So you thinking of getting yourself an exotic reptilian pet and wondering where to start. There are so many other reptiles out there to chose from, each with its own charm. But after looking through the list of potential exotic pets, you’ve found yourself landing on a bearded dragon, or Beardies as they’re lovingly nicknamed. A happy medium between the docile, approachable personality of a tortoise, the manageable size of a gecko, and the unique appearance likened to an iguana. The big question, however, is are bearded dragons good pets? Well, hopefully, this guide will help you to figure out how to care for a bearded dragon and give you the information you need to know if a bearded dragon is the right pet for you.
Creating The Bearded Dragon Habitat
Bearded Dragons are exotic animals, and so they need an exotic environment for them to be comfortable. This means heat lamps, sand, humidity, a basking spot, and a carefully regulated environmental temperature. Baby and juvenile Bearded Dragons in particular need to be kept especially warm, as their small bodies are not able to hold the heat as well.
The Best Size Tank To Use
Bearded Dragons are reptiles that require a large enough tank, terrarium, or vivarium to allow them space to easily move around. If the tank is too small it can cause your Beardie to become anxious, and even has the potential to impact their growth. If you’re wanting a good habitat for your reptile pet, you should err on the larger side. There are average recommended tank measurements for different sizes of Bearded Dragon, which we have listed below. The only thing to be mindful of is that larger tanks can be a bit trickier to keep warm, and can give crickets space to run away.
Lighting The Tank
Not only will your Beardie require light, but they will also need plenty of UV. Indoor space simply won’t provide them with the amount of UV they need to stay healthy. Therefore you’ll need to purchase UVA/UVB lighting from your reptile pet store. These special fluorescent bulbs provide the full spectrum of UV light is needed for 12-14 hours a day to mimic the kind of exposure they would get in their natural desert environment. Keep the light central; Bearded Dragon habitats need a constant level of UV throughout, and so a central light will ensure even coverage.
Additionally, your Bearded Dragon will need to bask under a heat lamp as they are cold-blooded lizards. Most Bearded Dragons spend up to 10 hours a day basking in high spots to get themselves nice and close to the lamp’s heat. You will therefore need to ensure a heat lamp will comfortably fit inside the tank without your Beardie being able to touch it.
Baths and Shade
Ideally, you’ll want to place a shallow bath in the tank for your Beardier to bathe and cool down if it needs to. Bearded Dragons also enjoy a spot of shade now and again. That means creating a large enough area of the shade that they can tuck themselves away and out of sight of the heat lamp should they feel the need to. Though they require a warm environment, they still occasionally feel the need to cool off.
Flooring and Decor
Experts do not recommend using sandy substrate or wood shavings as Bearded Dragons can accidentally ingest the substrate, which can lead to fecal impaction. Therefore, it’s best to look for reptile carpet, which will provide them with a comfortable textured floor without the worry of constipation.
Furthermore, you’ll want to include a hidey-hole to help them to feel more secure, especially as they’re still getting used to you. It is also vital that you include a good solid elevated area, such as a branch or log, that can allow them to climb and bask comfortably. This piece should be placed underneath the heat lamp.
Finally, make sure you include a food bowl. Whilst live crickets will definitely not stay put, you can use the bowl whenever you put out your Bearded Dragon’s worms or other wriggly snacks. You could even throw in some terrain such as rocks and twigs as well as a reptile hammock for good measure! And don’t forget to add a background image to the tank to create the illusion of extra space for your Beardie. Just make sure anything you add won’t prevent the lizard from being able to get around.
Maintaining The Habitat
It’s one thing to build a good habitat for them to live in to start with. But though Bearded Dragons make excellent pets and are relatively easy to care for in terms of exercise, temperament, and feeding, ironically their environment is quite high-maintenance. You need to maintain temperature, humidity, and light / UV levels.
You will need to attach a thermometer to the tank to order to monitor and maintain the internal temperature. Bearded Dragons are cold-blooded pets and require temperatures between 85-110F in the daytime, then lows of 65F during the night, to mirror the difference in temperature in their natural desert habitat.
Misting and Maintaining Humidity
Grab yourself a hygrometer from one of your local pet stores in order to keep an eye on the humidity levels inside the tank. Additionally, you’ll want a misting spray bottle to bring the humidity up if it drops too low. The ideal level sits around 30-4o%. Young Bearded Dragons shed much more regularly than adult Bearded Dragons, and so they require a good humidity level in order for shed skin to fall away easily. However, if the humidity becomes too high it can result in respiratory infection. So check the level at least twice a day to be sure.
