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Small Animal Medicine & Surgery
Call us today! 704-636-6613
Call us today! 704-636-6613

3200 Sherrills Ford Road
Salisbury, NC 28147

Bearded Dragons: Beginner Care Tips From A Salisbury, NC Veterinarian

January 15 2024

Bearded dragons are one of the world’s most popular reptiles, and it’s not hard to see why: these guys are cute, gentle, friendly, and easy to care for. Some are even cuddly! Their low-maintenance nature makes them ideal for beginner keepers. Unlike other reptiles, they don’t require a large living space; the average adult beardie only reaches two feet in length. These friendly creatures have their own unique traits. Many are known to be quite affectionate — a rare quality among reptiles. However, first-time owners will need to learn a bit about these pretty reptiles before taking the plunge. In this article, a local Salisbury, NC veterinarian discusses some basics of beardie care.

Basic Info About Bearded Dragons

The Bearded dragon is native to central Australia. They usually live about 8 to 10 years. Most are a sandy color, which helps them blend into their native environment, but some can be yellow or orange. 

Wondering where these guys got their name? Beardies flare out the skin under their chins when they’re scared, which makes them look like they have little beards.

Choosing The Best Terrarium for Your Bearded Dragon

The size of your pet’s habitat will depend on their age. You’ll need a minimum of a 20-gallon terrarium for a young beardie. However, considering beardies’ rapid growth rate, investing in a 40-gallon one may be wise. Full-grown dragons require at least 70 gallons (0.26 cubic meters). 

Your pet dragon’s home should have more horizontal space than vertical space. When choosing a substrate, there are various options to pick from, such as newspaper, butcher paper, and reptile carpet. If you go with paper, you’ll need to change it daily. Sand substrate is not recommended, especially for young dragons. They can swallow the particles, which can cause intestinal blockages. Ask your vet for advice.  

Temperature Requirements For Bearded Dragons

Beardies have particular temperature requirements. In order for these guys to maintain their internal temperature, you must set up your terrarium so that it offers different zones, or gradients. The warmer end should be 95 to 105 F, and the cooler end around 85 F. The habitat can be cooler at night.

You’ll need a few good thermometers. We would recommend that you check the temperatures several times a day at first, and then at least once or twice a day after it’s ‘settled’ a bit. We’d also suggest getting a hygrometer to check humidity. You’ll want to aim for about 30 to 40 percent humidity. Ask your vet for specific advice.

Accessories For Bearded Dragons

When setting up your pet’s habitat, remember to incorporate furnishings. A basking perch is essential for your pet dinosaur to relax on while enjoying the artificial sunlight. Options for perches include driftwood, large rocks, or grape vines — just make sure whatever you choose is durable enough to withstand your pet’s movements. Including plants can also add a nice touch, but take care not to use anything that could be toxic. Beardies occasionally consume their decor. Don’t forget to provide at least one hide for your pet’s comfort.

You should use shallow bowls for your pet’s food. This is especially important if you have a baby lizard, as they may drown in deep bowls. Place the bowls in the cooler end of the terrarium to prevent food spoilage. (This of course doesn’t apply to still-moving food. We’ll get to that shortly.)

Bearded Dragon Heat/Lighting

Full spectrum lighting is essential for bearded dragons. If they don’t get enough UVB, they won’t be able to process calcium and vitamin D properly. This can cause severe health problems, such as metabolic bone disease, or MBD, a debilitating and extremely painful condition.

In the wild, beardies get their UVB from sunlight. Because your pet will live indoors, you will need to provide lighting.

Several things need to be considered here:

  • Young beardies may require stronger bulbs than adults.
  • The lights should be set on a timed, 12-hour cycle.
  • Fluorescent bulbs should be at least a foot away from your dragon to prevent burns.
  • Change these regularly, and keep fresh ones on hand at all times. They may lose power long before you see any difference.

Ask your Salisbury, NC animal hospital for more information on choosing and setting up UVA and UVB lights.

Bearded Dragon Diets

Beardies are omnivores, and eat both plants and insects. 

For insects, you can offer crickets, horn worms, wasps, elder bugs, Dubia roaches, butter worms, or mealworms for bugs. Store-bought insects are recommended, because wild bugs could be contaminated with pesticides. They can also carry parasites or diseases. 

You must dust your pet’s bugs with nutritional powder before they become lunch. This is called gut-loading. Your vet may also recommend specific supplements, such as calcium, vitamin D, and multivitamins for beardies. Be sure to remove uneaten bugs, as your pet’s lunch may decide to bite back.

Your reptilian friend can also eat certain fruits and vegetables. Offer your lizard a lot of leafy green veggies, such as dandelion, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, and endive. Beardies can also eat yellow, red, and orange vegetables, such as bell peppers, carrots, and butternut squash.

Fruits are fine in small portions. Just don’t overdo it, as they are high in sugar. Strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, peaches, figs, dates, and apricots are all good choices.

Bearded dragons can also munch on flowers, as long as they weren’t treated with chemicals. Dandelions, roses, carnations, and geraniums are all fine to eat. Not all flowers are safe, so make sure you do some research before offering them to your pet. (These also make really cute hats.)

Last but not least, you’ll need to keep your pet dinosaur properly hydrated. Make sure your beardie has fresh water at all times. Regular soaks will also benefit your reptilian friend. Ask your vet for specific recommendations.

Your pet’s diet will change over time. Younger dragons require more insects for protein, while older dragons can eat more vegetables and fewer insects. It’s always a good idea to research a new food before offering it to your lizard, and to consult your Salisbury, NC veterinarian for specific advice.

Watch Your Beardie For Signs Of Sickness

While bearded dragons are generally hardy and healthy, they are susceptible to illness and injury. Just like with any other pet, you’ll need to watch for signs that something isn’t right. 

Here are some of the main ones to watch out for:

  • Incomplete Sheds
  • Weight/Composition Changes
  • Lethargy
  • Sunken Eyes
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Unusual Movements Or Posture
  • Trouble Walking
  • Tail Kinks 
  • Hanging Jaw
  • Discoloration
  • Lesions
  • Lack Of Appetite (Note: this can be normal just before a shed.)
  • Respiratory Issues
  • Strange Movements
  • Limping
  • Stiffness/Weakness

If you spot any of these red flags, contact your Salisbury, NC vet right away. Keep in mind that it’s essential (and fun) to pay attention to your pet dragon and interact with him. The better you get to know your beardie, the easier it will be for you to notice subtle signs that something is wrong. 

Do you want to learn more about bearded dragons? Have you just adopted one of these cute lizards?  Contact us, your local Salisbury, NC pet hospital, today! 

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