Sunday, September 6, 2015

Bearded Dragon Care

What does your bearded dragon need to thrive and live a long, healthy life in your care? 


Bearded dragons are omnivores so they need both plant and animal matter to live a long healthy life. They are diurnal meaning they are awake during the daytime and sleep at night. There are many aspects to bearded dragon care and there is going to be a lot of information shared in this post. The important thing is that you realize this information is not given lightly. This comes from years of research from several individuals that are rescuers, breeders, experienced keepers, our own experiences at the rescue and compiling the best information from several care sheets, groups and various resources. Please read the links provided as well and stick to the products shared in this post. For example, do not purchase any uvb bulb from a local pet store and message us and ask if this is ok. Do not purchase vitamins from a local pet store and assume they are of the same quality and ingredients as the ones linked below. 

Contrary to what you may think, many if not most of the products that pet stores sell for reptiles made by top brand name companies are very harmful to your reptiles regardless of what their employees may tell you. From substrates, to heat rocks, heat pads, light bulbs, supplements, feeders, and temperature and humidity gauges. You really do not want to go shopping at a local pet store for your reptile's supplies and advice on how to properly setup your reptile. Not only are many of their supplies harmful to your reptiles, they are very expensive compared to the higher quality products you can find online.

Let's first take a look at their natural environment. Bearded dragons come from Central Australia. While it is a desert, that does not mean they live on sand. It is defined as a desert due to the amount of rainfall it receives. 


SUBSTRATE:

Now that we have an understanding of their natural environment, you get an idea of what to offer them to live on.

Do not house your bearded dragon on sand or crushed walnut that your local pet store sells. You run the risk of giving your bearded dragon an impaction by doing so. An impaction is caused by your dragon ingesting the loose substrate, it packing up in their digestive tract and not allowing for normal passage of waste. Impactions can be very harmful to your dragon and even fatal. Your best options are slate, tile, linoleum or bioactive substrate. The slate is nice as it has a rocky feel and will keep your dragon's nails filed. The slate, tile and linoleum are great for ease of cleaning. Repti carpet and sand mats can make for challenging cleaning/sanitizing capabilities and get very smelly. Bioactive substrate is for the more advanced keeper.
Here is a great article that addresses what substrates are best to use and why. http://www.raisingbeardeddragons.com/bearded-dragon-substrate/

ENCLOSURES: 

DO NOT HOUSE TWO BEARDED DRAGONS TOGETHER!!
Bearded dragons are solitary animals and do not appreciate having to share their space. They do not need a live in companion and you will run the risk of one dragon losing a toe, limb, tail, spikes etc if you house them together. There will generally be a more dominant one and just because you do not see any outright attacks, does not mean they are getting along and happy. A look, a nod, a bob a stance, a posture are other ways they communicate aggression. They are not cuddling when they stack on top of one another but merely seeking out the same area whether it be to warm up, cool down or it's the most comfortable spot offered. Male/male, male/female, female/female, mom/dad, baby/parent...... Doesn't matter, do not house two dragons together. We have seen the side affects in many different ways to housing dragons together. Some lost their lives, some lost their tails, some lost their limbs and some suffered long years under a more dominant female or male dragon and were stunted in growth and or died due to the stress. Just because they appear to be tolerating each other today, doesn't mean they will tomorrow. It only takes a second for one dragon to really harm or kill another dragon.
Spartacus is missing half his tail, some spikes on his head, has scarring on his shoulders and is quite small due to being housed with his brother for three years. Previous owners thought he was a female and they were in love. Many people do not understand bearded dragon behavior or know what to look for as signs of stress.

BABY DRAGONS: A 20 gallon long tank is the smallest enclosure you want to start with for babies. It will give you enough space to give them the proper accessories and provide them with a good temperature gradient. A temperature gradient means your dragon's enclosure will have a warm side and a cool side so they can regulate their body temperatures as they see fit as they are cold blooded and rely on their environment to warm up and cool down. A 10 gallon tank is not a suitable size to provide a proper temperature gradient. You'll want to provide a basking log, water dish, and hide for your baby dragon. Simpler is better as too much can stress them. It can be beneficial to cover three sides of their tank so only the front glass is exposing them. It will give them more security and help them settle into their new environment.

ADULT DRAGONS: Adult bearded dragons should not be housed in anything smaller than a 40 gallon breeder. Keep in mind, that your baby dragon will be nearly the size of an adult in under a year if you are caring for it properly. The sooner you upgrade them to a 40 gallon breeder the better. A 75 gallon tank is far more suitable to an adult bearded dragon as it will give you more space to offer nice basking areas, hide areas, a water bowl and any other accessories such as plants, rocks etc. A custom enclosure made of wood is very nice as you can increase their living space and provide a very efficient enclosure for heating.

