Updated: Oct 3, 2021
Longevity: 10-15 years
Temperature Gradient: 100-110f (37-43c) in basking area with temperatures of around 80f (26c) in the cool end (100f for babies, 110f for adults)
Cleaning: Spot clean daily, full clean whenever necessary depending on your choice of substrate
The Bearded Dragons natural range extends across most of Australia, where it can be found inhabiting not only desert areas but savannah, subtropical woodlands and scrubland. They are diurnal, meaning that they are most active during the day and are often found basking on rocks, log piles and even fence posts. When it gets too hot, they will find somewhere shaded and cool to hide away. In the wild they are an opportunistic feeder eating not only plant matter, but a wide variety of insects and occasionally even other lizards and small mammals. Their breeding season in Australia usually occurs from September to March, with periods of brumation (a hibernation like state) occurring in the winter months. However in captivity in the UK, they pick up on our daylight hours and air pressures and breed and brumate accordingly with our summer and winter periods.
There are a few different members of the pogona genus, but the one commonly found in the pet trade is the Inland Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps.
Wild bearded dragons are usually brown and tan with some yellow and orange markings but selective breeding in captivity has so far seen many different 'morphs'. Variations can be found in not only bodily colouration and patterning, but also eye and nail colour and even differing scale types.
Bearded Dragons are by far one of the most popular pet reptiles and this is mainly because they are usually very friendly and easy to handle. They make perfect beginner reptiles as they are out and about during the day and will happily sit out in the open basking. When combining all their attributes, the bearded dragon ticks most of the boxes for anyone looking to keep a pet reptile.
Bearded Dragons usually reach adult lengths of 16-24 inches including their tail. A vivarium of 120 x 60 x 60cm (4 x 2 x 2ft) will be required as a minimum in order to provide them with enough space to display natural behaviours. Young bearded dragons grow extremely quickly and will usually attain their adult size by the time they are around 18 months old. We do not recommend nor sell smaller vivariums for babies or juveniles, as they are more active than adults and therefore even whilst young, will benefit from the space a 4 x 2 x 2ft vivarium offers.
Well ventilated, reptile specific glass or wooden vivariums can both be used successfully, providing that the correct temperature gradients are maintained using the appropriate, guarded heat sources, thermostats and thermometers. Basking and hiding areas will be required to ensure your dragon can thermoregulate and choose where it is most comfortable within the hot or cool side of the vivarium at any given time. It also needs have areas where it can access the UVB light and then be fully hidden away from it should it choose to. Always situate the vivarium away from direct sunlight and draughty areas.
Impaction is a fairly common problem seen within captive lizards. An impaction is caused when an animal swallows something which becomes stuck in the gut, causing an obstruction. The most common culprits for causing this often lethal problem, are particulate substrates such as sand, calci-sand and beech chips. It is recommended in order to significantly decrease the risk of impaction, to avoid particulate substrates with babies altogether and instead use reptile carpet, newspaper or paper towels. Sand in a small bearded dragons intestinal tract will not pass through as easily as it would in an adults. Reptile carpet is easily cleaned as it can be hand washed using a reptile suitable disinfectant such as F10 which contains no dyes or perfumes. Paper towels or newspaper can be quickly and easily changed and are undoubtedly the most hygienic way in which to keep a reptile. Newspaper and paper towel are also the best choice of substrate should you ever have a convalescing or quarantined reptile, as everything is disposed of and replaced. It is also easy when using these types of substrates to keep an eye out for things such as mites and to collect stool samples, which are recommended to be checked annually for internal parasites. For a large juvenile or adult, a more naturalistic substrate is recommended and sand may be used. We recommend completely avoiding beech chips fur this species.
A hot spot (basking area) of 100-110f (37-43c) should be provided on one side of the vivarium, with cooler temperatures at the cool end being maintained at around 80f (26c) during the day. Babies being smaller, heat up much quicker than adults therfore need their basking temperature at the cooler end of the gradient, contrary to bad advise on the Internet stating that babies prefer it hotter. Night-time temperatures should be allowed to drop to around 68f (20c). Having these hot and cold areas within the vivarium will allow your pet to 'thermoregulate', choosing to move freely in and out of the heat. Allowing the temperatures to drop at night will provide your pet with a clear day and night cycle, encouraging their natural behaviours. Heat bulbs and heat mats can be used to achieve the necessary temperatures, however they must be guarded and used in conjunction with a suitable thermostat. Thermostats ensure that heat sources reach and maintain the recommended temperatures within the hot and cold areas thus allowing your pet to metabolise correctly. Guarding of the heat sources is an especially important (and often overlooked) aspect of a vivarium set up providing safety for your pet. Unguarded heat sources which are not thermostatically controlled, lead to many vets seeing and treating pet reptiles with burns which could have easily been prevented. Young bearded dragons being smaller heat up much more quickly than older, larger bearded dragons. Therefore, it recommended to keep the basking area at 100f for younger, smaller dragons and then gradually increase the basking temperature as your dragon increases in size, until it has a basking spot of 110f as an adult.
With this species of lizard being diurnal and found actively basking in the wild, they are naturally subjected to higher levels of UVB. A Ferguson Zone 3 (10-12%) T8 or T5 strip bulb should be used with a reflector, to ensure that your pet can benefit from the same levels of UVB they would have in the wild. Like us, a reptiles skin is responsible for producing vitamin D. Upon providing your pet with UVB, you are recreating its natural exposure to sunlight whereby the UV penetrates the skin. Under the influence of the correct temperatures within the vivarium, it allows the pro vitamin D3 which your reptile has produced to change to pre vitamin D3. It is impossible for the body to absorb and use calcium without Vitamin D. It is recommended to provide your pet with a natural way of creating D3 alongside supplementation, to prevent against commonly seen and preventable diseases such and MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) and calcium deficiency. At the time of writing, T5 strip tubes are by far the most superior way of providing your pet with the UVB it requires.
