Bearded dragons are one of the best reptile pets. They grow to a modest size of about 24 inches or less. They live a long time with an average of 7-10 years when properly cared for. They are smart, friendly, and very personable. Most are very tame and can be held and petted. Although they do have specific care requirements, they can be a fun and fairly easy addition to the family.
Baby bearded dragons can be kept in small 20 gallon long tanks. Reptile tanks are usually wider and lower in height to give the maximum floor space. Juvenile (4 months or so) and adult dragons are very active and need larger enclosures to keep them happy and healthy. Once your dragon is 10-12 inches it really needs to move up to a bigger tank. The smallest size tank a juvenile or adult can be housed in is a 40 gallon breeder tank. Tank size can also vary according to the size of your dragons. A 24 inch male will need more space then an 18 inch male. The larger space you can give your bearded dragons the happier they will be.
What to use on the bottom of your bearded dragon cage is a highly debated topic. We keep our babies on paper towels. When they grow to 10 inches or more they can be introduced to a substrate if you wish. You can use crushed coral sand or calcium sand. Some dragons ingest a lot of sand while eating, using crushed coral sand will easily break down as calcium in the dragon.
You want your beardies to be happy but try not to go overboard and crowd the cage. Remember that furnishing take up space and so you want the furnishings to be functional. Branches large enough for the beardie to lay on are good to get your pet near his basking site. If your cage is tall find a way to use the space up high. Beardies love to climb up high. Rocks are also wonderful because they warm up from the lights. Make sure the rocks are stable and that your beardie can’t dig under them and hurt themselves.
Cleaning the Cage
You will need to scoop the feces out of the cage daily. You should periodically clean the tank completely. When emptied, the tank should be scrubbed with soapy water, Nolvasan, or very diluted bleach (10% bleach, 90% water). It needs to be rinsed off well and dried. Nolvasan is a veterinary disinfectant. It also will not leave any smell as bleach can if not properly rinsed. No matter what you use make sure you soak all rocks, branches, and other things in the cage in the cleaner and then rinse and dry well. Make sure the food bowls are washed in soapy water daily.
Lighting and Heating
You will need two types of lighting, UVB and heat lighting. UVB light is essential for many kinds of reptiles. The bulbs simulate the sun allowing the dragons to produce Vitamin D3 which helps them metabolize the calcium they need to maintain health. Without UVB many reptile get Metabolic Bone Disease. We use special reptile florescent bulbs like the Reptisun 5.0 or the Reptisun 10.0, they come in different lengths. The new Reptisun 10.0 is better for desert animals. It is also useful with a screen lid, as the screen does block out some of the UVB light.
These lights need to be within 12 inches of the basking spot and need to be replaced every 6 months because the amount of UVB diminishes.
For heat you can use a reptile basking bulb. Make sure the bulbs are over what will be your dragons basking spot. This should be at one end of the cage. This area needs to be between 95-110 degrees. Babies usually need a warmer spot than adults. Beardies need this heat to be able to digest their food. The cooler side of the tank away from the basking site should be around 75-80. At night you should not need heating unless it goes below 65 degrees. Then you can use special night heat lights or undertank heater attached to a thermostat on low. Without the thermostat the undertank heater will be really hot.
Your lights should be on a cycle of about 10-14 hours on in the summer and 10-12 hours on in the winter. We prefer to keep them as close to what is happening here. You can regulate the lights with simple timers.
Leafy greens must be offered daily. Greens include mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, dandelions, escarole, chicory, and arugula can be staples in their diet. Lettuces does not have much nutritional value and should not make up their whole diet or even a large part. Romaine could be given occasionally if you can’t find the other greens. Spinach and swiss chard are both high in oxalic acids that bind calcium. They can be given, just not too frequently. Variety is a good idea though. Remember, you don’t have to buy the whole huge bunch of greens. They will weigh whatever you separate out of a big bunch. This is a good way to get a big variety without buying too many greens. Make sure you wash all the veggies to get any pesticides off. Remove large stems (like collard stems), and any rotten parts and then rip the greens into pieces about the size of your dragons head. We cut up all our greens at once and place them in a tupperware container lined with paper towels. This should last about a week in the fridge. Before feeding make sure to rinse the greens you are going to give to your dragon that day if you haven’t done it before. Also wetting the greens before giving them to your dragon is a great way to get extra water into them. Vegetables like winter squashes, green beans, parsnips, carrots, sweet potato, and others can be grated up and added to the salad. They need to be in chopped very small or grated pieces. Dragons can not chew large chunks and it will be hard for them to digest. Fruits such as all the berries, mango, papaya, grapes, can be added in a small amount. Offering greens in the morning before they get insects is a good way to make sure they eat their vegetables.
We do not provide water dishes for our larger dragons. We find they either defecate in it, the crickets drown in it, or they just kick up sand into it. You can wet their greens when you feed them. You also should mist them with a spray bottle daily or put them in the tub weekly. Make sure the beardies can stand in the water so they don’t have to swim the whole time. Make the water lukewarm. Make sure to watch them while in the water. They really seem to enjoy bath time. Some dragons will drink from a spray bottle. A light spray dripped on there nose will usually run into their mouth. It’s tricky to figure out, but once your do most dragons will drink this way.
Insects should be offered daily. As your beardie gets older he or she should be eating less and less insects and more vegetables. Too many insects all through their life will cause kidney damage. Veggies should make up about 10-25% of hatchlings diet and about 50% or more of adults diets. You can feed insects such as crickets and phoenix worms as a staple. Superworms can be feed to beardies 2-3 times a week. Mealworms and waxworms are high in fat and not recommended. We choose not to give our beardies pinky mice because of the risk of parasites from them. Also they are high in fat and most dragons do not need them. Instead we use silkworms and superworms to fatten them up after hibernation and for the egg laying females. Silkworms are also a yummy option to crickets. They eat them up like candy. Giving them as many crickets as they can eat in a 5-10 minute period is a good idea. Many baby dragons will eat 15-25 crickets in a sitting. Never leave crickets in the cage overnight, especially with babies. They can serious hurt babies by munching on them as food. Some people choose to feed their beardies in a separate tank to avoid this. Never give babies large crickets. They need to be no bigger then the space between their eyes. Serious harm can be caused by hatchings eating large crickets. NEVER FEED FIRE FLIES – THEY ARE TOXIC TO YOUR DRAGON AND WILL CAUSE DEATH
You need to add a gutload product to the container for food. You can use store cricket food. If you run out of gutload you can always sprinkle in some baby cereal or cheerios but gutload is best. It is fulled with all the good nutrients your beardies need. The crickets eat the gutload and then when the dragon eats the cricket it will get all those nutrients.
You will also need to add something for them to drink. We use a carrot cut up into a couple of pieces. You can also use the stalks from your greens or some orange slices. Just remove and replace if they become moldy.
Superworms can be kept the same way. We usually add an inch of Whole Grain with the gutload because the worms bury in it. The superworms can be kept in a low rubbermaid without a lid. They can't climb the sides. They can live for a VERY long time like this. Up to two months perhaps.
Dust insects with a calcium with D3 (Rep-Cal) vitamin daily or whenever live insects is offered. We put the crickets in a large yogurt container and shake them up with the vitamin dust and then serve them to the beardies. They get very excited when they see this container. About 2 times a week you should dust with a multivitamin instead of the calcium. We use Herptivite.