Bearded dragons are fairly easy reptiles to care for, relatively speaking.
They readily eat foods that are easy to obtain; they can tolerate a
pretty wide range of temperatures, and their more common
medical problems are treatable by many veteranarians. However,
for a bearded dragon to really thrive, they need the right
environment and a well-considered diet.
These care tips are meant to share some of the most important dragon
care items that we've learned from experience, from books, and from
web sites. They are not a complete guide to bearded dragon care;
more comprehensive care information is available from
Kaplan: Dragons Down Under and from
General Bearded Dragon Care.
A very important point for beginner reptile owners: get care
information before you buy your reptile and bring it home.
Click on one of the links to jump right to a particular section,
or just scroll down to read the sections in order.
Picking a Bearded Dragon
It is important to select a healthy, well-adjusted young dragon.
Usually, it is best to get a very young dragon so that you can
have the fun of watching it grow, and so that you can get it
used to people and handling.
Buying a lizard mail-order, sight unseen, is pretty chancy, and
should be avoided.
- One good approach to buying a good bearded dragon is to
call specialty pet stores; ideally, find a store that gets
youngsters from several different breeders. Then, go to the
store at a time when the reptile manager or head reptile person
is working. Discuss the different breeders' lines with them,
asking about health, feeding, size, and temperment.
- When you check out a tank or cage full of youngsters,
look for the energetic ones that have are actively eating,
basking, or exploring.
- Before buying a particular dragon, ask to see it eat.
If the baby dragon won't eat a favorite food item when it is
offered (give it some time, though) then it may not be healthy.
Pick a different one.
- Always examine the cages and facilities of the store that
is selling you a dragon. Make sure that the cages where the
young dragons are kept is reasonably clean, well-lit,
and not too crowded.
- Ask the store if they have a care-sheet or booklet that
they recommend. If they have nothing, then it could imply
that they are not very well-prepared to assist new reptile owners.
- Be sure to pick up and handle the young dragon you've selected.
You want one that is energetic and alert, but not too skittish.
Check him for lesions, wounds, and a full tail. Make sure he
has all five toes, with claws, on all four feet. Check his eyes
and nostrils, they should be clean and free of any discharge.
- Once you've bought the dragon (see below for more preparation tips),
don't try to drive him home without some kind of cage or box. You
cannot just hold him on your shoulder in the car or on the train.
Any good pet store will supply you with a small cardboard box or
carrier to keep your new pet secure on the trip.
Before you go to pick up a new dragon at the pet store or from
a breeder, make sure you've got his new home already set up.
It is very clumsy and frustrating to try to set up the lizard
terrarium or cage while the new lizard is sitting around in his
little pet store carrier; to minimize problems it is best to
have the cage ready before!
Here is a checklist of the lizard habitat you should make sure
to have ready before making the big trip to the pet store to
pick up the new dragon.
- _____ Cage or Tank
- A young dragon should have at least a 10-gallon fish tank, preferably
a 20-gallon or larger so he can grow into it. See below for more housing
tips. Don't forget a proper lid or cover!
- _____ Lighting
- Make sure you've got a reflector lamp or hood with a good reptile
incandescent lamp for warmth.
- _____ Climbing and Hiding Accessories
- Dragons like to be up high, and they also like to hide. Make
sure that the initial configuration of your cage allows for both.
A few branches, and maybe a hidey-box, should be fine for a start.
- _____ Water Accessories
- Even though they are desert lizards, young
bearded dragons need water. You'll want to have a small water
disk, and a spray bottle for misting.
- _____ Food or Food Sources Identified
- You don't need to have live food already purchased when you
buy a new dragon, he may not even want to eat on his first day
in his new surroundings. However, you need to know where you
are going to get live crickets, and you need to know what to
feed them and how to house them. A growing young dragon will
happily consume over a dozen small crickets a day!
- _____ Care Information
- Get some care sheets, or a book or two, and have them ready when you
bring the dragon home.
When you first bring home a new baby dragon, put him in his
new cage and leave him alone. Moving to a new home is
stressful, and a bunch of handling on his first day could
exascerbate that stress. Let him bask and explore in peace
and quite; sure, you can watch quietly, but leave him in the cage
to get used to it.
