Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are extremely personable reptiles that enjoy human interaction. They are naturally inquisitive and enjoy exploring outside of their enclosures and around the house. They have the ability to bond with humans and tag along during daily activities such as finishing up some paperwork, reading a book, making phone calls, or watching television; they are perfectly happy spending time with you and especially if it involves being out in the sun! Bearded dragons are also safe for children old enough to understand how to handle them properly. Many have even been known to interact with other friendly house pets such as trustworthy dogs and cats. It is this trusting and eager-to-explore personality that has made the bearded dragon the world's most popular reptile.
As mentioned, bearded dragons love to be handled but should be done so in a safe manner. Dragons should only be taken into environments that offer the proper temperatures and weather conditions; it would not be wise to take one outside in 50 degree weather or while it is raining. It is also imperative to not let them go where there may be hazards such as fertilizers or pesticides on a lawn, running around free in the backyard unsupervised where they could get lost in a hiding spot, or a neighborhood cat or hawk could find them.
They also should not be dropped/be allowed to jump from heights such as your shoulder to avoid injury. Very young and juvenile dragons are notorious for making breaks for it. They often get spooked easily and may take off; they are extremely quick and agile and are great climbers when they are small. They can also hide and fit into very small spaces. It is wise to watch smaller dragons carefully and not offer them opportunities to harm themselves or get away/lost. With all that said, once they get used to you and their new surroundings and grow up a bit, they will become your new lap lizard!
Extremely young dragons can be housed in glass aquariums or similar enclosures as small as 10 gallons until about 4 months of age. At approximately 4 months of age, they will require a larger enclosure and a 20 gallon-long glass aquarium will suffice until they are about 7 months of age. Once they reach this age, a final setup should be acquired to permanently house the dragon. At minimum, a 40 gallon-long sized aquarium should be provided for your dragon. Larger aquariums, special reptile enclosures, or homemade enclosures are often used to house dragons. I personally build the majority of my enclosures which measure: 2' Deep X 4' Wide X 2' Tall and also glass aquariums.
HOUSING MULTIPLE ANIMALS
Young and juvenile dragons can be housed together if they are of similar size as larger animals often bully smaller animals which can lead to starvation, dehydration, injury, and even death. Animals much larger than their cage-mate may even attempt or successfully eat their counterpart; this can lead to two deaths if the larger animal chokes on the smaller. If similar-sized animals are housed together special attention must be paid to ensure that both or all dragons are eating ample amounts. If a dragon(s) is not being able to feed, it or the aggressor must be relocated to its own enclosure.
Adult female dragons can be housed together if they have a large enough enclosure (typically 2' Deep X 4' Long X 2' Tall), have enough food, and access to ample basking spots. Making sure that their basic needs are met will reduce the chances that they will fight. An enclosure as large as previously mentioned can comfortably house up to 3 females. However, not all females will get along and violence may ensure; if this is the case, separate enclosures will be necessary. There will always be a dominant female in a group, she will just show it at varying levels or extremes.
Adult males should only be housed with other adult males in extremely rare cases: where both are very passive, have known each other for a very long time without any problems, have the same adequate space, food, and basking areas as previously mentioned, and no other males or females are around/in the same room (even if they can not be seen as they can be heard and sensed). Even when all of these requirements have been met, it is still very risky as temperament may change quickly and for no reason. Males often fight viciously which can lead to serious injury and even death. It is generally not advised to house 2 sexually mature males together even with strict supervision although there have been successful pairings as the risks outweigh the rewards.
I strongly recommend not housing sexually mature males with females as nature will take its course and breeding will occur. Males will pester the females relentlessly to breed over and over. They will bite, chase, and pursue until exhaustion. This can lead to injury of the female, dehydration, and even death. The female may try to get away, become stressed, and stop eating. She may also turn the tables on the male and attach him.
