This is a guide to how we keep and raise our bearded dragons. We are not claiming this is the only way to keep them – this is just the method that we use and have had success with. It is recommended that you keep reading around and looking at various sources of information, as husbandry techniques are constantly changing. More in-depth discussions of many of the topics mentioned here can be found in our Bearded Dragon Knowledge Library section.
dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are medium-sized, heavily-bodied
lizards from Australia - see our Other
Species page for a more detailed look at who the beardies are and
who they're related to. They are reported to grow up to 24” in length,
with 17-19” being about average. Males are often slightly larger than
females, and are generally more muscular. Their popularity in the pet
trade is helped by their calm demeanours. They are far more tolerant of
handling than many other lizards, and their husbandry requirements are
relatively easy to maintain. This makes them a good lizard for someone
who is new to the hobby. For examples of the numerous different colours
and patterns available, see our Gallery.
They owe their names to a “beard” of spikes on their throats. Both males and females are capable of inflating the beard to ward off predators. Males will also inflate their beard (usually accompanied by it darkening) during encounters with other beardies, and especially when breeding. This is not a sure-fire way of determining sex, however, as females will also occasionally darken their beards and even head bob on occasion. See our page on Sexing for more information on the reliable sexing methods.
reptiles, bearded dragons can carry salmonella. Up to 90% of individuals
probably carry it. Salmonella is normally spread from feces. The risks
can be greatly reduced by following a strict hygiene regime. We use an
antibacterial gel - make sure you thoroughly clean your hands, wrists
and anywhere else that the dragon has touched!
Young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to salmonella. It is your responsibility to ensure that anyone who has handled your reptile washes their hands thoroughly, and does not put anything in their mouth until after they have done so. We do not let young children touch our dragons except under very close supervision.
We recommend an adult beardie be given at least 8 square feet of floor space, e.g. 4’ x 2’. This gives sufficient room to exercise and thermoregulate.
Whilst babies can be housed in a properly-set up adult-sized vivarium, you may find it easier to keep them in a smaller cage to begin with. If keeping babies in larger cages, keep the cages simple to begin with to help them find their food etc.
problem with using a smaller cage (less than 3' in length) for
youngsters is establishing a large enough thermal gradient to allow the
young dragons to regulate their body temperatures. If using a 24" tank,
you may find it easier to use mesh to make a secure top for the cage.
This will allow a lot more air and heat exchange, keeping the cool end
of the cage cool. Overheating is a potentially fatal problem, especially
for young dragons, so thermostats should always be used - see our
section on Thermostats for more
It can be expensive to have to buy a vivarium for a young dragon, then another when it gets older. It is possible to partition a larger vivarium until the dragon is large enough to need the full space. Alternatively, 15 gallon fish tanks can be picked up second hand for relatively little money, and then sold once your dragon is large enough to move into its adult home.
We house some of our female beardies in pairs or trios, but usually only those which have grown up together. Even then, they are not guaranteed to get on. Because of this, we recommend that most dragons should be housed individually. Even female dragons can and will fight.
also dominance issues, which may affect feeding. If you do house more
than one dragon in an enclosure, you must have a spare setup incase you
need to separate them. As you have the setup already, you may as well
use it to house dragons individually. Bearded dragons do show social
interactions to one another - we let our dragons meet and come into
contact with each other outside of their cages, under constant
supervision. This seems to stimulate them, and we feel is a good way to
enrich their lifestyles. This is also generally far more practical than
housing them together.
A checklist of vital equipment can be found here.
dragons are "Ectothermic", and so cannot generate heat to warm
themselves up. They must instead bask. Lights must be turned off at
night, to allow your dragon to sleep. We use basic digital timers (less
than £10 from a hardware store) to ensure our daylight periods are
constant. We give our beardies a heated daytime varying from 10-14 hours
long (depending on the season). This seasonal change mimics their
natural environment, as well as helping them to decide when it's time to
At night, temperatures must be allowed to fall, to help the dragon to sleep, and to aid metabolic functions. Night time temperatures can drop to 65-70F without any problems. If temperatures are dropping below this, we recommend you install a non-light-emitting heat source - such as a ceramic bulb - linked to a thermostat set to around 70F.
We use spot lights of varying wattages suspended above a basking rock to give a surface temperature of 105-115F. The surface temperature should be measured using an infra-red temperature gun. The ambient temperature around the basking spot should be around 90-95F. The ambient temperature on the other side of the cage should be around 80-85F. We measure this using a digital thermometer.
general rule, if your ambient temperatures are too low, you need to
increase wattage of the bulb or turn up the thermostat; if the basking
temperature is too low, but ambient temperature are fine, you need to
move the basking spot nearer to the bulb (use a taller rock/branch) or
increase the ventilation in the cool end to allow the thermostat to
provide more power to the bulb. The safest way to achieve good ambient
temperatures is to use a Dimming Thermostat.
Place the probe in the cool end, and set it to 80-85F, then adjust the
distance between the light and the basking surface to alter basking
UV lighting is necessary for production of Vitamin D3, which aids in calcium absorption. A lack of UV light can lead to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). Allowing your dragons to bask in natural sunlight is not a year-round option in Britain, so you must provide a high-output source of UV. There are many fluorescent tubes designed for reptiles. Ensure yours has a high output of UV. Depending on manufacturer, you should be looking for an 8%-12% rating. UV tubes should be within 12” of the basking spot, to allow your dragon to absorb sufficient UVB. We also have non-thermostatted low-energy auxiliary lights in some cages, as well as fluorescent tubes, to increase general vivarium brightness. As bearded dragons are from Australia, they need very bright light to stimulate normal behaviour. For this reason, we don’t recommend using ceramic bulbs on their own, due to there being no light output.
