As some of you know we are reptile fanatics here at Barkleys! We currently have 2 of our own Bearded Dragons, one Male and one Female so we have a good understanding of how to care for these delightful animals. We have created this care sheet as a guide for those who are new to caring for Bearded Dragons or those who would just like to pick up a few tricks!
an introduction to Bearded dragons
Bearded dragons are only naturally found in Australia's desert regions. Mostly they are found in the southeastern Northern Territory and the Eastern half of South Australia. Their habitats included woodlands, savannahs, and deserts. It is not uncommon to find them basking in branches, on stumps, or on rocks during the morning sun.
size of bearded dragons
The size and length of a bearded dragon will depend on:
- Environment: Dragons will grow to the max size that their environment allows. Putting a young Dragon into a tank which is too small will hinder the growth and they will not be able to grow to their full size.
- Diet and health: The correct diet and supplements makes a healthy Dragon and allows it to grow faster and larger than a Dragon which is malnourished or healthy.
- Sex: Like a lot of animals, males are generally larger than females so if you Dragon is a male, the chances are he will grow to be quite large.
types of Tanks for Your Bearded Dragon
There are different types of tanks that you can get for your bearded dragon. We have listed the below which are common choices for Dragon keepers. Obviously you decision will be based on your dragon, budget, convenience and overall preference.
- Glass Tank
- Wooden Tank
- PVC cages
- Vision Cages
Glass Tanks are quite popular types of enclosures for Bearded Dragons. You can either purchase tanks which are purpose made for Beardies or you can customise your own. The only problems with glass tanks is that they don't hold in the heat as well as other materials. This is fine for Bearded Dragons in Northland as we are quite hot and humid, it can allow for more control over your temperatures during our weird weather.
Ply Wood Tank
Ply Wood cages are a good option for all you DIYer's. Bearded dragons love these cages and look amazing in them as they do give a "natural" appearance.
PVC cages look and work exactly like Ply tank, except they are made of PVC plastic which makes them much lighter so they can be moved. They are more expensive than Ply Tanks, but generally have a better look since the plastic is smooth and attractive. They are not very accessible to buy ready made however are another option for DIY goers.
Not recommended for Bearded Dragons due to the temperatures needed for a happy lizard. However, great for short periods of time on warm days!
Bearded Dragon Tank Covers and Lids
You need to have a lid or cover for your Bearded Dragon tank as they are fantastic climbers and it will only be a matter of time before they escape.
You will want to avoid glass, plastic, or any other type of solid tank-lids that can restrict air flow. Bearded Dragons are from dry desert regions and require a low humidity environment. Plastic and glass lids will cause the humidity within your bearded dragon's tank to increase to unhealthy levels.
The best way to keep the humidity low (with fresh air circulation) and to prevent your bearded dragon from escaping is by using a screen lid cover for the tank. Good screen covers are strong enough to support the weight of your lights and can easily withstand the heat from any heat lamps. (More on lights and temperatures later!)
Bearded Dragon Tank Size
You need to make sure you have the right size tank for your bearded dragon. A tank too small can be very stressful for your Beardie and can limit their overall growth. The guidelines below are to help determine the best tank side for your dragon:
Bearded Dragon Tank Size
- Baby Dragons- Baby dragons need a 75L tank. This is generally a tank about 45x45x30 or 45x45x45. This gives them space and makes it easier for them to catch their food.
- 10-16 Inch Dragons- Early adult dragons need at least a 150L tank. This is generally a tank about 60x45x45 However, the larger the tank the happier your dragon will be and the larger they will grow.
- 16-20 Inch Dragons- Larger dragons will need larger tanks and it's recommended to have at least a 190-290L tank for dragons of this size. This is generally about 90x45x60.
- 20+ Inch Dragons- If you have a bearded dragon that is 20 inches or longer you will need a minimum of a 290L tank, but a 450L tank would be ideal. This is generally about 90x45x60 or 90x45x90.
All of these size can be ordered specially through us.
