Basic Bearded Dragon Care

Are you thinking about becoming a bearded dragon owner?

What are the most essential things a bearded dragon needs to be a healthy and happy pet?

Being a dragon keeper is a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor. 

But before diving in to pet ownership, you should know what you’re getting into. 

These animals have specific environmental and dietary requirements you must be aware of before deciding to own one. 

Captive reptiles rely on their keepers to give them everything they need, so it’s imperative to provide them with habitats where they can thrive.

basic bearded dragon care

Basic Bearded Dragon Care

Environmental needs include minimum tank size requirements, warm temperatures, a basking area, UV lighting, low humidity, non-particle substrate, consistent access to water, and cage accessories for perching and hiding. In addition, they require a diet of feeder insects and vegetation, the amounts of which vary depending on the age of the dragon.

Before we get into more detail, here is a quick guide for the best beardie habitats and husbandry:

  • Adults require tanks at least 75 gallons in volume.
  • Tank temperature should be no less than 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C) during the day, and no less than 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) at night.
  • Humidity must be between 20% and 40%.
  • A basking area should have a perch with direct lighting at a temperature between 95 and 110° degrees Fahrenheit (43° C).
  • Full-spectrum ultraviolet lighting and a separate basking light are both needed in tanks.
  • Non-particle substrate must be used for bedding.
  • Shallow, fresh, cool water must always be present.
  • Habitats must include perches and hides.
  • Adults require one or two insect feedings and up to five vegetable meals each day.

Where To Purchase A Bearded Dragon

We do not recommend purchasing your new pet from a commercial pet store. 

They are at a higher risk of being unhealthy and contracting communicable diseases from other animals because they are shipped and displayed together. 

Local pet stores could be a better option, depending on their community’s reputation and reptile shipping and displaying practices.

There are several other good options for finding a strong and healthy pet:

  • Breeders (in-person or online).
  • Reptile shows.
  • Reptile rescues.

As a potential buyer, the best thing for you to do is to research the seller beforehand. 

The most trustworthy sellers will have some health guarantee for their animals and will have safe and fast ways of shipping your pet to you, when applicable.

How Much Does A Bearded Dragon Cost?

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether owning a bearded dragon is affordable for you:

  • Upfront costs: purchasing the animal itself and initially setting up its habitat.
  • Ongoing monthly expenses: purchasing food, cleaning supplies, and electricity.
  • Less-frequent but important costs: this includes items like veterinary visits and tank replacement parts.

Purchasing the animal can cost you anywhere from $40 to more than $250. 

It depends on its age, condition, and breed variety.

The upfront costs for creating appropriate habitats will cost you, on average, $550. 

This includes purchasing a tank, lighting, heat sources, substrate (bedding), cage accessories, and a meter for measuring temperature and humidity.

Ongoing monthly expenses will cost you anywhere from $80 to $200. 

The range includes feeder insects like crickets and dubia roaches, vegetables, mineral supplements, cleaning supplies, and your monthly electric bill.

Veterinary costs will vary, but it is essential to have a yearly checkup for your pet. 

Those will cost you around $100 at minimum. 

Tests, lab work, and medication will add anywhere from $20 to $300 onto your vet bill, so you will probably average around $150 for each vet appointment.

Expect to spend around $2500 for the first year you get your pet, then about $1900 each year after.

Environmental Requirements For Bearded Dragons

Let’s examine the habitat requirements of beardies in more detail.

In the following subsections, we’ll discuss:

  • Enclosure size and material.
  • Lighting.
  • Temperature.
  • Humidity.
  • Substrate.
  • Water.
  • Cage enrichment and accessories.

Let’s dig in!

Enclosure Size And Material

Plexiglass or glass tanks with a mesh lid are the best choice for homing your dragon. 

They are the least expensive of the terrarium options and allow you to have an unobstructed view of your pet. 

They also come in various sizes, which allows you to select an appropriate-sized habitat for your pet easily.

Use this table as a guideline when deciding on tank size for your pet.

Animal AgeAnimal SizeTank Volume
Baby dragons4 to 6” inches (15 cm)20 to 25 gallons
Juvenile dragons10 to 16” inches (41 cm)40 to 50 gallons
Young adult dragons16 to 20” inches (51 cm)50 to 75 gallons
Full-grown adult dragons20” inches or more (51 cm)75 to 120 gallons

The more space you’re able to offer, the better. 

We recommend starting with at least a 40-gallon tank. 

This way, you ideally will only need to upgrade to a larger enclosure once in your pet’s lifetime.

