Bearded Dragon Hints And Tips
I first worked with bearded dragons back in 1996, when I was still relatively new to lizard keeping. I was working in a reptile department in a local garden centre. I had been working in the reptile department for a while when one day some beautiful spiky creatures arrived. I was amazed how confident and outgoing they were compared to all of the other lizards that I was used to caring for (eg Anoles, Black Agamas, Ameivas, etc).
They were very expensive compared to the other species of lizards, but they sold like hot cakes.
Since then bearded dragons have grown in popularity, with good reason. They make great pets, but being a reptile they have very particular requirements in order to thrive: temperature, UV lighting, space and diet.
Since I first worked with bearded dragons there have been some huge improvements in equipment and understanding and therefore welfare. UV lights are so much better these days, thermometers and thermostats are much more accurate making it significantly easier to provide a suitable environment.
To help you care for your bearded dragon in the best possible way, the whole team put our heads together to come up with useful tips and tricks – things we wish we’d been told when we started!
I hope you find this useful and would really appreciate your feedback and if you have any tips of your own – please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ask lots of questions and question the answers – this will help you to understand more and you will be able to see if the person you are talking to understands bearded dragons and their care.
- There is no such thing as a stupid question. None of us are born knowing all the answers – so if you don’t know, ASK. Nobody is going to laugh at you.
- Before you take on a pet of any type make sure you understand what is involved in caring for the whole life of the animal. All pets have particular requirements, so make sure you understand what you need to do to provide the best life for your pet.
- Bearded Dragons live for an average of 10-15 years although the oldest we know of lived to the ripe old age of 17 years. But I have a feeling that with the new and improved UVB lights and better diets that they may live even longer. Are you ready for the commitment?
- A bath will make them poo (if that doesn’t a trip in the car will).
- Poo smells. Cleaning it up quickly makes life nicer for you and your dragon. Read our guide on How to Clean A Vivarium
- They tend to be nosy, and love to see what’s going on outside their house. Beardies often seem happier if their vivarium is placed somewhere they can watch family comings and goings.
- Your beardie will train you to give it its favourite food. Remember variety in the diet is very important so don’t let your beardie train you!
- Can you recognise the signs of illness in lizards? It is very important to learn. They will not tell you. Here a a few things to look for:
- Sudden weight loss
- Sunken eyes
- Visible hip bones
- Stuck shed skin
- Swollen legs, jaw, stomach, joints, eyes etc….
- Runny poos
- Blackened tail
- Loss of appetite
- Weeping eyes or nose
- Dirty bottom
- Aggression = pain
This is not an exhaustive list – if your dragon shows any of these signs or anything else you are worried about, speak to your vet.
- Female bearded dragons will sometimes lay eggs without mating, if your dragon starts to dig a lot provide a nest box.
- Beardies will sometimes brumate – this is a winter shut down. If yours goes quiet and hides away more than normal, it could be brumating or it could be ill – seek advice sooner, not later.
- Beardies are very tough animals and can survive bad conditions for a while, but don’t let this happen to your pet.
- Pete (the boss) first incubated and reared bearded dragons back in 1997.
- Using a piece of large slate underneath the basking area helps warm your dragon from underneath naturally.
- If you use rocks make sure the dragon cannot dig beneath them, they could get injured if they undermine them to the point where they collapse.
- Use reptile safe plastic plants to decorate your dragon’s house. If they are not marked as animal safe, they might do him harm when he pulls them down, chews on the leaves, or otherwise interacts with them.
- Dragons don’t necessarily need something to hide under, but they do like things to hide behind. Make sure they can get out of your eyeline.
- Use the largest vivarium you can fit in, your beardie will use all of the room you give it – remember, there is no such thing as too large.
- Don’t aim for minimum standards of equipment – buy the best, your dragon will appreciate it.
- Keep the vivarium clean, remove old dry salad and spot clean the vivarium daily.
