Bearded Dragons are undoubtly the #1 pet lizard in the world. One of the reasons why they are so popular is because they are extremely friendly. They make excellent pets for kids and are great companions. But they do have some complex nutritional and environment requirements. This guide provides information and tips on how to take care of a Bearded Dragon.
- Bearded Dragon Facts
- Bearded Dragon Growth Chart
- Buying Bearded Dragons
- Housing & Habitat
- How to Take Care of A Bearded Dragon – Common Health Problems
- Play Activities
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Bearded Dragon Facts
Here’s some quick Bearded Dragon facts:
- The scientific name of a Bearded Dragon is Pogona.
- When a Bearded Dragon feels threatened, they push their throat skin forward, giving the appearance of a “beard”.
- Bearded Dragons are native to Australia.
- There are 9 different species of bearded dragons.
- The average captive lifespan of a Bearded Dragon is 10 years. In the wild they live for 5-8 years.
- Bearded Dragons have a third parietal eye. It looks like an oddly colored scale at the top of their skull.
- Bearded Dragons are prolific breeders; laying up to 20 eggs at a time.
- The sex of a Bearded Dragon embryo can be changed by the incubation temperature.
- Bearded dragons produce a mild venom which can harm small animals.
Bearded Dragon Growth Chart
There are 4 age categories for Bearded Dragons:
|Baby / Hatchling||0 – 2 months|
|Juvenile||3 – 11 months|
|Early Adult||12 – 18 months|
|Adult||> 18 months|
A Bearded Dragon can grow up to 18 – 22 inches (45 – 56 cm) long. Most Bearded Dragons will stop growing at 18 months of age. Here’s a growth chart for the Central Bearded Dragon species. Note the tail makes up about half the length. So a 22 inches long Bearded Dragon is about 11 inches long from head to vent (the anus).
|Age (Months)||Length (Inches)|
|0 – 1 months||3 – 4 inches|
|2 months||5 – 9 inches|
|3 months||8 – 11 inches|
|4 months||9 – 12 inches|
|5 months||11 – 16 inches|
|6 months||11 – 18 inches|
|8 months||13 – 20 inches|
|12 months||16 – 22 inches|
|18 months||18 – 22 inches|
Buying Bearded Dragons
You can buy Bearded Dragons from breeders, pet stores, rescue shelters and online.
The Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona Vitticeps) is the most common species to have as a pet.
Choosing a Bearded Dragon
For your first Bearded Dragon, I recommend you adopt an adult Bearded Dragon because they’re easier to keep.
If you can, do a quick health check and look out for:
- missing body parts
- injuries / wounds
- mouth infections
- droopy eyes
- poor alertness
How Much Does A Bearded Dragon Cost?
Owning a Bearded Dragon requires a substantial investment upfront. A lot of special equipment is needed to mimic their natural habitat. The cost of everything is > $500 USD. There’s also ongoing costs which include electricity, live insects and maintenance e.g. replacement light bulbs.
Housing & Habitat
The natural habitat of Bearded Dragons is bushland, woodland and desert areas. You will need to setup up a home for a Bearded Dragon in order to look after them. Try to mimic their natural environment as much as possible.
Here’s a short list of everything you might need to setup a home for a Bearded Dragon:
- an enclosure
- substrate (e.g. paper towels / newspaper / ceramic tile etc…)
- basking light
- UV light
- programmable timer
- basking platform e.g. tree branch
- hideout / cave
- feeding dish
- water bowl
There are 4 types of enclosures for Bearded Dragons:
- Glass terrarium – cheap, aesthetic, heavy, poor insulation
- Melamine cages (type of wood) – expensive and heavy
- PVC cages (type of plastic) – professional, lightweight and easy to clean
- Vision cages (molded plastic) – professional and very expensive
- Custom enclosure
You’ll probably want to get a glass terrarium as it’s cheap and popular. Remember to cover off the back and sides using black poster board or newspaper for example.
The tank size is very important. A small tank can limit growth. The ideal tank size for a Bearded Dragon is 48″ x 24″ x 24″. The absolute minimum size is 36″ x 18″ x 18″. You can use smaller tanks for younger Bearded Dragons. But it wont take long until you’ll need to upgrade.
For two Bearded Dragons, you’ll need a bigger tank. Do not put put more than one male in a tank. And females should not be housed with males until 2 years of age.
Product Reviews & Comparisons
We’ve done an big article on the best Bearded Dragon enclosure with reviews and product comparisons etc…. Here’s a quick summary:
*Price Range (comparing similar dimensions):
- Low $ < $300 USD
- Medium $$ <= $ 500 USD
- High $$$ > $500 USD.
Bedding / Substrate
When setting up your enclosure, you’ll need to choose some bedding or substrate to use as flooring. The main substrate used are:
- paper towels
- ceramic or vinyl tiles
- reptile cage carpet
- non adhesive shelf liner
Do not use sand as substrate for juvenile Bearded Dragons as they might eat it. This can cause impaction issues. You’ll need to regularly clean or replace substrate.
Bearded dragons are cold blooded animals. They come from hot and dry climates. So Bearded Dragons have particular temperature requirements.
You will need to buy a heat lamp and bulb to create a basking area for your Bearded Dragon. This is where your Bearded Dragon will go to warm up. An incandescant 100W light bulb does the job. I recommend you get he Exo Terra Sun-Glo Basking Tight Beam Bulb.