You can't expect your bearded dragon to be happy in a bare tank! Get some accessories for your dragon and be creative with it. Below is a list of common/recommended tank accessories:
- Cage Furniture
- Tank backgrounds
You would be amazed at how much bearded dragons love hammocks. We sell Lizard Loungers just for Bearded Dragons with suction cups and hooks at the ends so you can easily stick them in your tank. Our Beardies LOVE them!
Branches- Nearly all bearded dragons love climbing, so try to have at least one branch that they can climb on. It would be even better if their branch got them closer to their basking light. If you get a real branch, make sure it doesn't have small holes in it that crickets or other insects could hide in.
It's very important that you have what's called a "hide" for your bearded dragon. This should be an enclosed area where your dragon can hide from the light as well as from people looking at him/her. These are also important for Bearded Dragon brumation, which is when your Beardie will go to sleep for weeks.
Beardies love to climb so placing his/her hide beneath the basking light will not only warm their hide, but can also cause their hide to be a basking platform as well.
If you have a glass tank, you will need to get a background for the back of the tank. This will not only make your tank look more impressive, but it also helps make your bearded dragon feel more secure.
Bearded Dragon Lighting and Humidity
The brighter your tank, the happier your bearded dragon will be. Keep in mind that Bearded Dragons come from the deserts of Australia so they require full spectrum lighting for 12-14 hours each day. Full spectrum lights are different from what we have in our houses and emit light in all the UV ranges (which is what Dragons need to remain healthy) and the light needs to be evenly spread throughout the tank. There also needs to be a way that your dragon can come within 6-8 inches of the light source. This means that you need to have either a branch, rock, or platform that your Beardie can lie on which is close to the light.
You will need to have two different types of lights:
- UVA/UVB long fluorescent tube light
- A basking bulb/light
Remember, you will also need to fit a basking/heating bulb in your tank, so make sure you leave enough space for both. This bulb's purpose is to generate heat and you will need to have a "hot" end and a "cool" end. This provides space for the Beardie to choose to either warm itself up or cool itself down. You will need daily UVA/UVB light to prevent metabolic bone disease, while this is more common in young developing dragons, it is crucial that adult dragons also have UVB or UVA light and to keep them healthy. Remember, that over time the UVA/UVB bulbs lose their strength but will appear to be working. It is best to change them every 6 months.
Bearded Dragon Basking Light
The basking light is very important as it is the light that provides heat to your Beardie. If you stick to name brand reptile lights, you should not need to worry about anything else, but if you decide to get lights at a local hardware store you need to make sure it is a bright white light because Dragons do not do well in other types of light.
Bearded Dragon Temperature
Bearded dragons are from a desert-like environment, so their tanks need to be heated and maintained at correct temperatures. Temperatures will not only keep your Dragon warm but the correct temperatures will aid in digestion and general health and wellbeing. Generally a tank should have a hot side where the temperature is anywhere from 35 C° to 40 C° and a cool side where the temperature is around 27-30 C°. We recommended that you either have two thermometers (one for the hot side and one for the cool side) or a dual thermometer which has two prongs that can measure both ends as well.
Your beardie will need a basking spot where he/she can bask in the heat. The basking spot should be 35 C° for adults and 43 C° for juveniles. You may see places advertising Heated rocks or pads which you plug in, DO NOT use a heated rock (plug in) or heated pad for your dragon because they can easily burn the underside of their bellies.
We recommend that you use one of the following to keep your dragon warm:
- A ceramic bulb
- A reptile basking light (red, white, or blue as these colours do not bother Dragons)
- A household light bulb that emits heat
During night time hours the temperature of the tank can fall as low as 18 C° as it would in the wild, however, it's recommended to keep the temperature around 21 C° to 23 C°. If you cannot keep your tank this warm during the night, you can try adding a towel over the top of the tank and adjusting it to hold the heat at the correct temperature. (This is what we do, particularly in the winter. Please be careful however at where you place the towel as you don't want it to catch fire!)
