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How to care for your Bearded Dragon

August 30th, 2016 Posted in Uncategorized

This information is based on an article written by
Jay. d. Johnson, DVM

In the wild, Bearded Dragons (BDs) spend cooler part of the day hunting for food, and the hottest part of the day in underground burrows. They are well adapted to cool desert nights.
Bearded dragons usually thrive in captivity.

Behavior

In most cases, BDs are calm and rarely bite, scratch or whip with their tails.
They usually do not mind handling, and they may eat from the hand of their caretakers.
They make good pets, even for children, due to their gentle and social nature.
Children should always thoroughly wash their hands after touching these pets, to reduce the potential for salmonellosis.

Housing

It is best to house only 1 male bearded dragon per enclosure, but 1 or more females may be present.
Breeders often keep 2 males and 3 or more females together for the breeding season because having more than 1 male present can stimulate male reproductive activity.
Babies should be kept apart from adults.

If multiple individuals are housed together, their body conditions should be monitored closely. Signs of illness include low body weight and poor condition. Dominance problems are not uncommon.
Hungry juveniles housed together might bite off the toes and tail-tips of their cage mates.

An enclosure for 1–2 adult bearded dragons should be at least 2 x 4 feet (61 x 122 cm) in size, be easy to clean and have smooth sides to prevent belly abrasions.

Acceptable bedding materials include soil, newspaper, alfalfa pellets, cypress mulch and sand.
Cat litter, corn cob, walnut shell and wood shavings are not suitable substrates.
Care should be taken to avoid placing food items directly onto substrates that can cause impactions if ingested.
Care should also be taken to ensure proper hydration if a substrate is used that results in lowered cage humidity, e.g., sand or newspaper.

Burrows/hiding areas should be kept slightly more humid than the rest of the enclosure. This can be accomplished by using substrate that retains moisture, such as cypress mulch, or by using a wood shelter and periodically soaking it in water.

A shallow water bowl may be provided for drinking; however, many bearded dragons get sufficient water from their diet and do not drink from bowls.
The bowl must be cleaned often, since BDs often defecate in the water and that is a source of germs.
Ways to successfully keep bearded dragons from becoming dehydrated while eliminating the need for water in the enclosure include: providing a shallow pan for soaking 1–2 times weekly as needed, ensuring increased humidity in a shelter/hiding area, and rinsing dietary greens with water prior to feeding.

Light and Temperature

BDs need supplemental light to prevent vitamin D deficiency. Unfiltered sunlight or high-output UV lighting (fluorescent bulb or mercury vapor lamp), such as ZooMed ReptiSun 5.0,™ ZooMed PowerSun™ (www.zoomed.com) or T-Rex Active IV Heat™ (www.t-rexproducts.com), should be positioned out of reach of the lizard with no glass or plastic between the bulb and the reptile.
Fluorescent UV lights should be placed within 18–20 inches (45–50 cm) and mercury vapor bulbs should be somewhat beyond that distance.
Fluorescent bulbs should be changed every 6 months for juvenile lizards and yearly for adults. The mercury vapor bulbs should be changed at least yearly.

Bearded dragons thrive in a well-ventilated, low humidity environment.
A daytime temperature gradient, from 80°F (27°C) on the cool side of the vivarium to 90–95°F (32–35°C) at a basking site, should be maintained.
Nighttime temperatures can drop to 70ºF (21°C).

Dragons should be protected from coming into direct contact with heating elements.
Large rocks should be provided for a basking site for bearded dragons.
Temperature and humidity must be Bearded Dragons closely monitored in the enclosure

Environmental Enrichment

Bearded dragons are most active during the day and are adept climbers.
In addition to providing the basking site and shelter/ hiding area, the housing environment should include thick branches or rocks for climbing.
Bearded dragons should not be allowed free roam of the house in order to prevent chilling, trauma, escape, ingestion of foreign materials, such as potentially toxic live plants, and the risk of spreading Salmonella.
The housing environment should include thick branches and rocks for climbing.

Diet

Bearded dragons are omnivorous as juveniles; adults are predominantly herbivorous with occasional insects in their diet.
As they mature, the intake of greens increases as does the size of insect prey.
Adult bearded dragons are predominantly herbivorous.

Hatchlings

Hatchlings should be fed daily with small insects, such as crickets, phoenix worms, mealworms or other nontoxic collected grasshoppers, grubs, flies and moths.
Greens and some vegetables should be provided daily.
Insects cultivated for feeding (e.g., crickets and mealworms) are deficient in nutrients and need daily dusting with mineral and calcium supplements.
Vitamin supplementation is needed only weekly.

Adults

Adults may be fed every 24–48 hours.
The diet should consist primarily of leafy greens, including romaine, dandelion, turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, collard greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, escarole, spinach and cilantro.
Other vegetables can provide nutritional variety but should be limited, as should occasional flower blossoms and leaves from nontoxic plants.
Fruits can be fed sparingly as treats.
Commercial bearded dragon pelleted diets are available and can be fed as part of the diet.
Dog and cat foods are not recommended.
Insects fed to adults may include crickets, superworms (Zophobas), mealworms, wax worms, locusts, grasshoppers and roaches.
Lightning bugs may be toxic to bearded dragons and should not be offered.
Pinkie mice may be fed in small amounts to breeding females.

Insects, dusted with a mineral supplement containing calcium, are limited to twice weekly feeding for adults.
To avoid over-supplementation, vitamins should be applied to the diet only every 1–2 weeks.
Home-raised insects should be fed a “gut-loading” diet of fresh greens for several days before feeding out to bearded dragons.
A wet sponge is the best water source for insects.

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