Pairing a male and female should be done under supervision and if fighting occurs, they should be immediately separated. If the female tolerates him, he should only be allowed to stay with her for a maximum of a few days to breed and then returned to his own enclosure. Males should not be bred until at least a year old (if large for their age and healthy) but it is healthier to wait until at least a year-and-a-half of age. Females should not be bred until at least 1.5 years of age (if large for their age and healthy) but waiting until they are at least 2 years of age is better for their overall health. If bred to early, females can have complications such as egg binding and may become very stressed, dehydrated, and sick; if they are not able to properly discharge their eggs, expensive vet bills and death may occur. Breeding females before they are physiologically healthy to do so will also reduce their lifespan.
Young and juvenile dragons should always be housed on substrate that they can not intentionally or accidentally eat. Acceptable substrate is: newspaper, paper towels, reptile carpet, and tile* (ceramic or natural/slate). Using sand, bark chips, mulch, husks, gravel, etc. can cause digestive impaction if ingested. Bearded dragons often touch objects with their tongues as a sensory mechanism and can pick up loose substrate; young dragons can also get a mouthful of loose substrate before they perfect their hunting technique and miss a prey item. Substrate can also stick to vegetable/fruit food items if kicked onto or if knocked out of the dish that it was placed in. Impaction in young dragons often leads to death, in adults it may be curable but is painful, can lead to expensive vet bills, and also lead to death.
Sand may be used with adult dragons but only if extreme precautions are taken to prevent ingestion during feeding and is not fully recommended. Otherwise, stick to the same substrate options listed above for young and juvenile dragons. Reptile sand is available as a more healthy alternative to play sand but many veterinarians still warn to avoid it. If you see your dragon eat sand, think that they may be doing so, or just do not want to worry about impaction, it is best to avoid it all together.
*If you use tile, make sure that about half of the enclosure's floor is not covered by tile as tile absorbs heat and having another type of substrate allows the dragon to regulate its body temperature better by seeking a cooler temperature when necessary.
Bearded dragons are inquisitive and like to explore and roam around their cages. Rocks, bricks, and logs can be used to create suitable low climbing and exploring areas. Always make certain that all climbing areas are securely fastened and can not fall over, on the animal, or crush the animal if dug under; many logs can be screwed to a base to prevent them from toppling if necessary.
If you plan on using rocks, bricks, or logs (remove and trash all loose bark) that were found outdoors make sure to sterilize them of bacteria, pests, chemicals, and insect eggs. Do so by boiling them in water on the stove, baking them in the oven for a couple of hours, or bleaching them in a water/bleach solution and allowing several days to a week to dry out completely. By not properly sterilizing any piece(s) of decor from the outdoors, you risk sickness and/or death of an animal and infestation within your home of pests. If you do use logs within your enclosure, be sure that they do not have crevices that feeder insects can hide within as if unaware, they may go unaccounted for and believed to be eaten but come out from their hiding spaces at night and prey on an unsuspecting dragon.
Driftwood is also popular to use within dragon cages and smaller diameters can be propped up/mounted for smaller dragons to climb. Reptile hammocks can also be fastened into corners of cages and make great basking spots but make sure to make a 'ramp' up to and down from with decor to avoid unnecessary injury. Dragons also like areas to conceal themselves when they sleep, feel sluggish, or threatened; hollowed half-logs (sold in pet stores or online) make great burrows for dragons. NEVER use real plants for decor in the cage as they may soon be eaten and can sicken the dragons. You can use artificial plants for aesthetic reasons or to create additional cover but make certain that there are not any loose ends that a dragon may eat.
Dragon droppings, dead feeders, and uneaten greens/fruits should be removed from the cage once noticed. New paper towels, newspaper, etc. should be used if defecated on. Routine/weekly cleanings should be performed to keep the enclosure clean and the dragon healthy; it should be done so with the dragon out of the cage. It is a good time to soak a dragon when cleaning its cage to accomplish two husbandry necessaries at the same time. Cleaning detergents such as biodegradable green cleaners or bleaches (diluted with several parts water) can be used and then followed up with strictly water to remove all cleaner residue out of the enclosure before placing in new substrate and returning the decor. The same process should be used on decor items if necessary.
