Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) make excellent pets for reptile lovers.These lizards are called Bearded Dragons due to their ability to puff out and blacken the flap under their chin. They are active, entertaining, amusing, reasonably sized (adults are typically 18-20 inches), tame, hardy (they can live from 8 to over 12 years), and have great personalities! They tend to be easier to handle and care for than other lizards like iguanas, because they are more docile reptiles and tolerate being held well although there are always exceptions. Most bearded dragons do not bite or show any signs of aggression. They can come in a variety of different morphs including normal (grey/brown), German giant (with males sometimes exceeding 24 inches), red/gold, sandfire (red/orange), tiger, striped, citrus, leather back, silky smooth, hypomelanistic (bleached appearance and clear toe nails), leucistic (grey-white), green, gold iris, and more morphs are emerging as Bearded Dragons are becoming one of the most popular pet reptiles. Bearded Dragon can cost anywhere from $30 to over $150 depending on the morph, size, age, and color. Also, the set-up for these reptiles can run a few hundred dollars, and crickets can cost about $0.05-$0.12 a piece in a pet store. (You can order crickets, waxworms, and superworms in bulk at some websites, which can save you a lot of money. The best place I’ve found to order crickets and superworms is from The Cricket Factory a.k.a crktman6ami on ebay). Also, any new adult reptile pet should have a parasite test which usually cost around $50. Good hygiene is essential when handling Bearded Dragons, because, like other reptiles, Bearded Dragons can carry Salmonella. It is best to wash your hands both before and after handling a reptile. You do not want to expose your pet to anything on your hands that might be harmful, and you do not want to contract Salmonella after handling a reptile.
Enclosures and Supplies:
Bearded Dragons are native to the arid desert regions of Australia, thus enclosures must be warm and dry. Below is a detailed list of supplies you will need to properly set-up an enclosure for your Bearded Dragon.
- At least a 40 gallon tank for one adult Bearded Dragon and at least 90 gallons for two Bearded Dragons. Enclosures should be long and wide rather than tall and narrow. If you have more than one Bearded Dragon, you will probably need to separate them at times although some females can get along together. This means you will need an additional cage and set-up. Two males should not live together, and a male and a female should be separate except for breeding times. IMPORTANT ADVICE: If you plan on using an old, second-hand, or used cage, you must thoroughly clean it with a bleach solution to kill any parasites and/or organisms. Use 1 part bleach to 5 parts water and let it soak for at least 20 minutes then rinse thoroughly. You can look at local classified ads for a used tank to save a lot of money, but again it must be thoroughly clean and sanitized before you use it. The tank does not need to be completely water tight.
- A quality UVB 10.0 desert light and lamp or hood. You can get a Mercury Vapor light or a quality fluorescent tube light. The best is 10.0 ReptiSun. Avoid coil bulbs. UVB light should span the length of the cage. Bearded Dragons need UVB light to make D3, which they need to absorb calcium. UVB bulbs need to be replaced about every 6 months to 1 year to maintain maximum effectiveness. TIP: On warm days, bring your Bearded Dragon outside on a screened in area or mesh enclosure. (Don’t use glass or plastic enclosures outside, since UVB light cannot penetrate thru them and they can amplify heat to very dangerous levels). Beardies love natural sunlight, and it is the best source of UVB for them. Some people in warm climates even house their bearded dragons outside permanently.
- A secure lid for the cage. Bearded Dragons are good climbers, so you will need a cover to keep your beardie from escaping. You CANNOT use a glass or plexiglasss hood, because UVB light cannot penetrate them.
- A basking light and lamp. The basking site temperatures should reach 90-100 degrees. Lights should be no further away than 1 foot in to be effective. Bearded dragons are cold blooded and need warm temperatures to properly digest their food. You get reflective lamps at a hardware store instead of a pet store to save some money, but try to get one with a ceramic base not plastic.
- Sand substrate for adults. Bearded Dragons are from the Australian desert, and they enjoy digging and burrowing. Some people use newspaper, reptile carpet, or other substrates, but I find my adult Bearded Dragons enjoy sand best. They like burrowing under their caves and digging themselves a little bed almost every night. Sand is safe as long as the enclosure is set up correctly and it kept clean. Baby Bearded Dragons, however, should not be kept on sand because of the risk of ingestion and impaction. For babies, use newspaper (black and white only), blank paper and/or paper towels which are cheap and easy to clean. TIP: Buy natural filtered play-sand for adults. It is super cheap (about $4 for a 50 lb bag), and it is safe. It is also very easy to clean. (Make sure you have a good poop scoop. I use plastic scoops and cheap plastic sand castle shovels). DO NOT buy calcium sand, because it can cause impaction.