This photo is of a 5 month old bearded dragon in a very basic setup in a 40 gallon breeder tank. Yes, he reached over 500 grams in 5 months due to proper lighting, heating, diet and hydration. On the left there is a log hide under the log on his cool side, a plant, water dish, hammock and basking log on the right where his basking lamp is and the uvb light is mounted to the right where he will spend most of his time basking. He will climb high on his basking log as he needs more heat, thermoregulating his temperatures and he will also move from side to side in his tank to cool down on the left side or stay warmer on the right. Temperature gradients are very important as reptiles need cooler areas just as much as they need warmer areas.

This is a very nice custom setup for two bearded dragons. There is a wall in the middle so there are two separate enclosures. The rock structure and back walls are made out of styrofoam, grout and water based polycrylic with sand added to the surfaces to help keep from sliding. The bridge leads to their basking areas and under the basking areas where you see the several layers of rock, there is a hide. They climb all over the back wall platforms as well as the different levels of rock under their basking platform. The foam is excellent for holding in heat and the thick wood and double paned glass front are very efficient for holding in heat. We use a mere 50 watt basking bulb for their basking light as this enclosure holds in heat very well and connect it to a herpstat to keep their enclosure from overheating. The uvb light is a 24" reptisun 10.0 bulb. You can see how much of an energy saver this enclosure is compared to an open tank with a screen top.

LIGHTING/HEATING:

Always have your lights on a timer. You will need a dual outlet timer so that you can plug in both the basking light and uvb light. You can find them at Wal Mart, Fred's, Target, hardware stores etc. We'd recommend a digital one that has the backup battery so you don't have to reset it when the power goes out. We offer a 12/12 day night cycle during the summertime and a 10 hours on 14 hours off day night cycle in the winter months. We will take away an hour of daylight around daylight savings and then take another hour away a month later. Reverse that for the spring daylight savings. That way you're not changing their light cycle by two hours in one instance.

You can use spot bulbs from local hardware stores for your basking/heat source. Halogen bulbs are nice as you'll get a hotter heat output per watts compard to a regular incandescent spot bulb. But you have to be careful with halogen spot bulbs as they have a very focused beam and can easily burn your dragon if they can get too close to the bulb. You can use reptile brand basking bulbs but we find that they burn out very quickly and are far more expensive. You'll need a 10 inch dome light fixture for your basking spot bulb. You can get the dome fixtures at your local pet store or online. Steer clear of the ones with dimmer switches as they tend to be faulty at the dimmer switch and can melt. You do not want your average dome fixture from Wal Mart, Fred Meyer, Target etc. that have a plastic base the bulb screws into. These are not safe and cheaply made. You want a dome fixture with a ceramic base and you can find some very high quality ones at your local hardware stores that are rated for higher watts. They have larger domes but very thick wire and nice ceramic base. 
You want to make sure you know what your fixtures are rated for. All of these have the ceramic base and are appropriate for use with reptiles. Starting from the far right they are rated at 60 watt, 75 watts, 150 watts and the large silver is rated for 300 watts.

What are the watts of the heat bulb you are using, temperature of the room that the tank is in and the type of enclosure you are housing them in? These questions are very important. The warmer the room the lower your watts can be on your basking bulb. The more insulated your enclosure is, the lower the watts can be on your basking bulb. You want to use a temp gun to check the temperatures of your basking area, warm side and cool side of your enclosure. Here is a link to some you can get at your local hardware store. If you want a thermometer in your enclosure, use a digital one but you will still need your temperature/heat gun to check all your areas of your enclosure. Do not use the dial thermometers and hygrometers from your local pet stores. They are very inaccurate and poor quality. 

You want the basking area to be 95-105 degrees and the cool side of your enclosure to be in the mid to low 80's. You don't want the enclosure to drop below 80 degrees during the daytime. Night time temperatures are safe in the mid 60's.

You always want to use a herpstat in any enclosure to ensure that your dragon does not overheat. You only need to connect your basking bulb (heat source) to the herpstat. This is the reason it's best to have a tube style uvb bulb in your enclosure instead of only a mercury vapor bulb that provide heat and uvb. So when the bulb shuts off due to hot temps and the herpstat regulating it, your dragon will still get uvb light and daylight during his day cycle. Also another reason to lower your watts if your enclosure is in a warm room or well insulated enclosure. The higher the watts, the hotter it will get, the sooner and more often your herpstat will shut off the heat bulb and you'll get a disco affect in your enclosure. Off and back on again as the bulb is so hot, it constantly has to be turned off. The lower the watts, the cooler the bulb, the less it will shut off. Makes sense right? 