Younger dragons generally like temperatures higher than adult dragons. Younger dragons like their basking spots sometimes as high as 105 degrees F and adults up to 100 degrees F. A heating bulb can simply be a $2 clear incandescent bulb from a hardware store as it is strictly used for heating. I prefer to use the bulb in a dome fixture so that the heat is directed downward and in a specific spot.
It is important to place accurate thermometers (tested ) in the cage: 1 at the basking end and 1 at the cool end of the cage. The cool end of the cage should be approximately 82-84 degrees F for young dragons and 78 degrees F for adults. *The enclosure should be setup in full and the temperatures should be established before the dragon arrives (test the hot end, cool end, and night bulbs if applicable for a few days). The hot end is trickier as the thermometer will not tell you the temperature exactly under the basking bulb: it will tell you the temperature along the cage's wall. However your dragon will tell you what it likes: if it will not set directly underneath the bulb, it means that it is too hot, and if it sets underneath it, it is just right or it could mean that an increase in temperature is needed. To easily rectify and adjust temperatures, I recommend placing your basking fixture on a sliding dimmer switch. You can simply increase or decrease the amount of heat coming from the bulb without having to purchase and switch out several bulbs.
Lighting can also be put on timers to keep the photoperiod consistent and to make you life easier. Special reptile temperature guns (infrared) also help accurately check temperatures as you simply just point and press a button to register a temperature (always register the floor of the enclosure as this is where the dragon generally spends its time/sleeps and not the walls); this is especially beneficial if you feel that a thermometer may be incorrect.
Heating at night is only necessary if your cage gets below the mid-to-high-60's F for an adult and high 60's-to-70 F for a very young dragon. Too low of temperatures for too long can lead to an ill dragon. Remember that cages in cold or drafty rooms or placed on lower shelves, stands, etc. or the floor may register at lower temperatures than what you set your thermometer at. If your cage is below recommended temperatures at night, a red, blue, or black bulb can be used to heat the cage at night. It can be swapped in the basking fixture or a second fixture can be used. If two fixtures are used, the different bulbs can also be placed on consecutive timers.
UV Lighting is imperative for a healthy dragon; without it metabolic bone disease and death will soon set in. Dragons naturally obtain UVA and UVB by basking in sunlight. Captivity denies them of the sun's benefits so as pet owner's we need to provide it for them in the form of fluorescent bulbs. I recommend ReptiSun 10.0 bulbs to provide all necessary UV requirements. A fluorescent fixture should direct the bulb's rays downward on the dragon (placing the fixture as close to the dragon as possible is the healthiest option - generally within 10-12"). The fixture should also span the majority of the enclosure to make certain that the rays cover it in entirety. Unfortunately these bulbs only emit proper UV's for up to 3-4 months and need to be replaced at this frequency (the bulb will continue to illuminate but will not emit UVA and UVB).
Young and Juvenile dragons require much more protein than adults as they are rapidly growing. This means that the vast majority of their diet (90%) is feeder insects. Adults have a much lower protein requirement and about half of their diet needs to be made of feeders.
Young and juvenile dragons should be fed feeders at least twice per day and potentially even three times per day if housed together to prevent/reduce their urge to nip at each other's tails and digits; leaving a bowl of feeders (that can not escape from the bowl) and/or a bowl of greens will also reduce nipping as food will always be available to the dragons. Adults can be fed once per day if enough food is offered or enough feeders and/or greens is placed in a bowl to be accessed at all times throughout the day.
PROPER FEEDER INSECTS can include: -Crickets: Should not be longer than the distance between the dragon's eyes. If longer, they are too big and may cause impaction in youg dragons. -Dubia Roaches: Should also not be longer than the distance in between the eyes of a young dragon. -*Superworms: Should only be fed once a dragon is approximately 4 months old and older and be size appropriate. MEALWORMS SHOULD NEVER BE FED TO A YOUNG DRAGON AS THEIR EXOSKELETONS CONTAIN CHITIN WHICH IS VERY HARD TO DIGEST AND CAN LEAD TO IMPACTION. -Black Soldier Fly Larvae: Very healthy and contain high levels of calcium and low levels of phosphorous -Silkworms: Feed size appropriate to young dragons -Hornworms: Feed size appropriate to young dragons and only on occasion to all ages as a treat as these larvae lead to weight gain -Waxworms: Feed occasionally as worms have a high water content and can lead to diarrhea if fed too often which can then lead to dehydration
*Be sure to remove all uneaten feeders (that are not contained within a bowl that they can not escape from) within 30 minutes after feeding; this is especially important for young dragons as feeders may prey on and kill small dragons (especially at night). Be sure to check underneath rocks and logs and in bark and crevices as well as feeders are notorious hiders during daylight hours and come out when the lights are turned off!
*Feeders should always be purchased from a credible insect rancher directly as many pet store feeders are not taken care of and do not pass on nutrition to dragons and can transmit disease. They are also many times cheaper directly from the ranchers. Otherwise, try breeding your own feeders.
VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTATION WITH FEEDERS
Bearded dragons need additional vitamins (extremely critical for full development and health) along with their feeders and other aspects of their diet. I prefer to use two Rep-Cal supplements: Herptivite and Calcium with VIT.D3. Herptivite contains Beta Carotene which converts into Vitamin A as well as many other vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Calcium with VIT.D3 contains calcium and Vitamin D3 (which allows proper absorption of the calcium). Both supplements are necessary to promote proper health of dragon immune and organ systems as well as bone structures.
There are several ways to make sure that your dragon ingests these vitamins: I prefer to cut a large opening at the top of an empty 1 gallon bottle of vinegar or similar bottle (with a handle); the opening should be large enough to be able to easily dump in feeders in mass quantity and to be able to reach in and grab some if necessary). I then dump enough supplement powder to coat feeders for several feedings into the bottles (I have 1 bottle for each supplement so that I do not mix them up). Then I dump/throw in my feeders, shake the bottle by the handle until the feeders are coated in the powder, and then dump them out into my dragon's cage (try not to waste powder by dumping it out and reach in and grab feeders that won't come out).
I coat and feed Calcium to young and juvenile dragons once per day and three times per week for adults. I coat and feed Herptivite two times per week for young and juvenile dragons and once per week for adults.
VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
Bearded dragons will eat a vast array of fruits and vegetables and they often do have preferences so I will list many below. However, not all offer the most nutrients for them so I will separate them by the frequency that they should be offered.
VERY HEALTHY AND SHOULD MAKE UP MAJORITY OF GREENS/FRUITS: Turnip, Mustard, Collared, and Dandelion Greens, Acorn and Butternut Squash (innards and thinly sliced, shredded, or peeled), Escarole lettuce, Watercress, Green Beans and Okra (thinly sliced, shredded, or peeled), Nopales (Cactus Leaves - thinly sliced, shredded, or peeled).
Occasional Offerings as Treats/Color Enhancers to Promote Eating: Black, Rasp, and Strawberries (thinly sliced), Swiss Chard, Spaghetti Squash (in 'Spaghetti' strands), Bell Peppers (thinly sliced or shredded), Broccoli, Kale (too much kale is unhealthy for reptiles and should not be overfed), Carrots (thinly sliced or shredded), Grapes (thinly sliced), Cilantro, Parsley, Romaine and/or Iceberg Lettuce (no nutritional value but has a high water content so can aid in hydration).
*NEVER FEED TOMATOES AS THEY HAVE AN EXTREMELY HIGH ACIDITY LEVEL THAT CAN RENDER A DRAGON SICK AND EVEN LEAD TO DEATH. *There are many other veggie/fruit choices that are suitable for dragon consumption that are not listed. Please do your research to make certain that anything that you plan on offering your dragon is safe to do so and what frequency beforehand.