- Bearded Dragons come from Australia and like it hot. We recommend a temperature range of 40 -45°C in the basking area, down to approximately 30°C in the cooler area. This will provide the dragons with a temperature gradient across the vivarium, allowing them to choose the most suitable temperature at all times. At night the temperature should drop to around 20ºC, with a minimum of 18°C.
- Temperature is really important, so use a digital thermometer to measure it accurately. Make a note of the basking temperature (right under the basking light – where the dragon sits), the lowest temperature during the day and also the highest and lowest temperatures at night. Measure the temperatures regularly as the temperature of our environment will affect the temperature of the vivarium.
- A thermostat will turn down or turn off your dragons heater/basking light to keep the temperature in the correct range and prevent overheating.
- Bearded dragons sense heat from above, so use basking lights to provide the daytime heat.
- A bulb guard is always a good idea.
- Know what temperatures a bearded dragon needs and provide them
- Beardies are reptiles and therefore ectothermic – they get their body heat from their environment. It’s up to us to make sure they have what they need!
- If the temperatures are wrong, your dragon might survive but cannot thrive.
- Imagine your dragon as a solar panel – soaking up UVB light and heat. A solar panel is useless in the dark and so is a beardie. In the day the vivarium should be nice and bright with the basking and UV light (that is why we don’t use red lights!). It is best to be dark at night of course!
- Use a basking light that will provide a basking area larger than the dragon itself. Heat the whole animal, not just a little bit. Halogen flood lamps are best for this.
- UV light is vitally important, replace your beardie’s UVB lights regularly (every 6 -12 months depending on the type).
- Provide good basking areas (branches or rocks) as well as shade.
- Take them outside on sunny days – natural light is much better than artificial.
- Beardies see colour better than we do. No red bulbs!
- UVB lights are not all created equally – use only quality, respected brands.
- We can’t see UVB light so can’t tell when it is time to replace the UVB lamp, but we do have a UVB meter that can. Bring your UVB light in for testing, see if it needs replacing.
- Lizards can see a wider range of colours than we can – right down into the UVAspectrum.
- There is a myth that bearded dragons can’t see red light – they can.
- Use automatic timers to turn your lights on in the morning and off at night. Some thermostats have this feature built in.
- Sprinkling mealworms over their greens can persuade them to eat more salad.
- Mealworm bowls are helpful when using cockroaches.
- Feed your livefood well for a long life and a more nutritious meal.
- Sprinkle a little bit of calcium powder or multivitamin/multimineral powder over every meal. That way they never learn to ignore it.
- Keep an eye on the use by date of your multivitamin/multimineral supplements. They are long dated, but their vitamin content will drop over time. Replace them when they go out of date.
- Fat soluble vitamins (A,D, E and K) can build up in the body, and while a little is good more can be dangerous.
- Offer greens first thing in the morning, so when they warm up and are hungry the first thing they see is a nice bowl of salad.
- Avoid fruit. It can upset their stomachs, and makes them more prone to protozoal parasite infections.
- Give them as varied a diet as possible. Even if they’re not keen on it at first!
- Offer thin slices of sweet potato or butternut squash to help clean up their teeth as they crunch through it.
- Treat your dragon to some delicious flowers such as dandelions, pansies, violas and nasturtiums.(organic or homegrown is best, we don’t want to feed your dragon pesticides!)
- Young beardies need a lot of protein so the diet is roughly 80% insects and 20% salad. As they get older their need for protein reduces so the diet will switch to 20% livefood and 80% salad.
- If you don’t offer salad to a baby beardie it will not eat salad when it is adult. We feed our babies salad from day one, and they eat it!
- Grow your own salads and flowers to feed your dragon, it’s fun and you will be sure there are no chemicals added.
- Calci dust just provides calcium carbonate, so make sure you also use a multi vitamin/mineral powder to help provide a balanced diet. We recommend using calci dust five times a week and a multi vitamin/mineral powder twice a week.
- Offer livefoods in small quantities, maybe 3-4 bugs at a time, if it eats those give some more. This way you won’t have any uneaten bugs.