Here is a link to a very affordable herpstat that merely shuts the heat source off and on and is very easy to setup. Just mount the probe in the corner of the tank on the side your heat source is about half way up, secure it, use your temperature gun to shoot your basking spot and when the basking spot reaches the proper temps, look at your herpstat reading and set it to shut off a degree above that. Then you can check your warm side and cool side with your temp gun to ensure that the temps are good at that setting. Keep in mind that different surfaces will read crazy temperatures. If you shoot a rock under a basking light with the temp gun, it will read a very, very hot temperature as opposed to wood or other surfaces. Ambient temperatures are far different from reflective surfaces directly under heat sources. It's a tap dance you have to figure out to dial in your temps. Once you get used to surfaces and your temp gun, it will become very easy to dial in your setup. 

There are far higher quality herpstats that you can use as well. Here is a link to some of those. These have a lot of bells and whistles. Sunrise, sunset, night temperature drop options, humidity controls, ramping etc. http://www.spyderrobotics.com/

Red heat bulbs should not be used period for your dragon. Day or night. A white basking light should be used in your heat lamp fixture for the daytime basking spot and you do not need any night heat sources if your room temperatures do not drop below the mid 60's. Although they would prefer closer to 70 degrees, they are fine without night heat if your room temps don't drop below the mid 60's. If your room is colder than the mid 60's you can provide them with a ceramic heat emitter for night heat. The watts for your ceramic heat emitter again vary greatly on your enclosure and setup. You want to give them a night time temperature drop though. Don't give them the same temps as their day cycle. You will also need a timer for your ceramic heat emitter separate from your day timer. Here's a link that will clarify why you should not use red or any colored heat bulbs and give you some understanding as to what reptiles can see. Bearded dragons have a parietal eye (third eye) that looks like a small oval on top of their head. It is a photosensory organ that is sensitive to light and dark and triggers hormone production and thermoregulation. So you can see why colored night bulbs will disturb their sleep patterns. Will they still sleep with one? Probably, but some may not and what we are shooting for here is the best setup for them that will provide them with good rest. Give them darkness. http://reptileapartment.com/colored-lights-reptiles-myths-the-pet-store-told-me/

UVB LIGHTING: 

GOOD QUALITY UVB LIGHTING IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR DRAGONS HEALTH!!
Notice it says "good quality uvb lighting". All uvb lights were not created equally and many brands that you find in your local pet stores are dangerous for your dragons. Here is a link that describes why uvb is so important for your reptile's well being and what it does for their body as there are many factors as to why it is essential to their health. 
http://www.arcadia-reptile.com/the-d3-cycle/
Do not use compact fluorescent uvb lighting in any brand as it gives out very inconsistent uvb lighting and can damage your dragons eyes. We recommend Reptisun 10.0 tube style bulbs, Arcadia bulbs or mercury vapor bulbs. Do not use any other brand tube uvb light if you value the life of your dragon period! Here is a link to where you can get the reptisun bulbs at very affordable prices. Again, do not purchase the reptisun compact fluorescent bulb. Purchase the 18", 24" or 36" tube style bulb.
The size will depend on your enclosure. It's good to have one that will cover 2/3 of your enclosure. Mount it on the side where the basking spot is so they get their uvb while basking. UVB does not pass through plastic, plexi glass or glass so any fixture you get for your uvb bulb needs to have the plastic housing covering the bulb removed. If you are using a tank with a screened top, mount the light below the screen inside the tank as the screen will block out 30-50% of those high quality uvb rays. You need to replace your uvb bulbs every 6-9 months as the uvb does diminish in time even though the bulb is still putting out light.

Here's a website where you can purchase mercury vapor bulbs and Arcadia bulbs. http://www.lightyourreptiles.com/

You can find very affordable fixtures that are easy to mount inside your enclosures at Wal Mart, Fred Meyer, Target etc. Here is a photo of an 18" fixture and 24" fixtures. The 24" are black (black light bulbs included) or white. The 18" is a bit more bulky and the white one on the right. Remove all plastic covers over the bulbs that come with the light fixtures, remove the bulb that came with the fixture and insert your reptisun 10.0 or arcadia bulb. Then mount it inside your enclosure. You do not want the bulb to get closer than 6" to your dragon when it's basking.

HUMIDITY:

Use a digital hygrometer to measure your humidity levels as the gauges they sell at your local pet stores are very inaccurate. You want your humidity levels between 30-60%. Although I wouldn't go above 50%.


ACCESSORIES:

A water trough that your dragon can climb in and or drink from would be nice for water. You don't want a large water trough for a baby. Wait until they are older for larger water bins. If you live in a very humid area, a large water trough is not a good idea as it will raise the humidity levels in your enclosure. A log hide or some sort of hide for the cool side that he can fit his whole body in would be beneficial. Basking log/rocks for the basking side that are comfortable for them to lay on and hang out on are important as this is where they spend much of their time. The larger the enclosure, the more you can offer for them to climb around on and stimulate their long days in their enclosures. Exercise is good and it's important you let your dragons out to exercise as well.

