Bearded Dragon Care and Feeding
If you have always wanted a Bearded Dragon and don't know how to get or keep one this website is for you!
Feeding your Bearded Dragon
Baby beardies up to 12 weeks of age should be fed three times a day with as much livefood as they can eat in 10 minutes. Crickets are the best food as they are both nutritious and the least expensive to buy. AVOID mealworms at any age as a staple diet - they are not nutritious and are hard to digest. Bearded dragons do like them, but it doesn't mean they are good for them, so give only as a treat. At about 4 months old feeding can be reduced to twice a day, and at around six to eight months to once a day. As a rule of thumb no food (veg or livefood) should be wider than the gap between their eyes.
Fresh, chopped vegetables should be available at all times. When a bearded dragon is adult (at around 12 to 18 months) it will be 75% vegetarian, so should get used to eating vegetables from an early age. If you are lucky when you buy your baby beardie the breeder will have fed it vegetables from birth. Unfortunately many bearded dragons act a bit like toddlers around their veg - if it's green it can't taste nice! Keep persevering and putting that veg in. Try a variety of different sorts and colours - peppers, butternut squash, apple and grapes are sometimes relished!
Heat and Light
Bearded dragons come from the inland deserts of Australia. They cannot exist in most climates without additional heat. Only in some very warm parts of the world (California for example), can they be kept outside at least part of the time.
The vivarium should be heated in such a manner so that the vivarium can have a hot and a cooler end. Beardies are cold blooded, and self regulate their own temparature by heating up under a basking lamp, and then being able to go to the cooller end to cool down. Dragons will not be happy, will not thrive and may well die if they do not have the correct heat gradient in their vivarium.
Ideally the 'hot end' should be around 105 degrees fahrenheit, and the cooler end around 84 degrees. Either two thermometers, or a good quality thermometer with two read outs are required so you can check that the temperature is being maintained correctly.
Heat lamps are the best source of heat - the lizards can bask under these lamps as they would do on a rock in the wild.
Shrek basking under an infra red heat lamp
A bright white light attracts the beardies to bask as they are attracted to the light source as they would be to the sun. Ceramics aren't quite as good for that reason - that said though, Stumpy, our third beardie has a ceramic bulb and basks happily under it. A ceramic has the benefit that it can come on over night to maintain a background heat if necessary without producing light to disburb the bearded dragon.
A thermostat controller is necessary to make sure you maintain the correct heat - a dimming controller, such as the Habistat range is recommended. Not only is the dimmer kinder on the lightbulb life, the effect is more natural and less stressful for the lizards.
Unfortunately, setting up a vivarium is not cheap if you do it properly, but it is always worth looking for second hand bargains on Ebay.
Apart from heat, the desert also has sunlight, and this is something else that needs to be mimicked in an indoor vivarium. Bearded dragons need UV light in order to absorb vitamin D and make use of the minerals and vitamins they are ingesting.
Adequate UV light can be provided by a flourescent tube running the length of the vivarium. Special tubes are made for reptiles - bearded dragons need at least 10% UVB - the Arcadia 12% is a well recommended tube.
An hour under the strongest UVB light is only equal to about 20 minutes in the bright Australian desert - that's why the strongest lights are recommended. Choose one six inches less that length of the viv - that way your beardie will be exposed wherever he is. (i.e. For a 4ft viv chose a 42" light) Avoid the concentrated reptile lamps as these have been known to damage a beardie's eyes.
When dragons get too hot they open their mouths to help them cool down. This is perfectly normal behaviour, and nothing to get concerned about!
Care of your baby bearded dragon
You can find the information you need to take care of a new baby bearded dragon on my Care Sheet.
This page gives an introduction to feeding, heat, and light. To read in more detail please see:
NEVER use a HEATMAT or Heat Rock!
Beardies cannot feel heat through their stomachs and can easily burn themselves. Take advice from this comment that was left on my forum in answer to another member's question about using a heat mat which came with his 'complete bearded dragon setup':
"Take my advice burn the thing. Duck has just finished a 3 week course of 2 anti biotic jabs every other day cuz a heat mat burnt him. He is fighting fit now though".
There are a variety of heat lamps on the market - ceramic which give off heat, but no light and spot lights which come in a range of colours and which give off both heat and light. When I first wrote this site I suggested that you can choose which suits you and your pocket. I used to use red lamps as we have the benefit of being able to be sure when they are on and I felt wouldn't disturb the beardies when the heat came on at night. However, I now know that beardies can see red light, and their sleep could be disturbed.
I have also learned that unless the house gets very cold at night it is not normally necessary to have heat at night. Beardies can take temps down as low as 60 degrees fahrenheit, and if it does get colder than this in winter I simply cover the vivarium with a blanket.
Food should be no wider than the gap between their eyes
When your bearded dragon is fully grown livefood should be reduced to being given only 2 or 3 times a week. From birth to adult beardies grow 4000 times their birth rate, hence the need to stuff themselves with copious amounts of protein. Once they stop growing their internal organs will not be able to handle excessive calcium, so their livefood must be reduced. This is the time where you may need to be harsh to be kind, and withhold livefood until they do start eating their veg. Beardies are very clever at trying to make you feel guilty about not giving them locusts, but this battle of wills you must win.
Some people want to feed their adult bearded dragons 'pinkies' (baby mice). The general advice is NOT to feed these as they are too rich and full of protein. Whilst your beardie might like them it is not being kind, as the extra protein will damage their organs. The only time it is advised to feed a pinkie is to a female after egg laying to build her up again.
I use the Arcadia 12% striplight in all my vivs. It's one of the strongest on the market so I know my beardies are getting adequate UVB.
MyBeardedDragons website contains information for the new owner on how to keep a bearded dragon properly so that it is happy and healthy. An active forum dedicated to bearded dragons gives advice and support to new and experienced owners.
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