Bearded Dragon Tank Bedding
The type of flooring you use really depends on the age of your Dragon and as they get older, personal preference. Since younger dragons will need to eat more insects than older Dragons, you will need to be more careful about the flooring you use because the chances are a young Beardie will eat a bit of it when he/she is catching their prey. At any age, eating food directly on loose substrates such as sand or dirt can cause impaction and lead to health problems.
Flooring for Dragons
- Paper towels
- Cooking paper
- Reptile carpet
The use of loose substrates is a controversial issue in the reptile community and everyone will have a strong opinion on whether or not it is wise to use it. Generally you will have the Pros and the Anti loose substrates. At Barkleys we are PRO loose substrate with BUTS and HOWEVERS attached. Personally we like to mimic what Dragons would have in the wild however, we are also very pedantic with our husbandry, feeding routines and vet checks. Correct husbandry aids in digestion and therefore (if you aren't feeding directly on loose substrate) any small piece of sand for example will pass through with no complications.
If your husbandry is out or you are feeding on loose substrates this can lead to impaction and your Dragon will ultimately become either very sick or die.
Feeding Your Dragon
Bearded Dragons are omnivores and can eat a variety of things. Bearded Dragon's diet will consist of vegetables, insects, and non-citrus fruit. When you give your Beardie insects you will need to make sure that the insect isn't too big for your dragon to eat. If it is longer than the space between it's eyes, then it is too large. Please keep in mind where you are getting your insects from and making sure they have not come into contact with any pesticides.
Baby Bearded Dragon Diet
When a bearded dragon is young it will need to eat more insects than vegetables because it's still growing. You should always leave fresh vegetables in the cage, but three times per day you should feed your Beardie insects. You should give them as many insects as they can eat within a 10-15 minute time period. After the feeding time is done, you should take the remaining insects out of their tank. A typical juvenile bearded dragon can eat anywhere from 20 to 60 crickets (or other insects) each day.
Adult Bearded Dragon Diet
Adult dragons do not need to eat as many insects as younger dragons, and overfeeding your dragon can cause him/her to become overweight. Adults only need to eat insects once per day, so when you feed them, give them as many insects as they can eat within a 10-15 minute time frame and then remove the remaining insects from their tank. Adults can also eat a variety of pelleted foods which we stock in store. All contained vitamins and minerals in addition to your normal D3 supplement. Some of the mixes contain dried mealworms and other goodies.
Bearded Dragon Diet and Nutrition
Plants are a staple of every Bearded Dragon's diet. Keep in mind that many vegetables are full of vitamins and if you are already giving your Beardie vitamins you don't want to accidentally poison them with a vitamin overdose.
Many vegetables contain high levels of Vitamin A and while Bearded Dragons can get vitamin A poisoning, it is generally not caused by overdosing on vegetables. Vegetables contain beta carotene which a Bearded Dragon's body converts to vitamin A when he/she needs it. If he/she does not need vitamin A then they will simply excrete the beta carotene. It is unlikely for a Bearded Dragon to get vitamin A poisoning from vegetables, simply because the Bearded Dragon's body can excrete unneeded vitamin A from vegetables.
However, synthetic vitamin A (found in some reptilian multivitamins) cannot be excreted by Bearded Dragons. This means synthetic vitamin A will cause vitamin A poisoning if the Bearded Dragon has already had his/her requirements of vitamin A.
Safe Vegetables for Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons need a diet of both vegetables (greens) and insects. Adult Beardies will eat more vegetables than bugs, so its important to make sure the veggies they're eating are healthy and nutritious.
- Collard Greens
- Dandelion Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Turnip Greens
- Bell Peppers
- Green Peas
- Bok Choy
- Carrot Tops
- Celery Leaves
- Cucumber (peeled)
- Green Beans
- Snap Peas
- Yellow Squash
Greens and Vegetables to NEVER Feed
- Beet Greens
Beet greens and spinach are high in oxalic acid, which is a calcium-binding agent that limits the absorption of calcium. Feeding these types of foods regularly can increase the risk of Metabolic Bone Disease and other health issues.It’s best to avoid them all together just to be safe.