Home and Hearth: enclosure, heat, and light
- His or her enclosure is where your beardie will be spending
most of the time (unless you're one of those rare people who can
let their lizard safely free-roam their house, and even then you
have to wait until the lizard gets to adult size before it's safe).
Therefore, a comfortable and safe enclosure is essential. The
following issues are critical:
- Adequate size
- Hot and cool areas for thermoregulation
- Safe substrate
- Places to bask, eat, and rest
- Safe climbing structures
- Freedom from adverse temperature and humidity conditions
- Availability of ultraviolet light
- Enclosure Size
A small tank or terrarium will be adequate for a baby beardie,
but within a year it could be much too small. It is best to start
off with a sufficiently large tank or cage. For a solitary dragon,
a 29 gallon fish tank might be enough, and a 55 gallon tank ideal.
For two or more beardies, it is essential that the enclosure be
large enough to have at least two separate basking and cooling
zones, so a 70 gallon or large tank or custom wooden cage is necessary.
- Thermoregulation Zones
Like most lizards, bearded dragons maintain their internal
temperature by adjusting their environment, exposing themselves
to heat sources (like sunshine or a heat lamp) to raise their
body temperature, and eschewing heat to cool down. You don't
have to encourage your beardie to do this, the ability is
hard-wired into his little brain. Your responsibility as a
care-giver is to provide areas where your lizard can perform
these steps. A typical good basking area should permit the
lizard to raise his internal temperature to 95°F or more.
The cool area should allow him to lower his temperature to 70°.
For example, if you have a 100-watt incandencent bulb, you should
arrange the tank so that your beardie can get to within about 10
inches (25cm) of the bulb, but not much closer.
- Heat-related Hazards
Always make sure that beardie cannot actually reach the
heat source; he might try to touch it or climb on it, and receive
a serious burn. Also, of course, make sure that the lighting
fixture you use is rated for the wattage bulb you employ; it is
very dangerous to put a 200-watt high-output reptile bulb in a
lamp rated for no more than a 100-watt house lighting bulb!!
If at all possible, get a fixture with a ceramic base.
- Heating in Winter
It is best to keep a bearded dragon in a room where the
temperature never drops below 55°F. If you think that
the room might sometimes drop below that on cold winter nights,
a small undertank contact heater should be sufficient to keep the
enclosure temperature higher than ambient and keep your lizard
safe from very low temperatures. (Note: bearded dragons sometimes
like to brumate in the winter, a hibernation-like behavior that
helps protect them in the winter in their nature habitat. Brumation
is something of an advanced topic, and is outside the scope of this
small guide, but it is sometimes necessary to
facilitate breeding. For more information, join the Pogona mailing list
by sending 'subscribe' to email@example.com.)
- Heat Rocks
Avoid them, they're for snakes. 'Nuff said.
- The Bottom Line - Enclosure substrate
The substrate is simply the stuff on the bottom of the cage or tank.
You cannot leave a bare wood or glass bottom to your dragon's
enclosure, it is uncomfortable and unsanitary. Here are some
recommended substrates that people have used successfully.
- Paper towels - fine for babies/juveniles but not adults, change frequently
- Calcium sand - NOT regular sand; also no sand is suitable for very young beardies
- Rabbit pellets - not suitable for very young beardies, fine for adults, change frequently
- Crimped oats - nicer looking and cheaper than rabbit pellets, juveniles to adults, change often
- "Reptile bark" - commercial sanitized bark mulch, wash first, adults only
- Indoor-outdoor carpet - get the washable kind, trim all loose or frayed edges, babies up to adults
Avoid wood shavings and gravel as substrates. For a good discussion
of substrates, see Dr. Tosney's
dragon care page.
- Places to bask and rest
Your bearded dragon wants comfortable places to spend most of his day.
Since most of his day involves sitting still warming up or cooling off,
make sure he has nice spots for these tasks. Beardies like a nice
high perch with a good view for basking. Some dragons like to lie
down horizontally, while others seem to prefer sitting angled upwards.
