Bearded Dragon
Pogona vitticeps

Basic Facts
  • Native to Central Australia 
  • Size
    • 12-24 inches long 
  • Live span: In captive settings 8-12 years with proper care.
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Puberty: 12-18 months of age.
  • Eggs:  They typically lay 11-30 oblong eggs

Some reasons why Bearded Dragons make great pets
  • Great long term pets with the proper care
  • Generally hardy
  • Maintain manageable size even in adulthood
  • Can be kept in groups assuming no aggressive males
  • Readily available as captive bred to avoid wild caught animals

Behavior and Ecology
  • Your bearded dragon can be trained to be comfortable with handling and even leash trained. This takes time and patience. Handling your dragon daily, in a nonthreatening manner, initially for short periods of time, will help them to become accustom to handling. Over time, you can increase the intervals of time and exposure to more activity. A comfortable lizard should not try to run away and should not have a black, puffed out chin.
  • Bearded dragons have a variety of displays and behaviors that will give you an indication of how they are feeling about a situation. These displays should not be ignored as they will be your first indication of you dragon being unhappy or stressed. Sustained stress will lead to illness and a shorter life span.
    • Black Chin – this is generally a sign of stress and your animal feeling threatened. If you see the black chin, your animal is probably feeling fear. Change the situation to make your dragon feel more safe and comfortable.
    • Puffed out chin – this is generally an indication that your lizard is a little stressed. If the chin is puffed out AND black, you lizard feels very threatened and may defend itself by biting or fleeing.
    • Head bobbing – depending on the speed of bobbing, this is either a dominance behavior or a breeding behavior. Head bobbing is used between males to show dominance, and may result in a fight between the males. Head bobbing at a female is an attempt to attract her to mate.
    • Arm Waving – seen in both males and females, and not well understood, it may be a way of identifying each other
    • Gaping/Open Mouth – this can occur because of respiratory problems related to illness, but it is also used as a way of regulating body temperature in dragons. 
    • If you dragon is eating and acting normally, has not nasal or eye discharge, and is generally healthy, it is probably just venting off some extra heat.
    • Gaping can also be used as a threat/stress behavior.
    • Stacking – when multiple animals stack on top of each other. This can occur for two main reasons, 1) dominance; 2) lack of availability of sufficient basking/warm spots in the enclosure. If your animals are stacking, first look at husbandry, then consider that there may be a dominant animal in the tank and watch for signs of stress in the submissive(s)
    • You should get to know your dragon and its behavior. Regularly observing them in their enclosure is necessary to know what behaviors your animal is expressing. If animal is showing signs of stress, immediate action should be taken to resolve the cause of the stress. A stressed lizard will become a sick lizard rather quickly.
    • Any changes in behavior should be noted and significant changes should be considered possible indications of illness. Reptiles do not show illness as clearly as many other animals.
  • Zoonosis: Salmonella bacteria is easily spread between reptiles and humans:
  • Husbandry
    • Housing: 
    • Size
    • Breaded dragons need a secured enclosure of sufficient size to allow a good thermal gradient and having multiple hides. Depending on the size of the bearded dragon, a 55 gallon enclosure will generally be appropriate for an adult animal. Younger animals can be kept in smaller tanks but will need upsizing as they grow. The enclosure should be large enough to allow one end to be around 75-80F with a hot spot at around 100F. 
    • Any cleaning/disinfecting products used should be completely rinsed from all dishes, props and the enclosure before the dragon comes in contact with it. Strongly scented cleaners can be very irritating to lizards.
    • Bedding Material and Enclosure Props
    • Care should be taken to make sure your dragon is not ingesting bedding material either inadvertently (attached to food) or intentionally. Sand is generally not a good substrate as it is easily ingested and can cause impactions. Beardeds do very well on artificial turf which can be changed out and cleaned regularly. Two pieces of artificial turf that fit the bottom of the cage will allow you to trade them out as needed to keep the enclosure clean.
    • Hide boxes should be provided that are sufficient size to make the dragon feel protected and safe. Boxes should be provided in multiple areas to allow them to select based on temperature choice.
    • Climbing structures, like drift wood, allow the dragon to get closer to the hot spots and makes their enclosure more interesting.
    • Alternative/Outdoor Housing
    • When temperatures are appropriate and maintaining throughout the night, taking your dragon outdoors allows for exposure to high quality UVA/UVB and mental/physical stimulation. Great care should be taken to not allow the dragon to escape. After basking, they will be much more active and prone to dart away from you. Harnesses and leashes can work very well on bearded dragons if they are given the opportunity to adjust to them. Be aware, when basking, bearded dragons, especially males, will often display their black chin. Do not be alarmed, it they are posturing like they are not scared, they are fine.
