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Guide on How To Take Care of a Bearded Dragon

Do you want to keep a bearded dragon as a pet? If so, you're probably aware that reptiles have very specific care requirements. Many new bearded dragon owners end up with an unhappy or sick pet if they do not provide the proper diet, routines, and environment for their scaly friend. As a result, our Harrisburg vets offer a basic guide to caring for a bearded dragon, covering everything from diet to ideal routines.

Bearded dragons, like all reptiles, have specific care requirements, ranging from diet to socialization and habitat. Bearded dragons, on the other hand, are much easier to care for than other reptile pets such as turtles or snakes due to their calm temperament and docile nature. For people who enjoy the scalier side of the animal kingdom, bearded dragon care could be a very rewarding pet to care for and keep in your home.

Here, our Harrisburg veterinary team explains some of the things any new owner of a bearded dragon should keep in mind when planning the care, for their scaled companion.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons are medium-sized lizards (often between 20 and 24 inches long, with males being a little bigger than females) with a characteristic scruff of spikey scales around their neck that gives them their "beard." These lizards are native to Australia and have become increasingly popular as pets since the 1990s.

Bearded dragons are omnivorous and live on their own in a variety of environments, including shrublands, woodlands, the ocean shore, and subtropical areas. Bearded dragons are known for being tough for a reptile, making them a more forgiving pet for first-time reptile owners.

With that being said, new bearded dragon owners have a number of questions about how to care for their bearded dragon. And our vets are here to answer them.

What Is a Bearded Dragon's Diet?

The best bearded dragon diet for your pet will most likely be varied. They eat both plants and animals and can eat a variety of foods, including live mealworms, king worms, and crickets, as well as greens like parsley and kale and vegetables like pepper and sweet potato. You can even give them small portions of fruit. Today, we'll go over some of the vegetables, meat, weeds, greens, and fruits that can be included in a bearded dragon's diet.

The age of your bearded dragon will influence what they eat; the typical baby bearded dragon diet should consist of 80 percent bugs and 20 percent plants, with the caveat that some owners have difficulty convincing their dragons to eat any vegetables at all when they are young. For the adult bearded dragon, the ratio should be nearly flipped, with 80 percent plants and 20 percent insects and bugs.

Let your dragon determine how much they should eat by allowing them to eat for a certain time - 10 minutes when they're given insects. Remove uneaten insects at the end of the 10-minute mark. 

For fruits and vegetables, leave them in your dragon's enclosure only for approximately 30 minutes, which allows your dragon enough time to have its fill but prevents overfeeding. This also ensures leftover food doesn't grow moldy. 

The following are some of the foods that are safe to feed your bearded dragon:

  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Earthworms
  • Butterworms
  • Silkworms
  • Kale
  • Asparagus (Raw)
  • Butternut squash
  • Yellow squash
  • Acorn squash

There are many other foods that are suitable to feed your bearded dragon. Ask your vet what diet they suggest for your scaly companion.

What Kind of Habitat Does A Bearded Dragon Need?

Bearded dragons need a habitat that is large enough to keep them comfortable, ranging from 40+ gallons for 10-16 inch lizards to 75+ gallons for dragons over 20 inches. This habitat can be made from glass or clear plastic. There are many suitable options for your scaly companion's house in your home. 

Like all reptiles, bearded dragons are cold-blooded. This means that unlike humans and other mammals, they don't generate their own heat in their bodies. This means that your bearded dragon will need lots of full-spectrum light and heat to help stimulate its natural environment while in their tank.

Regardless of the size of your bearded dragon, you will need full-spectrum lights that you can keep on between 12 and 14 hours per day, as well as a dedicated heat lamp (also known as a basking bulb) that you can set up in their habitat. You'll also need a thermometer to keep track of the temperature so your companion doesn't get too hot or cold.

Your bearded dragon will also require some sheltered areas in their habitat where they are not visible. This will allow your reptilian friend to remain comfortable and private when desired. Furthermore, while there are many options for your tank's substrate (what you fill it with to serve as its floor), "natural" fill like sand or wood chips can harm young bearded dragons if they swallow it with their food.

If possible, reptile carpet or some other safer substrate option is probably best for first-time owners, while those more experienced with bearded dragons will have a better sense of what works and doesn't for their pets at different life stages.

What Behaviors and Temperaments Are Cause For Concern?

When caring for a bearded dragon, there are many different, and somewhat bizarre behaviors they will display. Some are routine and to be expected from your scaly companion, while others may be a cause for concern. These include:

  • "Glass Surfing" - This behavior is so named because when a dragon performs it, it often resembles a surfer trying to stay afloat on a wave. Your dragon will frequently stand on its hind legs and scrabble at the glass of its enclosure, attempting to climb it. Your bearded dragon could be glass surfing for a variety of reasons. They might see the reflection and think it's another lizard, they might want to hide somewhere more private than their habitat, or they might be more uncomfortable.
  • Arm Waving - This behavior is named after what it sounds like: your bearded dragon will wave his or her arm in the air. This will be obvious at times, and at others, your companion will appear to be winding up to take a step as they move their arm back and forth barely above the ground. It is commonly assumed that this behavior is intended to demonstrate to larger creatures that the lizard notices them in the wild, is a submissive behavior, or is mating behavior. 
  • Head Bobbing - This behavior involves your bearded dragon bobbing its head up and down repeatedly. It is commonly associated with a mating urge and is much more common in male bearded dragons. 

If your reptilian companion is showing any of the above behaviors and is not stopping, take stock of their habitat and routine. If you don't notice anything wrong, contact your vet. They will be able to give you advice on why your pet is showing abnormal behavior and isn't stopping.

Do you have a bearded dragon and are looking for veterinary care for your reptilian friend? Colonial Park Animal Clinic's veterinary team is here to help. Our expert vets can provide care, dietary advice, and preventive services to bearded dragons. Contact us today to book your next appointment and learn more.

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