Your enclosure should have a gradient temperature range with a hot and cold zone. Baby and juvenile Bearded Dragons need slightly warmer temperatures for basking.
|Basking Area||Cool Down Area|
|Baby||95°F – 110°F (35°C – 44°C)||80°F – 90°F (27°C – 32°C)|
|Juvenile||95°F – 100°F (35°C – 44°C)||80°F – 90°F (27°C – 32°C)|
|Adult||90°F – 93°F or (32°C -34°C)||80°F – 90°F (27°C – 32°C)|
Turn off the basking light at night time. If your house temperature gets below 80°F over night then you’ll need some supplemental heat for night time. A ceramic heater or an under tank heater are suitable at night time if required. You can also get night time bulbs for heat with less light. Don’t use heat rocks as these can overheat and burn the undersides of your Bearded Dragon.
Reptiles need ultraviolet (UV) light to live healthy lifestyles. Bearded Dragons require about 12-14 hours of full spectrum UV light each day.
Bearded Dragons need UVB 10 strength light. UVB is incredibly important for Bearded Dragons to absorb calcium. Make sure your entire enclosure is lit up during the day. Light bulbs need to placed in a protective cage or tube as they can get hot and burn your Bearded Dragon.
I recommend you use a programmable timer to manage the day and night light cycles.
Add some decorations into the enclosure so your Bearded Dragon will feel more at home. Here are some ideas:
- Hideouts, caves, huts etc… Paver stones are great to use to create caves.
- Wood branches / tree bark for perching. Keep it minimal. Boil wood before adding to kill off any bad bacteria.
- Background and rock walls made out of molded styrofoam and plastic
- Fake plants e.g. cactus, desert brush etc… Some plants are poisonous so be careful.
You’ll also need some accessories to help you along the way:
- Covers and lids. A secure wire mesh lid is fine.
- A reptile thermometer / infrared temperature gun – avoid adhesive thermometers as these are unreliable
- Humidity gauge
- UVB meter
- Feeding dish / bowl for containing live insects
- Water dish / bowl or reservoir – may create unwanted himidity
- Cleaning materials
Bearded Dragons eat both live insects and native plants. A Bearded Dragons diet will depend on age. Younger Bearded Dragons need to eat more protein – 80% protein and 20% plants. And as they get older this becomes 20% protein and 80% plants.
You can find live insects from your local pet store. You will need to mix calcium and multivitamin supplements in their feed.
Soak or mist juvenile Bearded Dragons once a day and then once a week as they reach adulthood.
The Food List
|Foods to Add||Foods to Avoid|
Here are some behaviours you may observe:
- Arm wave – Sign of submission
- Head bob – Show of dominance
- Mouth open – Just cooling down
- Head puff / Black beard – Feels threatened or distresed
- Glass surfing – Feels stressed or bored
- Inactive & not eating – Probably hibernating (also known as Brumation)
- Shedding skin – Twice a year for Adults and more often for younger Bearded Dragons
What is Bearded Dragon Brumation?
In the wild, a Bearded Dragon will hibernate in the cooler months. This routine is called brumation for reptiles. When a Bearded Dragon hibernates, they are less active, may sleep for days and not eat as much. Brumation typically occurs after 1 years of age. Brumation is not always observed in captivity. This is because the temperature in an enclosure is always controlled and the food is always available.
How to Take Care of A Bearded Dragon – Common Health Problems
Here’s a list of common Bearded Dragon health problems and how to solve them:
|Impaction – a digestive system blockage||Eating well but not defecating||Gently massage stomach and give them a bath to encourage bowel movement.|
|Parasite or worms||Regular diarrhea and weight loss||Deworming medications|
|Dehydration||Sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, loss of appetite and lethargy||Provide water or diluted electrolyte near their head for convenient drinking. You can also spray them or drip water on their nose.|
|Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) – weakening of the bones caused by a poor diet||Bumps, swollen jaw, twitches and jerky movements||Proper diet, calcium supplements and injections of vitamin D3. Full spectrum lighting must be provided.|
|Respiratory infection||Discharge from eyes, nose or mouth, beathing difficulties, gaping mouth, loss of appetite and lethargy||Seek advice from a veterinarian.|
|Mouth rot||Swollen mouth, loose teeth, loss of appetite and thick mucus around mouth||Seek advice from a veterinarian. Typically requires antibiotics and rinsing the mouth with antiseptic.|
Here’s a easy ways to interact and play with your Bearded Dragon:
- Give them a bath / swimming
- Let them go for a walk on a leash
- Play ball
- Feed insects using tweezers
- Add a mirror – only expose a few times a day and cover up for the rest of the day
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
An adult bearded Dragon can last anywhere between a few weeks to 3 months without food. Baby Bearded Dragons require lots of protein to grow and are unable to survive without food every day.
The most common species of Bearded Dragon, Pogona Vitticeps, grows 18 to 24 inches long and can weigh 10 to 18 ounces.
The average lifespan of a Bearded Dragon in captivity is 10 years. And 5 to 8 years in the wild.
If you are in Australia, you will need a license to keep a Bearded Dragon as a pet. Generally no licenes are needed in other countries – but you should check.
There has been some confirmed cases of salmonella poisoning from handling Bearded Dragons. But this is extremely rare.
Bearded Dragons need to be fed once a day.
Here’s some of my favourite Bearded Dragon websites which also contain articles on how to take care of a Bearded Dragon:
You can also connect with other Bearded Dragon enthusiasts on Reddit. People on Reddit are more than eager to help you with any odd questions on Bearded Dragon care. https://www.reddit.com/r/BeardedDragons/
Bearded Dragons are amazing animals and make great pets. Once you’ve overcome the initial setup costs, you wont look back! They’re easy to care for and their peculiar behaviour never stops to entertain. I hope his guide has helped you to learn the basics of how to take care of a Bearded Dragon.