost as if he is saying, "I've got a good deal here, and it's mine. Mine!"
Arm Waving - Contrary to the popular belief that this is a female behavior, this behavior is seen in all dragons, regardless of their sex. It is a sign of submission. Essentially, when a beardie waves, they are saying, "I am just a beardie and not worth the trouble. Please don't hurt me." I have even seen beardies 'wave' at humans. Sometimes, a new beardie owner will see their dragon wave at them. This usually passes fairly quickly as they become more comfortable in their new home, and with their human. Once they learn that you have no intention of hurting or eating them, they become quite sassy and you never see the 'wave' ever again! It has also been my experience that if you duplicate this behavior and wave at a beardie, they will interpret this as a sign of submission from you, and will become more comfortable and less stressed in a new environment. I use this trick with all new beardies to the house, and it works well to calm some of their stress (though they may look at you funny the first time you do it... I'm sure they are thinking "why is this huge creature submitting to me?!"). Sometimes, they'll even give you a head bob in response. They're very intelligent creatures!
Tail Twitching or Tail Salute - When a beardie has their tail pointed upwards toward the ceiling, it usually means they are in 'hunt' mode. Their tail may also twitch. This is a normal behavior and fun to watch!
Chasing and Circling - This behavior is most often seen in mating, or aggressive displays. The dragon may turn sideways and look at you (or another beardie) with their mouth open. This is one of the few behaviors to watch for in Bearded Dragons, as it can be a good predictor of a coming bite!
Brumation - If you've done some research on Bearded Dragons, you've likely heard the term 'brumation'. Brumation is very much like hibernation, although in the case of Bearded Dragons their system doesn't completely shut down. In the wild, brumation occurs as a result of temperature and light changes during the year. In captivity, if you keep your beardie's enclosure fairly consistent with regards to temperatures and light schedules, brumation may not occur. However, your beardie's natural instincts may still indicate when it's time to brumate, regardless of what you do.
Brumation usually occurs in the fall or winter months. It can also be induced to facilitate breeding. When entering a brumation cycle, beardies become less active and eat less, or stop eating all together. During brumation, a beardie may sleep for weeks or even months at a time or may just be lethargic. Common brumation behaviors include digging under their substrate, hiding under something, or just laying around their enclosure. It is a good idea to continue to provide greens and occasional bugs during this time. Even without eating, a healthy beardie shouldn't lose much weight while brumating. Weight loss (at any time) can usually be attributed to your beardie being ill or infected with parasites.
There are many theories on what to do when and if your Beardie decides to brumate. Some owners think that forcing brumation by lowering temperatures and light to simulate winter is the way to go while others try to hinder it. Personally, I feel it is best to let your bearded dragon do whatever comes naturally.
Before allowing your beardie to brumate, you must make sure they are in good health (this is applicable to most reptiles). Healthy dragons can brumate for extended periods of time without any problems. Monitor your beardie's weight during brumation and check for signs of dehydration. You can test for dehydration by lightly pinching the skin on the back of your beardie's neck or sides. A well hydrated beardie will have skin that pops right back into place. If the skin stays pinched or takes a while to return to it's normal shape, your beardie is most likely dehydrated and in need of water. If you are concerned about dehydration, give your dragon a warm soak once a week.
Like most things, common sense is key. If you notice that your dragon has lost a noticeable amount of weight, has developed excessively smelly or runny stools, or has dark circles underneath his eyes, consult a vet immediately, as these are all signs of dehydration, parasites, or illness.
Health Issues and Diseases of Bearded Dragons
Vitamin A Toxicity - Caution should be used when giving multivitamin supplements because Beardies are very susceptible to vitamin A toxicity. Signs of a vitamin A overdose are swelling of the throat, bloating, and lethargy. Beardies should be given a small dose of multivitamin once a week. The proper ratio of vitamin A to vitamin D to vitamin E should be 100:10:1. One popular reptile vitamin has an A to D ratio of over 600:1 instead of 100:10, so be mindful when picking out a multivitamin for your dragon as they are not all created equal.
Hypothiaminosis - Hypothiaminosis, also known as vitamin B1 deficiency, causes tremors and twitching. The best way to replace the lost B1 is by buying a vitamin B1 supplement, which is available in most health food stores, drug stores, and vitamin stores. You can buy a vitamin B1 supplement in tablet form, crush it up and add a small pinch to your beardie's salad. Then just store the left-over powder. You can also buy it in a powder-filled capsule, and simply dump out some capsules into a small container.
Dystocia - Dystocia, also known as 'egg binding', this is a very serious (and potentially fatal) situation. Female Bearded Dragons will lay eggs whether they have mated or not. Unmated females will lay infertile eggs, and mated females will usually lay fertile ones. It can occur in cases of both fertile or infertile eggs. It is thought to be caused by a biological deformity which may not allow enough room for the eggs to pass through. Another potential cause is very large or malformed eggs. To decrease the chances of egg binding, a proper lay box must be provided, temperatures must be accurately measured and the female will need additional protein and calcium supplementation during this time. Malnutrition and dehydration are also attributing factors to egg binding. If you suspect egg binding in your female dragon, a diagnosis and treatment should be performed by your vet immediately. Treatment can vary from warm soaks with simple massage, to removal of the eggs or organs through surgical means. DO NOT TAKE A CHANCE with egg binging as, if left untreated, it will kill your dragon!
