Ultimate Bearded Dragon Guide

Ultimate Bearded Dragon Guide

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 nutitional and environment requirements. This guide aims to help you learn how to get started with keeping a Bearded Dragon.

Bearded Dragon Facts

Here’s some quick Bearded Dragon facts:

  1. The scientific name of a Bearded Dragon is Pogona.
  2. When a Bearded Dragon feels threatened, they push their throat skin forward, giving the appearance of a “beard”.
  3. Bearded Dragons are native to Australia.
  4. There are 9 different species of bearded dragons.
  5. The average captive lifespan of a Bearded Dragon is 10 years. In the wild they live for 5-8 years.
  6. Bearded Dragons have a third parietal eye. It looks like an oddly colored scale at the top of their skull.
  7. Bearded Dragons are prolific breeders; laying up to 20 eggs at a time.
  8. The sex of a Bearded Dragon embryo can be changed by the incubation temperature.
  9. Bearded dragons produce a mild venom which can harm small animals.

Bearded Dragon Growth Chart

There are 4 age categories for Bearded Dragons:

Baby / Hatchling0 – 2 months
Juvenile3 – 11 months
Early Adult12 – 18 months
Adult> 18 months
Age categories for Bearded Dragons

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 months3 – 4 inches
2 months5 – 9 inches
3 months8 – 11 inches
4 months9 – 12 inches
5 months11 – 16 inches
6 months11 – 18 inches
8 months13 – 20 inches
12 months16 – 22 inches
18 months18 – 22 inches
Bearded Dragon growth chart

Buying Bearded Dragons

Central Bearded Dragon
Central Bearded Dragon
Source: kellyvillepets.com.au

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

A young juvenile 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. When setting up a home for a Bearded Dragon, 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 your 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

Enclosure

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:

Name Image Price Range* Tank Size Description
Exo Terra Natural Large Low $ 36″ x 18″ x choose height 12″, 18″ 24″ or 36″ Large glass terrarium with front window ventilation, hinged doors and raised bottom.
Critter Condo Medium $$ 48″ x 24″ x 24″ Wide PVC and foam terrarium with in-built lights, thermometer, hydrometer and sliding doors.
Repti Zoo Medium $$ Range of models and sizes Wide glass terrarium with opening front doors and a raised bottom frame.
Carolina Custom Cages High $$$ Range of models and sizes Large custom glass terrariums with sliding or hinged front doors.

*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:

  • sand
  • newspaper
  • 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.

Heating

Bearded dragons are cold blooded animals. They come from hot and dry climates. So they have particular heating 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 AreaCool Down Area
Baby95°F – 110°F (35°C – 44°C)80°F – 90°F (27°C – 32°C)
Juvenile95°F – 100°F (35°C – 44°C)80°F – 90°F (27°C – 32°C)
Adult90°F – 93°F or (32°C -34°C)80°F – 90°F (27°C – 32°C)
Temperature guide for Bearded Dragon enclosures

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.

Lighting

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.

Decor

Bearded Dragon resting on tree bark

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.

Accessories

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
  • Hammock
  • Cleaning materials

Feeding

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.

How Often Should You Feed Your Bearded Dragon?

Bearded Dragons need to be fed once a day.

The Food List

Foods to AddFoods to Avoid
Popular insects:
  • Black Soldier Fly Larvae
  • Butterworms
    Crickets
  • Dubia Roaches
  • Earthworms
  • Locusts
  • Redworms
  • Mealworm

Plants:
  • Greens – kale, parsley, zucchini and beans
  • Papaya – remove the seeds, chop up finely
  • Carrots – grated
  • Broccoli – in moderation
  • Random insects you find
  • Avocado
  • Rhubarb
  • Fireflies (or other insects which glow)
  • Poisonous plants e.g. tobacco, daffodil
  • Lettuce – can cause diarrhoea
  • Beetroot and spinach – increases calcium uptake

Behaviour

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.

Common Health Problems

Here’s a list of common Bearded Dragon health problems and how to solve them:

ProblemSymptomsSolutions
Impaction – a digestive system blockageEating well but not defecatingGently massage stomach and give them a bath to encourage bowel movement.
Parasite or worms Regular diarrhea and weight lossDeworming medications
DehydrationSunken eyes, wrinkled skin, loss of appetite and lethargyProvide 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 dietBumps, swollen jaw, twitches and jerky movementsProper diet, calcium supplements and injections of vitamin D3. Full spectrum lighting must be provided.
Respiratory infectionDischarge from eyes, nose or mouth, beathing difficulties, gaping mouth, loss of appetite and lethargySeek advice from a veterinarian.
Mouth rotSwollen mouth, loose teeth, loss of appetite and thick mucus around mouthSeek advice from a veterinarian. Typically requires antibiotics and rinsing the mouth with antiseptic.
Common Bearded Dragon health problems

Play Activities

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)

How Long Can A Bearded Dragon Go Without Food?

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.

How Big Can A Bearded Dragon Get?

The most common species of Bearded Dragon, Pogona Vitticeps, grows 18 to 24 inches long and can weigh 10 to 18 ounces.

What Is the Average Lifepan of a Bearded Dragon?

The average lifespan of a Bearded Dragon in captivity is 10 years. And 5 to 8 years in the wild.

Do You Need A License to Keep A Bearded Dragon?

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.

Can I Get Salmonella Poisoning From A Bearded Dragon?

There has been some confirmed cases of salmonella poisoning from handling Bearded Dragons. But this is extremely rare.

Resources

Here’s some of my favourite Bearded Dragon websites:

  • www.lizards101.com
  • www.terrariumquest.com
  • reptile.guide
  • www.beardeddragoncare101.com
  • bestpetlizard
  • beardeddragontank.com
  • beardeddragonsworld.com

You can also connect with other Bearded Dragon enthusiasts on Reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/BeardedDragons/

Conslusion

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 keep a Bearded Dragon.

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