Self-heating "Hot Rocks" should be used with extreme caution - faulty ones can get to very high temperatures, and can easily burn a dragon's belly.
bearded dragons should not be kept on loose substrate. Loose substrates,
such as sand, bark chippings etc can easily be ingested – this can be
fatal. Even if “petshops do it”, we recommend you do not. We keep our
young dragons on plain white kitchen roll. It is inexpensive, and easy
is a graphic photo of a dissection of a Dragon kept on crushed walnut.
It's intestines are completely blocked by it.
is an X-ray of a dragon kept on Calci-sand which has become impacted.
Wood chippings are one of the worst substrates for a bearded dragon. It
may be wise to reconsider purchasing a dragon which has been raised on
woodchip (or similar), to avoid possible complications later in life.
Adult dragons have a much lower risk of impaction if kept on a fine, loose substrate such as sand. Bark chippings should never be used for bearded dragons due to the risk of ingestion and subsequent gut blockage. There is still a risk of ingestion and impaction with any loose substrate. If you are not aiming for a Naturalistic Setup, it is recommended that you keep adult dragons on kitchen roll, rough tiles, reptile carpet, or newspaper (check the ink is non-toxic first though). If using sand, make sure it's totally dry to avoid raising humidity, and sift it to remove any pebbles etc.
In the wild, Bearded Dragons live on hard-packed, sun-baked clay, with a thin layer of sand/dust on top. This is hard to replicate in captivity. Rough tiles with a sprinkling of sand over the top are probably the closest match. For a more in-depth discussion of naturalistic vs artificial setup styles, have a look at our page dedicated to setup styles.
We use smooth rocks and sandstone as basking rocks for our dragons. Rocks should be stable, and without gaps underneath. Crickets may hide in any gaps, and can potentially bite your dragon after the lights go out. If using a loose substrate, ensure that the rocks are on the bottom of the cage before adding substrate, to stop the beardies from tunnelling under them – rocks may collapse if tunnelled under.
Branches can be used in addition to rocks, but not instead of. Rocks absorb heat far better than branches, and ensure your dragon is heated from the top and from underneath. Branches must be secure, and should be as wide as your dragon. Do not put branches too high in the cage – adult dragons are not as good climbers as they think they are, and may fall. A large drop can cause serious injury. For our adults, we don’t let them get into any position where there is more than an 8” drop to the bottom of the cage. Babies and juveniles are generally more agile. You should make sure for younger dragons that the basking area is the highest point in the cage - babies which have a low basking area and a taller (but cooler) climbing area are prone to spending all of their time at the top of the climbing area, and risk getting too cold for efficient digestion etc.
We do not use cave-style hides for our dragons. For young beardies, there is a danger that they will spend all day hiding, instead of basking. This will interfere with efficient digestion. Adults will only normally use a hide to sleep in, but are just as happy curled around a rock or tucked into a corner of their vivarium. Additionally, if they have the option to hide, they may not get sufficient UV. In the Australian Outback, the sun is strong enough that a few hours per day in it will suffice. In captivity, UV tubes are not strong enough, so they need to spend a lot more time under them.
dragons are omnivores, meaning they will eat both insects and
vegetables. Babies are growing rapidly and need a large amount of
protein. Their diet should consist of around 80%+ insects. Adults do not
need so much protein, and should be eating up to 75% vegetables. This
should be a gradual transition as they grow. Too much livefood in adults
can result in liver damage.
A diet for a hatchling should consist of small crickets, and possibly very small locusts. As a general guide, food items should not be longer than the space between your dragon’s eyes. Any larger than this, and there is a risk of impaction and paralysis.
The prey offered should grow in size as the beardie grows. Adult crickets and locusts can have spines on their back legs. It is advisable to remove these before offering them to your dragon, to prevent any internal injuries from the spines. Adult dragons can be fed Morio Worms (aka King Mealworms) in addition to crickets. Waxworms can be offered as an occasional treat but should not be overused.
More information about the types of food we use can be found in our Feeder Insect section.
Prey should be gutloaded before feeding (see our “Feeders” Caresheet). This increases its nutritional content. Insectivorous diets are typically deficient in Calcium, so a Calcium supplement should be used. We use pure Calcium 5 days per week, and a multi-vitamin supplement on the other 2 days.
We feed our babies 2-3 times per day, and allow them each to eat as much as they want. Often, this can be a huge amount of food! Adults should be fed once daily. We give adults greens every day, and dusted crickets every other day.
There is a good list of greens which are suitable and nutritious for dragons here. We feed ours on Watercress, Dandelions, Spring Greens, Kale, Carrot Shavings, Butternut Squash, Rocket and Romaine Lettuce, along with other seasonal vegetables.
Although bearded dragons come from an arid climate, they should always have access to water. As our babies are kept in open- or mesh-topped cages, humidity isn't such an issue so we spray them once or twice a day. They will then lick the water from their heads. We also give our babies a constant source of water in a shallow water dish. Although most of their water comes from the greens that they are fed, most will have a drink when bathed, but this it not something you should overdo. A more detailed discussion of bearded dragons and water can be read in the Habitat and Water Article, written by Rick Catt.
will often defecate in water dishes in their cage – these must be
emptied and cleaned as soon as feces are noticed. Cages can be spot
cleaned as needed, and should be completely emptied and disinfected at
least every month or so.
Bearded dragons should be given at least 90 minutes to warm up after the lights come on before feeding. Their last feeding should be at least two hours before the lights go out, to enable digestion. Crickets should not be left in the cage overnight, as they can attack sleeping beardies if hungry!
Now you've finished reading our general caresheet, why not have look through our Knowledge Library for more in-depth pages on many aspects of bearded dragon care and keeping.