Bearded Dragons – Keeping Exotic Pets http://www.keepingexoticpets.com Tue, 26 Dec 2017 10:39:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.8 A Brief Introduction to Keeping Bearded Dragons http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/introduction-to-keeping-bearded-dragons/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/introduction-to-keeping-bearded-dragons/#respond Wed, 21 Dec 2016 07:28:37 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1377 Let’s be honest; if you’re planning to get your very first bearded dragon then its easy to get overwhelmed by all the information. Its easy to spend hours on end, clicking on websites and going round in circles. What I wanted to do in this this article, therefore, was to cover some of the more […]

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Let’s be honest; if you’re planning to get your very first bearded dragon then its easy to get overwhelmed by all the information. Its easy to spend hours on end, clicking on websites and going round in circles. What I wanted to do in this this article, therefore, was to cover some of the more important “beginners lessons” all in one place.

In essence, it’s a brief “hit list” of questions I get asked all the time. By the end of this article you should be in a much better place to start your journey to successful bearded dragon ownership.

How difficult are bearded dragons to look after really?

Caring for any reptile can essentially be split into two “phases”. The first of these is the setup phase, where you’re buying and setting up the vivarium. This takes some time and effort. The second phase is essentially the routine maintenance one the initial setup is complete.

Bearded dragons, like most lizards, have quite specific requirements. They need a cage that is heated to the right temperature, they need artificial lighting of the right type and a special diet. The bearded dragon keeper really needs to learn the details about each element to successfully set up a cage.

Once it’s set up, however, bearded dragons aren’t overly challenging to care for. If you have the right attitude, and a little time available each day, caring for a bearded dragon should be well within your abilities.

My child wants a bearded dragon – is that a good idea?

There’s been growing interest in pet reptiles among children, especially those wanting to keep bearded dragons. It’s important to appreciate that all pet reptiles require some specialist care. This can make bearded dragons expensive to start off with, and you’ll likely need to offer quite bit of help along the way. This certainly isn’t as easy as getting a hamster.

That said, bearded dragons are one of the very best pet reptiles for beginners. They achieve a reasonable size, making them easy to handle. They’re docile and soon become quite tame. They’re hardy and reasonably easy to care for (relatively speaking).

So if you’re sure that you want to get your child a reptile, and you’re willing to give them the help and support they’ll need, you could do a lot worse than choosing a beardie for them.

How big do bearded dragons get?

On average bearded dragons reach a length of around 60cm. Half of this is body, and half of it is tail. While they’re nowhere near the biggest lizards, therefore, they do attain a pretty good size. Surprisingly, bigger lizards tend to make for better pets, as they’re slower moving and easier to handle. As a domestic pet, beardies are pretty much the perfect size.

Roughly how much will a bearded dragon cost?

Bearded dragons are available in a number of different colour forms. The vast majority of beardies you find for sale in local pet stores are the standard grey colour form, which are pretty cheap to buy.

So while the lizards themselves aren’t expensive, what can be is all the equipment you’re going to need. Very briefly, you’ll need to think about buying a couple of heaters (one for a basking area, one for more general background heat), a UV lighting system, food (including vitamin supplements) and of course the vivarium itself.

Added up, buying a bearded dragon with all the kit can be an expensive exercise. I would expect the whole setup to cost several hundred pounds (or dollars) to get it right. Be prepared for this investment, as trying to kit out a bearded dragon vivarium on a budget rarely ends well.

What are the running costs of a bearded dragon?

There are a number of running costs that you will need to shoulder on a monthly basis. Primarily this comes in the form of electricity to run the heaters and lights, and the ongoing food bill.

Heating a vivarium to 25’C or more, all year long, with a hotspot of 35’C doesn’t come too cheaply. Nor does having the artificial lights on for long periods of time each day.

Ontop of this hike in your electricity bill, there is the cost of food. Firstly, there are all the salad items that you’ll be buying from the supermarket (or even better growing at home). Then there’s the insects. A tub of crickets will set you back £2-3, and you’ll probably be buying at least a tub each week. Then there’s the supplements, which are expensive, but tend to last a long time.

All in, I would budget for around £30 or so per month, so that you’re not too shocked when the bills are totted up.

How much effort is it to care for a bearded dragon?

The main effort of getting a bearded dragon is the initial phase of setting up the vivarium and learning what you’re doing. After this, bearded dragons don’t require a huge amount of ongoing care.

In essence you’ll want to change the water bowl to ensure it’s fresh, spot-clean any areas of the substrate which has been soiled, and replace plant-based foods to keep them fresh. In youngsters you’ll also want to pop in some live insects as food.

Lastly, it’s worth spending a little time either passively watching your bearded dragon, or actively ineracting with it, such as with handling. In this way you’ll not only be able to get your dragon nice and tame, but it will be easier to spot any health issues which may arise.

Personally I would budget on around 30 minutes of daily effort at a minimum in order to keep your dragon fit and well.

Note, also, that this same time will need to be applied when you go on holiday, so you’ll want to plan well in advance for these situations.

How many bearded dragons should I buy?

In the wild, bearded dragons are mainly solitary lizards, only coming together for short periods of time to breed. Adults have no real parental instincts, and youngsters will be left to fend for themselves.

