Are you considering keeping a bearded dragon as a pet? If so, you probably know that reptiles like bearded dragons need the right diet, routines, and environment set up for them to be healthy and happy. In this post, our Los Angeles County vets provide a basic guide to caring for a bearded dragon, covering everything from their diet to their ideal routines.
Bearded dragons are medium-sized lizards that range from 20 and 24 inches long, with males being a little bigger than females. They have a characteristic scruff of spikey scales around their neck that gives them their "beard." These lizards are native to Australia and have become increasingly popular as pets since the 1990s.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous and in their natural habitat can include several different environments including shrublands, woodlands, the ocean shore, and subtropical areas. Bearded dragons have a reputation for being hardy for a reptile, making them a more forgiving pet for first-time reptile pet parents.
Bearded Dragon's Diet
The best bearded dragon diet for your pet will likely be a diverse one. Since they are omnivores, they eat both plants and animals and can dine on a wide range of food, from live mealworms, kingworms, and crickets to greens such as parsley and kale and vegetables like pepper and sweet potato. You can even give them limited amounts of fruit. We will share several veggies, meat, weeds, greens, and fruits that can make up a bearded dragon's diet.
Your pet's age will factor into what they should eat; the typical baby bearded dragon diet list should be comprised of 80% bugs and 20% plants, with the caveat that some owners have issues with persuading their dragons to eat any vegetables at all when they are young. This ratio is nearly flipped for the adult bearded dragon, whose diet should be made up of 80% plants and 20% insects and bugs.
Let your dragon determine how much they should eat by allowing them to eat for a certain time - 10 minutes when they're given insects. Remove uneaten insects at the end of the 10-minute mark.
For fruits and vegetables, leave them in your dragon's enclosure only for approximately 30 minutes, which allows your dragon enough time to have its fill but prevents overfeeding. This also ensures leftover food doesn't rot in their enclosure.
The following are some of the foods that are safe to feed your bearded dragon:
- Asparagus (Raw)
- Butternut squash
- Yellow squash
- Acorn squash
Many other foods are suitable to feed your bearded dragon. Ask your vet what diet they suggest for your scaly companion.
Habitats For A Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons need a habitat that is large enough to keep them comfortable, ranging from 40+ gallons for 10-16 inch lizards to 75+ gallons for dragons over 20 inches. This habitat can be made from glass or clear plastic.
Like all reptiles, bearded dragons are cold-blooded. This means that your bearded dragon will need lots of full-spectrum light and heat to help simulate their natural environment while in their tank.
Regardless of your bearded dragon's size, you will need to ensure you have both full-spectrum lights that you can keep on between 12 and 14 hours each day, and a dedicated heat lamp (also called a basking bulb) that you can set up in their habitat. You will need a thermometer setup to monitor the temperature as well, to help make sure your companion doesn't get too hot or too cold.
Your bearded dragon will also need some options for sheltered areas in their habitat where they can't be seen. This will help your reptilian friend remain comfortable and keep their privacy when they want it. And, while many options exist for the substrate of your tank (what you fill it with to serve as its floor), "natural" fill like sand or wood chips can hurt young bearded dragons if they swallow it with their food.
If possible, reptile carpet or some other safer substrate option is probably best for first-time owners, while those more experienced with bearded dragons will have a better sense of what works and doesn't for their pets at different life stages.
What Behaviors Are Cause For Concern?
When caring for a bearded dragon, there are many different, and somewhat bizarre behaviors they will display. Some are routine and to be expected from your scaly companion, while others may be a cause for concern. These include:
- "Glass Surfing" - This behavior is so named because when a dragon does it, they often looks like a surfer trying to keep their balance on a wave. Your dragon will often get up on their hind legs and scrabble at the glass of their enclosure, trying to climb it. There are a whole host of reasons why your bearded dragon may be glass surfing. They may see the reflection and think it's another lizard, they may want to find a place with more privacy than their habitat to hide, or they may be uncomfortable.
- Arm Waving - This behavior is named this because it is what it sounds like: your bearded dragon will wave their arm in the air. Sometimes it will be obvious this is what your companion is doing, and other times it will look like they are winding up to take a step as they move their arm back and forth barely above the ground. It's often thought that this behavior is meant to show bigger creatures that the lizard notices them in the wild, is a submissive behavior or is a mating behavior.
- Head Bobbing - This behavior involves your bearded dragon bobbing their head up and down repeatedly. It is commonly associated with a mating urge and is much more common in male bearded dragons.
If your reptilian companion is showing any of the above behaviors and is not stopping, take stock of their habitat and routine. If you don't notice anything wrong, contact your vet. They will be able to give you advice on why your pet is showing abnormal behavior and isn't stopping.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.