Lighting

Because beardies are native to desert landscapes, they require full-spectrum light. 

Ultraviolet lighting is required for a full day’s worth of sunlight (between 12 and 14 hours of light for every 24 hours).

Ultraviolet Requirements

Two examples of appropriate UV lighting include mercury vapor bulbs and full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs

Do not use coil or compact UVB lights, which emit too much ultraviolet radiation and have been known to injure pet dragons seriously.

UVB lights are crucial for your pet. 

Exposure to short-wave ultraviolet lighting allows them to synthesize vitamin D3, which will enable them to absorb calcium.

UVA lighting (visible light) helps with temperature regulation and hormone production. 

Your pet may display moderate to severe behavioral problems if it does not have regular exposure to UVA rays.

Basking Lights

A basking light is also necessary. 

This should be a separate bulb from your full-spectrum terrarium light but should be turned on and off on the same schedule.

Read more about basking in the “Temperature” section below.

Housing Fixtures

Full-spectrum and basking light bulbs require different housing fixtures.

You must house each type of bulb correctly so they don’t overheat, break, or damage anything in the tank.

Temperature

Beardies require warm tank temperatures, with the basking side of the habitat being warmer than the other. 

Be sure to provide both shady and directly lit areas in the tank, too. 

There should be a variety of options so your pet can regulate its body temperature as it needs.

Baby dragons require a warmer habitat than adults. 

Babies need standard temperatures of 90 to 110° degrees Fahrenheit (43° C). 

Adult dragons should have 80 to 93° degrees Fahrenheit (34° C).

At night, the overall tank’s temperature should drop by at least 10 degrees, but no lower than approximately 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).

The basking area should be the hottest part of the tank, between 95 and 110° degrees Fahrenheit (43° C).

Humidity

Beardies require low humidity levels between 20% and 40%. 

Usually, the combination of correct lighting and the correct substrate should maintain healthy humidity levels for your pet. 

However, if needed, a dehumidifier can help you reduce the air moisture in your dragon’s tank.

Substrate (Bedding)

It’s not enough to have a bare glass-tank floor. 

The glass is slippery and abrasive, capable of doing real damage to a beardie’s feet. 

Substrate allows beardies to gain traction, making it easier to walk. 

It also helps keep their nails filed down which helps prevent injury to their toes.

We have a detailed guide on trimming bearded dragon nails if you want to read more.

Beardies need bedding which mimics their natural habitat. 

The best substrate will:

  • Absorb heat.
  • Repel moisture.
  • Provide traction for your pet’s claws.
  • Help keep the tank clean.

Substrate helps regulate heat and humidity. 

A flooring which absorbs heat and repels moisture will make it easier for you to maintain appropriate temperature and aridity in the tank.

Substrate catches feces and urine and helps control odor. 

This makes the enclosure cleaner and more hygienic. 

Feces can get spot cleaned daily, and substrate-like cage liners can easily be removed and rinsed as often as needed.

The safest and healthiest options for your dragon are non-particle substrates, such as:

  • Reptile carpet.
  • Ceramic tile.
  • Recycled newspaper.
  • Paper towels.
  • Rubber shelf liners.

Loose objects present in substrate like ReptiBark and Calci Sand, pose serious health concerns for your pet. 

The biggest concern is the risk of impaction. 

Impaction occurs when a bearded dragon consumes inorganic, indigestible matter, leading to potential intestinal tract damage and even death when gone untreated.

Water

Because of their desert origins, many beardies don’t recognize their dishes as a source of hydration. 

Some dragons don’t ever actually drink from their water bowls. 

Their primary sources of hydration are:

  • Soaking in their bowl.
  • Getting misted daily (do this easily with a clean spray bottle).
  • Eating foods with high moisture levels.

These three sources should be readily available for your pet every day. 

Dishes should be filled with freshwater, shallow enough so your pet cannot drown when it’s relaxing in the bowl.

Cage Enrichment And Accessories

Provide your pet with at least one perch and one hiding place, although more will make for a more realistic and enriching habitat.

One perch, such as a branch, rock, or hammock, should be placed in your dragon’s basking area. 

This allows your pet to get closer to the heat source, should it wish to do so.

hiding place is important because beardies often move underground during the hottest parts of the day. 

A hiding place will allow your pet to stay cool and shady when it needs to reduce its body temperature.

All tank accessories should be purchased from a store, not brought in from the outdoors.