While these youngsters may well live together happily, as they grow it is normal for dominance to start showing. Under such circumstances a pecking order will arise, with the more submissive lizards struggling for food or the best basking spots. In time this can lead to stress, and reductions in health.

The point is that while it is possible to keep baby bearded dragons together – as one often sees in reptile shops – mid-sized to adult beardies are generally best kept on their own. Like a hamster, don’t worry about them getting lonely.

If you’re planning to buy two beardies, therefore, you’ll probably want to invest in two seperate cages for them too.

What do bearded dragons eat?

Bearded dragons are omnivores – meaning that they eat both meat and plant matter. The meat element tends to be live insects in captivity, such as suitably-sized crickets and locusts. The plant matter generally involves a range of leafy greens and vegetables, supplemented with a small amount of fruit.

The ratios of insects to plants vary over the lifetime of it’s lifetime, with youngsters eating far more insects, and adults eating far more plants. The bearded dragon keeper must therefore feel comfortable buying, handling and feeding live insects to their pet on a regular basis.

We have put together a detailed guide on feeding your bearded dragon here.

How friendly are bearded dragons?

Firstly, it’s important to appreciate that reptiles tend not to tame down like a dog or cat might. They will very rarely seek out human interaction, and on the rare occasions that they do this is more likely because you’re toasty and warm rather than their “friend”. That said, bearded dragons are definitely one of the friendliest and most sociable of reptiles.

Unlike most lizards, which will at best merely tolerate human interaction, bearded dragons do tend to tame down very nicely and happily sit in the hand. Many will also get so same and so familiar with their owner that they will wait at the door of their vivarium for food and attention, and will happily clamber out onto a hand. All it takes is a little effort.

So, to summarize, bearded dragons are some of the friendliest exotic pets on the market, and are ideal for those who want a reptile that they can safely handle on a regular basis.

Still got questions? If so, please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll answer them as soon as possible…

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Bearded Dragon Vivariums http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/bearded-dragon-vivariums/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/bearded-dragon-vivariums/#respond Sat, 05 Nov 2016 07:35:00 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1373 Bearded dragons are rightly one of the most popular pet reptiles of all, and certainly the most commonly-kept lizard species. However keeping a bearded dragon is far more complex than many other pets. One of the most critical factors of all is their housing, which must be set up correctly if your beardie is to […]

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Bearded dragons are rightly one of the most popular pet reptiles of all, and certainly the most commonly-kept lizard species.

However keeping a bearded dragon is far more complex than many other pets. One of the most critical factors of all is their housing, which must be set up correctly if your beardie is to remain happy and healthy.

In this article we’re going to discuss the ins and outs of setting up a tank for your very first pet bearded dragon. By the end you’ll have a full understanding of what you’re going to need to consider before bringing your beardie home from the reptile shop…

The Basics

A bearded dragon vivarium must meet a number of essential requirements:

Suitable Space – Bearded dragons are a mid-sized lizard and as a result adults in particular require a generously-sized cage. In doing so, they will be able to move about at will and display natural behaviour.

Security – As well as keeping your bearded dragon inside, your vivarium should also keep other pets out. Interestingly, many other domestic pets – in particular cats – seem to be fascinated by bearded dragons. In order to prevent your pet becoming dinner for the cat you’ll want to be certain there’s no way in without your permission.

Privacy – Bearded dragons can get stressed in captivity, especially as youngsters. Another important element of their vivarium should therefore to provide a degree of privacy so that they feel safe and secure in their tank.

Natural Behaviour – While bearded dragons rapidly tame down, with many seemingly enjoying the company of their owner, its important to bear in mind that these are “wild” animals. As such it is important to consider their natural behaviour, and to facilitate this in captivity.

Warmth – Bearded dragons hail from the hot, dry savannas of Australia. As cold-blooded creatures they therefore require artificial heating to keep them healthy. A vivarium should be set up to provide a suitable level of heat, in a safe manner.

Ultraviolet Light – Like most lizards awake during the day (“diurnal”) bearded dragons need access to UV light in order to metabolize vitamin D and calcium effectively. Without this artificial sunshine bearded dragons can suffer from a range of painful, and frequently fatal, health complications.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when choosing and setting up a bearded dragon cage. Fortunately, we’re going to discuss each point in this article, so you’re fully armed with the right information.

bearded dragon photoTypes of Bearded Dragon Vivariums

Let’s start by considering the different types of bearded dragon cages commonly available on the market. As you’ll see, each has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, but there is one type that is likely to be the best solution for the majority of keepers.

Glass Aquariums

A common bearded dragon enclosure is a large glass aquarium, as sold for tropical fish. A glass tank is easy to clean, provides excellent visibility and can be bought quite cheaply. As a result they’re often the first thought of new reptile-keepers. Sadly, there are a number of issues you need to be aware of.

Firstly, glass aquariums require a tight-fitting reptile-lid to not only keep in your pet, but also to permit the right environmental conditions. While a number of reptile companies sell these lids (often known as “tank toppers”) they are very expensive, and tend to only come in a very limited range of sizes. Sourcing (or build) a suitable lid can therefore make glass aquariums a surprisingly pricey and impractical option for most.

The second consideration pertains to privacy. As relatively private creatures, used to keeping a constant eye out for predators heading in their direction, the all-glass construction of aquariums can cause unnecessary stress. Generally reptile keepers find that a cage with solid sides and back make beardies feel safer and more comfortable in their surroundings.