- Thermometers and a humidity meter to insure proper temperatures and humidity levels are maintained. There should be a cooler zone with temperatures in the 80s, and a warmer basking area with temperatures 90- 100 degrees. It is best to have a thermometer in both the cool side and warm side to ensure temperatures remain in range. Their environment should never get below 60 degrees at night. Bearded Dragons must be able to regulate their body temperature in order to digest their food properly. They must be able to expose themselves to warm temperatures near a basking/ heat lamp, so you should have basking rocks and sticks near the source of heat. Your beardie should be able to get within one foot of the heat lamp; lamps that are too far away are much less effective. Humidity should be relatively low and remain around 40%. Humidity of 60% or higher are too high and can sometimes cause respiratory infections.
- A timer to turn lights on and off regularly. I recommend digital timers, because they tend to last longer, are more durable, and many have a battery back-up. Lights should be on about 12 hours every day, and an hour or two longer in their active/ mating season usually in spring and summer.
- Climbing decor including branches, sticks, and basking rocks. Bearded Dragons enjoy climbing and basking on sticks. Do not use sticks or branches from outside as these may be toxic to pets and contain chemicals or organisms that may be harmful. Never re-use old sticks or logs unless you are absolutely positive they are parasite free. They cannot be cleaned thoroughly if there is any parasite infection and must be thrown out.
- Hiding and shading areas like caves and tunnels. Bearded Dragons like to get away from the heat sometimes and hide in shady areas, especially during brumation.
- Calcium Carbonate supplements should not contain D3, because your pet should be getting it from UVB bulbs and sunlight and high levels of D3 can be toxic. Without proper nutrition and calcium, Bearded Dragons can develop metabolic bone disease, deformities, broken bones, and become more prone to other illnesses. Calcium carbonate is the best supplement for Bearded Dragons, and you can get it at a health food or nutritional store. My vets have advised to avoid supplements at a pet store, because they are not regulated and may even be harmful or toxic at high levels for your beardie. TIP: The best way to give your Bearded Dragon calcium is to put several crickets in a plastic bag or small container and put some calcium carbonate in. Then gently shake to lightly coat the crickets and feed your Bearded Dragon the dusted crickets.
- A shallow food and water dish and clean, filtered, chlorine-free water. Bearded Dragons enjoy the occasional dip in the water, especially when they are shedding. NOTE: Bearded Dragons are desert reptiles and don’t need to be misted every day, because it can raise humidity levels. However, some baby bearded dragons need help finding their source of water and may need to be sprayed on occasion. It may also be necessary to drip water on the tip of their nose with an eyedropper so they lick it off. It is very important that you make sure your pet gets enough water without raising humidity levels in their enclosure, because they can easily and quickly become dehydrated (especially babies).
- A feeder container(s) to keep crickets/other insects in and quality cricket feed to give them. Feeders must be kept clean, because sometimes reptiles can get mites or other parasites from insects kept in feeders. Crickets should be “gut loaded” with quality fortified cricket feed.
- Night time source of heat if your home gets below 60 degrees. These include black lights, under tank heats, etc. Don’t use infrared bulbs, because they are not good for reptile’s eyes and bearded dragons don’t like them. (Mine threw a fit when I tried to use one). Also, don’t use hot rocks, because they can sometimes cause serious burns.
“The Bearded Dragon Manual” by Phillippe de Vosjoli is the best book available about bearded dragons.
Bearded Dragons are omnivores and eat a variety of food including mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, some fruits and vegetables, super worms, waxworms, roaches, and crickets. It is best to feed bearded dragons in the morning and/or at least 4 hours before their lights turn off for the night. This will give your pet time to properly digest his/her food. Adults should be fed approximately 80% greens (adding in some fruits for variety) and 20% crickets and other insects (this is a source of fat and protein). Baby Bearded Dragons should primarily be fed size appropriate crickets (no bigger than the space between their eyes) in addition to being offered fresh leafy greens every day. It is very important to expose them to a variety of fruits and vegetables when they are young, so they get used to eating other foods. Baby and juvenile beardies should eat approximately 80% crickets and 20% greens (some fruits). Food should be finely chopped up to an appropriate size for them to eat easily.
