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Bearded Dragon Care

If you are considering acquiring a bearded dragon as a new pet you should know that these creatures can be very rewarding to raise but also can be particular. Here our Gallup vets discuss the basics of bearded dragon care and some considerations and concerns you should be aware of.

Like all reptiles, bearded dragons are known to have particular requirements in order to live a happy and healthy life, such as a certain diet, habitat and environment. However, bearded dragons can be quite a bit easier to care for than other reptile pets like turtles or snakes because of their good temperament and docile nature. This makes bearded dragon care potentially a very rewarding pet to care for and keep in your home for people who love the scalier side of the animal kingdom.

Bearded Dragons as Pets

Bearded dragons are medium-sized lizards (often between 20 and 24 inches long, with males being a little bigger than females) with a characteristic scruff of spikey scales around their neck that gives them their "beard." These lizards are native to Australia and have become increasingly popular as pets since the 1990s.

Bearded dragons are omnivorous and in their natural habitat live on their own in a number of different environments including shrublands, woodlands, the ocean shore and subtropical areas. Bearded dragons are typically one of the tougher breeds of reptiles and are one of the most forgiving in the way of being affected by their food and environment which is why they are commonly chosen by first-time reptile owners.

There will however always be many questions that a first-time owner of bearded dragons may want to ask. Our vets will answer some of those questions below.

What Does a Bearded Dragon's Diet Consist of?

The best bearded dragon diet for your pet will likely be a diverse one. Since they are omnivores, they eat both plants and animals and can dine on a wide range of food, from live mealworms, kingworms and crickets to greens such as parsley and kale and vegetables like pepper and sweet potato. You can even give them limited amounts of fruit. Today, we'll share a number of veggies, meat, weeds, greens and fruits that can make up a bearded dragon's diet.

The age of your bearded dragon will have a large effect on what their current diet will be but the typical baby bearded dragon diet list should be comprised of 80% bugs and 20% plants, with the caveat that some owners have issues with persuading their dragons to eat any vegetables at all when they are young. This ratio is nearly flipped for the adult bearded dragon, whose diet should be made up of 80% plants and 20% insects and bugs.

When it comes time to feed your bearded dragon you should focus on time rather than quantity. Allow your bearded dragon to eat as much as they would like within a given time frame then remove the food left over at the end of that time frame.

Using this method for not just bugs but also with their fruit and vegetables is good practice in order to ensure that they are not overeating. 30 minutes is usually a good amount of time to leave the food in the enclosure, this also ensures leftover food doesn't grow moldy. 

The following are some of the foods that are safe to feed your bearded dragon:

  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Earthworms
  • Butterworms
  • Silkworms
  • Kale
  • Asparagus (Raw)
  • Butternut squash
  • Yellow squash
  • Acorn squash

There are many other foods that are suitable to feed your bearded dragon. Ask your vet what diet they suggest for your scaly companion.

What Should I Include in my Bearded Dragon's Enclosure?

Bearded dragons need a habitat that is large enough to keep them comfortable, ranging from 40+ gallons for 10-16 inch lizards to 75+ gallons for dragons over 20 inches. This habitat can be made from glass or clear plastic. There are many suitable options for your scaly companion's house in your home. 

Like all reptiles, bearded dragons are cold-blooded. This means that your pet is not able to produce its own body heat the way that we do. Because of this, your bearded dragon will need lots of full-spectrum light and heat to help simulate their natural environment while being kept in an enclosure.

Regardless of your bearded dragon's size, you will need to ensure you have both full-spectrum lights that you can keep on between 12 and 14 hours each day, and a dedicated heat lamp (also called a basking bulb) that you can set up in their habitat. You will need a thermometer set up to monitor the temperature as well, to help make sure your companion doesn't get too hot or too cold.

One of the most important items to include in your bearded dragon habitat will be a hide for them to use when they do not want to be visible. This will help your reptilian friend remain comfortable and keep their privacy when they want it. And, while many options exist for the substrate of your tank (what you fill it with to serve as its floor), "natural" fill like sand or wood chips can hurt young bearded dragons if they swallow it with their food.

If possible, reptile carpet or some other safer substrate option is probably best for first-time owners, while those more experienced with bearded dragons will have a better sense of what works and doesn't for their pets at different life stages.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Bearded Dragon's Behavior?

While you may be well-versed in the bizarre behaviors of dogs and cats, the strange behaviors of bearded dragons may e something new to you. Some are routine and to be expected from your scaly companion, while others may be a cause for concern. Some of these strange behaviors include:

  • "Glass Surfing" - This behavior is so named because when a dragon does it, they often look like a surfer trying to keep their balance on a wave. Your dragon will often get up on their hind legs and scrabble at the glass of their enclosure, trying to climb it. There are a whole host of reasons why your bearded dragon may be glass surfing. They may see the reflection and think it's another lizard, they may want to find a place with more privacy than their habitat to hide, or they may be more or uncomfortable.
  • Arm Waving - This behavior is named this because it is what it sounds like: your bearded dragon will wave their arm in their air. Sometimes it will be obvious this is what your companion is doing, and other times it will look like they are winding up to take a step as they move their arm back and forth barely above the ground. It's often thought that this behavior is meant to show bigger creatures that the lizard notices them in the wild, is a submissive behavior or is a mating behavior. 
  • Head Bobbing - This behavior involves your bearded dragon bobbing their head up and down repeatedly. It is commonly associated with a mating urge and is much more common in male bearded dragons. 

If your reptilian companion is showing any of the above behaviors and is not stopping, take stock of their habitat and routine. If you don't notice anything wrong, contact your vet. They may be able to give you advice on why your pet is showing abnormal behavior and isn't stopping.

Have you recently added a bearded dragon to your home and have questions about how to care for it? Contact our Gallup vets to speak with us and learn more.

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