Care of Bearded Dragons
Scott J. Stahl, DVM, DABVP (Avian)
Bearded Dragons can be housed singly, in breeding pairs, or in groups with one male and two or more females. Provide a terrarium size of at least 72 inches long by 16 inches wide by 17 inches high for a single adult dragon. A minimum of eight square feet is needed for up to three adults with another four square feet for each additional dragon. A minimum of 10-20 gallon aquarium is necessary for juveniles. It is recommended that juveniles be housed singly, but small groups of similar sized juveniles can be placed together if ample food is provided and if the smaller ones are separated out if they are not thriving. Newspaper or paper pulp material is recommended as a substrate because it is easily cleaned and will not cause gastrointestinal problems if eaten. Play sand (no finer than #30) or decomposed granite can also be used but, be aware that sand ingestion may cause problems and sand is difficult to keep clean. Provide branches, driftwood, cork bark and /or large rocks for climbing. If several dragons are housed together provide ample basking sites and areas to hide. Provide a temperature range of 80-85*F with a basking area of 90-95*F. Night temperatures should be approximately 60-70*F. A night heat source such as heat strip, ceramic heating element, or red bulb may be helpful. Provide 12-14 hours of full spectrum light including ultraviolet B (UV-B). UV-B is important for absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal system. Change the UV-B bulbs every six months as the UV-B production diminishes with time even if the bulb is still producing light.
Adults are primarily herbivores (plant eaters) and should be fed a variety of dark green leafy vegetables such as romaine, red/green leaf or Boston lettuce, collard greens, kale, endive, spinach, parsley, bok choy, and broccoli (leaves and florets). Limited amounts of other vegetables such as carrots, squash, peas, and beans can be offered. Chop or shred the greens and place them in a bowl or on a plate and spray with water prior to feeding. A calcium supplement can be dusted on top of the salad. Offer gut-loaded insects two to three times per week. To properly gut load, provide insects with a complete diet such as rodent chow, dry dog food or psittacine pellets. Dust insects with calcium/Vitamin D3 supplement twice weekly and every other week with a multivitamin. Crickets should be the primary insect fed, but mealworms, giant mealworms, and wax moth larvae can also be fed in smaller amounts. Pinkie or fuzzy mice can be offered occasionally.
Commercial bearded dragon diets (moistened with water ) can be offered, but should not make up more than 50% of the diet. If they are readily eaten it is important to reduce other vitamin and mineral supplements.
Juveniles are omnivorous (eating approximately 50% plant and 50% animal material). A variety of leafy green vegetables as described for adults and appropriately sized crickets ( no longer than the width of the dragons head) should be offered twice per day. Dust crickets with a calcium/Vitamin D3 supplement four to five times a week and a multivitamin once a week. Placing the cricket/insects in a deep bowl or dish will provide a feeding station for young dragons to easily locate and catch the food items. Placing too many insects in the enclosure at once can make it difficult to know if the young dragons are eating and can be stressful if the insects crawl all over them. Up to 50% of the diet can be moistened, juvenile commercial bearded dragon food but it is important to reduce other vitamin and mineral supplementation if it is being readily eaten.
Provide clean fresh water in dishes or bowls that the dragons can easily climb into. For juveniles, offer water in in smaller containers that they can sit in or run through. Dragons can be encouraged to drink by dripping water on their heads with a water bottle. The environment (but not the dragons themselves) can be misted to encourage them to drink the water droplets. Soaking dragons occasionally in a warm water bath may also encourage drinking.
Use only bearded dragons in good health and body condition for breeding. A pre-breeding cooling down period is recommended from early December to mid-February. Reduce the light cycle to 10 hours and provide 14 hours of darkness.