How to Take Care of a Bearded Dragon


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Bearded Dragons or “Beardies,” as they are affectionately known are one of the easiest pets for first-time pet owners. They have very simple care instructions and are one of the most low maintenance of all of the reptiles. They require a simple cage set up and even their diet is very easy and basic for new exotic/ reptile owners. The start-up costs can be high to get the lizard, their cage, and accessories but once you have a cage and set up they are not expensive to maintain.

In order to properly care for a bearded dragon, it is important to first educate yourself on their basic needs. This includes:

  • Feeding
  • Housing
  • Health Issues
  • Handling

Feed them fresh fruits, vegetables, and greens but be aware that not all fruits, vegetables, and greens are safe. Ensure that they always have access to fresh water, keep them warm, and spend time with them.

It is also crucial to educate yourself on the financials of owning a Bearded Dragon although they are relatively cheap exotics the vet care can be costly should they become ill.

What is a Bearded Dragon?

A Bearded Dragon is a medium-sized lizard between 16-24 inches long. They are typically tan or brown with spikes around their mid-section and head that stick out.

They get their name “Bearded Dragon,” from the flap on their neck that is typically flat unless they feel threatened. When threatened it turns a dark color and they can puff the flap out to intimidate their adversary and make themselves look bigger.

Due to their very docile nature, this behavior is rarely seen by their owners. 

eastern bearded dragon in defensive posture

Bearded Dragons come from the rocky areas of Australia but are one of the most common reptiles owned in America next to snakes. This is simply due to their docile temperament.

Bearded Dragons are one of the calmest easy-going reptiles you can own, which makes them ideal for children or first-time reptile or exotic owners.

Bearded Dragons are also one of the easiest reptiles to maintain and have very few medical issues. Their diet is also very basic and affordable as you will learn more about below. Bearded Dragons also have a significantly longer life span at 6-10 years, with some even living to 20 years with proper care and diet.

What Does A Bearded Dragon’s Diet Consist Of?

feeding a bearded dragon a mealworm

As with any exotic animal, it is important to try to replicate their natural diet as best as you can. Bearded Dragons like most reptiles enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats.

They typically eat insects that can be found in their native habitats such as crickets, waxworms, mealworms, earthworms, cockroaches, and other small insects.

They also enjoy fresh fruits such as grapes, raisins, strawberries, apples, and pears.

Greens make up a large portion of your Dragons diet. Some of their favorites are kale, collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and parsley.

Bearded Dragons also enjoy vegetables such as peas, green beans, bell peppers, okra, celery, and asparagus. Some fruits and vegetables may need to be peeled, diced, or chopped depending on the age and size of your pet.

Foods to Avoid Feeding Bearded Dragons

firefly

When it comes to feeding your bearded dragon, there are some fields that should be given in moderation or eliminated altogether. Here are some of those.

Spinach and Beet Tops – Most greens are ok for your Beardie but avoid spinach and beet tops. They both contain chemicals that can cause calcium deficiencies which Bearded Dragons are already susceptible too.

Although these are ok in small quantities, it is better to avoid them altogether due to the risks.

Rhubarb and Iceberg lettuce – These are also not good to feed. Iceberg lettuce is full of water and has little to no nutritional value. Rhubarb contains high levels of oxalic acid which is poisonous to Bearded Dragons.

Fireflies – Most insects are ok to feed your dragon. With the exception of fireflies which are toxic. It is also important to avoid feeding any wild-caught insects.

Insects You Catch – Insects you catch in your yard are prone to parasites and can also pick up chemicals like weed killers and insect killers that are harmful to your dragon.

Avocados– Avocados are a big NO for Bearded Dragons as they are toxic. Even a small amount can make them sick.

Seafood – It is critical that you avoid feeding your Bearded Dragon any type of seafood!

Bearded Dragons can only eat what they have access to, so it is important as their owner to stay up to date on what is safe and unsafe for them. It is also critical to always ensure that they have clean and freshwater and none of their food has gotten into their food to soil it.

Juvenile Bearded Dragons should eat 50% insects and 50% plants, vegetables, and fruits.

