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Bearded Dragon

Pogona vitticeps

Bearded Dragon

LIFE SPAN:

4-10 years

AVERAGE SIZE:

14-22 inches

CAGE TEMPS:

Warm side - 78-90℉
Basking - 95-100℉
Cool side - 68℉
* If temp falls below 68℉ at night, may need supplemental infrared or ceramic heat for night-time

CAGE HUMIDITY:

Low(desert dweller)

WILD HISTORY:

Bearded Dragons are from the arid, semi-desert regions of Australia. They love to climb, and spend much of their time in bushes and low trees. They also bask on rocks and warm areas in the high sun. Bearded dragons do have distinct puffy beards, which grows larger and darker when the dragon is angered or annoyed.

NORMAL BEHAVIOR & INTERACTION:

Very social & engaging - generally very gregarious. Beardies handle well and often seem to actually enjoy being held & petted. By lizard standards, bearded dragons are very social animals. In nature, males become territorial and can engage in ritualized dominance struggles. Females may also have trouble getting along. For this reason, it is easiest for the pet owner to keep only one per enclosure.

Housing male dragons together will create a dominant/submissive hierarchy and will result in one dragon becoming stressed to the point of illness, anorexia, and possibly death. Male dragons also tend to be extremely aggressive toward one another and will fight, sometimes to the death.
Female dragons may be housed together IF there is ample space and food for each dragon. Two to three dragons can live happily in a 75 gallon tank.
Males and females should NOT be housed together, as the male dragons will continually try to mate with the females leaving the females exhausted, aggravated, and stressed. The female may stop eating and become extremely ill.

NOTE: Bearded dragons should not be housed with lizards of any other species.

FEEDING:

Bearded Dragons are omnivorous, which means they eat both meat and vegetables. About 20% of an adult’s diet should be made up of plant matter, the remaining percentage being protein.

VEGETABLES: Dark leafy vegetables such as collard and mustard greens, kale and red tip leaf lettuce are good for a dragon, as are alfalfa pellets, clover, parsley, broccoli, green beans, peas, squash, grated carrots and sweet potatoes. Spinach and iceberg lettuce should never be fed. Fruits such as figs, kiwi, apples, raspberries, strawberries and melons can also be fed, but should not be given as often. Remember to wash vegetables thoroughly, then cut or shred to make it easier to ingest. Remove any uneaten vegetables before turning the lights off at night.

PROTEIN: Protein sources such as: gut-loaded crickets, mealworms, cockroaches, kingworms, wax worms and pinkie mice dusted with a supplement should also be part of their diet. Wild caught insects should never be fed, since they can carry disease. All insects should be gut-loaded (fed a nutritious diet about 24-hours before being offered to your dragon - see our cricket care sheet). Be careful to feed the proper size prey for your dragon’s size. A good rule of thumb is that a cricket should be never be larger than the distance between the lizard’s eyes, or the distance from its eyes to its nose. When feeding larger insects to your pet, try to make sure the insects have recently molted, as an insect with a large, hard exoskeleton is difficult to digest and may cause impactions.

LIGHTNING BUGS MUST NEVER BE FED TO A BEARDED DRAGON. THEY ARE POISONOUS.

Adults should be given insects 2-3 times a week, with salads on the rest of the days. Feed as many insects as the lizard can eat in 3-5 minutes. All uneaten insects should be removed from the enclosure as they can bite your dragon and cause injury, especially to the eyes. Some bearded dragon owners find it easier to feed their pet in a separate enclosure, free of bedding and furniture. This way you can be sure your lizard eats all its insects, the prey cannot hide, and the lizard will not pick up any bedding when grabbing prey and mistakenly ingest it.

Commercially prepared bearded dragon diets are available, but they should never constitute the whole diet of your lizard. They can be left in the enclosure (on the cool side) in case your pet is hungry between meals.

SHEDDING:

Unlike snakes, lizards shed their skin in patches, not all in one piece. Your pet will become an overall dull color, and the skin over the eyelids may ‘pop’ at a certain point and make your lizard look like a bug-eyed bullfrog. Do not peel off the skin if it is not ready to come off. This can be dangerous and painful. Most lizard species will shed every 4-6 weeks. If the enclosure environment is ideal, the keeper often has no idea that their pet has shed, as it will happen more quickly and the lizard will often eat its own shed skin.

In the wild, lizards have a much easier time with their sheds, as they are generally in a more naturally humid environment and have access to pools or bodies of water in which they can soak at will. Even lizards from arid areas find humid places to go during the shedding process, such as cold, moist burrows under the sand or caves. The shedding process happens when the lizard’s body begins to grow a new layer of skin. That new layer begins to separate from the old and a very thin layer of fluid forms between the two layers. If your pet’s enclosure is too dry, this fluid layer will not form properly, making it difficult for your lizard to shed properly.

To create more humidity, the entire tank can be lightly spray misted twice a day during shedding time. Spray once in the morning and once later in the day. Make sure the later spray dries completely before lights go off for the night. Some lizards may also benefit from a ‘moist box’ during shedding time. This can be a Tupperware-like container (with the cover on) containing a bed of moist reptile terrarium moss. The container should be big enough for the entire lizard to be inside with an entry door cut in the side just large enough for the lizard to come and go at will. Keep the moss moist but not watery, and place the box on the heating pad in the tank.

