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Bearded Dragon Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Table of Contents

Overview

Pogona vitticeps

Perhaps the most popular pet lizard, bearded dragons are originally from the deserts of central Australia. "Bearded" refers to the extendable flap of skin under their chin that turns black when they are stressed, displaying dominance or being territorial. They are usually even-tempered, docile, easy to tame, bond closely with their caretakers and are generally hardy when cared for properly.

Typical bearded dragon appearance & behavior

  • Tolerates handling and interaction with humans
  • In nature, their skin is tan-colored, but they have been bred for a variety of different colors and patterns
  • Communicate with each other through gestures such as “arm waving,” in which they lift a front leg and wave it back and forth in submission to another lizard. They also bob their head as part of their mating ritual or to display dominance
  • Will spend their day in a hiding spot, basking and climbing

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span 8-12 years with proper care
Average Adult Size Up to 24 inches long, half of this being their tail
Diet Omnivore
Minimum Habitat Size 20-gallon tank for a juvenile; 40-gallon breeder tank for an adult

 

Habitat

Habitat size

Bearded dragons need an appropriately sized and shaped habitat to accommodate their normal behaviors and exercise. It should have a screened top to help prevent escape while allowing proper ventilation. A 20- gallon tank is a good beginner size for a baby bearded dragon. Bearded dragons will reach adult size in one year under ideal conditions; upgrade habitat size as your reptile grows. If more than one bearded dragon is housed in a habitat, more space will be necessary.

Building your habitat

  • Décor - Provide a hiding area and branches for climbing and basking. A hide box should contain moist substrate such as damp sphagnum moss to aid in shedding. Moss must be replaced frequently to prevent mold from developing
  • Substrate - Provide commercially available substrate or reptile carpet. Gravel, wood chips and walnut shells are not recommended. If using a particulate matter bedding such as sand, feed your reptile in a dish or feeding tank to reduce the ingestion of substrate, which can cause potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstructions
  • Temperature – A temperature gradient (100°F for the warm end and 75°F for the cool end) should be provided. Temperatures should not fall lower than 70°F at night. Use an incandescent light or ceramic heater as the primary heat source at one end of the tank to establish a basking zone during the day. Thermometers should be used to monitor tank temperatures. A red heat bulb or ceramic heat emitter may be necessary at night to provide adequate heat without light
  • Lighting - To produce vitamin D in their skin to enable them to absorb dietary calcium and build strong bones, bearded dragons require a full-spectrum ultraviolet (UV) bulb with UVB rays for 10 to 12 hours a day. The light should be approximately 1-2 feet away from the lizard and should be replaced every six months, as its potency wanes
  • Humidity - Maintain at 30 to 50% humidity and monitor with a humidity gauge. Mist lizards and décor as needed to maintain humidity in this range. When humidity falls too low, lizards will retain shed skin. To decrease humidity in a tank, improve ventilation. To increase ventilation, increase the frequency of misting and add live plants to the habitat.

 

Cleaning your habitat

Thoroughly clean and disinfect water and food bowls daily. The habitat should be spot-cleaned daily to remove droppings and discarded food. Thoroughly clean the habitat at least once a week:

  • Place bearded dragon in a secure habitat
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Rinse the tank and all furnishings thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
  • Dry the tank and furnishings before putting the bearded dragon back in the habitat

What do bearded dragons eat?

Bearded dragons are omnivores (requiring both plant and animal matter). A well-balanced juvenile bearded dragon diet consists of:

  • 70% gut-loaded (recently fed) insects such as cricketsmealwormshornwormswaxwormscalciwormsroaches and superworms and 30% mixed vegetables (such as deep leafy greens, squash, carrots, greens) and fruit (including kiwi, banana, mango, papaya, apple)
  • May also be supplemented with a commercially available bearded dragon food
  • As bearded dragons reach adulthood, they should eat fewer insects and more vegetation daily

Things to remember when feeding your bearded dragon:

  • Fresh, clean water should be available at all times
  • Feed daily
  • Insects fed should not be longer than the space between the bearded dragon’s eyes
  • Chop vegetables and fruits to make them easier to eat
  • In general, juveniles are growing and need to eat more live food; adults can eat more vegetation
  • Vitamin supplementation should be alternated every day by sprinkling food lightly with powdered calcium without vitamin D and calcium with vitamin D, plus a multivitamin supplement once a week.  Insects can be lightly dusted with calcium and vitamin supplements by placing them inside a plastic bag with the powdered supplements and shaking the bag lightly to coat the insects prior to feeding them to the lizard
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within 10 hours should be discarded
  • Offer food from a shallow dish or feeding tank rather than feeding off the habitat floor to lessen accidental ingestion of substrate
  • Never feed bearded dragons fireflies, as they are toxic

Care

Bearded dragons regularly shed their skin; ensure humidity of habitat is at appropriate level to allow proper shedding. To facilitate shedding, soak lizard in warm water in a large container that allows the bearded dragon to immerse their entire body while keeping their head out of water, or provide a shed box, a hide box with moist sphagnum moss. Be sure to replace the water in the soaking dish often to keep it clean and change the moss frequently to prevent mold from developing.

Where to buy

Bearded dragons are available for purchase at your local Petco location. Please call ahead to check availability.

Habitat mates

Male bearded dragons are territorial and should be housed separately. Males and females housed together will likely breed, and females should not be housed with males until they are at least 2 years old or they may have difficulty laying eggs.  Do not house different reptile species together.

Health 

Signs of a healthy bearded dragon

  • Active and alert
  • Clear, bright eyes with no swelling or discharge
  • Full, muscular tail
  • Supple skin with no sores, swellings or discoloration
  • Droppings are firm, not runny or bloody
  • Eats and passes stool regularly
  • Clear nose and vent

 

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Weight loss or decreased appetite
  • Discharge or bubbles from eyes, mouth or nose
  • Lesions, swelling or discoloration of skin or retained shed 
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing, runny nose, difficulty breathing
  • Weakness or paralysis of limbs
  • Runny or bloody stool or lack of stool 
 

Common bearded dragon health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Gastro-intestinal disease Runny stools, caked or smeared stool around the vent, weight loss and loss of appetite; may be caused by bacterial, viral or parasitic infection or nutritional imbalance.  Consult your veterinarian.
Metabolic bone disease/vitamin deficiency  Inability to absorb calcium due to insufficient UVB light or inappropriate diet or supplementation. If untreated, can lead to skeletal deformities, soft or fractured bones, swollen limbs, decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, seizures and death.  Consult your veterinarian and provide ample UVB lighting and the proper amount of calcium/vitamin supplements.
Respiratory disease Labored breathing, discharge or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth, decreased appetite and lethargy. Can be caused by inappropriate temperature, humidity or lighting in habitat, predisposing to infection.  Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat has proper temperature, humidity and lighting.

 

FAQs

  • What do bearded dragons eat? They eat a combination of 70% gut-loaded (recently fed) insects such as crickets, mealworms, roaches, hornworms, waxworms, calciworms and superworms and 30% mixed vegetables (such as deep leafy greens, parsley, cabbage, peppers, broccoli, squash, carrots, green beans, bok choy, escarole, cilantro, endive and prickly pear) and fruit (including kiwi, banana, mango, papaya, apple, cantaloupe and watermelon). They also may be supplemented with a commercially available bearded dragon food.
  • How big do bearded dragons get? Bearded dragons can grow up to 24 inches long from nose to tail.
  • What fruits can bearded dragons eat? Bearded dragons can eat berries, apples, kiwis, bananas, mangoes, papayas, grapes, watermelon and cantaloupe.
  • How do you take care of a bearded dragon? Bearded dragons need a habitat with a temperature gradient containing a warm/basking zone and a cool zone, paper substrate or reptile carpet, a moist hide box, branches to climb on and a shallow water bowl to soak in. They eat a mixture of live insects dusted with calcium and vitamins, plus fresh vegetables and fruit and some commercially available bearded dragon pelleted food.
  • What vegetables can bearded dragons eat? Bearded dragons can eat deep leafy greens, parsley, cabbage, peppers, squash, carrots, green beans, bok choy, broccoli, escarole, cilantro, endive and prickly pear.
  • How long do bearded dragons live? On average, bearded dragons can live up to 8 to12 years.

Additional care sheets

Notes & sources 

Ask a Pet Care Center employee about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease. Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.