I have been asked by many of my customers to provide them with an overview of what they will need to properly take care of a bearded dragon. Your dragon is guaranteed to be completely healthy upon receipt and if you follow the guidelines below, you will be able to enjoy your dragon for many years.
When considering enclosures, remember that bearded dragons grow quickly. You will be able to start out with a 20 gallon long tank but by the time they are 6-12 months of age, they are going to require at least a 40 gallon breeder tank. Lots of bearded dragon owners prefer custom built cages. I use a variety of custom built cages here at CCD. I use some custom enclosures from BoaMaster. I really like the fact that they have the screen top so your lighting can be located outside of the cage. I also really like the hinged front door which makes getting your dragon in and out much easier than having to deal with a screen lid on a tank. Another big bonus is that your lights don’t have to be moved whenever you are taking your dragon in and out of his cage which will increase their longevity. I am also a fan of plastic cages and have bought many ABS plastic cages from DragonsRUS. Nice and lightweight and I like having the basking bulb and UVB bulb (Reptisun 10.0) all wired together. If you are looking for a really nice looking, high quality cage, check out www.showcasecages.com
For substrate, I would stick with paper towels, or newspaper for young dragons. Tile and vinyl from a home improvement store works nicely too. Once they get around 6 months of age, you can put them on very fine sand like Repti-Sand. Do not use Calci-Sand. There have been too many reports of impaction as the Calci-Sand seems to clump together when wet. Be very careful with any substrate you use. It’s best to feed your beardie its insects outside of their regular enclosure to make sure they don’t ingest anything they aren’t supposed to. I have even seen a piece of paper towel cause a problem. It just isn’t worth it.
Whatever type of enclosure you choose, KEEP IT CLEAN! I highly recommend using Chlorhexidine solution for all of your cleaning needs. It’s much easier than bleach to work with and it is just as effective. This product is sold as a concentrate and a little goes a long way. Just follow the directions on the bottle. I order my Chlorhexidine solution from the good folks at Reptile Basics. The company Natural Chemistry also makes a great product called Healthy Habitat that can be used both for spot cleaning and thorough enclosure cleaning. You should be thoroughly cleaning your enclosure once a week and spot cleaning daily. Bleach is an option for the thorough cleaning. Just make sure you rinse until you can’t smell bleach any more. Even after all that, I put everything I can in the sun to dry out.
Bearded dragons need to be provided UVB!! Obviously most of us cannot keep our dragons outside year round as much as we would like. There are a couple of good ways to provide your dragon the wavelengths he needs. You could just pick up a lower cost incandescent bulb for basking and combine that with a ReptiSun 10 for the UVB. Another option would be to go with a mercury vapor bulb. There are many manufacturers of these bulbs but I have had the most luck with the ZooMed Powersun bulb. Keep your receipt though as they may burn out before the first year is up and they have . Even though this bulb is an “all in one”, I still recommend putting at least a small fluorescent bulb on the side of your enclosure opposite the MVB bulb. These will keep the entire cage lit up nicely which dragons appreciate. Remember, 10-12 hours on.
Directly related to lighting is the very important topic of temperature. I cannot stress enough how important temperature is to your bearded dragon. Your temperature source for your dragon comes from your lighting. Your dragon should have options when it comes to the temperature it wants to be in. You need to offer a basking site which needs to be at least 100F-110F and then you need to offer an area in the enclosure that stays around 80F. Make sure you KNOW the temperatures in your enclosure. Invest in a temperature gun (I like RayTek’s guns) or a good digital thermometer. All of your beardies metabolic functions are related to temperature. Your beardies heat source should always come from above and never below. Never use under tank heaters, heating pads or hot rocks. Your dragon shouldn’t need any heat sources at night. That is unless the room in your house where the dragon’s enclosure is kept dips below 68F. If it does, you should use a ceramic heater to provide some supplemental heat.