Constipation - If your beardie does not defecate (poop) for several days (whether continuing to eat daily or not), it could be a sign of a bigger problem. The longer your beardie goes without defecating, the more serious the situation. If waste is allowed to back up in the system, organ failure and even death can result. If you notice that your beardie seems constipated, the first thing to check is the temps in the enclosure. Proper temps are essential for digestion in Bearded Dragons. If the temps are correct (or if raising the temps doesn't do the trick) a warm soak and massage may be required. A constipated dragon should be bathed in warm (about 95-99 degrees F) water for 20 minutes. While they are soaking, gently massage them in a downward motion from their belly to their vent. Be careful not to push too hard! Since water cools quickly, be sure to add warm water as necessary to maintain the proper temperature. If the constipation is due to improper temps, small pieces of ingested substrate, or a mild case of parasites the beardie should defecate within 24 hours. If the blockage is due to heavy parasite infestation or impaction, you must take your beardie to a vet for treatment. Severe MDB and paralysis may also lead to constipation. Again, a vet visit will be required to determine the cause and treatment. Untreated constipation or impaction is often fatal.
Diarrhea - A common cause of diarrhea in beardies is parasites, including worms and protozoans. The urates (the white portion) may also be tinged a reddish or rusty color. The first tip off that parasites may be present (in addition to diarrhea) is that the smell of the feces will be quite overpowering. Stress, dietary changes, or eating a food that does not agree with their digestive system may also cause temporary diarrhea.
If parasites are suspected, a fecal test is required to determine what organism is causing the problem. Do not treat parasites with products found in pet stores, as they often cause more problems than they are worth. Once you have spoken with your vet and treated your beardie for parasites, always do a second fecal test to make sure the parasites have been cleared. In severe cases, additional treatment may be necessary.
MBD - MBD or Metabolic Bone Disease is caused by an imbalance in vitamin D3, calcium, and phosphorus. Several foods which have a high calcium content (such as spinach, carrots, collards, chards and other thick leafy greens) also contain oxalates, which bind to calcium. Oxalates attack calcium and make it useless in your dragon's body. Vitamin D3, calcium, and phosphorus interact together to perform a number of functions including bone growth and maintenance, muscle contractions and blood coagulation. Too much phosphorus can throw this balance off, as can too much or too little vitamin D3 or inadequate UVB light.
Symptoms of MBD include hard knobs in the long bones of the legs, bumps along the vertebral column of the back and tail, and softening or hard swelling of the lower jaw. Regular physical exams are a must since these signs may be felt before they can usually be seen. Visible signs of moderate to severe MBD include jerking or twitching movements when walking, tremors and shaking, as well as spasms in the limbs and muscles of the legs and toes when at rest or after exercise, and shakiness when being held. Advanced cases of MBD will include all the above signs plus constipation, anorexia, and bone fractures. Severely deficient beardies tend to be lethargic and may only be able to drag themselves along the ground.
There are treatment options available for MBD. Moderate to severe cases will require the proper diet, temperatures, and UVB as well as a more powerful calcium supplement than those found in pet stores. Oral administration of calcium glubionate (NeoCalglucon®, 1cc/kg) or injections of calcium lactate (Calphosan, 250 mg/kg) or calcium gluconate (100 mg/kg) are generally prescribed by veterinarians. Studies have shown a faster recovery with calcitonin (Calcimar, Miacalcin, 50 IU/kg in the front leg, repeated once a week for two weeks) when administered to beardies who have a normal serum calcium level. Your vet will need to perform a blood test to determine your beardie's serum calcium level. In mild cases, treatment consists of correcting the diet and environment.
UVB light is necessary in treating and preventing MBD. Vets have prescribed the use of self-balasted mercury vapor UVB/heat bulbs as part of the treatment for MBD. These bulbs have both a UVB element as well as a heat element. Proper diet is also essential to recovery. Feed calcium-rich, nutrient dense foods like squashes, green beans, mustard greens, dandelions, escarole, and papaya. Supplement the food with additional calcium and a multivitamin formulated for reptiles.Mouth Rot - This is a systemic infection that often shows up as a white or yellow-gray substance in the soft tissues of the mouth. In advanced cases, the head may be quite swollen, and the teeth may be loose. A vet examination is necessary for a proper diagnosis. Antibiotics will often be prescribed, along with treating the mouth with diluted solutions of Betadine and Nolvasan. The plaques that form along the teeth and gums must be dislodged by a vet. Do not allow your beardie to ingest the dislodged plaque. During the course of the antibiotic therapy, check your beardie's mouth daily for any regrowth of plaque. Severe cases may require additional or reapted treatment.