 Outdoor branches, rocks, and plants could have bacteria, parasites, chemicals, or natural toxins which could injure or kill your dragon.

Bearded Dragon Food Requirements

Beardies are omnivores and need a mix of animal proteins (insects) and vegetation. 

Baby beardies need much more protein than adults do, mainly because they grow and develop so quickly.

Review this table to see feeding proportions for different ages of beardies.

Life StageAge RangeInsects in DietVegetation in Diet
Baby0 to 5 months80%20%
Juvenile5 to 17 months50%50%
AdultOver 17 months20%80%

As dragons age, they transition to a diet consisting mainly of dark, leafy greens.

Insects which can serve as a staple source of protein for your pet include:

  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Cockroaches
  • Locusts
  • Silkworms
  • Phoenix worms
  • Butterworms
  • Earthworms
  • Waxworms
  • King worms

Avoid mealworms and fireflies at all costs. 

Mealworms are an extreme impaction risk. 

Fireflies are so toxic; they will kill your pet.

The best leafy greens to serve to your pet are:

  • Arugula
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion leaves (and flowers)
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Hibiscus
  • Mulberry leaves
  • Mustard greens
  • Nopales
  • Turnip greens

There are plenty of other vegetables, and even some occasional fruity treats which are safe and healthy for your pet, but the ones listed above should be considered appropriate staple foods.

We have a more detailed guide on the best fruits and vegetables for bearded dragons.

Avoid avocados and rhubarb at all costs. 

They are both toxic and fatal to your pet.

Calcium Requirements

Calcium helps maintain healthy bones, teeth, muscles, and body tissues.

Because calcium is such an essential part of their everyday health, beardies require a lot of it.

Low phosphorus levels are also crucial because phosphorus prohibits calcium absorption. 

If your pet’s phosphorus levels are too high, it doesn’t matter how much calcium it ingests — it won’t be able to use it!

If your pet doesn’t get enough calcium, its bones and tissues will weaken. 

Ultimately, calcium deficiencies lead to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), a dangerous condition most commonly seen in captive dragons under 2 years old.

Your pet will benefit from a sprinkling of calcium supplement on their food two to three times each week, and a vitamin-D supplement a separate two to three times each week.

When using supplements, don’t mix more than one. 

Only one should be used for each meal.

Feeding Schedules

Depending on individual nutrition requirements, sprinkle calcium powder on the insects. Let your pet eat as many bugs as they can for 15 minutes. 

Then, remove any excess locusts from the cage and keep them for a later time.

Babies require two or three feedings each day. 

As they get older, they will eat fewer insects and more vegetables. 

Adults only require one insect feeding every one or two days.

Along with these insect feedings, keep fresh vegetables in the tank at all times.

Your pet may eat vegetation as many as 4 or 5 times a day.

Bearded Dragon Baths

Bathing your pet is an often overlooked, but quite important, part of proper care for good beardie health.

They address several essential health factors, including:

  • Proper hydration: your pet will largely remain hydrated through soaking rather than drinking.
  • Activity and exercise: baths allow your pet to get out of its tank, splash, and swim.
  • Regular bowel movements: baths often stimulate digestion and defecation.
  • Warm temperatures: if your pet ever gets too cold, a warm bath is an excellent way to raise its body temperature.
  • Good hygiene: prevent possible bacteria and parasites from collecting on your pet’s skin by keeping them clean.

The bath should be filled at least up to your pet’s shoulders, but not above its head. 

Condition the bath with a couple of drops of water conditioner to ensure it’s safe for your pet.

Monitor the temperature using a temperature gun, and regularly add more warm water, so the bath doesn’t get cold. 

Do not use soap.

Your pet may poop in its bath. 

Just sanitize the dish and replace the dirty bath with clean water, so everything remains sanitary.

Bathe babies daily, and adults every two or three days.

Baths should last 20 to 30 minutes.

Final Thoughts

Remember, your pet’s tank is where it will spend a huge majority of its life. 

It’s essential to understand your beardie’s living requirements, and equally important to respect them by providing them with an appropriate amount of space, correct temperature and humidity levels, good lighting, safe substrate, and enrichment accessories.

Additionally, monitor your pet and stick to an appropriate feeding schedule. 

Make sure your beardie receives proper amounts of animal proteins, leafy vegetables, and essential minerals.

This article provides you with an excellent starting point for bearded-dragon ownership. 

We’ve discussed habitat requirements, food requirements, and additional dietary and hygienic care. 

These elements are necessary and vital to help your pet live as long and as happily as possible.

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