In Australia, bearded dragons are often observed clinging to vertical
fence posts and tree stumps. For sleeping, many dragons like a close,
confined hiding place where they can feel safe from large predators.
- Things to Climb
Bearded dragons are active lizards, and like to climb around.
Put some sturdy angled branches or twisty grapewood into the
enclosure, and you'll probably see the dragon climbing and exploring.
It is very important to make sure that the branches are well
anchored and stable, especially for juveniles,
so that the dragons do not receive injuries from heavy things falling
- Adverse heat conditions
Do not position the enclosure so that it receives direct sunlight.
Sure, sunlight is great, but too much of it can cause overheating.
In his natural habitat, your dragon could find shade, or even dig
a burrow, to avoid overheating, but if the enclosure is in direct
sunlight it could become deadly hot.
Also, arrange the cage so that the lizard does not have a direct
draft blowing through his enclosure. This is usually not a problem
with fish tank enclosures. However, with a fish tank, it is important
to make sure that there is adequate ventilation. Avoid tight-sealing
lids sold for keeping fish; use a wire mesh lid instead.
- Lighting and UVB
Ultraviolet light is essential for calcium metabolism in many
lizards, including beardies. Incandescent bulbs cannot
provide adequate UV in the critical UVB range. Unless you can
give your lizard daily access to real unfiltered sunlight,
you must obtain a specially-made reptile florescent tube, rated
for 5% UVB output or higher. Sometimes, the high-UVB tubes are
marked 'desert sun' or 'for desert reptiles'. While these tubes
will produce light for years, their useful UVB lifetime is usually
much shorter (6-10 months). It is best to replace them after six
months use. For more information about UV lighting, see
Melissa Kaplan's resource list about
- Home Hazards
If you have other animals in the house, like dogs, cats, or ferrets,
you'll want to make sure that your beardie's cage is out of their
reach (or at least not easily accessible). Even if they cannot get
into the cage, they can cause your lizard considerable stress.
- Enclosure Example
Here is an example bearded dragon cage. This illustration is meant to
show you the pieces you'll need; naturally, you'll want to make your
dragon's home a lot more attractive and comfortable with thicker
branches and more hiding and basking spots.
Click on the image for a larger view.
Feeding and Diet
In the wild, bearded dragons are omnivorous; they eat insects, fruit, flowers,
shoots, and more. In captivity, most owners feed a mixture of live
insects and vegetables. Young beardies need more protein to fuel their
growth, so many owners emphasize the live foods earlier in life, and
gradually increase the proportion of vegetables as the lizard reaches
- Water and Hydration
In the wild, bearded dragons often live in arid or semi-arid areas.
They have evolved to live on very little, but they still need water.
Young beardies should be misted once a day, and older ones should have
a dish or bowl of water available to them. To supplement this,
you can mist their food with water (we always do). Some beardie owners
use Pedialyte baby beverage to ensure hydration; it is rumored
that young beardies find the fruit flavors irresistible. If your beardie
is reluctant to drink, try this trick: position the beardie on a stick,
and hold the stick almost vertical, then, spray the stick with water
beardie so that the water runs down in front of him on the
wood. Chances are, if he is thirsty, he'll lap the trickle of water
off the wood. Another trick is to trickle water onto the top of the
beardie's head so that it will run down past his mouth; our beardie
drinks this way, by lapping the water running down his face.
- Live Foods
Bearded dragons are energetic predators given half a chance, and most
of them will eagerly gobble up any live insect that will fit into their
large mouths. However, not everything they're willing to eat is good
for them. Here is a partial list of live foods that are popular, with
comments on their use for bearded dragons.
fairly easy to keep, nutritious, variety of sizes suitable for all ages of beardies, must be gut-loaded prior to feeding
Chitinous shell too hard for young beardies, very easy to keep, inexpensive, not especially nutritious
Easy to keep, inexpensive, nutritious, but too large for young beardies. A good food for adults.
Quite easy to keep, good for diet diversity but not as a primary food, not suitable for very young beardies, inexpensive.