Beardies suffering from mouth rot often cease or greatly reduce their intake of food and water. Supportive therapy should include replacement of fluids and administration of vitamin B-complex and vitamin C . Vitamin A may also be supplemented(in very small doses due to potential toxicity).
When under treatment of antibiotics beardies should be kept near the upper end of their required temperature to ensure maximum benefit from the antibiotics and to keep their immune system functioning optimally. Hydration should be acheived either by droplets licked off the Beardie's nose, misting or bathing.
Respiratory Infections - Generally, beardies are very hardy and resistant to respiratory infections. However, low temperatures, improper humidity, and poor cage conditions and hygiene could result in respiratory problems. The usual treatment involves the use of antibiotics as well as raising the temperature of their environment. Symptoms of a respiratory infection include excessive or prolonged gaping, forced exhalation of air, puffing of the throat and/or body, and lack of appetite. Mucus may also accumulate in the mouth, eyes or the nostrils. The presence of the above symptoms usually means that immediate attention is necessary from a qualified reptile vet. Respiratory infections, if left untreated, can be deadly.
Shedding - Shedding is a process that beardies will repeat throughout their entire lives. Baby and juvenile beardies will shed many times as they grow. Some owners refer to this as a 'continuous shed', as it seems to never really stop. Beardies often shed in parts rather than shedding their entire body at once. Indications of a coming shed include loss of appetite combined with a change in color. Their color will get duller and sometimes turn a powdery white color.
Daily soaks or misting your beardie with warm water helps to loosen a shed. It is not necessary to purchase any special shedding aids commonly sold at pet stores as plain, warm water works just as well. Your beardie may be seen scraping it's head or body against the sides of the enclosure or their cage furnishings. This is a normal part of the shedding process and should not be discouraged.
Although it is tempting to try to help by pulling off the shedding skin, this should never be done as it can damage the newly developing scales underneath. In some cases, (such as around the toes and tip of the tail) they may need help to remove the shed completely. You can help this process along by using your finger or a soft bristled tooth brush to gently attempt to loosen the stubborn skin while in a warm bath. Examine your beardie's body daily while they are in a shed, as the skin can constrict the toes or nails, causing injury. Your beardie may also have difficulty getting the shed skin inside their nostrils to come loose. You can gently try to dislodge it with your finger, which is generally much appreciated as it is presumably quite uncomfortable, and can interfere with proper breathing.
Shedding is uncomfortable to beardies. Think back to having a sunburn and the itching and peeling that our skin suffers. It is much like this for a beardie in a shed. They may get grouchy, and their appetite may decrease (or they may refuse food altogether). Other than the above mentioned steps, the best way to help your bearie is to try not to disturb them too much during this time.
Thermal Burns - Thermal burns are often caused by heat rocks or under tank heat sources. Blisters will most likely develop, which can break open and cause a bacterial infection, which could be deadly. A visit to the vet is necessary to treat thermal burns, and extreme cage hygiene is a must, as exposed areas of burned skin can easily be infected by feces or other matter left in the enclosure.
Adenovirus & Yellow Fungus - These are two conditions which we know little about. Adenovirus seems to affect hatchlings more than adults, and is deadly. To prevent infection, you must follow strict quarantine procedures for all new animals who come into your home. Adenovirus has the potential of devastating entire collections. Yellow fungus is a disease which may or may not be related to Adenovirus. Like Adenovirus, Yellow Fungus seems to affect young dragons, is quite contagious and can be deadly. Again, little is known about this condition. If you see unusual spotting on your beardie's skin that does not disappear with sheds, or any sort of open wounds or sores you will need to bring your dragon to a vet right away for a skin culture. The culture for yellow fungus takes longer than traditional skin cultures and the usual antibiotics are not effective. Anti-fungal medications seem to work best.
Signs of Pain or Discomfort - Since our beardies cannot speak to us directly, changes in their appetite, defecation and behavior are the only clues to a potential problem. If your beardie is dislaying any of the signs below, it may be a good idea to make an appointment with your vet to determine the cause. While some of these changes may be normal under certain circumstances (such as during a shed or in a breeding season), they are usually a sign of distress and should be taken seriously.
Natural changes associated with Breeding Season:
· Color, activity level and daily routines
· Feces and urates
· Behavioral changes
Natural changes associated with Shedding:
· Color, activity level and daily routines
If it is not breeding season or the beginning of a new shed period, the following signs may indicate an injury, an abscess, a tumor, an abdominal mass, infection, internal organ damage or failure or other problem:
· Lack of usual activity
· Reluctance to move
· Favoring a limb, tail or quadrant
· Limping, lameness
· Slowed reflexes (in the absence of being too cold)
· Unusual aggression to all contact
· Withdrawal or avoidance behavior, especially in an otherwise sociable animal
· Hunching (abdomen tucked up)
· Won't lay down, even in favored places
· Stands holding foot or limb elevated
Disclaimer: Any recommendations for specific products or brands have been made based on personal opinion and experience, and not due to compensation from said companies. I have not received (and will not receive) any such compensation from any entity. If I have recommended a product by brand or name, it is because I believe it to be the best available.