Adults Bearded Dragons should eat 25%-30% less insect and animal matter but instead more fruit and vegetables. Adults can become overweight if they eat to much animal or insect matter.

Be sure to check out our post that covers bearded dragon feeding and nutrition in more detail.

Bearded Dragon Housing

bearded dragon on a basking rock

Bearded Dragons as with any pet need as much space as possible. Particularly they need a lot of floor space, cages or terrariums with a lot of levels or clutter are not ideal.

It is ok to start out with a smaller tank and buy a bigger one as they grow but the optimal size terrarium for an adult full-size dragon is 125 gallons. 

There are many different types of materials that can be used to line the bottom of the terrarium. It is optimal to use something that will be very easy to clean daily as their feces does have a very strong odor.

Be sure to check out our post on substrate options for bearded dragons.

Bearded Dragons also need a heat source. They are reptiles so they are cold-blooded this means that they need an external heat source in order to get warm and to digest their food.

For this, you can use heating pads or heating lamps. Heating lamps are ideal because they can be placed at one side of the terrarium, so the dragon has the option of staying under the light or getting away from it. 

It is a great idea to try to mimic their natural habitat within the terrarium as much as possible. This means providing hideouts and basking rocks.

Remember you do not want to clutter the cage or create too many hiding places for the live insects you feed such as crickets because they will hide and your Dragon may not be able to find them.

Strategically place the hideouts and basking rocks in areas that your lizard can and will use them. It is important to place at least one of the basking rocks below the heat -lamp so the lizard can get close to the heat source if they chose too.

It is also important to include a shallow water dish and a food dish to contain their fruits and vegetables. This can help keep their food and water fresh and from becoming dirty or spoiled. Clean both bowls daily.

Costs of Owning a Bearded Dragon

bearded dragon in its cage

The start-up cost for a Bearded Dragon depends on the size of the dragon and if you chose to buy new supplies or second hand.

Bearded dragons purchased from pet stores are typically juveniles and range in cost from $50-$100 depending on size and color. If you chose to buy a terrarium set-up for an adult dragon at the pet store you could pay anywhere from $100-$300 depending on size and accessories.

If you chose to buy your supplies second-hand you can often purchase or adopt a Bearded Dragon from an individual who no longer wants or can care for it.

This is often the cheapest and most practical idea. However, it is important if adopting a Bearded Dragon from an individual that they are healthy. So, you may want to request a veterinary check before adoption.

It is also important to keep in mind that just because the dragon has been living in a certain set up doesn’t necessarily mean it is the ideal set-up. You may have to modify or improve the second-hand cage that you purchase.

It is also critical that you thoroughly clean the cage upon purchasing it, in case it has any dangerous germs or things that could harm your lizard.

bearded dragon in cage

After the initial cage purchase, Bearded Dragons are fairly inexpensive to maintain and feed. The fresh fruit and vegetables they eat can be scraps or left-overs from what you already purchase.

As for the insects, they eat it is very important that you do not feed them anything you catch or find outside due to the possibility of chemical or pesticide contact.

Most pet stores sell live insects for very little you can purchase a whole bag of crickets that can feed an adult Bearded Dragon for a week for around a dollar or two.

Bedding cost depends on what type you choose to use but regardless it is also a very inexpensive purchase.

Where to Purchase Your Bearded Dragon

When it comes to purchasing a Bearded Dragon there are a few things to consider. The first thing to consider is if you want a young juvenile Bearded Dragon or a more mature adult Bearded Dragon.

going down the pet store aisle

For a beginner, it is recommended that they get an older mature Dragon. This will ensure that the new owner learns the proper ways to handle and care for them.

Young and juvenile Bearded Dragons are often more difficult to raise and require more specialized care and dietary restrictions. They are also jumpier and more difficult to handle which can intimidate new Dragon owners.

Once you have decided on an age you can start to shop. Most big pet store chains like Petsmart, Petco, and Pet Supplies Plus will have young or juvenile Dragons. These are usually not handled very much and have had very little human contact.

pile of baby bearded dragons

The privately-owned pet stores, animal shelters, and breeders will typically have adult or more mature Dragons. These have been handled since birth and are much more social and handleable then the juveniles.

