Bearded Dragons are some of the most popular exotic pets in the US. They’re much easier to look after than many exotic pets, but they do still demand care and attention, and Beardies have specific dietary and environmental requirements.
This Bearded Dragon care sheet includes all of the basics to get you started, but you should definitely get one of the excellent Bearded Dragon care books that are available. There’s a lot of choice, but our favorites are:
- The Bearded Dragon Manual
- Bearded Dragons: The Essential Guide
- Bearded Dragons (Animal Planet Pet Care Library)
- Bearded Dragons (Complete Herp Care).
Bearded Dragon Size
Most adult Bearded Dragons will be in the region of 16″-24″ long when fully grown, with males usually a few inches longer than females.
Bearded Dragon Lifespan
The average life expectancy of a Bearded Dragon in captivity is around a decade, but a few will live as long as 12-13 years.
Bearded Dragon Tank
As medium-sized reptiles, Bearded Dragons need a reasonable amount of space to move around and should never be kept in a tank smaller than 40 gallons. This is the bare minimum: 55 gallons or above is preferable. The vivarium must have a secure screen lid, which gives better ventilation and helps to regulate humidity.
We always recommend the Exo Terra All Glass Terrarium. It’s a very popular choice and is an absolutely perfect Bearded Dragon tank. Make sure you get the ‘large wide’ version – the other sizes are not appropriate for an adult Bearded Dragon. If you’re getting a young Bearded Dragon, the ‘small wide’ tank will be great, but obviously you’ll need to upgrade later on.
If you don’t mind spending a little extra and want to get everyone talking, you could always go for the Carolina Custom Cage 24D, complete with cognac cherry front panel! This is definitely the luxury option, but it looks fantastic and only costs $65 more than the Exo Terra Glass Terrarium.
Reptile carpet (like Zilla Terrarium Liner) makes an excellent substrate that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to clean, while newspaper and paper towels have the latter benefit but not the former. ReptiSand is a great alternative (or even play sand from a hardware store), but this should be avoided for young Beardies. Young and inexperienced animals are likely to accidentally ingest large quantities of the sand, which can lead to potentially fatal impaction i.e. blocked intestines. For the same reason, crushed walnut shell, wood shavings, coconut fibre and corn cob would all make very poor and possibly dangerous substrates. Using reptile carpet or sand, the substrate can be spot cleaned whenever necessary, and then a full and thorough clean-out will only be needed around once per month.
As adept and capable climbers, Beardies will enjoy a few rocks, logs and branches placed around their cage, including a large rock in the basking area. A few fake plants can also be added to make things look nice, but they should be removed if you notice your pet trying to eat them, as plastic is not easily digested! A hide retreat is used by some owners to give a secure little den, but other owners prefer to simply provide extra shelter from well-placed logs or bark.
Bearded Dragon Temperature
These cold-blooded creatures like it hot! Your tank will need a significant temperature gradient so that your Beardie can regulate its own temperature. The hot end of the tank should be maintained at between 100F-110F during the day, with the ‘cool’ end resting at 80F-85F. Overnight you can allow the temperature to drop significantly, but it should never be below 65F anywhere in the tank.
Whatever you use, it must be fitted to a thermostat and you should monitor the temperature at different points in the tank on a regular basis – too hot is just as bad as too cold. (Note that ceramic heat emitters and mercury vapor bulbs should be fitted with a ceramic socket.) The best option for most people is to get a combo lamp fixture like the Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture.
Of course you’ll also need a reliable terrarium thermometer to keep a close eye on the tank temperature.
Bearded Dragon Lighting
UVA and UVB light are essential for Bearded Dragons, which will suffer a range of problems if they don’t get enough of it. Some of these health problems are irreversible and potentially fatal. So lighting is important!
Specially designed fluorescent tubes are widely used and should run the full length of the tank, preferably with a reflector behind so that your Beardies can get all the UV radiation being produced. Some brands have unfortunately been linked to various eye problems and other health issues, but the ZooMed ReptiSun 10.0 fluorescent UVB tube is excellent and appears to be free from these concerns. Mercury vapor bulbs supply both heat and UV light and are also widely used for this reason. The lights should be left on for about 12 hours per day, with no artificial lighting overnight.
Bearded Dragon Diet
The most complicated part of Bearded Dragon care is food, as different age groups need different amounts of different foods with different frequencies. Gut-loaded crickets should always be the staple food source, with young Beardies needing more insects than older individuals.
A varied diet is good, but juvenile Bearded Dragons will not cope with many of the live foods you can give to adults, including earthworms, silk worms, mealworms, waxworms (only as a treat), locusts and so on. Some adults will take pinky mice very occasionally.
Note that you should never feed your Bearded Dragon insects you’ve caught outside as they may well contain dangerous parasites or be contaminated by pesticides. In addition, some insects are poisonous to Beardies, most notably lightning bugs. Any food you give your Beardie should be no wider than the distance between their eyes, or else they will struggle to digest it properly and in rare cases may even suffer partial paralysis.
Greens make up the other important part of a Bearded Dragon diet, and they should form a larger proportion of the nutritional intake for adults than for young Beardies. The list of suitable fruit and veg is long, as is the list of unsuitable options. See the link below for an extensive and highly informative chart covering almost every kind of green you can think of.
Rep-Cal Reptile Calcium Powder with Vitamin D3, 3.3ozThe final thing to mention is vitamin supplementation. Captive Beardies will not get all of the vitamins and calcium they need, so a reptile calcium supplement (containing vitamin D3 but not phosphorus) should be dusted over food regularly, with a specially formulated reptile multivitamin given in the same way but less frequently. Rep-cal products fill this role perfectly. Again, different age groups have different supplement requirements, which is all laid out in the excellent link mentioned above.
Bearded Dragon Water
As reptiles from arid environments, Beardies have evolved to cope without a lot of water, but they do still need some. A small shallow water bowl should be refilled every day, even if your Bearded Dragons don’t appear to be using it. You can also lightly spray some of the greens you feed your Beardies, which will help to keep them hydrated.
You should soak your Beardie about three times per week, but some owners don’t. The bath should last for around 15-20 minutes and you need to treat it as if you were bathing a small child – warm water (not too hot) and don’t leave your Bearded Dragon alone. The water should only ever be chest deep, unless your Beardies are used to baths and enjoy swimming, in which case you can make the water a little deeper so long as you don’t take your eyes off them for a second. It’s wise to disinfect your bath afterwards, especially as many Beardies will defecate when they bathe.
Handling Bearded Dragons
One of the biggest selling points of Bearded Dragons is how readily handled they are compared to many other reptiles. The vast majority of Beardies on the market are captive-bred and used to being handled. You’ll probably be able to handle your pet within a few days of getting it (never in the first couple of days as it’s likely to be unsettled and nervous). Once your Bearded Dragon is used to you and has got to know you, they seem to enjoy regular interaction and can even be handled by young children under supervision.
We hope our Bearded Dragon care sheet has answered all your questions on Bearded Dragon care, but if you think there’s anything we’ve missed, please let us know. If you’ve got any further questions, send us a message or check out the books linked at the top of the page (or click the picture to the right).