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Caring For Your Pet Bearded Dragon

Exotic Animals

Basic Husbandry

General Information

Vital Statistics

  • Body Weight:

    • Females 250-450g

    • Males 350-550g

  • Life Span: 6-10 years on average

  • Sexual Maturity: 8-18 months of age, sexual activity may be observed before 12 months of age.

Behavior and Handling

  • Bearded dragons are generally friendly, however, excessive handling can be stressful to young dragons.

  • **IMPORTANT**: All reptiles, even animals that are perfectly healthy, may potentially be carrying salmonella.

    • It is safest to assume that your dragon is always shedding salmonella and take the appropriate precautions.

    • Children and immunosuppressed individuals are more at risk of serious illness resulting from salmonella exposure.

    • Be sure to wash your hands after handling your dragon.

Housing

  • A minimum size of 55-gallon vivarium is required for housing an adult bearded dragon.A smaller environment may be needed for juveniles, but these should not be smaller than 20 gallon aquariums.

  • The cage should have a screen top to support a light fixture and provide good ventilation.

  • Your bearded dragon enclosure should have plenty of space and include branches to climb and places to hide. You can provide non-toxic or artificial plants and caves for your bearded dragon to hide under as well as sloped branches for them to climb and exercise.

  • Hides should be available on both the hot and cool sides of the enclosure

Substrate

  • Preferred substrates include newspaper, butcher block paper, paper towels, and reptile carpet.

  • Corncob, wood shavings, rock sand, calcium sand, and gravel are not recommended substrate.

  • Sand has been shown to cause impaction in some dragons. If you are using sand as the substrate, you must be certain that your bearded dragon is fed in a separate area to avoid consumption of the sand while hunting.

Lighting and Heating

  • Appropriate environmental temperature is essential for the survival of your bearded dragon, since they do not produce their own body heat.

  • Heat only one side of the enclosure to allow for variation in temperature. Warm and cool areas in the enclosure are important because they allow for the animal to choose their optimal temperature zone based on their needs.

  • Heat rocks tend to become too hot for bearded dragons and should be avoided due to the risk of burns.

  • A blue, red, incandescent, or ceramic heat bulb can be used to provide over the tank heading. Red/blue/ceramic heat bulbs can be used for maintaining heat at night as they produce less visible light.

  • The following POTZ (Preferred Optimum Temperature Zone)is very important for bearded dragons:

    • Hot side: 85-90 F

    • Cold Side: 75-80 F

    • Humid Hide/Basking Area: 95-105 F

    • Nighttime temperatures can drop into the mid-70s range.

    • Ambient air temperature of the room should be above 68 F

  • Combining over the tank heating with an under tank heater works well to achieve the POTZ, but burns can happen if the under tank heater is set inappropriately. Follow manufacturer and safety instructions.

  • An infrared thermometer with a laser pointer is a great tool to assess the temperature gradient of different areas of the enclosure.

  • UVA/UVB light is not required for bearded dragons, but it is strongly recommended. 5% is the ideal UVB bulb type for Bearded dragons due to their thin skin.

    • The lighting should be on during normal daylight hours all year long.

    • Bearded dragons that do not get the amount of UV light they need can lose bone density, which can lead to bone disease and fractures.

    • UV bulbs will stop emitting UV light after 6-12 months of use. It is recommended that the bulb be changed generally every 6 months for strip/tube lights and 12 months for coil lights.

    • UV light is invisible, so just because your light is producing visible light does not mean that there is UV light being produced by the bulb.

    • UV lights DO NOT produce heat and must be used in addition to a heat source.

    • Natural sunlight, when available, is also beneficial. You can place the cage or aquarium with a screen top by an opened window for a portion of the day during warm weather only. There should always be a shaded area available.

    • Glass is filters most of the UV light out, but the light will pass through the mesh top of the cage.

Cleaning

  • Regular cleaning is very important.

  • Newspaper should be replaced and reptile carpet should be cleaned every 2-3 days.

  • Uneaten food should be removed daily.

  • The cage and all items in the cage should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least every 2-3 months.

    • A mild soap solution can be used as well as disinfection with 1 capful of Clorox bleach to 1 gallon of water.

    • Cage cleaning solutions may also be available at the local pet store (Betadine and Nolvasan are also acceptable)

    • Make sure to rinse the habitat well and dry it thoroughly before returning the bearded dragon.

Diet

  • Bearded dragons are omnivores and eat both insects and vegetables.

  • Insects:

    • The best insects to offer are mealworms, crickets, or dubia roaches, but you can give waxworms or superworms once a week as a treat

    • You can also feed pinkie mice.

    • Offer juvenile dragons a constant supply of worms as well as live crickets twice daily.

      • The best way to ensure your young bearded dragon is getting enough nutrients is to weigh and/or measure them every week.

      • Look for approximately 1-inch increase in length every month for the first 8 months.

    • Adult dragons should be offered insects 3-4 times weekly.

    • The crickets you purchase should not be larger than the distance between your pet’s eyes. Feeding smaller crickets provides more nutrients than fewer large crickets (less proportional exoskeleton)

    • Remove any crickets that are not eaten within 10-15 minutes, but live meal worms can stay in the enclosure for up to 24 hours.

    • DO NOT offer dead insects, insects that have been in contact with chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides, or insects that have been contaminated with mold. This can lead to serious health problems such as bacterial or fungal infections.

    • DO NOT feed wild insects. Lightning bugs are toxic.

  • Vegetables:

    • Finely chopped fresh greens fresh greens/mixed veggies should account for 65-75% of an adult dragon’s diet.