A final consideration is just how heavy and impractical to move an aquarium can be. A large all-glass tank is certainly a two-person job (or more!) to safely get home and pop in position.

So while glass aquariums certainly aren’t the worst bearded dragon cages on the market, they are far from ideal.

Plastic Moulded Vivariums

bearded dragon photo

A small number of manufacturers produce plastic moulded vivariums. These typically have a glass or perspex door at the front, allowing access and excellent visibility. The rest of the cage, however, is made from sturdy moulded plastic.

The plastic construction has a number of benefits over glass aquariums. Firstly these cages are considerably lighter, and therefore easier to move. Secondly, the solid sides and backs help to provide additional security for your lizard. Finally, the plastic exterior tends to be a better insulator than an all-glass cage, meaning that they are easier to keep warm in winter.

There are only two weaknesses of plastic cages for bearded dragons. The first of these is that plastic cages are still quite unusual in the hobby, and so can be challenging to source. Even people who *want* a moulded plastic cage often give up and instead rely on one of the other possible solutions.

The other weakness pertains to the limited range of sizes and shapes on the market. Remember that an adult bearded dragon will require a good-sized cage, and sourcing such an item is therefore even more challenging. As a result, most bearded dragon keepers instead rely on the third – and arguably most appropriate – solution…

Wooden Vivariums

Wooden vivariums are, hands down, the most suitable cages for most bearded dragons.

Firstly they are available in a wide range of styles and shapes, easily permitting you to locate a suitable cage. They can be found for sale at almost any reptile shop, or can be easily bought online to save on having to carry them home. The wood comes in a range of finishes and colors, from white or black, through a range of natural wood effects like oak, teak or pine. My personal favourite is the beech effect.

The wood used to construct these vivariums isn’t solid wood typically, but rather melamine (conti) board. As a result, these vivariums aren’t overly heavy to carry and can cope with a little moisture now and again. This makes it easy to wipe around with a reptile-safe detergent when carrying out routine cleaning.

The timber construction is also very good at keeping heat in, making heating your tank much easier and more affordable in cold winter months. It is also easy to attach screws and nails, in order to fit the necessary heating and lighting equipment.

Like the plastic vivariums, the solid sides and back help to give your pet security, while the sliding glass doors make for excellent visibility for you, and ease of access for feeding, cleaning or watching.

Heck, for the more enthusiastic DIY-er, it is even possible to build your own wooden vivarium to your own unique design.

In short, wooden vivariums are the best type of cage for bearded dragons bar none – assuming you select a model of a suitable size and deck it out with the right equipment.

Note that there are a range of other cages available for reptiles, however these are rarely used for bearded dragons and tend not to be suitable. For example, mesh cages are available primarily for chameleons, while racks are available for housing large numbers of snakes.

It is best to avoid these alternatives and stick to a wooden vivarium, a solution which has proven successful time and again.

What Size Vivarium Does a Bearded Dragon Need?

bearded dragon photoWhile baby bearded dragons measure in at just a few inches in length, a well cared-for lizard will grow rapidly.

Adult size, which may be reached in less than 18 months, tends to be around 2 feet (60cm) including the tail. These are therefore not small lizards!

Understandably, these active and impressively-sized lizards therefore require a suitably generous cage. Expert opinions vary, but a good “rule of thumb” is to aim for a wooden vivarium some 4 feet (120cm) in length. This provides room for your pet to move around naturally and not to feel too cramped.

Of course, it’s not just length that we need to consider, but also depth and height. Most experts recommend that the vivarium should be at deep as your lizard is long. In this way he or she can turn around unhindered. For adults this will mean a vivarium that is 18″-24″ (45-60cm) deep.

While bearded dragons do not active climbers, they seem to appreciate some added height. Many a bearded dragon will be seen in pet shops perched on a rock or a branch, frequently lying motionless in seeming ecstasy beneath a toasty-warm heat lamp.

Consequently a height of around 18″ (45cm) or more is recommended, so that some climbing apparatus can be included. Also, be aware that heating and lighting equipment can also take up some vertical space.

Of course, all the bearded dragon tank dimensions provided so far are for an adult specimen. Housing youngsters is no more complex than adults, but you do need to consider how quickly your beautifu little baby is going to grow. After all, buying a new vivarium every few months isn’t really practical, nor is putting a tiny 4″ long lizard into a four foot long tank!

Possibly the best solution when buying a baby dragon is to invest in a half-sized wooden vivarium to start with. A small vivarium of around 60-75cm long, and 30-45cm in depth and height will keep your baby beardie happy for many months to come. Then, when he or she starts to outgrow the existing accommodation you can upgrade to an adult-sized vivarium.

Note that most wooden vivariums can be taken apart and stored flat. In this way they take up a surprisingly small amount of room, and can easily be slipped into a cupboard for future use.

Before you buy a baby bearded dragon, however, check out the costs of adult cages. Also appreciate that the heater you buy for a small vivarium probably won’t be enough for a larger tank, so also factor this into your maths. Make sure you have suitable funds put aside to invest in a good-sized vivarium when necessary; there are a disappointing number of beardies put up for sale/adoption each year after their owners failed to plan effectively. Please don’t add to the problem.