If your lizard still has a hard time getting the shed completely off its toes, tail or head help him by spraying the area with water and gently massaging the skin until it peels off. If the retained shed is severe and cannot be removed easily, see your exotic veterinarian.

SUPPLEMENTS:

Dust food with calcium supplement and vitamin supplements. As a rule, a growing juvenile’s food (and a pregnant female’s) should be dusted more often than an adult’s. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for applying supplements to avoid over-supplementing food. Our veterinarian recommends dusting insects with a good quality calcium supplement fortified with vitamin D3, 2-3 times a week. (Avoid using a calcium supplement with added phosphorous, unless specifically directed by your veterinarian, since this can promote kidney disease.) As your pet matures and eats more greens, you can supplement either the vegetables or insects. Always consult your veterinarian for specific directions on supplementing your pet’s food, since there are many variables that go into determining the best supplementation regimen for each animal.

WATER:

All water given to lizards for bathing, swimming or drinking, as well as water used for misting must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water. Never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. If you do not want to chemically de-chlorinate the water, you can leave an open container of tap water out for at least 24 hours. The chlorine will naturally dissipate. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions. Change the water in your dragon’s enclosure every one to two days. A daily misting or two with chlorine-free water will also be appreciated. However, care should be taken not to allow the enclosure to become damp. Also, do not mist less than two hours before turning the heat lamps off for the day.

SOAKING:

Lizards can benefit greatly from a good deep-water soak at least once a week. A Tupperware container makes a good lizard bathtub. Fill the container deep enough so the entire lizard’s body can be submerged under water, but the head can be out of water. The water should be nice and warm (about 68-70 degrees). Soak your lizard for about a half hour at a time. This is especially helpful during a bad shed or when your dragon might be a bit constipated.

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES:

40 - 100 gallon reptile tank with very secure mesh top with clips.
(20 L (20x13) tank is acceptable for babies)
Lg. dome and 100 watt bulb for 40 gal (36x18 tank)
Lg. dome and 150 watt bulb for 75 gal (48x18 tank)
(dome and 75 watt basking bulb for 20x13 baby tank)
Under tank heater - placed under same side of tank as basking light. Temperature / humidity gauge - do not stick to side of tank.
At least one dry hide house. Shredded aspen bedding, newspaper or paper towels for the bottom of the tank.
Large water bowl big enough to soak in. Fluorescent UVB Bulb and housing.

HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT:

Lizards are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, which means they are dependent on the temperature of their immediate environment to regulate their body temperature. Therefore, we must create an environment with several heat gradients - warm on one end and cool on the other. With this set-up, your pet can go to either end depending on whether he needs to be warmer or cooler.

ENCLOSURE SIZE: The enclosure should be a solid glass sided tank long enough to create the two separate temperature gradients (warm and cool). A bearded dragon tank should be at least 30-40 gallons or larger for an adult and at least 20L for a baby.
IT IS NOT TRUE THAT A LIZARD WILL ONLY GROW AS LARGE AS ITS ENCLOSURE!

COVER: Make sure the cage has an escape-proof metal mesh top. It should fit snugly onto the tank and have strong clips locking it on. It is important that the top is METAL mesh, as you will place the heat lamp directly on top of this cover.

HEAT PAD: Reptile heat pads can be adhered directly onto the underside of the glass bottom of the tank. Stick pad on the glass on one of the very far ends of the tank. For safety reasons, make sure to attach the rubber feet (contained in the box) at all four corners of the underside of the tank. This will allow air to circulate underneath the tank and prevent the heat from being trapped under the tank. NOTE: DO NOT use reptile heat rocks. They heat unevenly and have caused severe thermal burns in reptiles. Heat pads specifically manufactured for reptiles are safe for pets to be in contact with and are safe to leave on 24 hours a day.

HEAT LAMP: Place the heat dome with the basking bulb on top of the cage directly over where the reptile heat pad has been placed on the underside of one end of the tank. NOTE: Follow directions carefully with all products - READ THE INSTRUCTION SHEET! Always choose fixtures with ceramic sockets and be careful to choose the socket that is properly rated for the wattage bulb that you will be using. Do not place the fixtures by dry wood or flammable fabrics. All heaters should be placed out of the reach of children and all pets - including cats and dogs. Be very careful to make sure that your caged pet cannot reach and touch the heating device in its own cage. A thermal burn to the face or body can be painful and life threatening.

**UVB LIGHT: Lizards MUST be exposed to UVB lighting 8-12 hours a day. This exposure is CRITICAL in allowing the animal to synthesize vitamin D3 and absorb calcium. If your pet is NOT exposed to an adequate level of UVB lighting, it will gradually develop a metabolic bone disorder, which can be fatal if left untreated. Fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs that produce UVB rays should be replaced every six months, as the UVB levels drop significantly after this time, rendering the bulb useless. All glass and plastic blocks UVB light, so overhead light sources should be kept behind a wire mesh cover, never a glass or plastic cover. This light source should be about twelve inches from the animal, but follow packaging directions carefully - or bring your bulb to your exotic pet veterinarian to be read by a meter.

