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Reptile Care: Keeping A  Bearded Dragon Healthy

January 15, 2024

Did you know that bearded dragons are becoming very popular reptiles? Beardies are a top choice among reptile enthusiasts, and for good reason. Their low-maintenance nature makes them ideal for beginner keepers. However, like other reptiles, bearded dragons do have some specific needs. First-time owners will need to learn a bit about them before taking the plunge. In this article, a local Brookville, PA vet discusses some of the basics of beardie care.

Basics of Bearded Dragons 

The bearded dragon is native to central Australia, and will usually live about 8 to 10 years. Most of these pretty lizards are a sandy color, which helps them blend into their native environment. However, some can be yellow or orange. 

Wondering where they got the name? They flare out the skin under their chins when they are scared, making them look like they have beards.

Unlike other reptiles, beardies don’t require a large living space. The average adult beardie only reaches two feet in length. Many are known to be quite affectionate – a rare quality among reptiles. Also, beardies are really cute! They sometimes beg for attention and sometimes enjoy walks. They can make great pets for mature children as well.

That said, owning a bearded dragon does require a significant commitment: they can live up to a decade. (Of course,  it’s worth noting that some reptiles can live for up to 50 years.) 

The main thing is to do a lot of research before adopting one. We’re touching on the basics in this article, but there’s a lot more to learn!

What Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon?

These charming lizards are omnivores, so they eat both plants and insects. Your pet’s diet will change over time. Younger dragons require more protein, so they need to eat mostly insects, while older dragons can eat more vegetables. Check with your veterinarian for specific advice.

As for insects, you can offer your dinosaur buddy crickets, Dubia roaches, butterworms, hornworms, wasps, elder bugs, or mealworms. Store-bought insects are recommended: wild bugs could be contaminated with pesticides and/or could be carrying parasites or diseases. You must dust your pet’s bugs with nutritional powder before they become lunch. (Note: this is one reason that many reptiles are not good pets for the squeamish.) Ask your veterinarian to recommend supplements, such as calcium, vitamin D, and multivitamins for beardies.

Your reptilian friend can also eat certain fruits and vegetables, such as dandelion, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, bell peppers, carrots, and butternut squash. You can also give your pet small portions of fruits, such as strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, peaches, figs, dates, and apricots. Just don’t overdo it with fruits, as too many sugary snacks aren’t good for your reptilian pal. 

You can also give your beardie some flowers: just make sure not to offer any that have been treated with pesticides. Dandelions, roses, carnations, and geraniums are all fine to eat. Not all flowers are safe, so make sure you do some research before offering them to your pet.

Finally, make sure that your beardie has fresh water at all times. Regular soaks will also benefit your reptilian friend. Ask your Brookville, PA veterinarian for specific recommendations.

How Do Beardies Show Sickness?

While bearded dragons are generally hardy and healthy, they are susceptible to illness and injury like any other pet. Do some research about common health problems and the warning signs to watch for. 

Here are a few of the big ones:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack Of Appetite (Note: this is sometimes normal just before a shed.)
  • Respiratory Issues
  • Limping
  • Stiffness/Weakness
  • Unusual Movements Or Posture
  • Trouble Walking
  • Incomplete Sheds
  • Weight/Composition Changes
  • Lethargy
  • Sunken Eyes
  • Tail Kinks  
  • Hanging Jaws
  • Discoloration
  • Lesions

If you notice any of these warning signs, reach out to your Brookville, PA veterinary clinic right away. Early treatment is always beneficial! 

Choosing The Best Terrarium for Your Bearded Dragon

The ideal size of a habitat for your pet will be determined by their age. For a young beardie, we recommend at least a 20-gallon terrarium. However, considering the beardie’s rapid growth rate, you may want to consider investing in a 40-gallon one. When your bearded dragon matures, they will require a larger habitat, of at least 70 gallons. Regardless of size, the cage should have more horizontal space than vertical space. 

When it comes to choosing a substrate, there are various options, such as newspaper, butcher paper, and reptile carpet, to pick from. Paper must be replaced daily, so keep that in mind. Sand substrate is not recommended, especially for young dragons. They can swallow the particles, which can cause intestinal blockages.

What Is The Ideal Climate For Beardie Habitats?

Like many reptiles, beardies have very specific temperature requirements. In order for these guys to maintain their internal temperature, you must set up your terrarium in such a way that different zones, or gradients, are created. The warmer end should be 95 to 105F and the cooler end around 85F. The habitat can become cooler at night.

You’ll need a few good thermometers. We also recommend getting a hygrometer to check humidity. Ideally, you’d want a humidity level of about 30 to 40 percent.

What Accessories Do I Need For My Bearded Dragon?

When setting up your pet’s habitat, you’ll need to incorporate furnishings. A basking perch is essential for your pet to relax and sunbathe on. Options include driftwood, large rocks, or grape vines. Just make sure whatever you choose is durable enough to withstand your pet’s movements: you don’t want it falling over on the little guy!  

You should use shallow bowls for your pet’s food. This is especially important if you have a baby lizard, as they may drown in deep bowls. Place the bowls in the cooler end of the terrarium to prevent food spoilage.

Live plants can also add a nice touch. Just be sure to avoid any toxic ones, as beardies may consume them. 

Don’t forget to provide at least one hide for your pet’s comfort.

Bearded Dragon Heat/Lighting

Full spectrum lighting is important for bearded dragons. Beardies get their UVB from sunlight in the wild. Because your pet will live indoors, you will need special bulbs to recreate that sunshine. This is crucial to your pet’s health and well-being! If your tiny dinosaur doesn’t get enough UVB, they won’t be able to process calcium and vitamin D properly, which can lead to severe health problems. The most concerning is metabolic bone disease, or MBD, a debilitating and extremely painful condition.

Several things need to be considered here. 

  • Fluorescent bulbs should be at least a foot away from your dragon. Otherwise, your pet may get burnt.
  • Young beardies may require stronger bulbs than adults, so you should consult your veterinarian frequently. 
  • The lights should also be set on a timed, 12-hour cycle.
  • Replace bulbs regularly because they wear out quickly.

Conclusion: Beardies are cute and fun pets. However, they have unique care needs, so it’s important to do some research before adopting one. 

Do you need to make an appointment for your pet reptile? Have you recently adopted a lizard? Contact us, your local Brookville, PA pet hospital, if you have questions about caring for a bearded dragon.