Avocados and rhubarb are toxic and should be avoided as part of a Bearded Dragon’s diet.
Lettuce should not be fed to a Bearded Dragon because it doesn't contain nutritional value. Lettuce is made up of mostly water, and if fed it to Bearded Dragons can lead to diarrhoea. Peeled cucumber is a good option to feed to dehydrated Dragons.
Tomatoes can be fed to bearded dragons every now and then (a few times a year) however they are very acidic and can be difficult on digestive systems.
Safe fruit for Bearded Dragons
- Apples (peeled)
- Grapes (remove skin on grape)
- Honeydew Melon
- Kiwifruit (peeled)
- Pears (peeled)
Fruits to Feed Seldom or Never
- Any other citric fruits
Citric fruits are high in citric acid and can be difficult on a Bearded Dragon’s digestive system, especially with babies. It’s best to avoid feeding any citric fruits.
Safe insects for Bearded Dragons
- Earthworms (rinsed)
- Wax worms
Insects to Never Feed
- Boxelder Bugs
- Wild-caught Insects
Boxelder bugs are very toxic to Bearded Dragons and should never be feed to them. Wild-caught insects could be hazardous if they have been in contact with chemicals. It’s advised to avoid feeding your bearded dragon any wild-caught insects as they can carry parasites and trace amounts of pesticides.
The staple insects should make up the largest portion of the insect offerings. The occasional insects can be added in as a supplementary portion, or offered as a treat.
Safe Plants for Bearded Dragons
There are also a variety of plants which are safe to feed your Dragons as well.
- Dandelion Greens
- Mint Leaves
- Rose Petals
- Rosemary (Fresh)
- Thyme (Fresh)
Safe Fruit for Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons will also eat fruit. However, not all fruit is easily digested by them (such as citrus fruit), but the following brief list is safe to feed them.
Foods to Avoid
To keep your Bearded Dragon healthy you will need to make sure they stay on their diet. There are also some foods which are unhealthy for them or lethal for them to eat. Make sure they do not eat any of the below items:
Since lettuce is mostly water it is not nutritious for bearded dragons. Because of this it is best to avoid feeding your bearded dragon lettuce or any greens with the word "lettuce" in the name.
Spinach is also another food to avoid. While spinach is healthy, calcium binds easily to it which can make it hard for your bearded dragon to digest.
Insects Captured in the Wild
Never feed your bearded dragon any insects you catch yourself. The insects you catch probably have parasites on them and contain trace amounts of pesticides, both of which can make your Bearded Dragon sick.
Insects that Glow
If a bug or insect glows in the dark, then do not feed it to your Bearded Dragon. Even one of these bugs can be lethal to an adult Bearded Dragon.
Do not feed your Bearded Dragons avocados. They are toxic, but their toxicity levels are unknown; however, they are deadly for birds.
Vitamins & Minerals Your Bearded Dragon Needs
Similar to people, Bearded Dragons need vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.
Iron is more important for baby bearded dragons. Generally, you can give your bearded dragon enough Iron through vegetables and plants.
Bearded Dragons also need Vitamin A, but they will usually get enough of this from the plants and vegetables in their diet. You want to be careful not to give your dragon too much Vitamin A because that can cause Vitamin A toxicity.
Vitamin D3 & Calcium
Vitamin D3 and Calcium are two of the most important vitamins and minerals you need to make sure your Bearded Dragon gets. It helps with the development of their bones and is important for female dragons that are carrying eggs. You will have to give your Bearded Dragon Vitamin D3 and Calcium at the same time, since Bearded Dragons cannot absorb calcium without vitamin D3.
In the wild, Bearded Dragons will get most of the vitamin D3 they need from natural sunlight, so the amount of vitamin D3 you give your bearded dragon depends on how much exposure he/she has to natural sunlight (or full spectrum lighting). If your dragon is frequently outside in the sunlight or if your bearded dragon's cage has full spectrum lighting, then you can reduce the dosage by half.