- Feeding Live Food
If you keep live crickets, you must see to their nutrition -- what
they eat, your dragon eats! We use T-Rex "Calcium Plus"
cricket food, it comes
in little pellets and the crickets seem to like it.
For more information, see
- Frozen and Freeze-dried Live Foods
Some adult bearded dragons relish (thawed) pinkie mice. Whether this
is really good for them is still not clear, but this might be a good
way to entice a finicky eater? Freeze-dried fortified crickets and
worms are fine, if your beardie will eat them. Note: if you use
freeze-dried foods, make sure your beardie has adequate water
and knows how to drink it.
This is a big subject. Basically, you should give your
beardie a plate or dish (not a deep bowl) of chopped or minced
vegetables each day. Here are some vegetables that are good
for beardies, easy to obtain, and inexpensive.
- Collard greens
serve raw, chop or slice into strips; for juveniles, avoid the heavy veins
serve raw, minced or sliced, good carrier for water
- Mustard greens
serve raw or cooked, sliced fine or chopped, hard to obtain in some areas
- Red-leaf lettuce
not very nutritious, but good for hydration, small amount daily
serve raw, slivered or finely sliced, 1-2 times a week
- Green Squash
serve raw or cooked, chopped or diced fine, small amounts
- Green peas
serve raw or cooked; cooked only and smooshed up for hatchlings
serve raw in small amounts,
very nutritious but hard to digest, helps
fight 'cricket breath' :-)
- Hibiscus flowers
good for enticing finicky eaters, serve raw in small amounts or as a treat food
Strong scent helps initiate feeding behavior, not very
nutritious, serve raw in small amounts
- Dandelion greens
Free in summer, unobtainable in winter; avoid
areas treated with pesticide
Serve raw cut into pieces, good for hydration and
quite nutritious; do not overfeed
- Green beans
Serve raw or cooked, finely sliced or slivered; raw beans
not suitable for very young beardies
For our Sidney, a juvenile, we usually prepare about 1/8 of a cup of
minced greens and veggies each day (that's in addition to his crickets).
- Prepared Foods
Several pet food manufacturers offer prepared bearded dragon
formulas. They tend to be made from staple grains and some
greens, like corn, alfalfa, kale, soybeans, oats, and collards.
Juvenile formulations also usually have some meat in them, like
chicken meal, bone meal, or dried egg.
Because these foods always include
added vitamins and minerals, they may be a good supplement to
fresh foods. No source I've consulted recommends a diet
of just prepared formulas. It is a good idea to have some of
this stuff around as an emergency food, though, because it keeps
a long time without spoiling.
- Variety and Diet
Bearded dragons are omnivores, and they need variety in their
diet. Mix up what you serve each day, use treats, and take
advantage of seasonal fruits and flowers.
- Vitamin and Calcium Supplements
Supplements can be very beneficial if used properly, especially
for fast-growing young beardies. Two popular forms of supplement are
(1) calcium powder, often called Repti-Cal or
Rep-Cal, and (2) vitamin
powder, often called Repti-vite or
Herptivite. There are two popular means for getting small
amounts of these helpful powders into a reptile: sprinkling on leafy
vegetables, and cricket dusting. If you regularly feed crickets to your
beardie (and if you aren't, why not?), then it is very easy to give
supplements: just put some powder and some crickets into a plastic
baggie or tupperware and shake! Feed the dusted crickets to
the lizard immediately. Don't use this technique every day, stick to
once or twice a week.
- Food Size
Beardies love big food items, but the big pieces aren't usually
good for them. As a general rule, chop up vegetables, and avoid
oversize crickets. If the length of the cricket is longer than the
width of the beardie's mouth, don't feed it. Young beardies especially
are prone to impacted bowels from hard cricket shells.
Behavior and Handling
Bearded dragons are both predator and prey in their natural
environment. Their basic defense strategy is to hide, to
blend in with their environment (protective coloration), and
to be alert to possible threats. Usually, if a beardie
feels mildly threatened or anxious, he'll just stand perfectly still.
When directly threatened, a bearded dragon will either scamper
away, or face down the attack with an impressive display of
wide-open mouth and puffed-out beard. As a last resort, a beardie
will bite; they can bite pretty hard, too.