Where Should I Place My Bearded Dragon Cage?

Buying a suitable bearded dragon cage is just one part of the housing puzzle. Another important element is where to put your cage. Here’s what you need to consider…

Draughts

Bearded dragons don’t fare well in cool or overly damp conditions. This means that placing your bearded dragon vivarium near a window, or an external door, is far from ideal. Every time someone walks into the room they’ll being a cold draught with them, which can be detrimental to your lizard. Also consider that radiators can turn on and off throughout the day, which can also make it harder to accurately heat your bearded dragon cage.

Direct Sunshine

Bearded dragons, like most lizards, may enjoy basking in sunshine when in the wild, but it’s a factor that should be avoided in captivity. The reason is quite simple; sunlight shining through the glass doors of a vivarium can rapidly heat it up, getting dangerously hot in the process.

While in the wild an overly-hot bearded dragon would be able to slink off to rest in a cooler area to relax, this just isn’t possible in captivity. We therefore need to make sure that the internal temperature of the cage never gets too hot.

Also, it’s important to understand that most of the beneficial UV light in natural sunlight gets filtered out by glass. Therefore don’t think that placing your vivarium near a window will provide all the UV required; the window pane and the glass in the front of the vivarium will render this virtually useless.

The solution is simple; keep your vivarium out of direct sunlight at all times, and provide UV light through a reptile-safe alternative.

Peace & Quiet

No matter how docile and friendly your bearded dragon might be, we all appreciate a little peace and quiet sometimes. This is especially so for reptiles and amphibians.

Placing your beardies’ cage in a busy area can therefore lead to considerable stress. Examples of things to avoid include placing your beardie cage in a very busy room where people are squeezing past (such as your hall or landing) or near sources of loud noise (such as near TVs or stereo systems).

Possibly the best place for a bearded dragon cage is a quiet bedroom, where they won’t be disturbed most of the day.

Height

Lastly, a number of keepers over the years have noticed that bearded dragons seem to feel safest when their cage is raised up off the ground. From this increased height they then have a better view of the world going past.

In light of this, try not to place your bearded dragon cage directly on the floor. Instead, positioning it more at waist-height tends to work best. It also affords you the best possible view too.

If yo don’t have a suitably sized piece of furniture, be aware that a number of suppliers offer special vivarium stands. These are typically made from the same range of wood as the vivariums, giving a really professional look to the cage. The storage cupboards underneath can also be tremendously useful for storing equipment out-of-sight so you can enjoy your beardie fully.

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Bearded Dragon Substrates http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/bearded-dragon-substrates/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/bearded-dragon-substrates/#respond Sat, 29 Oct 2016 06:33:49 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1375 Much disagreement persists over which substrate is best for bearded dragon cages. In this guide, therefore, we’re going to take a closer look at a range of floor coverings, to help you decide what’s best for your own bearded dragon… The Purpose of Bearded Dragon Substrates Before we take a more detailed look at the […]

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Much disagreement persists over which substrate is best for bearded dragon cages. In this guide, therefore, we’re going to take a closer look at a range of floor coverings, to help you decide what’s best for your own bearded dragon…

The Purpose of Bearded Dragon Substrates

Before we take a more detailed look at the substrate options for bearded dragons, it does perhaps make sense to start off by considering the specific purpose of a substrate. After all, why do reptile keepers bother covering the base of their lizard cage at all?

Cleanliness

The first goal of a reptile substrate is the practical element of cleanliness. In short, a good-quality substrate will help to keep mess such as faeces, uneaten food or spilled water off the base of the cage, while facilitating ease of cleaning.

In some cases a paper-based sheet of substrate is used – such as old newspaper. This can then be easily removed, rolled up and disposed of. In other cases, a more fluid substrate such as beech chippings are used, which can be “spot cleaned”, removing just the dirty substrate while leaving the rest in situ.

Natural Behaviour

A second consideration is the natural habitat of bearded dragons, and how they might behave in the wild. After all, no wild bearded dragon would be confined to a sterile, wooden floor. Instead there would be interest in the form of rocks, logs and substrate can can be burrowed in to.

For this reason, many keepers prefer a more “natural” substrate to the less appealing options like newspaper.

Health Benefits

Bearded dragons can have surprisingly sharp claws, which naturally wear down over time, while digging or running around on abrasive surfaces like rocks. In the absence of such abrasion, claws may get overgrown, requiring clipping.

Appearance

Lastly, of course, some bearded dragon substrates simply look more appealing than others. While some keepers are happy to opt for the cheapest and easiest form of substrate, others want to design a beautiful “feature” which really shows their pet up to the maximum.

Types of Substrates for Bearded Dragons

There is a seemingly never-ending range of options available for lining the bottom of your lizard cage. Here are some of the more popular options, with a breakdown of the good and bad points of each…

Sharp Sand

It’s no secret that bearded dragons hail from desert regions of Australia. As a result some reptile keepers in the past have tried to use sand as a substrate – often the type of sand that is sold for children’s sandpits, for horticultural purposes or even for builders.

While such a substrate seems to make logical sense, there are a number of potential weaknesses to it’s use.

