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Your Guide to Caring for a Bearded Dragon

adult bearded dragon
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One of if not the most popular reptile pets these days is the fierce looking but rather goofy bearded dragon. Aside from their generally pleasant demeanor, there are a couple reasons why they have become a staple pet for reptile lovers.

Bearded dragons, often referred to colloquially as “beardies”  because they look they have beards, are very small and fairly fragile when young. But, they grow quickly and are quite the sturdy lizard. They also are inquisitive while at the same time content with hanging out near their owner. 

That makes them a great reptile pet for adults and young teens alike.

Pogona

The Latin or scientific name of the bearded dragon is Pogona. Pogona is the genus classification for all bearded dragons, but there are multiple subtypes such as the Pogona barbata or eastern bearded dragon and the Pogona minor minima or western bearded dragon. 

The most common pet species is the Pogona vitticeps, which is more commonly referred to as the central or inland bearded dragon. It is native to central and eastern Australia but can be found throughout the pet trade globally. 

Bearded Dragon Housing Enclosure

Like all reptile pets, beardies have their own unique enclosure requirements to live long healthy lives. When purchasing your new enclosure there are several considerations to keep in mind to ensure you get the most bang for your buck while providing the proper habitat for your pet.

Tank Size Matters

Baby bearded dragons are tiny but incredibly active. And, they don’t stay small for very long. While a baby beardie may only measure 4 to 5 inches from head to tail, fully grown ones can measure around 24 inches in total length. Plus, it doesn’t take them long to reach their full size often doing so in less than 18 months from birth. 

That means even if you buy your pet as a baby you should plan ahead in regards to the size oof their living space. Full grown beard dragons should have at a minimum of a 55 gallon enclosure.

They really need a 75 gallon enclosure to thrive, but 55 gallons will do if that’s all you can for the time being on and you’re very hands on with your pet giving them plenty oof time outside of their tank. 

Aside from your enclosure, you also need to prepare lighting, heating and the habitat itself. 

Lighting & Heating

A reptile native to the Australian outdoors is going to need a little help from you to recreate those living conditions while you keep them indoors. That means ensuring the temperature of their enclosure is warm enough and that they get the right kind of light they won’t be getting from the sun. 

Let’s look at temperature and heating first. 

Getting the Right Temperatures

Bearded dragons like having a range of temperatures to enjoy throughout the day and night. The general enclosure temperature should hover around the eighties Fahrenheit without dropping below 80 degrees. As they are cold blooded, this should keep them active and comfortable. 

But, they also require a basking area. This basking area should be much warmer. It’s here they really soak up the light and heat that warms their blood and gives them plenty of energy. 

This basking area should hover in the low 100’s without going above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Younger dragons, those under 18 months old, typically require a bit higher temperatures than adult ones, but the above numbers should cover all your bases. 

Setting Up the Right Lighting

Heat is only part of the equation when it comes to setting up a hospitable habitat. You need to emulate what the sun gives naturally that normal indoor lighting does not. 

You will need too supply a steady amount of both UVA and UVB lighting, up to 12 hours a day of both. 

They each serve their own distinct function. 

UVA assists in the heating process and also is visible, helping create the day-night cycle. This in turn effects their appetite and digestion. 

UVB is not something we can see. Ultraviolet B is important in your pet’s vitamin D3 and calcium absorption. Lack of calcium is the leading cause of metabolic bone disease.

While you can find combo lamps that help both heat and provide the UVB that your beardie needs, it’s easier too fine tune everything by using separate bulbs. It helps with providing various temperatures throughout the enclosure, which is discussed above. 

Feeding & Dietary Needs

Providing a safe and healthy enclosure is only part of the care you’ll need to give your new reptile pet. You are also the only food source as your dragon isn’t going to be hunting and grazing like it would be in its natural environment. 

First and foremost, bearded dragons are omnivores. That means they eat both plants an animals. You will want to give them a mix of both the ensure they get all the nutrition they require to thrive. 

Proteins 

Raising a healthy bearded dragon requires feeding is a good amount of protein. One of the most common protein sources for them are crickets. 

First and foremost, never feed your pet wild crickets. They can be rife with disease and parasites. Always buy your feeders from a reputable shop either in person or online. 

As far as how much your bearded dragon should eat, that depends on their age. 

Up to 3 months of age – you will want to offer as many crickets as they can eat in a 5-10 minutes window five times a day. There’s no need to force them to eat, but you want to make sure they get their fill if willing. On average, don’t be surprised if they consume 50 or more per day. 

From 3 to 8 months – proceed as above but limit to three feedings a day.

After 8 months of age – As they get older they won’t need as many crickets. You can usually offer them some every other day, and they might eat only twenty or so. That’s because they will need to take in a good amount fruits and vegetables too. In fact, protein will only account for about20% of their diet at this point. 

Note: Dubia roaches are a very nutritious cricket alternative for introducing variety.

Fruits & Veggies

Your adult beardie needs a lot of greens and veggies. You have a fair amount of options to choose, from some of the more popular selections are: 

  • acorn squash
  • bok choy
  • basil
  • carrots
  • butternut squash
  • celery
  • mustard greens
  • sage
  • cucumber
  • cabbage
  • yellow squash

You can work in some fruits too, but it’s suggested to do so sparingly. Mixing in a little helps vary your pet’s nutritional intake offering more balance, but fruit can be full of sugar. Citrus can also be harmful, so be careful when introducing fruit. Some safe options are: 

  • apples
  • berries (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries)
  • grapes
  • melon
  • peaches
  • pears
  • watermelon

Greens are much more important than fruit, but offering something more tasty can entice and stubborn beardie to eat. They can get bored of he same food if their diet lacks variety, so working some berries in once a week in lieu of their greens can be seen as a healthy treat. 

Supplements

Most reptile pets will need some nutritional supplementation along with their diet since no matter how hard you work to try and recreate the natural living environment, it’s never going to be perfect. 

The two most common supplements are calcium and a reptile multivitamin.

Calcium helps prevent a very common health problem, metabolic bone disease. That’s when calcium is pulled from the bones to make up for a deficiency in the blood. If you are, and you should be, using lighting that provides UVB, you should be safe mixing rotating calcium with and without D3 added.

The multivitamin is there to round out their nutrition profile.

Conclusion

While bearded dragons are on the easier end of what is required in terms of day-to-day care, they still demand a lot of attention. Younger beardies need to eat a lot and they need to eat multiple times a day. Any animal that eats that much also defecates a lot, so that means aside from all the feedings you will need to provide, you’ll be cleaning up after them just as much. 

In order to have a healthy and happy pet for many years to come, you’ll need to prepare properly before you bring them home, and you’ll have to decide to be in it for the long haul. As bearded dragons can live for  15 years or more in captivity. 

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