All pet owners have a responsibility to look after and care for their pets. If you’re thinking about having bearded dragons as pets, learn as much as you can about how to care for them beforehand. You should take your lifestyle and household into account when deciding whether you can offer them a good home. This guide explains a bearded dragon’s basic needs so you can decide if they’re right for you…
Are bearded dragons the right pet for you?
Bearded Dragons as pets
Bearded dragons are one of the simplest lizards to look after, and make great pets for older children and adults. They are easy to handle and have lots of character. Smaller dragons can be delicate so as with all pets, children should be supervised when handling them. Bearded Dragons are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, and can live up to 10 years old. Males tend to be larger than females, and if cared for properly, can reach their maximum total length (including tail) of 60cm in one year.
Do I like company?
They do not have the same needs for companionship as most mammals do, so are happily kept on their own. Once they are comfortable around their owner, they seem to enjoy being handled and will quite happily sit on your knee or shoulder. It is not always possible to sex them when they are small. It is important to note that males tend to fight when they mature, whereas females may live peacefully together. A male who is housed with one or more females will form a fairly natural social group, although breeding is almost inevitable. Bearded dragons lay eggs which need to be incubated at the right temperature and when hatched these need to be raised for several weeks away from their parents before they are allowed to go to new homes. It is important to note that it is often very difficult to find homes for babies.
Both males and females ‘head bob’ to each other, which is one of the ways they communicate. Both sexes also communicate by waving one of their front legs. This behaviour is natural and can be seen even when dragons are kept alone.
Creating a home for your bearded dragon
Bearded dragons originate from the hot dry deserts of central Australia. Like most reptiles, they are normally housed in an enclosed cage with glass doors, known as a vivarium. They have specific requirements, therefore it’s essential that the environment within the vivarium is controlled precisely and monitored continuously.
A single adult will need a vivarium which is at least 120cm long. Groups will need more room and should be provided with multiple basking spots.
It is essential that the lighting and heating within all vivariums is correct. Without having the right levels of ultraviolet (UV) light, they are unable to absorb calcium which will cause deformities. This can be prevented by choosing the highest UV rated specialist reptile lights. The output from these lights can diminish over time and therefore they must be replaced according to manufacturer’s recommendations, usually around 6-12 months. Lights should be controlled by a timer and be on for 10-12 hours each day. These lights can prove expensive, therefore it is necessary to consider the cost implications of keeping a bearded dragon before purchasing one.
As these dragons are desert animals they need to be kept warm. Their natural routine is to bask in the heat of the sun in the morning, giving them enough energy to feed and move to and from cooler areas. To allow them to do this, they need a spotlight to bask under at one end of their enclosure, so that the other end can be kept cooler. The temperature under the heat source should be at least 35ºC and at the cooler end, 20º – 25ºC. At night, the temperature should not fall below 15ºC, although it is best to keep younger dragons warmer. There are several ways to provide background or night-time vivarium heating, for example non-light producing heaters such as ceramic lamps or heat mats.
These should always be controlled using an appropriate thermostat. It is essential to ensure that pets do not come in to direct contact with any of the heating equipment used, as the equipment can be at a very high temperature, for example ceramic lamps can get to 200°C.A substrate of sand can be used with a stone or other décor so that your pet can bask under the spot lamp within the manufacturers recommended distance of the UV light source.
There should also be areas of shelter to enable them to hide should they want to. Artificial ornaments and plants can be used to create a desert-like environment, they are also easy to clean and less likely to harbour germs, although must be fixed securely so that they cannot be knocked over.
The shopping list on the back of this care sheet can be used as a guide. Our trained colleagues in store will be happy to offer advice and guidance.
Feeding your bearded dragon
Unlike most reptiles, adult bearded dragons eat mostly vegetables rather than solely feeding just on a diet of insects. Fresh plant foods should be given every day, with insects offered to adults on alternating days. Juveniles less than 30cm in total length need more protein while they’re growing and should be fed ample insects daily. Adult Bearded Dragons which are over-fed on insects could become obese or encounter other health problems and their diet should be predominantly suitable vegetables. Unlike most pets, food can be withheld for a day or more without causing harm and may even be beneficial if it is part of a considered management regime.
Bearded dragons enjoy eating live whole insects such as crickets and locusts which themselves need to be well cared for and fed nutritious foods. The insects then need to be ‘dusted’, by shaking them in a sealed container with a vitamin and mineral powder before being offered to your dragon. It is a good idea to alternate daily between calcium and multivitamin supplements. As a guide, the insects fed should be smaller in length than the distance between your bearded dragon’s eyes, if the insects are too large they may be difficult to swallow. Release the insects into the vivarium to be hunted by your reptiles, as this will provide them with natural stimulation. Other livefoods can be given as occasional treats, such as mealworms and waxworms.
Fresh foods should consist mainly of greens, such as dandelions, watercress, spring greens and rocket supplemented with vegetables such as grated carrot or pepper.
Occasionally fresh fruits such as apples or grapes can be offered but these should be a very occasional treat. There are dry foods available that are an alternative to fresh foods and are easy to use. Prepared dry foods or greens should be provided in a suitable dish and should always be fresh.
They will drink small droplets in just the same way as they would drink morning dew in the wild. As a guide, offer juveniles 2-3 times a day live, dusted and ‘gut loaded’ insects. Fresh or prepared foods should be available at all times and calcium powder can be provided in a small bowl.
Keeping your bearded dragon fit and healthy
As long as they are given the correct food, environment, care and attention, bearded dragons are normally problem free. Humidity and poor ventilation should be avoided at all costs.
A healthy bearded dragon will be bright eyed, have strong legs and be active in searching for food during the day. Personal hygiene is as important for reptiles as it is all other types of pets. Pet owners should wash their hands after contact and pet food dishes should be washed separately.
It is natural for all lizards to shed their skin which comes off in small pieces rather than all in one like snakes. Baby dragons may shed their entire skin almost once a month in the first year. Whilst this is happening they may look a little shabby, but this is nothing to worry about.
All vets have a basic understanding of reptiles but those with a specialist interest are worth seeking out. If your pet shows any signs.