- Baby Dragons- Need a daily dose of Vitamin D3 and Calcium to stay healthy (since they are still developing and need the bone support).
- Juvenile Dragons- Need a Vitamin D3 and Calcium supplement with a meal 3-4 times per week.
- Adult Dragons- Need a Vitamin D3 and Calcium supplement with a meal once per week.
Normal Bearded Dragon Behaviour
Healthy Bearded Dragons will go through a few cycles each year where he or she may seem ill, but in reality they are perfectly healthy. Please consider the following stages if you suspect your Beardie is ill but if you have any doubts, it's best to take your Dragon to be checked over by a Vet.
Bearded Dragon Brumation
Brumation is a naturally occurring hibernation cycle that Bearded Dragons go through. Bearded Dragons will go through a brumation stage in the winter or autumn in response to the change in lighting or temperatures. Some Bearded Dragon owners will try to force or prevent brumation by manually adjusting the temperature or lighting of their Dragons cage, however it is recommended to let your Bearded Dragon do what comes naturally.
Each Bearded Dragon is different during the brumation period. Some Dragons will take very long naps off and on for the entire cycle, while other Dragons will sleep without waking for the entire cycle. The brumation period also varies based on the Dragon as some Bearded Dragons will not go through brumation at all, others will only have a brumation period for a week, and some will be in brumation for several months.
During the brumation cycle your Bearded Dragon will become less active and will sleep for much longer periods of time. Dragons may also have a decreased appetite or stop eating all together. This is natural and your bearded dragon should not lose any weight even without eating for the duration of the brumation period if he/she is healthy. Normally bearded dragons will only lose weight during brumation if they have parasites, so it's generally a good idea to have your dragon tested for parasites when you suspect they are about to enter a brumation cycle. (We do recommend that you have a parasite test done as soon as you acquire your new Dragon.
Some owners will turn the lights off during brumation and will stop feeding their Bearded Dragon until the brumation cycle ends. However, since every Bearded Dragon is different it's recommended to keep the cage lights on for the same cycle throughout the brumation period and to continuing to offer food. Many Dragons will wake up occasionally during the brumation period and will eat and/or bask in their basking light. To do this, simply keep a bit of fresh food in their cage and monitor if it's been eaten or not.
Most owners will wake their Bearded Dragon for bathing and to make sure they eat. However, doing this can cause the brumation cycle to increase and is not recommended. For example, waking your Dragon every week can extend a 2 month brumation cycle to 3+ months as opposed to leaving your Beardie undisturbed.
Bearded Dragon Shedding
Bearded dragons are reptiles and so they will shed their skin. Baby and juvenile bearded Dragons will frequently shed their skin in response to them growing, however adult Bearded Dragons may only shed their skin once or twice per year.
Before a Bearded Dragon will shed you will notice their colour will become more dull and their eyes will appear to be puffed out much further than normal. This is normal and are signs of a healthy shed. During the shed, you will want to make sure that your Bearded Dragon stays clean and hydrated by bathing him/her with warm water. It is also recommended to use a spray bottle to occasionally mist your bearded dragon's skin to keep it hydrated during the shedding cycle. This is because in the wild the high humidity will help keep the skin moistened to make the shedding faster, however since their tank is low in humidity it can make it more difficult to shed without the use of a spray bottle. You can also buy a specialist reptile spray (We stock this!) which assists in any tough spots of shedding.
Do not pull off your Beardies shedded skin unless it is ready to come off. Any skin that is ready to come off should be literally falling off their body. If you are helping your Dragon shed by pulling off his/her skin, the skin you pull off should come off without any resistance and should not be damp or wet. If the skin is damp or wet and has resistance when you pull at it, it's not ready to come off and you can damage their new scales by removing it.