- Greens should be offered every day. These greens include turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, collards greens, and romaine lettuce. They should be washed thoroughly and chopped up to an appropriate size before offering it to your pet. DO NOT give your beardie iceberg lettuce as it contains no nutritional value. Beardies should only be given spinach and kale in moderation, because calcium binds to the iron in it. TIP: spray greens with water before offering them to your pet. This will help keep your pet well hydrated.
- Fruits should be occasionally and sparingly offered and experimented with to what fruits your beardie likes. Bearded dragons tend to have different tastes in foods. I’ve found that all of my beardies enjoy chopped up peaches. Some will also eat chopped up mango, papaya, kiwi, banana, pear, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, grapes, and apples. They may also eat red hibiscus flowers on occasion as long as they have not been treated with any chemicals. Too much fruit can cause watery poop, so only give them fruits as treats in moderation.
- Crickets, wax worms, roaches, and superworms should be offered to adults 3 to 4 times a week. Babies, juveniles, and sub-adults should be offered smaller size appropriate crickets daily. Again, crickets should be no larger than the space between the bearded dragon’s eyes, because larger food can cause impaction and/or paralysis in hind legs. Beardies should be allowed to eat as many crickets as they want in 5- 10 minutes, and when they have stopped eating remove the crickets. Before giving crickets to your pet, put them in a plastic bag or small container with some calcium carbonate. Shake and then feed them to your pet. Crickets should be supplemented every other feeding, and should be “gut loaded” with fortified cricket feed. This will ensure your beardies gets an adequate amount of calcium in their diet. Babies should each be fed separately in another small cage to ensure that uneaten crickets do not feed on your beardie. Also, baby bearded dragons that have to compete for food are likely to nip/attack each other, which can result in toe nips, missing toes, tail nips, tail deformities, and other injuries. Feeding each baby separately will ensure than each beardie is getting an adequate amount of food and eliminate competition for food. Do NOT feed your baby bearded dragon mealworms. The mealworm’s chitin is too hard for them to digest. Only give adults freshly malted mealworms and cut them in half before feeding them to your beardie if you choose to give them mealworms at all. Mealworms that have not been properly digested can sometimes eat their way out!
- Commercial pebble diets may also be offered to Bearded Dragons in moderation. I’ve had some beardies that like Bearded Dragon food pebbles and others that don’t. I usually only offer it to them in addition to their regular diet.
Some people also give their adult bearded dragons pinky mice. This should only be done once or twice a month at most due to the high fat content in pinkies. It is also best to only offer them thawed out frozen pinkies to avoid any possible parasite infection.
What to Look for When Purchasing a Bearded Dragon:
- Look for a larger, plump, alert Bearded Dragon. Don’t buy a Bearded Dragon unless it is at least 6 weeks old and at least 6 inches in length. Younger Bearded Dragon babies are very cute, but they have a greater chance of becoming ill or dying. They can also suddenly stop eating and may have to be force fed. It is definitely worth it to pay a little more for a bearded dragon that is at least 6 weeks old.
- Look closely at the Bearded Dragon’s limbs, tail, and toes to make sure they are not swollen or broken. Broken bones may be a sign of metabolic bone disease. Also, limbs and toes that twitch or tremble are a sign of metabolic bone disease.
- Make sure the Bearded Dragon is active and alert and is eating regularly on a proper diet.
- Make sure it has clear and bright eyes that are NOT sunken in. Sunken eyes are a sign of dehydration, and the animal may be near death.
- Look for fullness in the limbs and tail especially in the base. Make sure you cannot see the tail or hip bones. Lizards store fat in their tails.
- They should have healthy clean skin with no lesions.
- Watch the bearded dragon run around and make sure he/she is using all of the limbs and not limping or stumbling. Look for any deformities. A missing toes and tips of the tails is not a big deal if it has healed properly. These injuries usually happen from nips from cage mates or improper shedding.
- Look at the enclosure the bearded dragon has been kept in to make sure it is clean and the food is fresh. Make sure the bearded dragon has gotten proper expose to UVB light and has been given calcium supplements.