Bearded Dragons do not require high levels of humidity and they can fall victim to respiratory issues if kept in humid or inadequately ventilated enclosures for long periods of time. You can spray your bearded dragon (just the dragon itself, not the entire enclosure) in the morning to mimic morning dew and aid in hydration, but ensure that you spray just enough so that it will have fully evaporated within half an hour.
Young bearded dragons will require daily feeds of appropriately sized insects, juveniles 4-6 times a week and adults can be fed 3-4 times a week. The general rule is to offer live food no bigger than the gap between his/her eyes. Live food should always be dusted with a good quality straight calcium supplement. Excessive use of supplements containing D3 has been known to cause hypervitaminosis as a reptile cannot get rid of synthetic vitamins like it can naturally metabolised ones. Live food should always be gut loaded before being fed to your reptile and a good variety of different types of livefood should be offered, as certain livefood are devoid of certain vitamins. So the best way in which to ensure your reptile is getting as many vitamins as possible is to provide a good variety of well gutloaded livefood. In the wild the insects a lizard eats will in turn have been off eating its own food, resulting in both fresh and partially digested food in the insect gut. Your reptile will benefit from these extra nutrients. Fish food, crushed dog/cat biscuits and fresh fruit and vegetables can all be offered to your crickets, mealworms and morio worms. Locusts prefer a good variety of fresh leafy greens (bramble plantain and dandelions are as good as any) and waxworms will only eat a honey-based feed. Recipes for waxworm feed can be found online and this can be made in bulk, frozen and thawed. Bearded dragons should be offered fresh plant matter every day and this should mainly consist of dark leafy greens such as spring greens (naturally high in calcium), kale, dandelions and mustard greens. Other things such as rose petals, hibiscus flowers, pansies, wild violets and other edible flowers and very occasionally, treats such as grated squash, peppers and fruit can be offered.
A bowl of fresh, clean drinking water should always be provided and refreshed daily. Ensure your dish is not too large as with the temperatures bearded dragons require, a large water dish may create too much humidity. Filtered water and spring water can be offered. As previously mentioned, you can spray your dragon in the morning to mimic morning dew and regular bathing is also recommended. Young bearded dragons benefit from daily baths, as being small they heat up more quickly and desiccate more easily. Adults can be bathed twice weekly, but it is advised if you notice your pet going into shed, to bathe more regularly again as they need more moisture at this time. Give your beardie the opportunity to jump out his bath if he doesn't want it. Beardies rehydrate is by drinking water orally, but they tend not to notice standing water, so making the water move whilst bathing can encourage your dragon to drink.
Regular cleaning or your pets enclosure is of course a very important aspect which will ensure your pets health. Daily ‘spot cleaning’ of the enclosure will be necessary to remove any faeces etc. Full cleaning of the enclosure where the substrate is removed,
and the decoration is thoroughly cleaned, should also happen on a regular basis. When cleaning the décor or glass, use a reptile suitable disinfectant such as F10 which contains no dyes or perfumes. Ensure fresh clean water is always available to your pet. Food bowls and water dishes should be disinfected and wiped daily.
As previously mentioned, a quality calcium supplement will be needed to be used to coat the live food and vegetables before it is offered to your reptile. There are many different types of supplement available on the market. This can be very confusing, but as long as you are providing the highest quality UVB and changing this according to the manufacturers recommendations, alongside feeding your reptile a good varied diet including well gutloaded insects, the only supplement you will need is a straight calcium carbonate powder with no extra added vitamins. This is essential in preventing against metabolic bone disease (MBD). You can feed a reptile as much calcium as it'll happily eat, but unless it has D3 either made naturally under the influence of its UVB light, or artificially in the form of supplementation, your reptile will be unable to absorb its calcium. It is much better for your reptile to be able to metabolise D3 naturally under the influence of a good UVB light, than to be given artificial D3 in the form of supplements. If you feel your beardie is fussy and won't eat as much of a varied diet as you seem fit, it won't hurt to use a multivitamin supplement a couple of times week.
This species does not mind regular handling and they are best handled when they would naturally be awake. Take care not to pick up or squeeze your bearded dragon around its middle or ribs, instead gently use one hand and go under its chest and arms and the other to support the back legs and tail base.
An annual vet check is recommended so that a qualified, reptile specialist vet can give your pet a thorough examination. Your reptile can pick up internal parasites from their live food and vegetables, therefore it is advisable to take along a fresh stool sample with you to your annual vet consultation so this can be lab checked for internal parasites. As previously mentioned, a regular (at least weekly but ideally daily) health check should be done at home to ensure that none of the following are observed:
Prolonged failure to feed
Dull, sunken eyes, or discharge of the eyes
Discharge or bubbles from the nostrils
Redness, swelling, scabs or discharge from in or around the mouth
Gasping, popping or wheezing when breathing
Redness, swelling, lumps or open wounds anywhere on the body
Dirt or discharge around the vent
If any of the above or other signs of illness are noticed, either contact us here at Riverview Reptiles (if you purchased your animal from us) or contact a reptile specialist veterinarian for further advise.
We encourage all pet keepers to practise the responsible pet ownership obligations as per the Animal Welfare Act 2006
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch!