Bearded dragons are fun and friendly pets. Unlike some reptiles, they keep the same hours as humans and stay active during the day. They love to interact through the glass of their habitat and, with some patience, can learn to like being handled. Bearded dragons are easy to care for and have a lifespan of up to 12 years.
One reason bearded dragons make good pets is their pleasant temperament. They are generally calm and passive, and you can tell when they are feeling grouchy or threatened. When your bearded dragon puffs out his throat and expands the spines along his neck, you know to back off. This look is how they earned their name.
Bearded dragons eat both meat and plants. They do best when fed several times a day, although an adult bearded dragon can go for days without eating. When young, bearded dragons prefer small insects but consume more plants as they mature. Chopped carrots and leafy greens, along with crickets and mealworms, should make up the majority of their diet. Dust the insects in calcium supplements a few times a week. Provide a pelleted commercial food once a day to ensure they get the nutrients they need. Offer sliced fruit, such as melon and apples, as a treat.
Like other reptiles, bearded dragons require supplemental heat when kept as pets. The tank should provide a hot basking area, as well as an area where they can cool down. Using a thermometer at either end of the tank makes it easier to regulate the temperature. Use a heat light to bring the temperature to between 100 and 110 F on the basking side, while ensuring the other end remains between 75 and 85 F. Turn the basking light off overnight to let the tank's temperature reach around 70 F. A night heat lamp can help maintain this level.
A mature bearded dragon requires at least a 55-gallon tank. You can get by with a smaller tank when they are young, but they will quickly outgrow it. The tank needs to have a well-fitted screen top, as bearded dragons like to climb and spend a good deal of time in trees in the wild. Providing a variety of climbing and perching spots, such as sturdy branches and rocks, will keep them happy. The tank should have a nice climbing area in the basking spot, so your beardie can regulate their temperature, and at least one hiding spot, such as a hollowed-out log, to help them feel safe.
Many beardies enjoy splashing in a bath to keep clean. Add enough warm water to allow your pet to splash around, but the water level should be no higher than the top of their legs. Lower them slowly in the water. Use your hands or a cloth to wash them as they explore. Once you remove them from the water, use a clean towel to pat, not rub, them dry. If your bearded dragon seems stressed out at the prospect of a bath, skip this step, as it isn't required and the stress is more harmful than no water. Even if they love it, though, limit baths to once a week at most.
If you notice your beardie's nails are becoming overgrown, they may need to be clipped. Often the activity of climbing on rocks and limbs keeps the nails worn down, but if not, use a claw nail trimmer made for small animals to clip the ends. If you cut the nails too short, you might catch the quick, which can result in minor bleeding. By trimming off only the overgrown sharp tip, you can avoid this.
Good hygiene is important to keep both you and your bearded dragon healthy. Always wash your hands with soap and water both before and after handling your beardie. Keep their food and water dishes clean, and clean their habitat regularly. Scoop waste and remove uneaten insects and other food daily. Once a month or so, remove all of the substrate, wash the tank, and replace the substrate completely.
Bearded dragons often enjoy being handled, but you need to do it properly to avoid scaring them or, worse, causing an injury. Slip your hand gently under the beardie's abdomen to provide support. Young beardies often appreciate it if you slide one finger under their chin for them to grasp. Raise your hand slowly, helping them position their tail along your forearm for balance. You can place the other hand on the beardie's back, but don't grab, press, or squeeze them. If they are fidgety or seem nervous, return them to their habitat.
Bearded dragons are remarkably adaptable and can do fine in their habitat, but providing ways to break up the monotony can improve their mental health and encourage bonding. Anytime your beardie is out of their habitat, they need close supervision. Once they are comfortable being lifted and carried and resting on your shoulder or lap, you can let them down to explore the floor. Some beardies enjoy chasing small balls or cat chaser toys. You can also purchase a special harness that allows you to take your beardie outside.
The most common health concern with bearded dragons is metabolic bone disease. It affects young beardies and is the result of an imbalanced diet. Swelling and softening of the lower jaw and in the hind limbs are the most common symptoms. You may also notice your beardie trembling when walking or even struggling to move at all. Bearded dragons may also develop pinworms, which cause weight loss and diarrhea. Respiratory infections may develop in beardies who are kept in poor conditions, not fed properly, or stressed. Adenovirus, most common in younger dragons, often leads to gastrointestinal infection and hepatitis. It is ultimately fatal.
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