Firstly, sand can be highly insulative. In other words – it doesn’t really let heat through very well. This needn’t necessariy be a major issue, but depends on how you plan to heat your bearded dragon tank. If you’re planning to provide background heating using a stand heat mat then you may find that the heat struggles to make its way through the covering of sand, or even that the heat builds up so much under the sand that glass can break. Of course, this is only a problem if you plan to use under-floor heating.

A second, far more serious issue, however should ward anyone off the use of standard sand for bearded dragons. As bearded dragons hunt for their food, it naturally follows that they will likely swallow a few grains of sand now and again. Hardly a problem, you’d think. However on occasion this has led to a very serious problem known as “compaction”.

Compaction is the name given when sand starts to settle in the digestive system, creating a solid “plug” of sand. In this way, food cannot pass along the gut, requiring swift veterinary intervention.

As with all potential reptile problems, prevention is mos certaunly better than cure. To this end, it is not recommended to use standard sand as substrate for your bearded dragon cage to avoid the potential heath impacts that it can have.

Reptile Sand

As the name suggests, “reptile sand” is the name given to sand which has been specifically designed for us exotic pet keepers. Not only does it not cause compaction, but it is actually rich in minerals.

Reptile sand – or “desert sand” as it is often called in reptile shops – also has a number of other benefits. Firstly, it looks great. Not only does it help to create a really natural-looking vivarium setting, but it also comes in a wide range of different colour forms. To this end you can choose from dark, volcanic-looking sand through the brilliant reds and browns, allowing you a great degree of artistic control.

Reptile sand has another benefit of course, and that’s the way in which it can encourage natural behaviour. Such a sandy substrate allows your lizards to scratch around and explore, sifting through to try and find any hidden insects, just as they might in the wilds of Australia.

So while reptile sand can be quite a bit more expensive than normal sand, it’s an investment well worth making.

Sand Sheets

Over the last few years a number of beardie owners have started to use sand sheets – just as sold for cage birds. They offer a similarly rough surface to help naturally wear down claws as loose sand, but are lighter and cheaper to buy.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with sand sheets, I can’t help feeling personally that they’re a little “sterile” to look at and tend not to encourage natural behaviour. You also can’t “spot clean” sand sheets when they get mucky, needing to be completely replaced when soiled. That said, cleaning out does become far simpler, because you simply roll up the sand sheets and pop them in the bin. Job done.

Newspaper

An awful lot of bearded dragon owners use newspaper. It offers the same practicality as sand sheets – such as ease of removal – but without the cost. That said, in truth I feel that newspaper looks pretty terrible on the floor of the cage, and spoils very easily indeed. Bearing in mind that bearded dragons eat a fair amount of fruit and veg, and may spill their water as they dash around, it’s likely that you’ll need to replace the newspaper on a very regular basis.

Also, as with sand sheets, bear in mind that newspaper does nothing to encourage natural foraging behaviour, and also won’t wear down claws suitably. As a result you’ll want to be certain that you’re using a range of rocks and other rough surfaces in the cage, in order to keep growth under control.

In other words while newspaper isn’t the worst substrate to use for your bearded dragon, I certainly don’t feel it’s the best solution either.

Beech Chippings

Beech chippings are a very popular and attractive reptile substrate. It is well known that beech chippings can rot quite quickly in moist environments, but in the drier habitat of a bearded dragon cage this is rarely an issue.

The weakness of beech chippings is rather like that of sand – you need to be careful that your dragon doesn’t accidentally consume any or risk the problems of gut impactions.

The solution, however, is quite simple. Beech chippings come in a range of different chipping sizes, from fine through to coarse. In order to minimize the chances of any being eaten by your beardie simply make sure you use the coarsest grade possible.

Aspen Chippings

Aspen has long been a popular choice among snake owners, but over the years a number of beardie keepers have tried their lizards on it. While it looks beautiful and fluffy, permitting snakes to burrow and explore, this texture does potentially open it up as source of gut impactions.

While it’s lightweight to buy and use, this is probably a substrate best left to snake keepers, rather than being used for bearded dragons.

What’s the Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons?

As you can see, there is a huge range of possible bearded dragon substrates available – but what is really best?

Over the years I’ve tried a huge range of options, and spoken to hundreds of reptile shop workers and bearded dragon owners on their opinions. During that time I’ve found a number of options that tend to work best.

For those individuals wanting a low-effort solution, newspaper tends to work well. I am personally concerned about the lack of environmental enrichment, however, so I tend to recommend against it.

Instead my opinion is that the very best substrate for a bearded dragon vivarium are either reptile sand or coarse beech chippings. They permit more natural behaviour, they look great and they won’t contribute to any health problems.

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The Ultimate Bearded Dragon Diet Guide http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/bearded-dragon-diet/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/bearded-dragon-diet/#respond Fri, 20 May 2016 07:27:13 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1061 The correct bearded dragon diet is essential if your lizard is stay fit and healthy in captivity. In the absence of proper nutrition bearded dragons can suffer from a range of problems, including obesity and metabolic bone disease (MBD) whereby they are unable to absorb suitable calcium from their diet. This can lead to weaker […]

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What do bearded dragons eat? What are the common mistakes that bearded dragon owners make with their diet? This ultimate guide to feeding bearded dragons will reveal everything you need to know to keep your pet lizard fit and healthy throughout their long lifetime. An essential read for all reptile keepers - especially those with pet bearded dragons.The correct bearded dragon diet is essential if your lizard is stay fit and healthy in captivity.