Bearded dragons should be soaked in lukewarm water 2-3 times per week for 15-20 minutes at each soaking. The water level should not be higher than their sides to avoid accidental drownings; they should be supervised when soaking. Soaking allows for: an opportunity to drink, helps clean their skin/scales, helps the shedding process and remove sheds-in-process, helps aid in proper digestion (dragons will often defecate while soaking), and moisture can be ingested through their vents (posteriors).
A clean water dish/bowl should also be in their enclosure at all times. Most dragons do not drink from bowls but I train mine to do so. Most dragons purchased from me know how to and readily drink from bowls. To alert them to the water bowl: while the empty bowl is in the enclosure and view of the dragon, drip water into it from high above to create a scene; water should make loud noises, splash outside of the bowl, and create a visual spectacle. This should alert the dragon to the water. You can also show the dragon that the bowl is its water by repeatedly placing it in the bowl. Either/both method(s) should coerce the dragon to drink. Having a bowl in the enclosure at all times also allows for the dragon to soak at will when it feels the need to. The bowl should not be deeper than the dragon is tall and should be coarse enough that it can easily get in and out and also have a gentle slope to aid in that process.
Another good method to keeping dragons hydrated and to help promote healthy skin/scales is frequent misting. Young and juvenile dragons should be misted (from a bottle) gently once in the morning and a few hours before their lights go out (allow enough time for them to heat back up). Mist in majority their heads (specifically at the tip of their mouths) and allow brief pauses and they will point downwards (so that the water runs into their mouths) and lap it up with their tongues. Misting the rest of their bodies helps aid their skin/scales. Using an eyedropper also works for drinking. Adults should be misted daily but some prefer every other day or even less frequently.
FEMALES AND EGGS
Females will develop eggs whether or not they are bred once they reach sexual maturity. Many females will simply reabsorb the eggs and the calcium needed to create them back into their bodies and that will be that. However, some will not and will have to lay infertile eggs. You will know the females who need to lay by their incessant drive to do so: they will become very active, running and leaping around their enclosure, digging around in the enclosure and scraping at the corners, and they may even do so when their lights are out and skimp on their sleep.
If your female is showing signs that she wants to lay eggs you must take it seriously as by ignoring her, you may cause her harm and even death. If she holds her eggs in for too long, they may become stuck (egg binding) and she may not be able to pass them. This can lead to very expensive vet bills and even death. All her running around and digging is her way of signaling that she is in search of a suitable nesting spot and that there is not one in her cage.
Some dragon owners simply place a shoe box-sized plastic storage bin filled with nesting medium in her cage to remedy this. I advise against this as most females like to dig down two-feet-plus to lay their eggs. A good compromise is to buy a large plastic storage bin about 2.5' Long X 1.5' Deep X 2' Tall or larger for her to lay her eggs in. Also buy a few bags of cheap play sand from a hardware store (and vermiculite if you want but it is much more expensive and since the eggs are infertile, it is not worth it). Add the sand and lukewarm water (mix thoroughly) to the bin to the consistency that you can squeeze the sand and it clumps but water does not run out. You want to put in as much sand as you can but stay at least 10" from the top of the bin so that you can place a lid on the bin. Cut out a hole in the center of the lid so that you can place a dome light over it (this will put heat into the bin). *BE SURE THAT THE WATTAGE OF THE BULB IS NOT TOO HOT TO MELT THE LID AND/OR START A FIRE. You want the lid to be on the bin (unless you have a very tall bin) because when the female digs, she may build a ramp up a side of the bin and could escape.
The female usually will lay her eggs at dawn, dusk, or night, but some will lay during the day (do not leave lights on at night unless a black, blue, or red bulb). Also do not disturb her while laying as she may stop laying, dig another hole, or become stressed. It is okay to check on her for her safety but do so carefully. When she is done, she will be back at the top of the nesting medium, she will fill in her hole, and she will flatten/stamp down on top of it. She will also be much smaller in her belly and look deflated. She should now be removed from her nesting box and given a 20-30 minute lukewarm water soak as she will be very dehydrated. Once done soaking, she should be returned to her cage to heat back up and be fed to put back on her weight. She should be fed feeders coated in Calcium for the next week as the eggshells that she produced required a lot of it to make. She can also be fed hornworms at this point as they help put on weight quickly.