- Spray your dragon with water once a week to stimulate it to take a drink
- Clean the water bowl everyday.
- Some of them love to take a warm, shallow bath. Others hate it – you won’t know until you try it!
- Stirring the water bowl with your finger can attract their interest, and encourage them to drink. Dripping water into it while they watch can work too.
- Keep the water bowl at the cool end of the terrarium/vivarium to reduce the rate of evaporation.
- When you get a new bearded dragon allow it plenty of time (ideally 7 days) to settle into its new home before you really start to handle it.
- Support the dragons weight while handling and don’t restrain them, as this can make them more wriggly.
- Bearded dragons are real sun worshippers and will benefit from exposure to natural sun (even the British sun!) so on a sunny day take your beardie outside for a bask. When you take your dragon outside, remember they don’t like birds of prey – check the sky is clear first.
- Never underestimate just how fast your dragon can run if it’s frightened.
- Weigh your dragon regularly. A couple of times a month is fine. This will help you pick up any issues before they become serious.
- Become familiar with the way your dragon acts. That way, you will notice quicker if his behaviour changes.
- A healthy dragon is bright eyed and alert, interested in its surroundings, with no discharge from eyes, nostrils or vent.
- Some dragons brumate, which is like hibernation but without going totally to sleep. It’s a complicated subject, so if you think your dragon is brumating give us a call and we’ll talk you through it.
- Sometimes female dragons that live alone will lay eggs.
- If you think your dragon is sick, take it to a vet. There are lots of exotics vets around these days, we can give you the contact details for some of them.
- Beardies claws keep growing, if they get long bring them in to see us and we will trim them for you.
- Beardies shed their skin from time to time – it is very tempting to help them pull it off but don’t be tempted, as you may hurt them by pulling a piece that isn’t ready to come off.
- Impaction is when a beardie eats substrate – this is a sign of poor diet, low UV exposure, inadequate temperatures or all three. If you think that your dragon is suffering from impaction speak to your vet.
- The majority of health issues are caused by poor husbandry. What temperature is it in his/her vivarium?
- Pet insurance is worth considering.
- They’re Aussies, mate!
- The scientific name for Bearded Dragon is Pogona vitticeps
- The most popular species of Bearded Dragons kept as pets are Inland or Central Bearded Dragons.
- Pogona is derived from the Greek word for beard – pogon.
- They are native to the semiarid woodland, arid woodland, and rocky desert regions of Central Australia.
- Slow bowing motion – often used by adult females to signal submission to a male.
- Fast bob – used by males to signal dominance (often accompanied by an inflated and/or blackened beard). Sometimes it’s such a violent motion their front feet come up off the ground!
- Violent bob – used by males just before mating, much more vigorous, and usually sets the animal’s whole body in motion
- Females also do fast and violent head bobs when they are stressed out and need some alone time. This also applies to solitary males who want to be left alone by their people.
- Substrate – floor covering eg sand, wood chip etc.
- Basking temperature – the temperature directly under their basking light.
- UVB light– Ultraviolet light – Used to help utilise the calcium from their diet (we rely on this too). Naturally provided by the sun, in a vivarium a specialist UVB light is required.
- Livefood – these are the live insects that a dragon eats. Crickets, locusts, mealworms, morio worms, calci worms, dubia roaches and fruit beetle grubs are the commonest in the UK.
- Husbandry – this is everything we do to care for the dragon including feeding, temperature, lighting and hygiene.
Bearded dragons are very popular pets due to their personalities, their outgoing nature and the fact that they are very hardy creatures, but don’t forget that they have very particular needs (light, heat, diet, etc).
Beardies are not as emotionally complex as a mammal or a bird, but that doesn’t stop many owners from forming a deep bond with them. They certainly know their people, and very quickly work out which family members can be persuaded to bring extra food!
On a more serious note, love your dragon by all means, but remember that love alone will not provide heat, light or a nutritious diet. So make sure you provide that too.