In the absence of proper nutrition bearded dragons can suffer from a range of problems, including obesity and metabolic bone disease (MBD) whereby they are unable to absorb suitable calcium from their diet.

This can lead to weaker bones, swollen joints or, in extreme cases, malformed skeletons or paralysis.

Fortunately we know more than ever before about bearded dragon diets so its now possible to provide exactly what your beardie needs by following a few simple rules.

Introduction to Bearded Dragon Diets

The bearded dragon - Pogona vitticeps

Bearded dragons are omnivores; this means they eat both meat and plants.

In captivity this generally means a combination of live insects and an assortment of vegetables. Leafy vegetables offer arguably the best source of plant-based nutrition, though this can be supplemented in moderation with fruits, herbs and a number of wild and garden plants.

What is perhaps most interesting in terms of a bearded dragon’s diet is that it changes over the lifetime of the lizard.

That is to say that while the main constituents of the diet remain stable, the ratio of insects to plant matter changes as a bearded dragon matures.

It is crucial to understand this change if you are to provide a suitable diet to your pet.

Feeding Baby Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons can grow surprisingly quickly under optimum conditions, and in order to do this they require plenty of protein.

This comes in the form of live insects (“livefood”) such as crickets and locusts. It is recommended that roughly 80% of a baby bearded dragon’s diet consists of these live insects.

The remaining 20% should be made up of nutritious plant matter (see below for a full list).

Feeding Adult Bearded Dragons

As bearded dragons mature these ratios reverse; the proportion of insects in the diet drops while the amount of plant matter increases. Adult bearded dragons should be fed a diet comprising 80% plant matter with just 20% live insects.

It is advisable that no matter what the age of your bearded dragon a bowl of water and another of vegetables should be present at all times, and both should be changed at least once a day to keep them fresh, especially in the hot surroundings of a bearded dragon vivarium.

What Do Bearded Dragons Eat In The Wild?

A bearded dragon.Very few studies exist as to what bearded dragons actually eat in the wild.

One study involved catching wild beardies and flushing out their stomachs in order to assess what they had been eating.

The scientists found that in the lizards studied, 61% of the diet was made up of insects, mainly in the form of termites. The remainder was made up from plant matter.

The biologists themselves surmised that bearded dragons are likely opportunistic feeders; taking insects when you could be easily found but relying on plant material for the basis of their diet.

Based on these findings the scientists recommenda diet consisting of several insect species, supplemented with leafy vegetables“.

Feeding Bearded Dragons – The Importance of Variety

Experts recommend that bearded dragons – like all exotic pets – should be fed a highly varied diet consisting of a range of foodstuffs. Rather than purely feeding crickets to your beardie, for example, it is wise to offer an assortment of other options over time.

Additionally, you should aim to avoid always providing the same types of plant matter, and should instead vary the diet, offering a wide assortment of foods.

In this way you can feel confident that the range of foods offered will enable your bearded dragon to absorb all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Remember: variety is key.

Like most animals, bearded dragons have foods which they prefer to others. These preferences can differ between lizards but mean that some foods will be eaten far more readily than others.

When feeding your bearded dragon, therefore, it can be a smart idea to chop up the plant material into small pieces and then “mix it up” to provide a “salad”.

In doing so you will make it more difficult for your lizard to pick out only the choice items, while leaving others behind. This process further helps to ensure that your pet receives a balanced nutritional diet.

Understanding Calcium and Vitamin D3

Juvenile bearded dragon.

A common problem in captive lizards is that of Metabolic Bone Disease. MBD is characterised by lizards being unable to absorb suitable calcium from their diet, which can lead to skeletal problems.

There are two factors of consideration here when avoiding this unpleasant condition.

Calcium

Your bearded dragon must be fed on a diet which is rich in calcium, so that it can be absorbed from the food. Plant foods which are high in calcium include:

  • Kale – 205mg per 100g
  • Collard Greens – 232mg per 100g
  • Watercress – 120mg per 100g
  • Mustard Greens – 118mg per 100g
  • Beet Greens – 117mg per 100g
  • Pak Choi – 105mg per 100g

As a result the above plants should be considered staple parts of your bearded dragon’s diet and should be fed regularly.

Bearded dragons can also absorb calcium from their livefood. A range of supplements may be fed to live insects (outlined below) which help to raise the overall mineral content of the food.

These supplements should therefore be considered a critical part of feeding live insects to your pet.

Vitamin D3

In order to absorb calcium from the diet and utilize it to make healthy bones and teeth, bearded dragons also require vitamin D3.

No matter how much calcium you provide, in the absence of this vitamin your beardie will struggle to absorb as much as it needs.

There are a number of ways to ensure that your bearded dragon gets enough vitamin D3. The first of these is through oral supplementation, while the second is through the provision of ultraviolet (UV) light.

Studies suggest that providing UV lights is much more effective than oral supplementation, so is the recommended course of action.

A range of UV lights are available for captive reptiles. These normally come in the form of fluorescent tubes though other options are available.

For best results the bulbs should be placed inside the cage and within 12-18″ of your bearded dragon. Furthermore a reflector should be used in order to ensure as much of the usable light as possible.

Many experts now recommend installing a “photogradient” where some areas of the cage receive more UV light than others. In this way your lizard can move about to the area most appropriate for them.

