Bearded dragon care sheets around on the internet. Not all are of much use, so I have posted our basic care sheet here for anyone who needs it.
We have had quite a few customers in who have either inherited a bearded dragon from a friend or relative or have bought a bearded dragon recently and who have been trying their best to improve the care of their new (and often unexpected) bearded dragon. I have been able to help in most cases so I thought I would jot down a few basics for people in this situation or for anyone thinking of purchasing a bearded dragon in the near future.
Generally a bearded dragon require quite a large vivarium as an adult. I would recommend 30” as an absolute minimum for one adult although 36” would be better. 48” is excellent and anything bigger is good but probably just showing off! Very young ones can at least look a bit lost in one though and some do seem (at least at first) to get a bit nervous in a large viv. (they will hide away a lot, sometimes to the point of not getting enough UV light) so starting off in a smaller viv is definitely OK, although not essential. They do grow quite quickly.
They require a good temperature gradient (a “hot end “and a “cold end”) to enable them to regulate their body temperature with the hot spot at the hot end at 40-45 C and the cool end around 25 C (so you are going to need two thermometers). There are a lot of opinions out there on heating a viv. and I’ll not get into it all here. I use a heat mat combined with a basking lamp (sized to the viv.) to create a hot spot. I have mounted mats on the side and on the bottom of the viv. with equal success. I have seen comments saying never use a heat mat and cannot agree. I have never had a problem, ever and this is over a number of years with a large number of animals. That said, there are alternatives and they are fine too (with the exception of “heat rocks” – they really are a bad idea, if you bought a bearded dragon starter set up from a certain well known pet supermarket you will have one of these, please throw it away to avoid any risk).
A thermostat will help avoid over temperature. A bearded dragon can tolerate lower temperatures (i.e. if your spot lamp blows) for quite some time but will suffer quite quickly from over temperature. Even with a thermostat you should always check your thermometers at least daily – thermostats can fail.
A bearded dragon needs relatively high levels of UVB light to manufacture vitamin D3, enabling them to assimilate calcium. You will need a 10-12% UVB lamp on 12 – 14 hours a day. Remember UV light does not travel too far from these lamps so make sure they are not too far from where your dragon likes to bask. I don’t use hides with beardies, sometimes they can spend too much time under it and not get enough UV – not common but best avoided.
Substrate (what your bearded dragon lives on) is probably the most controversial subject in the hobby. I am not going to tell you what not to use, there is not a substrate currently in use that can’t cause problems. I use beech wood chips or desert bedding in the main although I have used others. I have never had any issues with impaction so I can’t comment on what is worst for this. However I avoid calci sand, as calcium is an essential nutrient for a bearded dragon, so they will eat as if they feel they need it – why tempt fate? Also, most of my vivs. are front opening, with sliding glass and the sound of sand in the runners makes me cringe!
A bearded dragon does require a water bowl although they are rarely seen to drink (I know some individuals seem to love getting in their water bowl but I have only seen this when kept on sand). Do change the water regularly and keep the bowl clean. It is hot in a bearded dragon viv. and bacteria will grow very quickly around the rim of the water. A feed dish is a good idea for the veggie component of a bearded dragon diet, to help avoid the risk of impaction by picking up bits of substrate.
Your bearded dragon will love something to climb on, branches, rocks etc. Avoid anything sharp, they may suddenly jump down and you don’t want them to get injured. Any thing else in there is up to you. Some people like to put in things to encourage activity and don’t mind what it looks like, so use anything they can find. Others like it to look as natural as possible. It’s really up to you but I would suggest you read a good book for the more advanced aspects of setting up a vivarium both for further advice and for ideas if, like me, you’re not that creative yourself.
Your bearded dragon is an omnivore. They eat a wide range of foods including crickets, locusts, cockroaches and various lavae, vegetables and fruit, meat (small mammals) etc. In captivity they also need vitamin and calcium supplements to ensure continued good health. I feed mine to a regular regime. It is necessary for the health of the bearded dragon and with the amount of animals I have to feed it is more convenient to stick to a plan and this gives us confidence our animals have received a varied and balanced diet. You will find your own regime that suits you. I will give you mine just to illustrate what a balanced diet looks like, not to suggest this is superior to any other feeding plan.
Day one – cricket or locusts dusted with Nutrobal vitamin supplement.
Day 2 – salad vegetables.
Day three – crickets or locusts dusted with calcium powder.
Day four – salad vegetables.
Day five – crickets or locusts dusted with calcium powder.
Day six – fruit or veg.
Day seven – crickets or locusts without any supplement.
I vary this further by changing the crickets and locusts for morio worms from time to time and very occasionally wax worms. I don’t use mealworms myself due to the higher level of chitin in the jaws and the consequent increased risk of impaction but occasional mealworms would be OK. I must confess the type of veg I use depends very much on what is on offer at the local supermarket or my garden but favourites of my bearded dragon are rocket salad or herb salad, grated carrot, romaine lettuce, curly kale and cucumber. Customers have also used spring onion greens but I haven’t had a lot of success with those. Those that have swear by them. Again I haven’t had a lot of success with fruit but common ones used are strawberry, mango and banana.
One way of getting veg. into a more obstinate bearded dragon is to feed the veg. to the insects. Whatever they eat, your bearded dragon is eating. I do this sometimes but usually I have gut loaded them on a gut load formula any way. For a very young bearded dragon I dust every feed to ensure the rapidly growing youngsters are getting enough calcium but I only ever use vitamin powder once a week. The risk of over dosing far outweighing the risk of underdosing when using such a balanced diet.
It is important to consider the size of the insect food. It is a bad idea to give anything longer than the distance between the eyes of your bearded dragon. Too many over large insects will not be properly digested and you will see the half digested remains in the bearded dragons poop, possibly along with some blood! Alternatively your bearded dragon may regurgitate the meal, again with the risk of damage from the sharp bits of exoskeleton.
Things to avoid feeding are obviously using anything toxic! This sounds really obvious but people have been caught out with plants. The bearded dragon may not eat the plant but the insects probably will. The bearded dragon will then eat the now toxic insect. I don’t usually use live plants with my bearded dragon but other people do, so make sure you know what plant you have and that it is safe. Also I avoid broccoli and cabbage leaves as these contain oxylates that can prevent calcium being available to the metabolism.
Common problems with bearded dragon feeding include the notorius addiction to wax worms. I have seen a bearded dragon fed these exclusively. Not only is this a bad idea from a nutritional point of view but you often end up with a bearded dragon that will only eat this one source of food and frequently only when fed by hand! However I have not yet seen the bearded dragon that cannot be weaned back onto a balanced diet with a little perseverance.
That said, they can be fussy as they get older. Giles, my eleven year old bearded dragon, will not eat crickets at all. He used to but now he would rather starve. It’s OK though because he will eat everything else. You may also get a bearded dragon that will not touch something. The basic message is that as they are omnivores, it probably doesn’t matter as long as they get a balanced diet.
We now stock fruit beetle lavae and our own cockroaches. Any bearded dragon (of appropriate size) seems to love these.
Really helpful information. Thanks so much for all your help.