- DO NOT purchase a Bearded Dragon if it is skinny, listless, or the eyes are sunken in.
- When you bring a new bearded dragon home it is normal for him/her to be nervous and timid for the first few days. He/she may not eat well for the 2-3 days. They usually warm up to you quickly though and get used to getting handled.
- Example of healthy beardies:
Tips and Interesting Facts:
- Bearded Dragons have unique personalities, and some even like different foods than others. For example, my adult male Bearded Dragon likes banana and Bearded Dragon pellet food, whereas my other Bearded Dragons refuse to eat them. Some Bearded Dragons are more active, easier to handle, heavier sleepers, more social, etc. This is part of what makes owning Bearded Dragons so much fun! They are all unique and interesting!
- Bearded Dragons communicate with each other with head bobs (asserting dominance), hand waves (which means “please leave me alone”), and other behaviors. It is fun to watch them interacted with each other, and it is a good idea to get more than one Bearded Dragon so these behaviors may be observed (although they may need to be kept in separate enclosures).
- Bearded Dragons go through a “winter shutdown” phase called brumation, in which they are much less active, sleep a lot, eat less, and may remain hiding in shelters. During this time, the temperature should be lowered to 60-70 degrees with basking temperatures of 75-85 degrees. Brumation can last from a few weeks to 5 months. The bearded dragon should not lose much if any weight in this period and will remain in good condition. Adult bearded dragons that are about 18 months or older go through brumation every year. Younger bearded dragons most likely will not go through brumation the year they have hatched.
Many lizards have a “third eye” on the top of their head also known as a parietal eye. This eye is sensitive to changes in light and is used to detect predators above. You will notice that your Bearded Dragon is always aware of what is above him/her. Bearded Dragons also have a small flap to cover their nostrils to protect it from sand and other objects. Additionally, Bearded Dragons have small sharp teeth and a lot of power in their jaw. If an adult bites you for any reason, it is likely that it will hurt and may draw blood. Also, never use glass eye droppers to give fluids, supplements, meds, etc. to your beardie, because he/she can easily break them in his/her mouth.
Bearded Dragons sometimes use “gaping” to control their body temperature. They will open their mouth when basking in light to cool down their body. Short periods of gaping is usually not a sign of alarm as long as his/her breathing remains normal and is not heavy or labored. Prolonged heavy or labored breathing could be a symptom of a respiratory infection, which would be need to treated as soon as possible. Prolonged periods of gaping can also mean the enclosure is too hot and the temperature needs to be adjusted immediately.
- Bearded Dragons will spread out like a pancake when basking in light (especially natural sunlight). They also lean into the light and may even change to a lighter color.
- Bearded Dragons may dig a ditch or burrow in sand to sleep in.
- Bearded Dragons can sleep in some very awkward and uncomfortable looking positions. This is completely normal and entertaining. TIP: The best time to hold your Bearded Dragon is at night when he/she is sleeping, because it wouldn’t try to run away. Also, they tend to snuggle you!
- Bearded Dragons can become a lighter shade that is often their prettiest color when they are sleeping. You may also notice that young bearded dragons become brighter and develop more intense coloration after they shed.
- A bearded dragon’s skin may become grey or white when it is about to shed:
- It is normal for a Bearded Dragon’s closed eyes to bulge out for a few seconds on occasion, especially if he/she is shedding or about to shed. It is also normal for your beardie to be in a bad mood while he/she is shedding. They may also rub up against things to shed skin. They usually enjoy a bath at this time, and it helps soften their skin and makes it easier for them to shed.
- They lick their surroundings (although not as much as some other lizards, including iguanas).
- Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the cage so you remember to sanitize your hands after handling your pet.
- Reptiles need the proper conditions and environment to reach their full genetic growth and color potential. The better you take care of your bearded dragon, the bigger and more attractive he/she will become.
- It is very important to handle Bearded Dragons often starting at an early age, so they get used to people.
- The white solids in a bearded dragons feces (or any reptiles’ and birds’ waste) are urates (like urine) and are completely normal. If the urates are not white or light yellow, it could be a sign of a serious health problem like organ problems, dehydration, parasite infection, etc. The urates can also slightly change color in breeding season (usually becoming more red).