Making them an ideal beginner lizard. It is important that you research the place you are looking to purchase or adopt from, check their reviews, and reputation. You don’t want to purchase a sick lizard or a lizard with genetic issues.

No matter which you chose juvenile or adult and where you chose to get your lizard from prices will vary! Price can also vary by color and gender although there are no actual differences in behavior or health whether you choose a male or a female.

Bearded Dragon Health Risks

With a proper environment, temperature, and diet Bearded Dragons are at a significantly lower risk of health diseases. However, there are four main diseases that Bearded Dragons suffer from and it is important that new or first-time owners know the signs and symptoms so they can seek immediate treatment. 

shedding bearded dragon

The top four diseases bearded dragons suffer from are:

  • Metabolic Bone Disease– is the number one health issue Bearded Dragons face. It is caused by an improper diet that is low in calcium and lack of exposure to UV-B. The signs and symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease are swelling of the lower jaw, softening of the lower jaw, and swelling of the limbs. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms it is critical that you get your Dragon to an exotic or reptile vet as soon as possible.
  • Mouth Rot or Infectious Stomatitis– is another major health disease Bearded Dragons face. It is a bacterial infection, that does just as the name describes, it literally causes the mouth to rot. The sings of mouth rot are lack of appetite, swelling of the gums or jaw, and cottage cheese-like mucus within the mouth.
  • Parasites– this is one of the most difficult diseases to identify because they are inside the intestinal tract and can only be seen on a fecal examination done by a veterinarian. Pinworms are one of the most common and they can cause weight loss, diarrhea, and can cause the Dragon to waste away before the owner can even diagnose the issue.
  • Mites and Ticks – Bearded Dragons are also susceptible to mites and ticks so it is important to check their skin after being outside or if they are in contact with another lizard especially if they have been purchased from a pet store or breeder where they are kept together. These are easier to distinguish and can often be seen on or around the skin or scales of the lizard.

All of these diseases require a specialized veterinarian for treatment. It is important when making the choice to add a Bearded Dragon to your home that you find an exotic vet and understand how pricey they can be. 

It is also very important that you advise anyone who handles your Bearded Dragon, especially children, to thoroughly wash their hands after handling it with antibacterial soap. They can get diseases all reptiles carry in their feces known as salmonella.

Do Bearded Dragons Make Good Pets?

adult bearded dragon being held

This post has explained the good the bad and the ugly about owning and caring for a Bearded Dragon. All in all, they are a very affordable exotic pet unless they get sick in which case you should have money put aside for their care.

The initial start-up costs for a bearded dragon are affordable and one terrarium can last them their entire life. They are a very docile, easy-going lizard and are excellent for first-time exotic pet owners as well as children. 

They are overall a hardy lizard and have a significantly long-life span for a lizard of their size. Although if they do get sick it is critical that they see a specialized veterinarian as soon as possible or they will die.

This can be the costly side of owning an exotic pet and can require a substantial amount of money so it’s best to set a chunk aside in case of an emergency.

If you are looking to add an exotic lizard to your family the Bearded Dragon might just be the pet for you. They are ideal for children or adults with allergies to pet dander or fur. Their bedding is also allergen-free as is their food.

Adult Bearded Dragons enjoy being held and just sitting with their owners while they read a book or watch television. They are not flighty, bitey, or jumpy so they also make great classroom pets. 

baby bearded dragon being held

After the initial set-up, they are one of the easiest exotics to maintain and only require daily spot cleaning and weekly or bi-weekly deep cleaning.

Bearded dragons are quiet, calm, easy-going pets and are an excellent choice for anyone. Ensure that you have thoroughly done your research and don’t necessarily buy the first one you see, shop around make a connection and educate yourself!

April

I'm an avid animal lover, former veterinary assistant, and blogger. My undergraduate work included a pre-veterinary curriculum and some graduate work along those lines as well from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA (GO BRONCOS!). These days I blog about all sorts of animal-related topics. Many I have or currently personally own, some I don't but am just interested in. Nothing in this blog should be construed as veterinary advice. I am a 100% advocate that if you think something is wrong with your pet, take it to a vet.

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