The list below describes a few common behaviors you'll
observe a beardie doing, and what they mean.
- Flattening Out
When a beardie is trying to warm up, he might lie horizontally
and spread out his abdomen to increase its surface area. While
this looks very amusing, it is not a big deal. However, if you
notice your dragon doing it constantly, it could mean that he
cannot get close enough to his heat lamp to thoroughly warm up.
Make him a perch or shelf that allow him to climb up closer.
- Mouth Gaping
If you see a beardie standing with his mouth wide open, but
he isn't doing a defensive display, then it means he is too
hot. By opening his mouth, the beardie can cool off a little, just
like a dog. Unlike a dog, this is not the beardie's preferred way
to cool off. If you see your beardie doing this a lot, it could mean
that his enclosure is too warm. Try replacing his heat lamp
with one of lower wattage. If your beardie gapes his mouth even when
he is not very hot, then it is probably a sign of respiratory illness -
make an appointment with the veteranarian right away!
- Hiding and Burrowing
Some bearded dragons like to hide during the night or whenever
they cool down. If you have a thick substrate in your beardie's
enclosure, he may burrow under it. He might also hide under branches
or even under his food dish. This is normal, as long as the
dragon comes out during part of the day to warm up.
In an adult dragon, hiding and burrowing during the winter may be
evidence of a desire to brumate. (For more information on this
and other advanced topics, join the Pogona mailing list
by sending 'subscribe' to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If you have several bearded dragons, you'll probably
notice them waving their front arms at each other. This amusing
behavior seems to be a form of social signaling. You may
sometimes see a solitary beardie do it, but much more rarely.
Sometimes, you may observe your beardie rubbing or scratching
against a stick or rock. He is probably trying to loosen a piece
of shedding skin. If you observe this kind of behavior frequently,
try misting the dragon with a fine spray of water; this should make
his shedding a little easier.
The size and behavior patterns of bearded dragons combine to
make them excellent pets. In contrast to anoles, who use a
flight-based defense, beardies seem calm and laid-back. They are
big enough for a human to handle easily, but
your beardie will never grow large enough to be a bother (like a
5 foot iguana) or a threat (like a 4 foot monitor).
Safe and careful handling will help your bearded dragon become
comfortable with you, and make him a friendlier and more enjoyable pet.
Some handling tips and caveats are listed below.
- Picking up a Bearded Dragon
With most bearded dragons, the best strategy is to let them
hold you. To pick up a beardie, grasp gently under the chest
and midsection, behind the forelegs.
Keep your hand partly open, so that the dragon can step onto
you with his back feet. Then, let the dragon step onto your
arm, shoulder, or other hand.
- When to Handle
To keep your dragon comfortable with your presence, it is
a good idea to handle them each and every day. Of course, don't
overdo it at first, start out gradually.
- Handling the Tail
Never pick up any lizard by their tail. While bearded dragons
do not practice true caudal autotomy, their tails are still delicate
and easy to injure. Be especially careful when closing doors or lids
with the beardie nearby, it is easy to harm the tail by catching
it in a door or hinge.
- Hand feeding
To train your bearded dragon to eat from your hand, try this
method. First, when the dragon is hungry, offer him a nice big
leaf of his favorite greens (e.g. collards, escarole). Let
him take bites out of the leaf, but don't let go. Over
several days or weeks, gradually offer smaller and smaller leaves,
always keeping a grip on them with your hand. Eventually, the
dragon will learn to ignore your hand as a threat while eating.
Do not make hand-feeding the only way you ever feed your dragon,
or he might be reluctant to eat from his dish.
Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling
any reptile, even a bearded dragon. Also, always wash your hands
thoroughly after cleaning up a beardie's mess, or cleaning their
cage. Bearded dragons can host several diseases,
like salmonella and cryptosporidosis. There is no reason to
be frightened of these, just take good sanitary measures.
Also note that stress or illness often increase the potential
expression of these disease organisms in a reptile's droppings,
so be especially careful to follow sanitary precautions around
sick or injured reptiles.
Health and Common Problems
More Care Sheets