It is not uncommon for a bearded dragon to point up or curl his/her tail while running around, excited, in warm water, or hot surroundings.
If you see your adult female bearded dragon digging a lot in her cage during the day, she might need to lay her eggs. Put her in a large container with at least 1 foot of sandy soil. I use a couple bags of chemical-free topsoil and some play sand. Then pat down the soil and moisten it with water. Start a hole for her with a small shovel and check on her after awhile to see if she’s laying eggs. She might not lay her eggs if the conditions are not to her liking, so may have to make some adjustments. Some people also let their bearded dragons lay their eggs in water, although this may not work with all beardies.
- Some female bearded dragons may lay eggs without being mated.
The tip of a bearded dragon’s tongue is usually white (or lighter pink) and a little sticky. This helps them catch prey.
It is normal for a Bearded Dragon’s beard to puff out and/or turn black if he/she is excited, ready to mate, ready to fight, scared, or spooked. Males tend to do this much more often. However, if the black beard is constant it could be a sign that the bearded dragon is in pain or something is wrong with his/her habitat. The skin under the scales of a bearded dragon’s beard is jet black.
You may find your Bearded Dragons love water! Some of them really enjoy playing in shallow baths of 1/2″ – 1″ of water. (Although prolonged expose to water could cause your beardie to develop a respiratory infection). They can be very entertaining in water! A warm bath can also help your beardie when he/she is shedding or if he/her has become constipated. Giving your beardie a few drops of olive oil and rubbing your pet’s belly will also help if he/she is constipated.
- Baby bearded dragons grow up fast. They can easily grow more than an inch in a month and can even grow as much as an inch in one week!
- You will read a lot of information about Bearded Dragons and some of it might be conflicting. It is best to use your own judgment in deciding what is best for your pet.
- Be aware of chemicals and objects around the house that a Bearded Dragon might come into contact with when it is out. Bearded Dragons (and other reptiles) are very sensitive to chemicals and can die quickly if they are exposed. They can absorb liquids through their skin, so they can be exposed without even ingesting the poison. Make sure you wash your hands both before and after you handle your Bearded Dragon.
- DO NOT expose your bearded dragon to temperatures that are too hot or too cold. Temperatures should range from 80-100 degrees during the day and never get above 110 degrees, and never fall under 60 degrees at night. Reptiles are cold-blooded and need proper temperatures to digest their food.
- DO NOT leave objects on the floor if your Bearded Dragon is out and be aware of household plants that might be poison. Bearded Dragons tend to eat (or try to eat) anything that looks like it might be food, so be careful what your pets are exposed to. TIP: Potho plants make great house plants and are edible and safe for Bearded Dragons to eat as long as they have not been treated with chemicals.
- DO NOT feed or let your Bearded Dragon eat a Dragon Fly or fireflies! They are poisonous and will kill your dragon!
- Avocados are toxic to beardies!
- DO NOT feed your beardie insects from outside as they might have been exposed to parasites, pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals that can be very harmful or deadly to your pets.
- Be careful not to get any hairs in your pet’s food or cage. Longer hairs that are ingested by your pet are very dangerous, because they can tear your pet’s intestines, cause impaction, or other digestive problems.
- When your bearded dragon is outside, you must keep an eye on them. They are trouble makers and will climb the walls, screen, furniture, etc. They are good climbers, but not great ones. They may suddenly fall when climbing and could seriously injury themselves. They always keep things interesting.
- Avoid feeding Bearded Dragons mealworms. The skin on mealworms cannot be digested by Bearded Dragons, and mealworms that have not been digested or killed while being eaten can eat their way out of your Bearded Dragon. Also, mealworms do not offer much nutritional value for your pet. Crickets are much better for your beardie.
- Keep other pets away from your beardie’s cage and surroundings, because they will likely stress out your dragon.
- Never pick up your dragon by the tail. This can injury your pet. Also, if your Bearded Dragon losses his/her tail, it will NOT re-generate. You should pick up your beardie by gently putting your hand under their belly and lifting them up by supporting their stomach and legs.
- DO NOT use hot rocks since they can sometimes cause serious burns.
- Stress can increase the potential for illnesses, diseases, parasites, and other organisms to spread, so it best to make sure their cage is set-up properly and kept clean and tidy.