Your Bearded Dragon’s bath will need need to be emptied, cleaned, and refilled every few days to remove the risk of stagnant water and bad bacteria. You will also need to ensure the food bowl is emptied of any uneaten food before being refilled and dead crickets are removed from the tank.
Feeding Your Bearded Dragon
Bearded Dragons eat a mixture of meat and vegetables to create a balanced diet that will properly maintain their health. Young dragons will need to be fed more frequently than adult Beardies owing to their rapid rate of growth. A Bearded Dragon should eat around 80% protein and 20% vegetables.
Collard greens, green beans, mustard greens, and various other leafy greens all make excellent vegetable options as part of a proper diet for your Bearded Dragon. In terms of protein and meats, Bearded Dragons prefer live insects to dead ones. These include crickets which generally form the bulk of the meat, dubia roaches, earthworms, locusts, redworms, and black soldier fly larvae.
There are a few insects you can give to your Bearded Dragon as treats too. But keep them as just that because they are highly fatty and unsuitable for Bearded Dragons to regularly consume. Generally, the snacks proteins consist of super worms and butter worms.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You must make sure that any food given to your Bearded Dragon is no wider than the gap between its eyes. Anything larger than this gap could cause them to choke, or become injured.
Exercise for Bearded Dragons
Bearded Dragons don’t demand a lot of exercises. It’s part of why Bearded Dragons make good pets for busy households as they’re quite happy being left to bask. However, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be exercised at all. It’s a good idea to create a large safe space near a radiator within which they can stretch their legs. Placing down foam flooring in the area would also help your Bearded Dragon to maintain its body heat whilst outside of the tank.
Try to let them out once every few days at the very least, though ideally once a day if you can manage it. Additionally, you should avoid getting your new pet out if the ambient temperature of the room is below 70F.
Bearded Dragon Pet Health
As with all animals, Bearded Dragons are susceptible to a variety of illnesses and diseases throughout their life. That’s not to say your Bearded Dragon won’t live a long and healthy life, but it is always a good idea to familiarise yourself with the potential health problems they could experience.
Respiratory infections can be bought on by an overly humid environment. It is characterized by slimy mucus coming from the nose and mouth and difficultly breathing. They generally clear up on their own, but if it is severe enough you may need to get some antibiotics, though this is rare.
Bearded Dragons can pick up parasites from the food they eat. If your Beardie has a high parasite count then they may become sick and experience diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, and vomiting. Parasites will usually require antibiotics, and potentially a shot, to clear.
Female Bearded Dragons are the only ones that can be affected by Egg Binding. It is the result of a female being unable to lay its eggs, whether they’re fertile or not, and is unfortunately common. You can try to help them with a warm bath, however, it often required hormonal treatment to stimulate contractions or may even need surgery to remove the trapped eggs. This can be fatal if left untreated.
Severe impaction should not be taken lightly. If your dragon hasn’t pooped in 48 hours you need to start working towards a solution, be it a warm bath and massage or a trip to the vet to get it broken down. It can be caused by being fed food that is too large, calcium deficiency, improper temperature, and substrate ingestion.
Infectious Stomatitis (Mouth Rot)
The result of inflammation inside the mouth becomes so bad that the flesh begins to rot away. It can be caused by several different types of infection and results in yellowish or greyish skin around the mouth, as well as discharge and excess saliva. If left untreated the infection can spread, so quick veterinary care is key to avoiding a much more severe infection.
Bearded Dragon Diseases
As well as the standard infections and other temporary health concerns Bearded Dragons can face, there are also several diseases that are more likely to affect your Beardie due to a natural predisposition.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Metabolic Bone Disease is often characterized by paralysis. You may notice that your Bearded Dragon is having difficulty moving it’s limbs, or may be placing them down in an unusual way. If you suspect it could be paralysis then try touching your Beardie’s limbs to see how they react. If they don’t seem to respond then get them booked in with a reptile veterinarian immediately for a full examination.
Cancer is difficult to recognize and equally difficult to treat, and much like with any animals, including humans, it can affect Bearded Dragons to varying degrees. Don’t be afraid to check for lumps on a regular basis and always monitor your Beardie’s weight and eating habits. Not only could this help you notice possible signs of cancer, but it can flag a plethora of other potential health issues.
Bearded Dragon Temperament and Behavior
When picking a pet reptile, you want to find one with a decent temperament so as to reduce the risk of an incident later down the road. Especially with family households. Fortunately, Bearded Dragons are great pets that are generally docile. They don’t typically take any notice of other animals in the house and will keep to themselves. However, juvenile Bearded Dragons and male Bearded Dragons do have some particular behaviors worth noting.
