Care for Bearded Dragons: Tips For Beginners

One of the most popular reptiles is the bearded dragon.  These little dinosaurs are quite cute and charming, but they do have very specific needs. First timers will face a bit of a learning curve. A local Lexington, KY vet discusses some basics of beardie care in this article.


Basics of Bearded Dragons


The Bearded dragon is native to central Australia. They usually live about 8 to 10 years. They are normally a sandy color, which allows them to blend into their native environment. Some, however, are yellow or orange.


Curious about how they got their names? When they get scared, they flare out the skin under their chins, which will resemble a beard … hence the name.


Beardies are quite popular, and with good reason. They’re adorable, gentle, friendly, and easy to care for. They are even suitable for mature kids!


Is A Bearded Dragon Right For You? 


Bearded dragons can be an ideal choice for first-time reptile owners, due to their friendly natures and low maintenance requirements. While some reptiles can grow to be quite large, the average adult beardie only reaches about two feet in length. (Bonus: you won’t need to invest in a large enclosure.)


Temperament is another thing to consider. Although each Beardie has its own unique personality, many of them are known for being naturally friendly and even affectionate at times, which is rare among reptiles. 


However, owning a bearded dragon does require a significant commitment, since they can live for over a decade. They also eat live bugs, which can be a deal-breaker for some. Just do plenty of research before adopting one. 


How Do I Feed My Pet Bearded Dragon?


 These charming lizards are omnivores, so they eat both plants and insects. The proportions and feeding schedules will change over time. Younger dragons need more insects to provide protein, whereas older dragons can eat more produce and fewer bugs. Consult your vet for specific recommendations.


Some insects you can offer your little buddy are crickets, Dubia roaches, butterworms, horn worms, wasps, elder bugs, and mealworms. It is important to offer only store-bought insects. Wild bugs can be contaminated with pesticides, and/or could carry diseases or parasites. You’ll need to dust them with nutritional powder before they become lunch. Ask your vet for advice on this. You can also ask for recommendations about supplements such as calcium, vitamin D, and multivitamins for beardies.


Veggies are a must! Provide your reptilian friend with plenty of green leafy vegetables, such as dandelion, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, and endive. Beardies can also eat yellow, red, and orange vegetables, including bell peppers, carrots, and butternut squash. Ask your vet for specific recommendations.


It is fine to offer fruits in small quantities, but you shouldn’t overdo it, as they are high in sugar. Strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, peaches, figs, dates, and apricots are good options.


Did you know your lizard pal can eat flowers? Dandelions, roses, carnations, and geraniums are fine. Not all flowers are safe, so do your research before you offer them to your pet. (Note: never give pesticide-treated flowers to your beardie.)


Beardies can be prone to dehydration. Make sure your reptilian friend has fresh water at all times. Regular soaks are also beneficial. 


Always research new foods before you give them to your lizard. Ask your vet for specific advice, including feeding schedules and practices and safe and unsafe treats.


What Are Warning Signs Of Sickness In Beardies?


If properly cared for, beardies are hardy, healthy pets. However, just like any pet, they are susceptible to illness and injury. It’s important to learn about common illnesses, and the warning signs to watch for.


Some of these include:

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

Any of these should warrant an immediate call to your Lexington, KY vet.

The Best Terrarium for Your Bearded Dragon


The best habitat size for your pet will vary based on its age. For a young beardie, a 20-gallon terrarium is recommended. However, keep in mind that these guys grow quickly. Your pet may soon outgrow that space, so investing in a 40-gallon terrarium may be a good idea. When your dragon reaches full size, they will require at least 70 gallons (0.26 cubic meters) of space. As far as dimensions, the enclosure should be longer and wider rather than tall. 


When it comes to substrate, there are several options available, such as newspaper, butcher paper, or reptile carpet. If you opt for paper, it will need to be changed daily. We do not recommend sand substrates, especially for young dragons. If swallowed, the particles can cause intestinal blockages, which can be fatal.


What Is The Proper Habitat Temperature For Bearded Dragons?


There are specific temperature requirements for beardies. Like other reptiles, these guys regulate their internal temperature by moving from hot to cool areas and back. You’ll need to set up the terrarium in a way that creates different temperature zones, or gradients.


At the warmer end, the temperature should be 95 to 105F. At the cooler end, the temperature can be 85F. At night, the environment may be cooler.


You’ll have to check these temperatures a few times a day, so you’ll need a few good thermometers. We also suggest getting a hygrometer, so you can also check humidity levels. (These should be between 30 and 40 percent.)


How Do I Furnish My Bearded Dragon’s Habitat?


Don’t forget to include appropriate dragon furnishings. You’ll want to add some sort of basking perch for your pet to lounge on. Some suitable options are driftwood, large rocks, and even grape vines. Make sure they are sturdy enough to avoid any potential accidents. You can also add live plants. Just don’t add anything toxic: your beardie may munch on his decor.


Dinnerware is also a must. The bowls should be in the cooler end of the terrarium, so your pet’s food won’t spoil as fast. Choose shallow bowls for your pet’s food dishes. This is particularly important for baby lizards, as they could drown in a deep bowl.


Don’t forget to provide at least one hide. Ask your Lexington, KY veterinarian for tips on this.


What Are Bearded Dragon Heat/lighting Requirements?


To stay healthy, bearded dragons need full-spectrum lighting. It’s crucial for them to have both UVA and UVB light. If your pet lizard doesn’t get enough UVB, he won’t be able to process calcium or vitamin D properly. That can lead to severe health problems, such as metabolic bone disease, or MBD, which is debilitating and very painful, and can be fatal.


A few things to consider:


  • Young beardies may need stronger bulbs than adults, so check with your vet regularly.
  • The lights should be set on a 12-hour cycle
  • Fluorescent bulbs should be at least a foot away from your dragon to prevent burns.


It’s not a bad idea to get a UV meter, so you can check humidity levels. Remember to change the bulbs regularly, since they wear out quickly.


Contact us, your local Lexington, KY pet hospital, if you have any questions about caring for bearded dragons! We are dedicated to offering great care!


Comments are closed.