Lizards (Bearded Dragons)
Lizards (Bearded Dragons)
Here’s a simple checklist to assist you in taking proper care of your bearded dragon.
Basic equipment and setup
- Shallow water dish
- Food dish
- Aquarium tank / vivarium
- Bedding / substrate
- Full spectrum lighting with UVB
- Basking light
- Basking area
- Rocks, branches or logs
- Cool area
- Drip system
- Access to clean and fresh water
- Adequate and nutritious food
- Registered veterinarian consultation for regular checkups or medical treatment when the bearded dragon is sick/injured
Above all, remember your bearded dragon needs tender loving care!
What food to feed?
Bearded dragons are omnivores. They eat both insects and plant material. Feed them live insects such as crickets and locusts. Make sure the live insects are smaller in length than the distance between your bearded dragon’s eyes. You should “dust” these live insects by shaking them in a sealed container with a vitamin and mineral powder before giving them to your bearded dragon. Release the insects into the vivarium for your bearded dragon to hunt, as this will provide it with natural stimulation. Live superworms and mealworms should only be given occasionally as they are extremely fatty. Bearded dragons are easily impacted. Make sure the feed is small in size and properly restrict the quantity fed.
Besides insects, you can provide your bearded dragon with fresh chopped plants and vegetables such as dandelions, watercress, spring greens, rocket, grated carrots and celery every day. You can also feed it fresh non-citrus fruits such as apples and grapes occasionally as a treat. Any foods that are not eaten must be removed daily.
In addition, you should provide calcium powder, vitamin and mineral supplement that is suitable for bearded dragons in a separate dish. As an alternative to calcium powder, you could also provide calcium for your bearded dragon by dusting grated cuttlefish lightly over food.
Make sure that your bearded dragon has clean, fresh water contained in a clean, shallow dish at all times. The dish should be large enough for both drinking and bathing in the cool area of the vivarium. For juvenile bearded dragons, as they are at risk of drowning even in very shallow water, it is best to use a drip system to drop water on suitable plants to provide them with a safer water source. Spraying juvenile bearded dragons with water is also helpful before they learn to bath in the water dish. Moisture is also needed for shedding of skin.
How often should I feed my bearded dragon?
Due to concern with impaction, small and frequent meals should be provided especially for young bearded dragons. Two to three times a day in small amount should be a good start. For adult bearded dragons, they can be fed once a day.
Provide your bearded dragon with a large vivarium. For an adult bearded dragon, the vivarium should be at least 120cm long, 60cm wide and 50cm high. To maintain good ventilation, it is best to use a mesh-covered window on the top of the vivarium.
There should be a basking area and a cool area in the vivarium. You should install or hang a basking light (an incandescent spot lamp) above the basking area to provide heat. The basking area should be between 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. Make sure there are mesh guards around the lamp to prevent your bearded dragon from getting into direct contact with the lamp. You should also put solid rocks or branches / logs under the basking light for your bearded dragon to climb on, burrow in and rest on. They also help to wear your bearded dragon’s claws down.
The temperature in the cool area should be kept between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. You should install thermometers in the vivarium at the bearded dragon’s level in both the basking and cool areas to monitor and keep the required temperature range. Put a plant in the cool area and position the drip system over the plant. Your bearded dragon can then drink the small droplets collected on the plant. You should also provide hides in both the basking and cool areas so your bearded dragon can hide and feel secure.
Besides basking light, you also need to provide the right levels of ultraviolet (UV) light for your bearded dragon so that it can absorb calcium and grow healthily. It is best if you could let your bearded dragon sunbathe under the sun for 30 minutes each day as the UVB in sunlight helps your bearded dragon to produce Vitamin D3 which in turn helps it to absorb calcium. If you keep your bearded dragon indoors, then you should provide it with full spectrum lights with UVB. The full spectrum lights should be located no more than 30cm from the bearded dragon. The output of these lights can diminish over time so the bulb needs to be replaced every 6 to 9 months. The lights should be controlled by a timer and be switched on 8 to 12 hours each day.
You should line the bottom of the vivarium with newspaper, paper towels or coral sand as these materials cause no harm to the bearded dragon even if ingested. Check with your vet and local store for best practice and to avoid impaction.
Any foods that are not eaten or wilted (including insects) must be removed daily as the insects may bite your bearded dragon at night when it is inactive. Wash the food and water dishes daily.
Bearded dragons eat a lot and so excrete a lot. Their droppings are small and dry and they do not produce urine. You should remove their droppings as needed and spot clean their home regularly. You could wipe down the glass every week. You should clean and disinfect the vivarium thoroughly once a month using reptile-safe disinfectant.
Bearded dragons can live alone and are best by themselves. After adoption, allow a few days for your bearded dragon to familiarise with you and the environment. Once your bearded dragon gets to know you, handle it regularly. Hold it gently but firmly around its shoulders, and support the weight of its body with your other hand. Once your bearded dragon is comfortable around you, you will find that it actually enjoys being handled and will happily sit on your knee or shoulder. Bearded dragons do not bite. Their claws are sharp but they rarely scratch. If they are scared, they will struggle and may fall as a result. Therefore you should stay close to the ground when you handle your bearded dragon.
Remember to wash your hands immediately and thoroughly with soap and water after contact with your bearded dragon or its equipment.
Reptiles and Salmonella infections
Human can be infected with Salmonella through contact with reptiles. Salmonella germs can cause diarrhoea in humans which could be mild, serious or life-threatening. Salmonella is a bacterium that is invisible to human eyes. Reptiles can carry Salmonella germs even though they look clean and healthy. Therefore you should stay vigilant and wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and immediately after you touch or handle reptiles.
Salmonella germs are shed in reptiles' faeces which can contaminate reptiles' body and habitat. Reptiles that live in aquarium tanks or vivariums can contaminate the water with germs, which in turn can spread to humans.
Hygiene measures for reptile owners
- DO wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and immediately after you touch, handle or feed reptiles. Do the same after you touch anything in their habitat.
- DO provide adult supervision for children as they handle reptiles and wash their hands immediately after handling.
- If soap and water are not instantly available, DO use alcohol-based handrub immediately. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible.
- To avoid contamination, DO keep reptiles away from kitchen, fomite and other places where food is prepared or consumed.
- If bath is used for washing the aquarium tank / vivarium, DO wash the bath thoroughly afterwards and use bleach to disinfect the bath.
- DO NOT let children under 5 years old, elderly people, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch reptiles.
- DO NOT put the aquarium tank / vivarium containing the reptile in a child's bedroom, especially when the child is younger than 5 years old.
- DO NOT allow reptiles to roam freely in your dwelling.
- DO NOT wash the aquarium tank / vivarium in your bathroom / kitchen basin.