Though Beardies make good pets, juvenile Beardies tend to be a little jumper than the adults, and so you need to ensure their tank has a secure screen top to prevent them from escaping. You will also want to avoid handling them over high drops in case they decide to go for a little hop. Juveniles also grow very quickly and shed constantly. When they’re shedding try to leave them be so as not to stress them out during a vulnerable phase.
Male Bearded Dragons have a tell during mating season. Whilst a Bearded Dragon ordinarily makes a great pet thanks to its docile nature, your male will clearly display signs when it is in season, during which time you should keep your distance where possible. A Bearded Dragon’s chin will turn a much darker shade – almost black – and they will begin bobbing their head constantly. Particularly if you come too close. Mating season lasts around 3-4 weeks, so try to give your Bearded some space until they are past it.
Bearded Dragon Brumation
Brumation is when a Bearded Dragon effectively goes into hibernation, which would ordinarily occur during the colder months. You will notice them become lethargic and reserved. They will also minimize their food intake and poop less as a result, as well as hide themselves away.
Brumation lasts between 1-3 months, during which time it would be courteous to cover your Beardie’s tank and reducing their basking hours to emulate the winter period. They will be absolutely fine during this time, it is a natural process for them. Just let them sleep and they will come out of it when they’re ready.
Do Bearded Dragons Make Good Family Pets?
Bearded Dragons have a great temperament and a lot of patience when it comes to children. Many owners of Bearded Dragons have chosen them for this exact reason. They are docile and laidback, and so interaction generally doesn’t tend to be a problem. However, it is vitally important that you familiarise yourself with the appropriate way to handle a bearded dragon and teach it to your young children. Like any creature, they can become overwhelmed if handled incorrectly and will try to escape or defend themselves if they feel threatened. Younger children have a tendency to be heavy-handed, whilst doesn’t go down well.
Picking Your Bearded Dragon
You can either keep Bearded Dragons in pairs, or you can look to have one on its own. Fortunately, they don’t rely on the company of others and are quite happy relaxing in their own space. Therefore a single adult bearded dragon is easy to look after, except perhaps for when they are in season.
Baby Bearded Dragons vs Adult Bearded Dragons
Baby Bearded Dragons require a much more in-depth level of care. With additional feed times, more carefully monitored temperatures, the perfect humidity levels at all times, and plenty of exercise. Much like with any young animal, they are growing, therefore you need to be mindful that they are still learning about the world around them. Having a Beardie from infancy can certainly help to strengthen the bond between you and your Bearded Dragon pet, as well as providing you with knowledge of their entire growth period and behavioral patterns, which can help to make health problems more easily spotted in the future.
However, adult Beardies are much less high maintenance. You will not need to change the tank size for them as they won’t grow, they have a constant and easy-to-arrange feeding schedule. They don’t shed nearly as often and are less sensitive to slight changes in temperature or environment. However, older Beardies can be difficult to bond with and may be distrustful of you for much longer.
How Much Are Bearded Dragons?
Bearded Dragons themselves are pretty affordable, ordinarily costing between $50-100, though if you’re going for a special morph breed then you could be looking at around $500-$1,000. However, getting the equipment together to provide them with a good home can add quite a bit to the cost.
Enclosures tend to cost upwards of $300 depending on size and style. You then need to take into account lighting and temperature control. getting the UV lamp and heat lamp will cost around $40-60 for the pair, depending on your choice of brand. You’ll also need a thermometer and humidity checker for around $20. Then furnishing the enclosure properly should cost around $60-100 once you’ve got the bath, basking spot, hideout, food bowl, and other assorted environmental furnishing done.
All in all, you’re looking at between $50-$1000+ for the Bearded Dragon itself, then upwards of $450 for the enclosure.
How Big Do Bearded Dragons Get?
Your average Beardie will grow to be around 20-24 inches in length and will weigh around 400-550 grams when it reaches full maturity. Though “Dragon” may make you think of something much larger, they are actually smaller animals than one might assume. Bearded Dragons are considered to be medium-sized reptiles.
Why Are Bearded Dragons Good Pets?
When looking for a reptile that can make a good pet, the Bearded Dragons’ easy, docile personality and predictable behavior make it an excellent choice. They are a wonderful pet for people who can provide the proper care and give it the attention it needs. Though they are simple to care for, you still need to monitor their weight and behavioral patterns in order to be able to spot if something is wrong. Their tank care may feel complicated, to begin with, but once everything is set up it is easy to maintain. They are easy to feed and easy to clean up after. The perfect pet for first-time reptile owners.