Warning Signs- See you exotic veterinarian immediately if you observe any of the following behavior:
- Sunken eyes- This is a serious sign of dehydration and your pet may be near death.
- Decreased Appetite and/ or Weight-loss
- Lethargy / Listlessness
- Swollen limbs, bumps, sores, lesions
- Paralysis- This is a sign of broken bones, nervous system disorder, or poor nutrition.
- Discharge/ mucus in mouth, nose, or eyes- This is a sign of infection.
- Heavy /labored breathing- This is a sign of a respiratory infection.
- Abnormal / runny or watery feces – This is a sign of parasites and dehydration. Also, especially foul smelling feces can be a sign of parasites. Also note that some fruits and greens can cause runny feces, so keep their diet in mind when analyzing their waste.
NOTE: Bearded Dragons are prey animals and may not show any signs of being sick or ill until he/she is near death. It is very important to prevent illness and keep your Bearded Dragon in good health, because it may be too late to do anything when you start seeing signs of illness. Find a vet that is qualified and knowledgeable about your exotic animal, and always ask questions when you need to. Finding a good vet might take some work on your part. Many vets may say they work with exotics, but many are not familiar or well-informed about specific species like bearded dragons. DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND FIND A QUALIFIED VET! (If you live in the Tampa, FL area, the best exotics vet around is Dr. Teresa Lightfoot, DVM, DABVP at Florida Veterinary Specialists & Cancer Treatment Center (FVS)).
Ages of bearded dragons:
Baby: 0-2 months. Hatchlings are normally about 3-4 inches in length. They should be fed size appropriate crickets 2-3 times daily. They should be allowed to eat as may crickets as they want in a 10 minute period. Crickets should be dusted once a day. They should also be introduced to a variety of chopped up greens in a shallow dish. (I like to use inverted plastic container caps). Water should be available in a shallow container, and the walls of the cage may need to be misted.
Juvenile: 2-4 months. After 2 months, bearded dragons should be at least 6-7 inches and could even be as large as 9 inches! Young bearded dragons grow quickly and it is very important that they have a nutritional diet at this stage so they reach their genetic growth potential. They should be given crickets twice a day. These crickets should be dusted every other time. They should also be introduced to a variety of different greens daily and fruits on occasion. Greens include turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, and occasionally kale and spinach (the iron in kale and spinach binds to calcium, so avoid giving your beardie too much too often).
Sub adult: 4-maturity (usually around 18 months). They should be offered crickets once or twice daily, which should be supplemented every second or third day. Greens should make up a more substantial part of their diet. You can introduce other food like superworms, fruits, and commercial bearded dragon food in moderation.
Adult: 18 months +. Adults are typically 18-20 inches and German Giant morphs can be as large as 24 inches. They should be offered greens and crickets every day or every other day. They should be allowed to eat as much greens as they want. Small amounts of fruits can also be offered. You can also offer them commercial bearded dragon pellet food in addition to their regular diet. It is important to make sure they still get an adequate amount of calcium, so it best to supplement their food every other day.
The Importance of Parasite Testing in Reptiles:
Unfortunately, parasites are common in reptiles and are the most common disorder with Bearded Dragons, so testing your pet is extremely important. Some reptiles may show signs of a parasite infection like diarrhea, abnormal stool (usually watery), particularly smelly or foul feces, decreased or increased appetite, weight loss, dehydration, and with some parasite infections you may even see things moving in the animal’s feces. Others may not show any signs of parasites until it is too late to do anything to save their lives. Also, it may be hard to detect the signs of parasites if your pet was infected before you got him/her (as is the case in many incidences), since you would not see changes in appetite or stool. Parasites can be easily spread and can quickly infect an entire collection. They spread through ingestion of feces of an infected animal, contact with a contaminated object or environment, and from contaminated food. It is also possible for hatchlings to have coccidia even if they were never exposed to the environment of the parent.