This largely removes the worry of how much UV light your lizard requires. Simply provide a photoperiod of around 12 hours of daylight per day, with basking spots of varying heights so your beardie can control the amount of UV light they receive.

The following image from Arcadia (who produce some excellent UV lights) demonstrates the principle well:

Bearded dragon photo-gradient.

Therefore it is wise to use securely-fixed logs, branches and rocks to create higher parts of the cage, so that your bearded dragon can get as close to the light as they want (within reason).

It should also be noted that some studies suggest that bearded dragons will sometimes prioritize basking under a heat lamp as opposed to a UV light, so ensuring that UV light is available near to the basking spot will ensure they receive the necessary dose of vitamin D3.

Lastly please ve aware that the ultraviolet output of these tubes declines considerably over time. As a result, even when the light appears bright, UV bulbs should be changed every six months.

What Do Bearded Dragons Eat?

Now that we understand the basic concepts of feeding bearded dragons we can move on to a more detailed study of the types of plants and insects which can make up your bearded dragon’s diet.

Before we discuss the various acceptable food items however it pays to mention that great thought should be given to environmental toxins, such as pesticides and insecticides. These toxins can lead to problems in captive lizards.

As a result, you should aim to feed only insects bred specially for the pet trade (no wild caught insects) and you should take care to thoroughly wash all plant material before feeding.

Types of Livefood

Mealworms - an ideal food for bearded dragons.Most commercially-available feeder insects are appropriate for bearded dragons.

While most beardie owners tend to focus the livefood portion of their diet around crickets, other options include hopper locusts, mealworms and waxworms.

These second two types of livefood have a nasty habit of burrowing so they should be placed in a bowl to prevent this, while crickets and locusts can simply be released into the cage for your bearded dragon to hunt and catch.

Pros and Cons of Different Livefood

Crickets

  • Freely available from most pet stores.
  • Cheap and easy to care for.
  • Very active insects, which encourages interest from bearded dragons.

Locusts

  • Only smaller locusts are suitable for bearded dragons. Experts recommend feeding prey no larger than your bearded dragon’s head.
  • Easier to handle than crickets, so less chance of escape.
  • Can be rather more expensive than crickets.

Mealworms

  • Less nutritious than many other livefood species due to their thick exoskeleton. Mealworms should therefore only be fed as a treat in moderation.
  • Very easy to care for and breed.
  • Can be kept in the fridge, slowing down the lifeycle and extending their lifespan.
  • Use a bowl to prevent them burrowing into substrate.

Waxworms

  • Highly nutritious and soft-bodied – a real treat for pet lizards.
  • Very short lifespan. Many waxworms mopph into the adult moths rapidly.
  • Can be a little fiddly to handle as they are so soft.
  • Use a bowl to prevent escapees.

Storing Live Insects

One problem you may experience if you only own a single bearded dragon is how best to store live food. After all, all species have a nasty habit of dying, leaving you with an expensive container of dead insects and a hungry bearded dragon.

Fortunately there are a number of ways in which you can extend the lifespan of feeder insects.

Crickets

Bearded dragon diets - what insects will they eat and how often?Crickets ideally should not remain in the little tub you bought them in. Instead, they should be released into a separate tank.

There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, crickets can be cannibalistic, so they have a nasty habit of eating one another.

Placing your crickets into a generously-sized tank, and then filling it with scrunched-up newspaper means the crickets have far more places to hide and avoid becoming dinner themselves.

The second reason to keep crickets in a tank is that the tubs typically contains minimal food, and no water. The dry bran they are given is certainly better than nothing, but is not a well-balanced diet for your crickets. Indeed, dehydration is one of the largest killers of crickets in captivity.

Once in the cage you can provide a range of nutritious foods such as carrot, apple and fresh grass, together with a range of cereal-based staples.

Water can be provided in the form of a shallow waterbowl (a jam-jar lid works well) which is filled with cotton wool. The cotton wool prevents the crickets from drowning, and allows them to drink the water droplets safely.

Locusts

Locusts can make ideal food for praying mantis.As with crickets, locusts tend to do well in a larger tank with appropriate diet.

Equally, locusts tend to be far less cannibalistic, yet ideally require suitable perches to moult on. Replacing the newspaper with an assortment of twigs therefore tends to work best for locusts.

Note that arguably the biggest killer among locusts is a cold environment. Locusts in the wild tend to live in temperatures of 30’C or more, so your cold spare bedroom won’t do them any favors.

Instead aim to provide supplementary heating to locusts to prolong their lifespan.

Mealworms

There are two ways to extend the lifespan of mealworms you have purchased.

Firstly, the whole tub may simply be placed into the fridge. As cold-blooded creatures, this slows down their lifeycle, reducing the time it takes for them to turn into adult beetles. That said, this method realistically only works for a few weeks before the insects themselves may start to perish.

A better solution, therefore, is to release them into a plastic tupperware box with small holes drilled in the lid for ventilation.

Here you can provide a thick substrate of cereal (bran tends to work well) while adding fresh vegetables to the surface each day. This will keep your mealworms hydrated and so prolong their life, as well as increasing their nutritional value.

Be certain to check the box regularly, so as to remove any uneaten plant matter before it goes mouldy.

Waxworms

In reality, waxworms normally begin pupating a matter of weeks after purchase, and there is little that can be done to prevent this. Instead, I would recommend buying waxworms as an occasional treat, and aiming to feed the entire pot to your bearded dragon within a week or two of purchase.

Gut Loading Feeder Insects

A bearded dragon eating insects.A handy strategy used by many bearded dragon owners is “gut loading”.

This essentially involves feeding a specially formulated diet to your livefood, which is rich in vitamins and minerals.

When your bearded dragon eats the insect, they will of course also consume the contents of the insect’s gut, thus boosting the nutrition they receive from live food.

Typically these feeding supplements are available in powder form and can either be served dry (with supplementary water) or mixed with water into a paste-like consistency.

Experts recommend gut loading feeder insects for at least 24 hours before they are given to your dragon to ensure the maximum benefits.

Dusting Feeder Insects

An alternative method to gut loading insects is to “dust” them with a dietary supplement.

To do this, simply place the feeder insects in a plastic bag with a little of the dusting powder and shake the bag gently to coat the insects. These can then be fed to your bearded dragon.

It is important to note that for obvious reasons livefood doesn’t like to be coated in this way, so they will rapidly start cleaning themselves of the offending substance.

As a result when using this technique you’ll want to ensure that your bearded dragon eats as many crickets and locusts as possible in a short period of time.

Those eaten some hours later may have thoroughly cleaned themselves and so may not have the same nutritional content.

Commercial Bearded Dragon Diets

There is an increasing range of commercial bearded dragon diets coming onto the market. These re generally in a dried, pelleted form, comprising all the vitamins and minerals you pet needs.

These complete diets can therefore make feeding your dragon a whole lot easier. Simply ensure that a bowl of this is available at all times, and supplement with livefood as required.

Vegetables for Bearded Dragons

Vegetables are a critical part of your bearded dragon diet plan.

These should be fed daily, and replaced as necessary to keep them fresh and full of goodness. Fortunately there are a vast number of different types of vegetables which can be fed to beardies so pick and choose to create an interesting and varied diet for your lizard.

The following vegetables are all tried and tested by bearded dragon owners and can be considered safe for your pet to eat:

  • Afalfa
  • Bell peppers
  • Beet leaves
  • Brocolli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Butternut squash
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chicory
  • Cucumber
  • Endive
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Kohol rabi
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard greens
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Pok choi
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potato
  • Swiss chard
  • Watercress
  • Yams
  • Zucchini

Dusting Vegetables

A handy tip for increasing the nutritional value of plant matter is to “dust” it with dietary supplements, much like one can with insects.

Take note that not all bearded dragons take well to this as it can change the overall taste of the food.

Try experimenting with a number of different powders, and the volume provided, until you can find a compromise that your bearded dragon is willing to accept.

Fruits

Many bearded dragon articles talk about a combination of “fruits and vegetables”, however a number of vets have pointed to the higher sugar content in fruit, and how many bearded dragons in captivity end up suffering from obesity.

As a result it is now felt that fruits, while important, should only represent a small portion of your bearded dragon’s diet, and that lower-calorie vegetables should make up the majority of the plant matter in their diet.

The following are fruits which are safe to feed to your bearded dragon:

  • Apples
  • Apricot
  • Banana
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Figs
  • Grapes
  • Grapefruit
  • Guava
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Melon
  • Nectarines
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Plum
  • Pomegranite
  • Raisins
  • Raspberries
  • Starfruit
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon

Other Plants

While the above plants are likely to make up the vast majority of your bearded dragon’s diet, a number of wild and garden plants can also be used to supplement the diet.

However, you should be certain that no weedkillers have been used on them and they are washed thoroughly before use.

Additionally, collecting plants from roadside verges is generally a bad idea due to the fumes and chemicals they have been exposed to.

Examples of plants which are safe for bearded dragons to eat include:

  • Chives
  • Clover
  • Dandelion leaves
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsely
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme

What Can’t I Feed My Bearded Dragon?

While the above foods are all proven to be safe and nutritious aspects of your bearded dragon’s diet there will always be those keepers who are keen to experiment with different foods.

It therefore pays to discuss some items which should never be fed to your lizard.

Firstly, pay attention to the mixture of livefoods/plant matter. This means that items which don’t fit into these categories should generally be avoided. For example try to avoid:

  • Chunks of meat
  • Scraps of your dinner table
  • Chocolate
  • Chips
  • Non-water beverages

Even in terms of plants and insects there are a number of foods which should be avoided at all costs:

  • Avocado
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Rhubarb

Conclusion

As you can see, while creating a suitable bearded dragon diet takes time and effort it is far from complicated. The correct ratio of live insects and vegetables should make up the bulk of your bearded dragons diet, suitably dusted or gut-loaded with mineral powder.

On top of this, small amounts of fruit can be fed as a treat, while a bowl of fresh water should be available at all times.

Do you still have questions about what bearded dragons eat? If so, please leave them in the comments section below and I will try to get back to you with an answer as soon as possible…

What do bearded dragons eat? What are the common mistakes that bearded dragon owners make with their diet? This ultimate guide to feeding bearded dragons will reveal everything you need to know to keep your pet lizard fit and healthy throughout their long lifetime. An essential read for all reptile keepers - especially those with pet bearded dragons.

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