You will need to monitor the shedding at the tip of the tail and on their toes. These are some problem areas where the skin does not come off easily, however if the skin is left on it can tighten and restrict blood flow to these areas which can kill their skin tissue. Therefore it is recommended to help your Beardie shed in these areas.
Signs of A Healthy Bearded Dragon
Most of the time bearded dragons will only act different if they are feeling ill. However, below are some ways you can tell if a bearded dragon is healthy.
Activeness / Energy
The first way you can tell how healthy a Bearded Dragon is, is by seeing how active an alert he or she is. A healthy Dragon will keep his/her head perked up if they are awake and will be very alert when someone is approaching their tank.
You can also determine a bearded dragon's health by their appearance. You should look for any puss or unusual fluid around their eyes and mouth. You should also look at make sure their mouth and joints are not swollen.
Bearded Dragon Impaction
Bearded dragons should have a fairly regular bathroom schedule. If you notice your bearded dragon has stopped defecating for several days, yet is still eating daily, it could be an issue. Normally, you can solve the problem by giving your dragon a bath in warm water for 10 minutes. When bathing your Bearded Dragon, gently massage your dragon's stomach while it is still in the water. Doing this will help your bearded dragon use the bathroom within 24 hours if their constipation was due to being too cold, if there was a minor blockage, or if they have a small case of intestinal parasites. However, if your Bearded Dragon still continues to be constipated, you will need to see a vet as soon as possible.
Temporary diarrhoea can be caused by stress, bad food, or by a change in diet. A healthy bearded dragon's fecal matter should be solid and if you notice your Bearded Dragon having diarrhoea frequently it could be a sign of parasites or worms. If this is the case then you should take your bearded dragon to your vet to be checked.
Keeping your Bearded Dragon properly hydrated is important for their health. If you suspect your Dragon is ill, then hydration becomes even more important.
The following are signs of dehydration:
- Sunken eyes
- Your dragon perks up after drinking
- Wrinkled skin
- Lack of appetite
- Lack of energy
One way you can test to see if your Bearded Dragon is dehydrated is by gently pinching their skin with your fingers (where the skin is generally lose). If the skin holds its shape after you let go for a few moments (instead of immediately going back to place) then your Dragon is most likely dehydrated.
If you suspect your Bearded Dragon is dehydrated then you need to try to coax them into drinking water or sports drinks like Powerade (diluted 1:1 in water). You should try to get them to drink first by giving them fresh water, but if that doesn't work, try using an eye dropper or a small syringe.
Bearded Dragon Diseases
Below are some of the most common diseases that Bearded Dragons get:
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is caused by a lack of Calcium, Vitamin D3, and/or Phosphorus and is the weakening of the bones of your Bearded Dragon.
Sings of Metabolic Bone Disease:
- Bumps in the legs (that you can feel/see)
- Twitches, ticks, spasms, or tremors
- Bumps in the vertical columns of the back and tail
- A swollen bottom jaw
- Jerky movements
Depending on the severity, Metabolic bone disease can be treated and prevented by using the proper multivitamin. MBD can also be treated through correct husbandry. If you suspect your bearded dragon has MBD you should consult a vet as they can do tests to determine the severity of the MBD.
Mouth rot is where a yellowish/white substance appears in and around the mouth of your Bearded Dragon. Sometimes your Dragon's mouth can be swollen and their teeth can be loose. Many Dragons who suffer from mouth rot have a decreased appetite. If you suspect your Bearded Dragon has mouth rot, you should take him/her to the vet immediately.
Signs of Discomfort in Your Bearded Dragon
Most animals will not show or complain of pain, because in nature that makes you a target for predators. This can be difficult to tell if your Bearded Dragon is in pain or is uncomfortable. During breeding season or if your Bearded Dragon is shedding, they may show unusual behaviour, however if these are not the case, you should look for the following signs:
- Lack of energy
- Jerky movement
- Swollen body parts
- Change in behavior or mood
- Hunching over
- Reluctant to lie down
- Not eating
- Abnormal defecation