Are you considering keeping a bearded dragon as a pet? If so, you probably know that reptiles like they have very particular care needs. Many new bearded dragon owners find themselves with an unhappy or unwell pet if they don't have the right diet, routines and environment set up for their scaly friend. Because of this, here our Johns Creek vets provide a basic guide to caring for a bearded dragon, covering everything from their diet to their ideal routines.
Like all reptiles, bearded dragons have a reputation for having particular care needs, from their diet to their socialization and habitat. However, bearded dragons can be quite a bit easier to care for than other reptile pets like turtles or snakes because of their good temperament and docile nature. This makes bearded dragon care potentially a very rewarding pet to care for and keep in your home for people who love the scalier side of the animal kingdom.
Here, our Johns Creek veterinary team explains some of the things any new owner of a bearded dragon should keep in mind when planning the care, for their scaled companion.
Bearded dragons are medium-sized lizards (often between 20 and 24 inches long, with males being a little bigger than females) with a characteristic scruff of spikey scales around their neck that gives their their "beard." These lizards are native to Australia and have become increasingly popular as pets since the 1990s.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous and in their natural habitat live on their own in a number of different environments including shrublands, woodlands, the ocean shore and subtropical areas. Bearded dragons have a reputation for being hardy for a reptile, making them a more forgiving pet for first-time reptile pet parents.
With that being said, new bearded dragon owners have a number of questions about how to care for their bearded dragon. And our vets are here to answer them.
What Is a Bearded Dragon's Diet?
The best bearded dragon diet for your pet will likely be a diverse one. Since they are omnivores, they eat both plants and animals and can dine on a wide range of food, from live mealworms, kingworms and crickets to greens such as parsley and kale and vegetables like pepper and sweet potato. You can even give them limited amounts of fruit. Today, we'll share a number of veggies, meat, weeds, greens and fruits that can make up a bearded dragon's diet.
Your beardie's age will factor into what they should eat; the typical baby bearded dragon diet list should be comprised of 80% bugs and 20% plants, with the caveat that some owners have issues with persuading their dragons to eat any vegetables at all when they are young. This ratio is nearly flipped for the adult bearded dragon, whose diet should be made up of 80% plants and 20% insects and bugs.
Let your dragon determine how much they should eat by allowing them to eat for a certain time - 10 minutes when they're given insects. Remove uneaten insects at the end of the 10-minute mark.
For fruits and vegetables, leave them in your dragon's enclosure only for approximately 30 minutes, which allows your dragon enough time to have its fill but prevents overfeeding. This also ensures leftover food doesn't grow moldy.
The following are some of the foods that are safe to feed your bearded dragon:
- Asparagus (Raw)
- Butternut squash
- Yellow squash
- Acorn squash
There are many other foods that are suitable to feed your bearded dragon. Ask your vet what diet they suggest for your scaly companion.
What Kind of Habitat Does A Bearded Dragon Need?
Bearded dragons need a habitat that is large enough to keep them comfortable, ranging from 40+ gallons for 10-16 inch lizards to 75+ gallons for dragons over 20 inches. This habitat can be made from glass or clear plastic. There are many suitable options for your scaly companion's house in your home.
Like all reptiles, bearded dragons are cold-blooded. This means that unlike humans and other mammals, they don't generate their own heat in their body. This means that your bearded dragon will need lots of full-spectrum light and heat to help simulate their natural environment while in their tank.
Regardless of your bearded dragon's size, you will need to ensure you have both full-spectrum lights that you can keep on between 12 and 14 hours each day, and a dedicated heat lamp (also called a basking bulb) that you can set up in their habitat. You will need a thermometer setup to monitor the temperature as well, to help make sure your companion doesn't get too hot or too cold.
Your bearded dragon will also need some options for sheltered areas in their habitat where they can't be seen. This will help your reptilian friend remain comfortable and keep their privacy when they want it. And, while many options exist for the substrate of your tank (what you fill it with to serve as its floor), "natural" fill like sand or wood chips can hurt young bearded dragons if they swallow it with their food.
If possible, reptile carpet or some other safer substrate option is probably best for first-time owners, while those more experienced with bearded dragons will have a better sense of what works and doesn't for their pets at different life stages.
What Behaviors and Temperaments Are Cause For Concern?
When caring for a bearded dragon, there are many different, and somewhat bizarre behaviors they will display. Some are routine and to be expected from your scaly companion, while other may be a cause for concern. These include:
- "Glass Surfing" - This behavior is so named, because when a dragon does it, they often looks like a surfer trying to keep their balance on a wave. Your dragon will often get up on their hind legs and scrabble at the glass of their enclosure, trying to climb it. There are a whole host of reasons why your bearded dragon may be glass surfing. They may see the reflection and think it's another lizard, they may want to find a place with more privacy than their habitat to hide, or they may be more or uncomfortable.
- Arm Waving - This behavior is named this because it is what it sounds like: your bearded dragon will wave their arm in their air. Sometimes it will be obvious this is what your companion is doing, and other times it will look like they are winding up to take a step as they move their arm back and forth barely above the ground. It's often thought that this behavior is meant to show bigger creatures that the lizard notices them in the wild, is a submissive behavior or is a mating behavior.
- Head Bobbing - This behavior involves your bearded dragon bobbing their head up and down repeatedly. It is commonly associated with a mating urge and is much more common in male bearded dragons.
If your reptilian companion is showing any of the above behaviors and is not stopping, take stock of their habitat and routine. If you don't notice anything wrong, contact your vet. They will be able to give you advice on why your pet is showing an abnormal behavior and isn't stopping.