    • Outdoor enclosures should be secured from other animals entering the enclosure such as raccoons and opossums, which can injure or kill the dragon. Aquaria or other glass enclosures should not be used as they act like a greenhouse and can become overheated easily. A welded wire or chicken wire enclosure can be made that will allow air flow but care should be taken to assure there are no gaps or openings and that there are no pieces of wire sticking out where the bearded can be injured on it. Outdoor enclosure should be placed in an area that is partially shaded as direct sun can cause overheating. The enclosure should include hide boxes to give the dragon a place to feed secure should anything startle them. Climbing structures should be available. 
    • Lighting
      • Full spectrum lighting- UVA/UVB
      • This is necessary for Vitamin D3 synthesis which is needed for calcium metabolism. A lack of proper lighting can cause metabolic bone disease and other illnesses.
      • These bulbs are generally effective for about 6-10 months and will need replacement afterward. Fluorescent UVB bulbs do not project UVB very far, so it is necessary to have it positioned closely - 10 inches above the basking area would suffice. Care should be taken to assure hide boxes and enclosure props cannot be moved to damage the lights. Special halogen and mercury vapor UVA/UVB lighting can give broad spectrum light at a greater distance than fluorescent but also produce a significant amount of heat.
      • Any plastic or glass in the aquarium hood/lid or in the light fixture will impede UV light and will need to be removed. Most house window are coated to block UV light so they should not be considered a source of UV light (though it is possible to get window panes replaced with UV penetrable glass).
      • Light cycles can change throughout the year to mimic changes in day length, however it is easier to place lights on an automatic timer to assure consistency.
      • Basking lighting
        • Red lights can be used for 24hour hot spots in one area of the enclosure. These lights do not provide any UVA/UVB and should be placed a safe distance from hide boxes and props.
    • Temperature: 
      • Temperature is critical for a healthy bearded dragon. The enclosure should have a cool end with the temps in the low 80's and a basking spot at 90-95°F. Night time temperature drops are needed (Low 80s-High 70s). If they are kept too cool they can't digest their food. Too warm and they stop eating.
      • Invest in a good thermometer. Check all areas of the enclosure to monitor for changes.
      • Temperature can be maintained via an under enclosure heater or spot lights. Temperature should be closely monitored to determined daily maximum temperature and to assure that basking lights and UV lights are not causing the enclosure to become overheated. Care should be taken to assure changes in ambient temperature are not adversely impacting your enclosure temperature.
      • Monitor temperatures closely during seasonal changes as they can become too hot in the summer and too cool in the winter.
    • Diet: 
      • Bearded dragons are omnivores. They eat invertebrates and vegetables.
      • Though they tend to like them, feeding too many super/meal worms and crickets can cause impactions. Super/meal worms should be offered as a protein source, but not in excess and not exclusively. Waxworms are not as likely to cause impactions but they are high in fat and should be used sparingly. Regularly offering waxworms as a treat is beneficial because if the dragon ever needs medication, medication can be injected into waxworms and the dragons will often take them readily.
      • Avoid avocados, onions, stone fruit pits, apple seeds, as they can cause health issues.
      • Growing grass, clovers, grated carrots and yams, endive, escarole, and small amounts of romaine lettuce can help supplement your dragon’s diet. All vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove any pesticide residue. Dandelions, mulberry leaves, wild grape leaves, and other natural weeds are optimum foods, plus rose and hibiscus petals are readily eaten (watch for pesticides!). Do not use insecticides of any kind on grass, plants or trees in your yard. If you dragon is picky about eating vegetables, you can find a fruit they really like (apples, oranges, etc) and crush that fruit and coat the less tasty greens with it, this will entice your lizard to eat. Remember, iceberg lettuce is essentially water and has not nutritional value to your dragon.
      • A shallow dish of water must be provided for drinking and soaking in both indoor and outdoor accommodations. The dish should be of sufficient size that the lizard can climb in to soak, but shallow enough to make it simple to enter and exit the bath. Water will need changed very regularly as dragon will often defecate as they soak.
      • One of the most important supplements is calcium. If there is a good source of UVB as with dragon kept outdoors, a light dusting of the food with calcium daily is sufficient. Indoors use phosphorous free calcium with D3 (Rep-Cal Calcium with Vitamin D3). Many of the greens also have good levels of calcium in them.

When should my Bearded Dragon see the Veterinarian?
  • Any new pet should be examined by a veterinarian, then have yearly check-ups with a veterinarian as long as they are healthy.
  • Below are some common problems seen in Bearded Dragons and recommendations of when to see your veterinarian. If you are ever concerned about the health of your pet do not hesitate to call.

Common problems with Bearded Dragon and Signs to watch for
  • Metabolic bone disease (MBD) will cause malformation of the dragon’s bones as they grow. It is a serious but preventable disease brought on by deficiencies of calcium and/or vitamin D3. Early cases are treatable but advanced cases may be too difficult to overcome. It is possible that MBD animals may have incurred other diseases due to poor diet and conditions. 
  • Lizards can be susceptible to respiratory ailments. Runny or bubbly nose, loss of appetite and gasping are symptoms of upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) or pneumonia. 
  • Trauma: fall, drop, or animal attack (Dogs mistake turtles as chew toys)
  • Male bearded dragons can be aggressive to females and other males. They will bit at the legs of the other and can cause injuries. 
  • Bearded dragons will often need nail trims. Using cat nail trimmers works well, but avoid cutting the quick as it will bleed and be uncomfortable for the lizard.
  • Female that have bred can become “egg bound”, which means they are unable to pass their eggs. Any female that has been housed with a male should be monitored regularly for eggs.
  • Impactions: If fed too many mealworms or crickets, your dragon’s intestinal tract can become impacted with the exoskeletons of the worms/crickets. The outside of these feeder insects are not digested and are normally passed. They can also become impacted if they are eating sand or bedding from their enclosure. If this occurs, your dragon will stop eating and become lethargic. If your animals is not eating and there is a chance of impaction, our vet will want to check xrays. If impacted, your dragon may need fluids and tube feeding to get them back on track. 
  • Lizards often suffer from injuries to their tails. They can lose parts of their tail due to getting it closed in the enclosure door, stepped on, or otherwise injured. Any injury to the tail, including small injuries, should be checked by a veterinarian as injection may be an issue. Larger injuries may require partial amputation of the tail tip.
  • As lizards are very active and fast, trauma can be a problem in dragons. Owners accidentally dropping or stepping on animals is common. Though there may not be an external injury in these cases, your dragon may be painful from the injury and require pain management. If any such injury occurs, and your dragon does not return to normal within 8-12 hours, they should be seen by a veterinarian.

This list contains the most common problems seen in pet Bearded Dragon. If your dragon is not eating, is acting lethargic, or if you are at all concerned call your veterinarian, they can assist you in determining if and when your pet should be seen. As a general rule, reptiles do no show illness until it is a significant issue, so prompt attention should be given to changes in attitude. Many medical problems seen in tortoises and other reptiles are often tied to improper husbandry. Please research proper husbandry techniques to assure you are keeping your tortoise healthy and happy.

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