Bearded Dragons: Cold-blooded Companions

By: Ariana Finkelstein, DVM

TVMA Member
San Antonio, TX

Published December 2014

Bearded dragons (fondly known as beardies or dragons) are a desert species of lizard that are medium-sized, weighing up to a pound. They are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and insects,. Beardies are social, friendly and rarely bite. Bearded dragons have a variable lifespan depending on their care and nutrition. The average lifespan is about 10 years, but with excellent care, some have lived to be more than 14 years old.

Bearded Dragons are Cold-blooded

There are more than 9,000 different reptile species in the world today, some of which can make great pets. Some of the types of reptiles often kept as pets include iguanas, geckos, bearded dragons, tortoises, turtles and some snakes. Reptiles are cold-blooded (ectotherms), meaning they maintain their body temperature based on the environmental temperature. If it is cold in the room, they are cold. If it is warm in their environment, they are warm. Because of this, they often like to bask in the sunlight.

Unlike mammals, reptiles require special care in regulating their environment’s temperature in order to thrive. Pet owners need to take steps such as adjusting humidity and using a UV light to ensure their reptile’s living space will have the best conditions for these unique species.

Where Your Bearded Dragon Should Live

Beardies should be housed in an enclosure as large as you can provide, but a minimum size of four-feet-long by two-feet-wide is recommended so that a temperature gradient can be created for the comfort of your dragon. The habitat should be made of a smooth surface material, such as aquarium glass or PVC, and not made of wire. Beardies need a low-humidity environment with a cage temperature ranging from 70 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool side, to upwards of 95 degrees in the basking area. A basking area is the warmest area in the enclosure, which is where an overhead full-spectrum lamp is emitting both a good amount of heat and ultraviolet light.

Paper towels, artificial grass or newspaper can be used for the substrate. The substrate should be changed or spot-cleaned daily. Try to avoid sand, rocks or other substances that can be easily swallowed. There should always be access to fresh clean water. (However, some sources recommended misting only weekly.) Full-spectrum lighting1 of both UVA and UVB should be provided. This will allow the most natural environment for your dragon. Ideally, they should also receive exposure to real, unfiltered sunlight outside when it is warm enough. Fifteen minutes outside in the sunshine three times a week is a great supplement to artificial lighting. However, do not leave them outside unattended.

What Should Your Bearded Dragon Eat?

Feed adult bearded dragons in the morning. Salad should comprise approximately 50 percent of the diet and should include chopped greens such as mustard greens, kale, beet greens, dandelion greens, bok choy, cilantro, collards, Swiss chard, etc. Vegetables should also be offered and may make up approximately 20 percent of the diet. Vegetables may include but are not limited to squash, zucchini, sweet potato, broccoli and peas. Fruit and flowers can also be offered but should be kept to a minimum of no more than five percent of the diet. This may include melon, banana, flower blossoms, etc.

Many pelleted diets are now available. These products may be used but should be less than 50 percent of the entire diet. Fresh salads, vegetables and insects still should be provided, regardless of the pelleted diet. Insects/prey items should make up a maximum of 25 percent of the diet and include crickets, superworms, mealworms, wax worms, locusts, silkworms, roaches, etc. All of the prey items should be fed a good diet (offer cricket food, sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, etc.) prior to feeding your pet. The insects should also be dusted with a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Juvenile bearded dragons grow very rapidly and should be fed daily. The same diet recommendation for adults applies. However, it is important to use smaller and more immature insects for the feeding of smaller bearded dragons.

Baby bearded dragons should be fed twice daily. They should receive only small, slow-moving prey items, such as two-week-old crickets (cricket size should be no longer then their head is wide). Salad material and other vegetable and fruit material as discussed above should also be provided fresh daily. Dragon pellets may also be fed but in moderation.

Necessary Supplements for Your Bearded Dragon

Calcium and vitamins are critical supplements for bearded dragons. It is recommended to give calcium supplements daily to baby dragons, three to four times weekly for juveniles and weekly for adults. Keep in mind that it is possible to over-supplement and cause illness. Be sure to find a veterinarian in your area who is knowledgeable about reptiles and bearded dragons so your dragon can be kept as healthy as possible. Nutrition is the key to long, healthy lives.

Is Your Bearded Dragon Male or Female?

Once mature, determining the sex of the dragon is not too difficult. The thicker tail, enlarged femoral poresFemoral pores are a part of a holocrine secretory gland found on the inside of the thighs of certain lizards and amphisbaenians which releases pheromones to attract mates or mark territory. and wider cloacal openingIn zoological anatomy, a cloaca is the posterior opening that serves as the only opening for the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts of certain animal species. are observed in the males. Also, during breeding activity, the male’s beard may often turn a black color. Look for the bulging hemipenesThe paired male reproductive organs in snakes and lizards..

Common Issues

Common problems that bearded dragons face include coccidiaParasitic protozoa of a group that includes those that cause diseases such as coccidiosis and toxoplasmosis., impaction and disease or illness caused by improper care. If your bearded dragon is lethargicSluggish and apathetic, weak, not eating well or not going to the bathroom normally, please seek veterinary advice. Find a veterinarian in your area who treats reptiles so you can ensure annually that your dragon is healthy and treat any health problems that arise.


Reference:

1. Full-spectrum lighting includes two types of ultraviolet light, both UVA and UVB. UVB allows synthesis of vitamin D. Vitamin D is required to absorb calcium from the diet. UVA lighting allows more for appropriate behavior in terms of appetite, color spectrum, reproduction, etc.

 

Ariana Finkelstein, DVM currently practices at Mission Pet Emergency in San Antonio, Texas.

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