HIDING HOUSE: Place a hide house inside the cage directly over where you have positioned the heat pad, and directly under the heat lamp above.

WATER BOWL: The large water crock can be placed on the opposite end of the cage, along with another hide house, if desired.

SUBSTRATE: We recommend a shredded aspen bedding since it will not cause impactions to the dragon if it is accidentally ingested and it is easy to clean. Daily spot cleaning becomes easy by just removing the soiled portion of aspen. Newspaper, paper towels can also be used. If “reptile carpeting” is used, it MUST be kept extremely clean. The carpeting can foster the growth of bacteria and fungus, which can in turn be very dangerous to your pet. If you insist on using the carpet, purchase two so you can interchange them regularly.

BRANCHES & PLANTS: Bearded dragons love to climb, and additionally must have a basking area on the warm side of the tank. Choose branches that your dragon can climb on safely and lie on comfortably. The basking area can consist of branches and a platform positioned under the basking light so the dragon sits about six inches under the lamp. Sand blasted grape vine branches are available in the pet store. These serve as good, sturdy climbing branches. Be careful of bringing in branches from outside, as they can house parasites.

TEMPERATURES: Cage temperatures should be monitored daily and be kept at the temperatures listed at the top of this page. Use your reptile thermometer to check the temperatures in different places in the cage regularly to make sure they continually match the listed proper temperatures. * If the room temperature falls below 68 degrees at night, a supplemental infrared or ceramic heat fixture may be necessary. (These fixtures do not emit a light spectrum that is visible to the dragon, so it will not disturb him at night, but they WILL provide the necessary supplemental heat.) If your lizard does not receive the proper heat at the proper temperatures along with UVB light, he may become sick with issues such as respiratory disease or MBD and may stop eating, as lizards have a hard time digesting their food without proper heat and light.

DAY/NIGHT LIGHT CYCLES AND HEATING:

All lizards must have distinct day and night periods in their enclosure to maintain their biological rhythms. Bearded dragons need 8-12 hours of daytime and 8-12 hours of nighttime. However, as the daylight hours change seasonally outside, daylight hours inside the tank should reflect the same. The day period must be light, and the night period must be dark. A timer should be used to set day/night periods.

HABITAT MAINTENANCE:

Daily maintenance should consist of spot cleaning by removing soiled substrate, cleaning water bowl thoroughly and wiping glass clean.

The entire tank should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every month with: A mild dishwashing liquid (a weak dilution) in warm water, THEN Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32)

Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.

RINSE OFF ALL SOAP AND BLEACH THOROUGHLY WITH PLAIN WATER BEFORE RE-INTRODUCING YOUR PET TO ITS ENCLOSURE!

NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH - IT CREATES A TOXIC SOLUTION

GROOMING & HYGIENE:

To reduce the risk of contracting and spreading salmonella poisoning, all handlers should wash their hands after handling any lizard.

SIGNS OF A HEALTHY ANIMAL:

smooth, even skin; no traces of mites (small, reddish brown spots around nostrils, near ears and eyes); clear, bright eyes; rounded, full body; strong, even, smooth jaw line; regular record of healthy feeding and defecating schedule. It is very important to keep a journal for each animal that records feeding, refusing, defecation, shedding, unusual behavior, changes in behavior and dates of bulb changes. This will help your veterinarian trouble-shoot any health issues. We recommend physical exams every year or two years with an exotic pet veterinarian for pet lizards, reptiles and amphibians. If your vet sees your pet regularly, many common conditions that afflict pet lizards, reptiles and amphibians can be caught and treated early. If not caught early enough or if left untreated, many of these conditions can become far worse if not fatal.

SIGNS OF ILLNESS:

Irregular scales; small reddish brown spots (mites) around mouth, eye area, ear area; irregular jaw line, ‘dents’ in mouth with (or without) cottage cheese-like material (mouth rot); cloudy eyes or dull colored body when not in a shed; dark patches on body; thinned body; irregular feeding and defecating habits. Limp, lethargic, sunken eyes; obvious bite marks or wounds from cage mate or prey. Red, fluid filled patches may indicate thermal burns.

SOME COMMON PROBLEMS INCLUDE:

HEALTH ISSUE: SYMPTOMS: TREATMENT:
Calcium/phosphorus imbalance; MBD Failure to grow, weakness, limb deformities and fractures, seizures See exotic pet veterinarian and, ensure optimal diet with proper calcium supplementation and UV light.
Intestinal parasites (coccidia and pinworms are common) Failure to grow, loss of appetite, abnormal stools See exotic pet veterinarian (fecal parasite evaluation and appropriate medication).
Egg binding in females Abdominal enlargement, decreased appetite, difficulty defecating See an exotic pet veterinarian immediately.

©2012 Dawn M. Trainor-Scalise

Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets

In conjunction with Pet Supplies “Plus”

10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031

Ph (716) 759-0144

www.buffalobirdnerd.com