Having your pet tested for parasites may save your pet’s life. To have your pet tested, you must collect a very recent fecal sample from your pet and bring it to your vet for testing. Some vets may require your pet to stay at their office until a fecal sample is produced. The sample will be examined under a microscope to determine the type(s) of parasites and the best course of treatment. The most common parasite in Bearded Dragons is coccidia, which replicates in the lining of the intestinal tract. Bearded Dragons are also susceptible to pinworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and other parasites. Fortunately, the parasite test is not very expensive or invasive (usually costing anywhere from $10 to over $60), and there are effective de-wormers and anthelmintics (primarily Albon and Panacur) that can help eliminate parasite infections. If a parasite is present, it will also be essential to thoroughly clean your pet’s enclosure and throw out all porous objects that cannot easily be cleaned like climbing sticks, rocks, organic decor, etc. It is also a good idea to house you pet on newspaper and paper towels and used cardboard accessories until the infection is cleared up, so the cage can be easily cleaned daily and every time your pet defecates. The cage and non-porous accessories should be meticulously cleaned and soaked with a water/bleach solution for at least 20 minutes, rinsed thoroughly several times with clean water, and dried. If an object cannot be cleaned thoroughly, it should be thrown out to ensure it does not re-infect your pet. The cage will need to be cleaned thoroughly every day until the infestations has cleared up (usually taking 6-8 weeks). It may be necessary to do more than one round of treatment to eliminate the parasite infection. If the infection cannot be eliminated completely, a de-worming schedule may be advised by your vet.
It is necessary to quarantine any new reptile before introducing it to other health pets to avoid spreading a possible parasite infection. Every new reptile needs to be tested for parasites. Even pets that you’ve had for awhile should be tested. I found this out the hard way. My first and favorite female Bearded Dragon that I had for 3 years died from a parasite she had the whole time I had her. She was active, alert, eating regularly, mating, laying fertile eggs and then she suddenly died. I was heartbroken especially since I had taken her to a vet before she died, and the vet told me she was perfectly healthy. I had even brought up parasite testing during the appointment with the vet, but I was led to believe there was no reason to be concerned, since there were no obvious signs of parasites and her behavior was normal. Had the test been done, she would still be here today. Please don’t let this happen to you. Please find a knowledgeable vet, and insist on getting your pet tested for parasites.
Metabolic Bone Disease and Calcium Deficiencies:
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) and calcium deficiencies are also common it reptiles. MBD is caused by a calcium deficiency in the form of low blood calcium (hypocalcaemia). This happens when there is not an adequate amount of calcium in a reptile’s diet, and this is why a balanced diet including leafy greens and supplement crickets/waxworms/superworms is so important. MBD and calcium deficiencies can cause soft bones, multiple fractures, deformities, bloating, constipation, muscle twitching, and in extreme cases seizures and death. The good news is MBD is completely avoidable as long as your pet is fed a healthy diet supplemented with calcium carbonate and getting the vitamin D3 from sunlight and/or UVB lights.
Vitamin D3 Deficiency:
Vitamin D3 deficiencies are also common in captive reptiles since most of them are housed indoors and natural UVB light must be substituted with artificial UVB bulbs. Vitamin D3 deficiencies will cause problems with the absorption of calcium since vitamin D3 is critical to the process. The good news is vitamin D3 deficiencies are also completely avoidable as long as your reptile gets adequate exposure to quality UVB light (preferable the natural kind). This is wy it is so important to have a quality UVB light (as discussed in the “Supplies” section). Also, on nice warm days take your pet outside on a screened in area or mesh enclosure for at least 20 minutes 3 times a week. I also recommend buying a mesh enclosure that can easily be brought outside on warm sunny days (like a mesh doggy playpen, which are inexpensive and foldable. Don’t use a glass enclosure outside since the it can amplify the light and get too hot). Always supervisor your pets when they are outside and never leave them unattended. Just 20 minutes 3 times a week outside or more will make a huge difference in your pet’s life.
Determining the Gender of a Bearded Dragon:
It should be easy to determine the gender of an adult Bearded Dragon if you very gently lift up the bearded dragon’s tail and look at the base of his/her tail and thighs. (There are more invasive methods to determine the gender, but these techniques should only be done by an expert). Males have dominant femoral pores on their thighs and have bulges on the sides of the base of their tail. Also, males tend to have larger and broader heads than females (although this is not always the case). Females have much smaller femoral pores and have one small bulge in the middle of the base of their tail. You may also notice the differences in male’s and female’s behavior. Females tend to do a slower head bob than males. It is usually difficult to determine the gender of baby bearded dragons, since males have not developed large femoral pores and any bulges may be difficult to see and distinguish.
My Bearded Dragons: