Tips on Keeping Bearded Dragons as Pets
Bearded dragons originate from Australia. However, these reptiles, distinctive for the spiny projections that jut out around their chins (hence the name 'bearded' dragon) and bodies, have become popular as pets around the world. Bearded dragons remain fairly small for reptiles, usually growing to less than 2 feet in length, and are easy to handle. Bearded dragons come in a variety of colors. They can be green, red, orange, yellow, white, gray or brown. They generally seem to enjoy attention from their owners, so are often good pets for youngsters, although bearded dragons need to be handled gently, particularly when young. Bearded dragon care is fairly simple once you have established a suitable environment for it to live in.
BUYING A BEARDED DRAGON:
Make sure that you check any bearded dragon that you are thinking of buying for any open wounds, or pus around the eyes. Also make sure it is alert and bright-eyed. You want a healthy specimen to begin with. Veterinary bills are often expensive and you probably won't want to shell out on them straight away, especially on top of the other initial expenses, such as buying the bearded dragon itself, as well as its living quarters and food. Bearded dragons quite often lose toes, or bits of their tail, for instance. If this is the case, but the wound has healed over already, it may still be fine to buy it. Try to get a bearded dragon that is longer than 6 inches in length. Any smaller than this and they will be a bit fragile to look after for a while, so you are more likely to have problems with them.
PROVIDING A SUITABLE HABITAT FOR BEARDED DRAGONS:
As bearded dragons grow quite quickly and usually mature in under a year, it makes sense to get them a full size vivarium straight away. A wooden vivarium is preferable to glass for bearded dragons. It is easier to keep the temperature constant for them in a wooden environment, although the vivarium should have a screen-type lid to ensure adequate ventilation and correct humidity. Make sure that the dimensions of the vivarium are around 48 x 24 x 24 inches. This will give your bearded dragon enough room to move around in comfortably.
Bearded dragons are cold-blooded desert creatures ordinarily, so they need sources of both UVB lighting and heat. They can lie in the heat and get warm when they need to and the UVB lighting is important for bearded dragons to metabolize vitamin D effectively, otherwise their calcium absorption is likely to be inadequate and they can develop poor bones. UVB strip lighting should be placed over the length of the vivarium. Your bearded dragon needs to be able to easily get within 8 inches of it for it to be effective. Bearded dragons need between 12 and 14 hours of UVB light daily.
Bearded dragons also need a suitable reptilian light bulb installed at one end of the vivarium to give them extra heat, especially during the day. You can use a standard light bulb with a ceramic holder and protective cover, so that your bearded dragon doesn't burn itself. Alternatively, pet shops sometimes sell special reptilian basking lights. Discuss the options with the pet store owner when you are buying your bearded dragon. You will also need a thermometer to ensure that the temperature stays around 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and about 80 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Line the bottom of your bearded dragon's vivarium with beech wood chippings, ideally. Newspaper will do when your bearded dragon is small, but beech wood chippings are better. Although some pet shops may sell sand especially for reptile vivariums, bearded dragons are likely to eat small, gritty substances along with their food. This can build up inside them and make them ill. When the vivarium is in place, put some fake plants and rocks around the environment to make it more interesting for your bearded dragon. Keep your bearded dragon's habitat clean. Take out feces and uneaten food regularly. Change the wood chippings around once a month, or as necessary. Periodically clean it out well with a reptilian disinfectant too.
FEEDING BEARDED DRAGONS:
Bearded dragons eat a combination of live food and vegetation. When they are young they should have around 80% of their total diet as live foods such as locusts, crickets and meal worms. You need to have a separate container to keep the insects and worms alive in. There are additives you can buy to help keep them fresh and juicy for your bearded dragon. Once bearded dragons are fully grown their diet should be gradually changed to a ratio of around 80% vegetation to 20% live food. Some good types of vegetation to feed bearded dragons are leafy salads, kale, clover, parsnips, carrots and peppers. You can also buy vitamin and mineral supplements which you can put on their food before they eat it.
Bearded dragons rarely drink from a bowl. They are more likely to get extra fluid by licking the dew off plants and rocks. You should mist your bearded dragon's vivarium at least once daily using a water sprayer. Ensure that the rocks and plants get covered well. However, also keep a dish of clean water in the vivarium. Bearded dragons sometimes like to bathe in it and your pet will have the option of drinking from it if it needs to.
KEEPING MIXED SEX BEARDED DRAGONS TOGETHER:
You can keep as female bearded dragons as you like in the same vivarium, as long as it is large enough. One male can also be kept with several females. Adult male bearded dragons tend to fight, however, so you shouldn't keep more than one male in a vivarium.
Looking After a Bearded Dragon does take some commitment, as does keeping any kind of pet. Bearded dragons are less inconvenient than many pets, however, as they can be left in their vivarium when you go out. They don't need lots of attention or exercise, like dogs, for example. Bearded dragons are usually sociable creatures though, so you should ideally be able to spend some time each day with your pet.