Hello! Ashley, one of My Zoo’s technicians, here to share some information on bearded dragon care. I recently became a caretaker of an approximately 4 month old bearded dragon. Although my bearded dragon is still too young to identify sex, I like to think it’s a boy that I’ve fit with the name Dex. Naturally before deciding to own a bearded dragon, I did a lot of research into size, life span (average is about 10 years), and what all goes into caring for a beardie. Here’s some useful information on choosing your own beardie, some care tips, along with my own discoveries.
Bringing Dex Home
Before bringing my bearded dragon home, I made sure I had everything ready. I had my tank all set up with lights and heating, a substrate, water and food bowls, thermometer, hygrometer, and a branch, hollow log, and plastic rock to climb on and hide under. I recommend having everything put together and ready before you bring your beardie home. This includes having the lights on so the tank is heated. You can also bring a warm towel so your beardie stays comfortable on the car ride to its new home. You can also fill a ziplock back with warm water to provide a comfortable, warm ride.
Picking out a Bearded Dragon
When picking out a bearded dragon, there are a few things you should look for:
- High activity level (moving around)
- Bright in color
- Size (the bigger the better)
- Absence of any abnormalities (like missing toes indicative of shedding problems)
- Willingness to eat (pelleted diets and insects)
We here at My Zoo recommend you choose a pet store that offers a 30 day guarantee when purchasing a pet.
My terrarium is 40 gallons and came with a food sampler pack that included: Pellets, canned papaya, a can of mealworms, and calcium powder. I had also bought Fluker’s Juvenile Buffet Blend pellets with freeze dried meal worms and crickets. Throughout a bearded dragon’s life, it should have a proper ratio of vegetables and animal protein. I recommend consulting with your veterinarian if you have any questions concerning your bearded dragon’s diet. When I prepare food for Dex each day, I cut up some mustard greens into bite size pieces (which will vary with the size of your beardie) and place it in a ziplock bag. Next I add the Fluker’s Buffet Blend, some extra mealworms, and calcium powder. I shake the bag to evenly distribute the calcium powder and voila: a salad any bearded dragon can enjoy. About once a week I also mix in a multivitamin powder and lay out some of the canned papaya as a treat. Not long after he adjusted to his new diet, I tried offering him live crickets. He didn’t seem interested, so I removed them. About 3 weeks later I tried live crickets again, and he had a blast chasing after them.
I have three lights: A UVA/UVB light, a basking spot lamp (that also includes UVA), and an infrared heating lamp. I keep the UVA/UVB and basking lamp on during the daytime, and the infrared heating lamp on at all times. It’s important to include both UVA and UVB lights for any reptile. UVA is part of the color spectrum that reptiles can see, and encourages regular activity and appetite. UVB helps protect against metabolic bone disease. These lights also double as a heating source in the tank. A typical temperature gradient is 70°F on the cool side and 95°F on the warm side. However, this can vary by bearded dragon preference. Dex prefers a gradient of closer to 75°F on the cool side and 110°F on the warm side. Keep in mind that bearded dragons are desert animals, they like it warm! If you notice your bearded dragon constantly sitting under the heat lamp, try adding another heat lamp to increase the temperature of the warm side and raising the temperature of the cool side. Your bearded dragon should venture from side to side throughout the day. Something to keep in mind: Not only will inside the terrarium be warm – so will the outside! Dex’s terrarium is in my bedroom and it is significantly warmer than the rest of our apartment. Also, since his red heat lamp stays on all night, I had to get used to sleeping with a red light on.
Although bearded dragons are desert animals, sand is not the best substrate. Your bearded dragon may ingest the sand which can cause blockage in the digestive tract. I use reptile carpet, which can be found in numerous colors. Every couple of days I take the carpet out and shake out any shed or food that’s lying about (Dex is a messy eater). Once a week I soak the carpet in soapy water and hang it to dry. It dries relatively quickly, but I use a blow dryer if I don’t have the time. For our clinic pet, Jospehine, we use newspaper or felt carpet. The newspaper is easy to discard once it’s dirty, and the felt is machine washable.
Shedding and Warm Water Soaks
Bearded dragons do shed! Especially the younger ones as they grow bigger. It’s important to monitor your bearded dragon when shedding because if the shed doesn’t come off, it can cause circulation problems, and that’s how fingers and toes are lost. To help your bearded dragon with shedding, you can soak the beardie in warm water for 10 minutes one to two times a day. This helps moisten the skin as well as promote gut motility! Warm water soaks are typically enjoyable for beardies. Dex isn’t a fan at first and tries to escape, but after 10 minutes he doesn’t want to come out. Josephine loves warm water soaks and almost always becomes lighter in color after 10 minutes.
Growing up I’ve only had cats and dogs, so owning a bearded dragon has been quite an adventure so far. With cats you know that purring means they’re comfortable and happy. If a dog comes up to you and starts licking you, it usually means they’re being friendly. As a rookie reptile owner, the most difficult part for me is identifying what certain behaviors mean, as well as how to communicate to my bearded dragon what behavior is good and what behavior is bad. Not too long after first bringing Dex home, I reached my hand into his terrarium to pick him up, and he hissed at me. It caught me off guard, and I was unsure what to do about it. I left him alone for a few hours, then handled him without a problem. Assuming he didn’t see my hand, I most likely had just frightened him. Now before I handle him I leave my hand near him so he is prepared to be handled. To help him get used to me and bond, I hold him for at least 10 minutes once or twice a day. Contrary to popular belief, bearded dragons usually love being cuddled and stroked.
If you have any bearded dragon questions or concerns, give us a call! Our number is 573-875-3647.