Brumation is similar to hibernation in mammals but occurs in reptiles and amphibians; it is a result of cooler temperatures and shorter photoperiods. Brumating dragons are often very lethargic for a time period of weeks to months in the cooler months of the year. During this time they often will not eat or drink or will do so at a much lesser rate. Even in captivity, no matter what you do as a pet owner, it may happen. Young and juvenile dragons will not brumate and will not do so until at least 1.5 years of age or older.
If you notice your dragon's activity slowing, its appetite slowing, and it is approaching or within the year's cooler months, there are a few things that you should do: you may need to take the dragon to the vet for a health assessment and/or a fecal float to determine if the dragon is healthy enough to brumate. You also should soak it in lukewarm water to provide hydration before the brumation and to encourage defecation; it is healthy to clear the colon of any contents so that they do not set in place for weeks-to-months.
With all that said, in the wild brumation is necessary to ensure survival in cooler temperatures and leaner times. In captivity it is not, so if your dragon attempts to brumate you should try to reduce the time spent doing so. Brumation is hard on the internal organs as months pass without any sustenance. In captivity, it is unnecessary to put the dragon's organs through this. In the wild the dragon will burrow in the earth and will pull moisture from it through its vent (posterior). While brumating, it is encouraged to still soak your dragons 2 times per week in lukewarm water but now in shallower water only 1/4-1/2" deep and under full supervision to avoid accidental drowning. By soaking: you provide the moisture that it would gain from brumating in the wild but does not gain by doing so in captivity. This repeated soaking aids in waking them up and encouraging them to come out of brumation earlier. The dragon may go back to brumating after soaking but at least it will be hydrated and chances are, its time doing so has been reduced.
After soaking your dragon and if you notice it becoming more active/walking around (at anytime), make sure that you have fresh greens available for it to feed on if it feels the need to do so. This will keep it nourished and help promote an end to brumation. If the dragon now regularly consumes the veggies and is increasing its activity, you can try offering feeders in an inescapable bowl. *Offering feeders should only be done so once you feel confident that the dragon is coming to an end of brumation or is desperately malnourished as you do not want undigested insects to remain in its intestines for long periods of time. When brumation ends, the dragon will begin acting as if nothing ever happened and its energy and activity levels will resume along with its appetite.
WHAT TO DO WHEN MY DRAGON ARRIVES
When you receive your dragon, you should place it in its new enclosure immediately and let it heat up for a couple of hours. You should not handle it, place it in an area with a lot of visual stimulation, or loud noises. It should be left alone and given the chance to calm down and get used to its new life. After a couple of hours, it should be soaked in lukewarm water (up to its sides) for 15-20 minutes as air travel can be dehydrating for reptiles. Soaking should continue 2-3 times per week afterwards. Once again, let it heat back up for an hour or so and then offer it feeder insects. Remove any feeders that it does not eat after 30 minutes. Place a bowl of veggies in its enclosure in case it gets hungry as it will have a viable option to feed upon. You can try feeders again later on that day but once again remove any uneaten feeders and allow at least 2 hours afterwards for the dragon to heat up for proper digestion before the lights go out.
Keep noise and stress down for the next few days to let the dragon settle in. Monitor temperatures to make sure that they are correct as if not, the dragon may not eat properly, may become more stressed, may become ill, and even die. Keep feeding routines regular. After a few days and if the dragon seems to be fitting in and adjusting well, you can slowly begin to introduce yourself to it; you can gently handle it for short intervals until the two of you form a bond and the dragon has become fully acclimated.
*If there seems to be any problems, the dragon will not eat, or any other issues please contact me immediately as any delays may result in severe consequences and even death.