Introduction: These gentle beasts are from Australia but are now readily available due to their willingness to breed in captivity. Bearded Dragons make a wonderful pet for both beginners and advanced reptile keepers. Due to their docile nature and relative small size (usually 16-20 inches) they have become quite popular in recent years. These beautiful creatures are also highly recommended for families with small children due to their seeming love for attention.
Choosing your Bearded Dragon: When you decide to buy a Bearded Dragon, whether from a breeder or pet store, look it over carefully. Some things you should notice right away is how alert and active the dragon is, You don't want a beardie that can't lift it's head or looks lethargic. When you walk up to the enclosure the beardies should be watching you with interest and should have bright and alert eyes. You also want to check them for sores, burns, external parasites or any deformities. Make sure there is no pus or other gunk built up in the eyes, nose or mouth area also. Many beardies will be missing toes or bits of their tail. This will not cause them any discomfort as long as the wound looks healed and shows no sign of infection. One of the most important things in my eyes is to look at the size of the beardie. I do not recommend beardies under 6 inches in total length. Baby beardies can be very fragile and more apt to become ill or overly stressed. It much easier to care for a more developed bearded dragon.
Housing: Young beardies under 10 inches in length can be housed in a 20gal long aquarium. This will last them for a few months only though as they grow quickly. Adult dragons should be housed in nothing smaller then a 40gal breeder tank. I prefer using 55gal aquariums due to the extra length it gives them to run and they are easily found at most pet stores. Screen lids should be used for the top of any aquarium style cages you use. Do not use glass, plexiglass or wood to cover your cages. This will not allow enough air circulation and will also trap humidity in the cage. Screen tops allow air flow, allow your lighting and heat sources to work correctly and also allow humidity to escape.
Lighting: Bearded dragons require full spectrum lighting for 12-14 hours a day. I happen to use the Reptisun 5.0 or 8.0 fluorescent bulbs. There are also other brands available such as the Reptiglo or lumichrome bulbs. These fluorescent bulbs should stretch the length of your beardies enclosure and your dragon should be able to come within 6-8 inches of the light. The UV light should be placed over the cage and not directed through the glass, glass will deflect the UV rays. Follow the directions on the package of the bulb for replacement frequency.
Heating and temps: To produce heat and a basking spot in your enclosure you can use either a ceramic heat emitter, a reptile basking light(red, blue or white) or just a plain old household lightbulb. The best fixture for any of these choices is a porcelain dome light fixture. This type of fixture is a must with a ceramic heat emitter due to the amount of heat they produce. The temperature for this basking spot you created should be around 110f for juveniles and can be around 95f for adults. Although I don't recommend any temps above 110f, within a few degrees of these basking temps will be sufficent.
Substrate: For baby to juvenile bearded dragons I prefer and recommend either newspaper, paper towels, butcher paper or reptile carpet. These choices are cheap, easy to clean and hold no health risks to your animal. If using reptile carpet the stuff that looks and feels like grass is the best. The felt kind has little loops of fabric that may catch the nails of your dragon and cause injury. DO NOT use sand, shavings or any other loose substrate for baby to juvenile beardies. They can be very clumsy eaters and they are also very curious and like to taste everything. Any kind of loose substrate holds serious health risks to your beardie. If they eat a loose substrate they can become impacted, which is a blocking of the intestines, and die.
Feeding and diet: Bearded dragons are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both animal and plant matter. Any and all food items that your bearded dragons eat should be no bigger then the space between their eyes. If the food items are bigger then the space between their eyes it can cause impaction and/or hind leg paralysis. Either way your beardie will suffer horribly.
Water: Fresh water should be offered daily in a shallow bowl. This water bowl should be disinfected once a week to avoid any bacterial build up. Many beardies may not drink from a water bowl so you may have to drip the water slowly onto your beardies snout. Wiggling your finger in the water may also get their attention. Beardies like things that move so creating ripples in the water may get their attention.
Bathing: Bathing your beardie once a week will help keep them hydrated and will also aid in shedding. Bath water should be warm on your wrist and not hot, much like bath water for a small child. Make the water only as deep as your beardies chest or half way up their front arms. I usually just fill the tub until the water reaches the second knuckle on my index finger for my adults and the first knuckle for the juveniles. Never leave your beardie unattended in the bath, accidents only take a second to happen. It's also a god idea to disinfect your tub when the bath is over because beardies will often defecate in the water.
Disinfecting: I use a 1/4 cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of water. This is done easiest in an old, clean, milk container. After mixing the bleach and water I then fill a spray bottle with the mixture. This makes it easy to cover the entire surface of what you are cleaning and leaves a container full for when your spray bottle is empty. All surfaces that get feces on them should be disinfected, including water bowls, food bowls and cages. This is how I disinfect all my cages, cage accessories and the tub after bathing.
Spray the entire surface of what you are cleaning until it is soaked. Then let it sit for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes scrub the surface with a rag making sure any old food or feces is removed. Rinse all surfaces repetedly until you can no longer smell bleach. If you still smell bleach rinse again.
Hygiene: Hand washing is very important when owning any reptile. Washing your hands before and after handling your beardie will help keep you and your new pet healthy. If you wash your hands before handling you reduce the risk of passing anything on to your dragon. Washing your hands after handeling greatly reduce the risk of you contracting salmonella. The risks of getting this are very slim to begin with but hand washing will even further reduce the risks. Your chances of contracting salmonella from the food you eat are greater then your chances of getting it from your Beardie so don't fret.
General: Before deciding on buying a bearded dragon you should consider a few things.
This care sheet is made up from what I have learned from years of research and keeping these animals. This does not mean that this is the "Beardie Bible" and the only way to keep and care for them. You are the one that ultimately decides how to properly care for your pet. Please feel free to print and use this care sheet.
You are responsible for the life of your pets. If they are sick get them to a Vet. If they are hungry, feed them. Animal abuse is a felony in many states and you should remember that.
Written by Podunk (not a Vet)