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Caring For Bearded Dragons

January 15, 2024

The bearded dragon is one of the most popular reptiles. These guys do make great pets: they’re not only fairly easy to keep, they are also very cute and charming, and are typically quite gentle. Some beardies are even cuddly! However, like all reptiles, these little dinosaurs have very specific needs. First-timers will need to learn a few things. In this article, a local Clermont County veterinarian discusses beardie care.


Basics of Bearded Dragons


Bearded dragons are native to central Australia. They usually live between eight and ten years. Their natural color is sandy, which helps them blend into their native habitat. However, some are yellow or orange. 


Wondering why they are called bearded dragons? When they are scared, they flare out the skin under their chins, which makes it look like they are wearing a beard.


Why Should You Choose A Bearded Dragon?


Bearded dragons are a popular choice among reptile enthusiasts for good reason. Their low-maintenance nature makes them ideal for even first-time owners. Unlike some other reptiles, they don’t get huge: these guys typically only reach about two feet in length as adults. Many beardies are naturally friendly and even affectionate – something uncommon among reptiles.


That said, owning a bearded dragon does require commitment, as they have an average lifespan of over a decade. Do plenty of research before deciding. You’ll also need to find a good veterinary clinic that handles reptiles. 


How To Choose The Best Terrarium for Your Bearded Dragon


The ideal size of a suitable habitat for your pet will vary based on their age. For instance, a 20-gallon terrarium is recommended for a baby beardie. However, considering their rapid growth, you may want to go ahead and get a 40-gallon one. Once beardies reach adulthood, a minimum size of 70 gallons is required.


This should be taken into consideration before you bring one of these guys home. While the beardie isn’t the largest reptile, a 70-gallon home is quite spacious, and may not work well in a small space.


The habitat should have more length and width than height. When it comes to choosing a substrate, there are multiple options available, such as newspaper, butcher paper, and reptile carpet. If you are using paper as substrate, daily changes will be necessary.


Sand substrates are not recommended for young dragons. Baby beardies can swallow the particles. This can cause intestinal blockages, which can be fatal. Ask your Clermont County animal clinic for more information. 


What Is The Ideal Habitat Temperature For Bearded Dragons?


As is the case with many reptiles, beardies require very specific temperatures. They regulate their body heat by moving from warmer to cooler areas. It is important to set up the terrarium in a way that creates different temperature zones, or gradients. The warmer end should be about 95 to 105F. The cooler end can be around 85. At night, the habitat can get cooler, and can even go down into the 70s. Ask your Clermont County vet for specific advice.


You’ll have to check the temperatures a few times a day, so you’ll need a few good thermometers. We also recommend getting a hygrometer so you can check humidity as well. (Note: ideal humidity levels are between 30 and 40 percent.)


What Kind Of Accessories Do Bearded Dragons Need?


When setting up your pet’s habitat, it is important to add furnishings. Get your pet a basking perch to relax on while he’s soaking up some (artificial) rays. Suitable options for this include driftwood, large rocks, or grape vines. Make sure whatever you choose is sturdy enough to not topple over onto your pet. Plants can also be both pretty and beneficial. Be careful to only include non-toxic options, as your beardie may try to eat his decor. Additionally, ensure there is at least one hide for your pet’s comfort.


Don’t forget dinnerware!  Choose shallow bowls for your pet dragon’s dishes. This is essential for baby lizards, who could drown in deep bowls. Place the bowls in the cooler part of the terrarium to prevent food from spoiling.


Bearded Dragon Heat/Lighting Requirements


A full spectrum of light is necessary for bearded dragons. Ultraviolet light, or UVB, is crucial for these guys. They cannot properly process calcium or vitamin D if they don’t receive enough UVB. This can cause some very serious health problems, such as metabolic bone disease, or MBD, a debilitating and painful condition. Beardies get their UVB from sunlight in the wild. Your pet will live indoors, so you will need special bulbs.


There are a few things to keep in mind:


  • Young beardies may need stronger bulbs than adults. Consult your vet regularly.
  • The lights should also be on a timed cycle and set to turn on and off every 12 hours.
  • Bulbs should be at least a foot away from your dragon to prevent burns.
  • Last but not least, replace the bulbs regularly. Because of how these bulbs wear out, they may lose significant power before you notice anything.


Signs Of Sickness In Bearded Dragons


As long as they are well-cared for, beardies tend to be hardy and healthy. However, like any pet, they can become ill or injured. You’ll need to watch for signs of sickness. Some of the red flags to look out for include the following:


  • Respiratory Issues
  • Unusual Movements Or Posture
  • Trouble Walking
  • Incomplete Sheds
  • Weight/Composition Changes
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack Of Appetite (Note: This is normal before sheds.)
  • Sunken Eyes
  • Limping
  • Stiffness/Weakness
  • Tail Kinks  
  • Hanging Jaws
  • Discoloration
  • Lesions

Contact your Clermont County vet immediately if any of these occur.


How Do I Feed My Bearded Dragon?


These charming lizards eat both plants and insects. The proportions will change over time, as will their feeding schedules. Young dragons need more insects for the protein, while adults can eat more produce and fewer bugs. Please ask your vet for specific advice.


For insects, you can provide crickets, Dubia roaches, butterworms, hornworms, wasps, elder bugs, or mealworms. Use only store-bought insects: Wild bugs could be contaminated with pesticides and potentially carry parasites or diseases. You should dust your pet’s bugs with nutritional powder before they become dinner.


You can also provide your reptilian friend with fruits and vegetables. Good options include green leafy vegetables like dandelion, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, and endive. Bell peppers, carrots, and butternut squash are some of the yellow, red, and orange veggies that beardies can eat.


In small portions, fruits are fine, but don’t go overboard, as fruits are high in sugar. Strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, peaches, figs, dates, and apricots are a few good choices.


Your reptilian pal can also eat flowers. (These also make cute hats for pictures.) Not all flowers are safe, so be sure to do some research before offering them to your pet. Dandelions, roses, carnations, and geraniums are all fine. Do not give your beardie any flowers that have been treated with pesticides.


Finally, make sure your beardie always has fresh water. Dehydration can be an issue with beardies. Regular soaks will also benefit your reptilian friend. 


Ask your vet for specific advice, including feeding schedules; safe and unsafe foods and treats; and supplements, such as calcium, vitamin D, and multivitamins.


Contact us, your local Clermont County pet hospital, if you have questions about caring for bearded dragons.


Posted in Exotic Care

1404 Old State Route 74
Batavia, OH 45103
(513) 732-1730
Also serving Clermont County, OH and surrounding areas.

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