    • Examples include mustard greens, dandelion, greens, collard greens, and kale should make up the bulk of the salad as they are an excellent source of calcium.

    • Peas, green beans, corn, squash, carrots, sweet potato, cucumber, zucchini, green peppers, and parsley can also be added in

    • Adult bearded dragons prefer a course chopped salad, whereas young bearded dragons prefer finely chopped salad.

  • Fruit:

    • Cantaloupe, apple, blueberries, peaches, pears, grapes, plums, and raspberries can also be chopped and added to the mix as an occasional treat (no more than 5-10% of the overall diet)

Gut Loading

  • Most commercially sold insects are not nutritious enough to be fed alone as they are lacking essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Some commercial products are available at pet stores, or you can feed small pieces (a food grater works well for this) of apples, dark leafy greens (mustard and collard greens, kale, and spinach), squash, sweet potato, carrots, oranges, alfalfa, baby rice cereal, oatmeal, or wheat germ to the insect prey.

  • Home-prepared gut loading setups may be more cost effective, but they may spoil quickly

  • Commercial products are easy to obtain and don’t spoil quickly.

Dietary Supplements

  • Calcium must be regularly supplemented 2-3 times weekly for your bearded dragon’s health.

    • If you are using a UVB source, this calcium should NOT contain Vitamin D3 as this will mess with the calcium and phosphorus balance.

  • Multivitamins also should be supplemented weekly. Many commercial products are available.

  • Dusting the prey items or sprinkling on the salad is a good way to deliver these supplements.

Water

  • A shallow water dish with fresh water must be available at all times.

  • Make sure that young and adult bearded dragons can easily climb out of the dish you use.

  • Vitamin drops SHOULD NOT be added to the water.

  • Many dragons defecate in their water bowls, so these must be cleaned daily.

Common Medical Conditions

Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention

Anorexia (not eating for a prolonged period of time)

  • Anorexia is NOT specific to any one disease process and it is a symptom of many bearded dragon diseases. Some common diseases that may cause anorexia in bearded dragons include intestinal parasites, substrate impactions, reproductive development/disease, and inadequate setup/husbandry among others.

Dysecdysis (Retained Shed)

  • This is commonly observed in animals with inappropriate humidity or humid hide setups.

  • Common areas affected include tips of the toes/feet, eye caps, ears, and tail. Retained shed in the eyes can cause infection and inability to hunt.

  • If left unattended, this may cause tissue damage under the retained shed which may make them vulnerable to bacterial/fungal infections.

Bacterial Infections (“scale/skin rot”, “mouth rot”, “tail rot”)

  • If the temperature is not appropriate, reptile metabolic processes are interrupted. This means they have a delayed or impaired response to infection.

  • Please notify your veterinarian if you notice any discolored spots, swelling, bleeding, or discharge.

  • If untreated, these infections can become systemic and life threatening.

Metabolic Bone Disease

  • Insufficient calcium supplementation causes a deficiency in calcium in many reptile species. When calcium is insufficient, some animals mobilize calcium from bone to replenish what is lost.

  • This causes the bone to become brittle and prone to fractures. These bone changes may not be reversible once identified.

  • Young reptiles have a higher demand for calcium and are more vulnerable to this condition.

Trauma

  • Trauma, including bite wounds from dogs and cats, or getting stuck/scratched on sharp areas in the enclosure, are common and potentially fatal injuries for bearded dragons.

  • Bearded dragons can also be injured through handling, falling from heights, or being stepped on.

  • Bearded dragons have tails that will drop if stuck. This will grow back with time, but the tail will be shorter and may look different.

Reproductive Disease

  • Females

    • Egg binding/dystocia - the egg is too large or misshapen and is unable to be delivered appropriately

    • Coelomitis - a ruptured egg releases yolk into the body cavity resulting in a severe bacterial infection

    • Follicular stasis - the egg development stops and follicles take up space in the body cavity

  • Males

    • Hemipene plugs - dehydrated, waxy material around the hemipenes becomes impacted around the hemipenes causing swelling, tissue damage, and infection

Prolapse

  • This is the everting of the cloacal, GI, or reproductive structures through the cloacal opening.

  • Some of the many causes of prolapse include GI parasites, reproductive disease, and tumors.

  • If noticed, we recommend applying a dilute sugar solution to help reduce swelling, and contacting your veterinarian right away.

  • If untreated, this can cause damage to the exposed tissue where surgical intervention or quality of life may need to be assessed.

Obesity

  • Obesity is common in many captive bearded dragons fed a diet too high in fat or those not provided sufficient space for exercise.

  • Obesity can lead to diseases of the heart, liver and joints.

  • Treatment consists of increasing exercise and change in diet.

Emergency / Critical Care

  • There are few true emergencies in reptiles, however reptiles often hide illness until it may be too late.

  • All emergencies require veterinary assistance. If you are unsure whether this may be an emergency, we recommend contacting your veterinarian to get the best recommendations on when to have your pet examined.

Health Recommendations

Annual Physical

  • Always have an initial physical exam performed on any newly acquired bearded dragon. During the exam, the doctor will check the teeth, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and body cavity (coelom). The doctor will also check the skin for shedding problems or evidence of infection.

  • You should have your pet’s fecal sample checked for internal parasites.

  • Your bearded dragon should have an annual physical done by a veterinarian every year.

Over-the-Counter Medication

  • Over-the-counter topical triple antibiotic ointments or any other types of over-the-counter medications are not recommended without first consulting your veterinarian.

  • Productions such as triple antibiotic ointment (for the use of minor skin injuries) can cause digestive problems if ingested and can cause digestive problems if ingested and can potentially become toxic over time.