A diet for a young bearded dragon should consist of feeding a salad once a day and whatever animal protein(crickets, small superworms, hornworms, dubia, etc) you choose twice a day. RepCal pellets are also great to offer. Here at CCD all of our dragons are started on pellets once they begin eating, so keeping them on this excellent substitute staple is easy and quite inexpensive. Opinions differ on what the exact ratio of animal protein is to plant protein (vegetables) at this age but we believe that a very balanced and varied diet is the key to a healthy and long lived dragon.
Adult bearded dragons (over 1 year of age) should have a change in diet from when they were younger. They are not growing rapidly and don’t need as much animal protein as they used to. If constantly fed the same as when they were juveniles, you will notice your dragon becoming obese, which can lead to fatty liver disease and/or renal failure. Adult dragons should be fed crickets twice a week, RepCal pellets (adult formula) four times a week while offering mixed veggies on a daily basis. With our dragons, we have also started taking off a day of feeding completely once a week.
Bearded dragons should be offered freshly cut vegetables every day. Beardies at my breeding facility receive a variety of veggies including collard greens, mustard greens, endive, spring mix (without spinach) and turnip greens. They also love hibiscus leaves and dandelions. The website, “Beautiful Dragons” has an awesome nutritional reference sheet on it. Refer to this to make sure you are feeding vegetables that are the most beneficial for your beardie. Obviously, make sure they have not been sprayed with any insecticides or herbicides. Offer your dragons greens early in the day so they have ample time to digest them. I always use a spray bottle with water and mist the greens to help ensure my dragons stay hydrated. Hydration is very important with all beardies but especially so for baby beardies under the age of 10 weeks. You can also offer water to these smaller dragons with an eye dropper or misting bottle. Just let it drip on their nose and you will see them lick it up as the water rolls down toward their mouth. Many bearded dragon owners, me included, periodically mist their dragons as well to ensure adequate hydration. Soaking your dragon in shallow warm water is also a very effective way to help keep them hydrated. Remember that dragons don’t like high humidity levels so I wouldn’t recommend keeping any water in their enclosure as that would drive up the humidity to unsafe levels.
I do not like to offer any animal protein source after 6:00PM if I can help it. Crickets seem to be the primary feeder insect and the one most readily available at your locally owned pet store. They are fine IF THEY ARE FED PROPERLY and if they are gut loaded 48 hours prior to feeding them to your dragon. Otherwise, don’t think they are getting any nutritional value out of them because they really aren’t. Many people prefer to feed Dubia roaches. There are a lot of advantages to feeding roaches to your bearded dragon. As with the cricket, it is important to feed your roaches a proper diet to ensure your dragon optimal nutrition. REMEMBER, WHAT GOES INTO YOUR FEEDER GOES INTO YOUR BEARDED DRAGON!!
Bearded Dragons can easily become impacted by eating feeder insects that are too large. Impaction can be fatal. A rule of thumb that you hear and read about a lot is not to feed your dragon any insect that is longer than the space b/w their eyes. I sort of follow this rule if I am feeding multiple insects at once. Don’t think a smaller dragon wouldn’t go after and eat a cricket much larger if it had the chance. They do and all will be okay. Just don’t give them access to more than one or two.
Some other common feeder insects are dubia, hornworms, silkworms, black soldier fly larvae, and superworms. Be careful with the superworms and don’t overdo it. I have had several customers feed their dragons “lots” of them and it has led to major problems. Offer them as a treat. DO NOT FEED ADULT MEALWORMS TO YOUR DRAGON!
Remember to dust your feeder insects with calcium (w/ D3) once a day. I like to put my insects into a Ziploc sandwich bag and get them covered nicely before offering them to the dragons. I also dust with Herptivite supplement by Rep-Cal on Sundays to get some additional vitamins and minerals into my dragons.
Some other important things to remember:
Give your dragon a bath periodically. Most enjoy it and it helps to ensure proper hydration. Most will defecate in their bath which makes clean up much easier than them doing it in their enclosure. Make sure you disinfect afterwards!
NEVER feed any insects caught around the house or in the yard. NEVER feed your bearded dragons lightning bugs (aka fireflies). They are toxic and just one will kill your beardie.
Get your dragon outside whenever temperatures allow it. Never leave them in full sun as they may overheat. Always provide a shady area and always protect them from predators.
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