DIET:

Until your dragon reaches 1 year old, you should be feeding 80% live feeders and 20% greens. Baby dragons need a lot of live feeders and to be fed bugs 2-3 times a day. BABY DRAGONS EAT A LOT OF LIVE FEEDERS! Expect to be purchasing a lot of bugs if you want to start with a baby dragon. Even though they only need 20% greens, I offer a small salad to baby dragons every day to get them used to eating greens and getting in the habit of being good veggie eaters. It is not fun trying to get an adult dragon used to greens that has not been offered to them as a baby. Start them off right and it will make things far easier for you in the future and be far healthier for your dragon. 

Once your dragon is over one year old and nearly fully grown, you'll flip that feeding schedule and need to feed them 20% live feeders and 80% greens. This is crucial to the longevity of their life. Too many live feeders being offered to an adult dragon will be very taxing on their organs and you will shorten the lifespan of your dragon. At over a year, you'll feed live feeders 2-3 times a week and offer salads every day.

SALADS: Here's a link to a blog post that will cover all the aspects of making a daily salad for your dragon. There is also a link to a food chart in there for bearded dragons. Use it religiously and check it before you go to the store and purchase greens and vegetables for his daily salads. http://raerescue.blogspot.com/2014/06/arrrrgh-my-lizard-wont-eat-its-greens.html


LIVE FEEDERS/BUGS: The size of the insects you feed your dragons should be smaller than the space between their eyes to avoid an impaction. Smaller is always safer when in doubt. Never feed your dragons meal worms and only offer superworms if your dragon is over 10" in length. Dubia roaches are some of the best staple feeders. Crickets aren't bad but one dubia equals many, many crickets as they are far meatier. The rescue does have dubia for sale and this link will provide our feeder ordering information. http://www.raerescue.org/purchase_live_feeders

What your bugs eat, your dragons eat. You want to make sure your feeders are gut loaded with good food. Pet stores are not the best source for your feeders for your dragon for this reason. Purchase them through the rescue or online from a reputable breeder. Never feed meal worms to bearded dragons. Superworms are ok but not a great staple feeder. Meaning they should not be fed them every day. Here's a link to live feeders and what's more nutritious for your dragon as there are so many options out there and we've covered just the best staple feeders and most commonly purchased by new owners. http://www.everythingreptile.org/feeder-pics-and-information.html

SUPPLEMENTS:

Here's a link to the calcium supplements that you want to dust on their live feeders 5 days a week for baby dragons on one of their live feeder feedings a day and 2-3 times a week on the live feeders for your adult dragon. Alternating between the one with D3 and the one without D3. It's important you purchase the one with D3 and the one without D3. Use the one with D3 on his salads on the days you're going to be feeding live feeders and the one without D3 on the days you are not feeding live feeders.

Here's a link to the multivitamin that I refer to in the blog post regarding daily salads. You'll want to dust their salads and live feeders with this two days a week for baby dragons and 1 day a week for adult dragons. http://www.beardeddragon.co/index.php?route=product/product&path=61&product_id=257

Generally we dust salads with calcium during the weekdays and multivitamin on the weekends. Do not dust the live feeders or the salads heavily. It is a light dusting. You don't want their feeders looking like powdered sugar doughnuts. 

BATHING:

Bathing is an important part of keeping your bearded dragon hydrated. Some dragons will readily drink from water bowls in their enclosure, but some may not. They do get some hydration from their daily salads but that alone is not enough. We bathe our dragons once a week in plastic tubs and put just a few inches of warm water in them. Be careful not to get the baths too hot. This is another reason for your temp gun. Many of them will drink in their baths. They also take in water through their vent and there's no better way to get a lizard to poop than a nice luke warm bath.  
Glug, glug, glug......


SHEDDING:

I get people all the time ask what is wrong with their lizard. Their skin is gray and they are changing funky colors! Your lizard is most likely in shed. They can get cranky during this time and do not mess with their skin. It takes time for it to be ready to come off and you don't want to try to rush it. Bathing is very beneficial to your lizard when they are in shed. Just don't pick at their skin as it will come off when it's ready. The water is your best aid in helping them to work off their shed. You do not need fancy pet store products like shed aid and what not. Bathing and leaving them be should do the trick for a healthy, well cared for dragon. 
Baby dragons will shed most of their body around the same time. In my experience, it would start with the tail, then the legs, then the rest of the body and head. Adult dragons are far different. They will shed in funky patches at different times and will not shed all at once over a few weeks. They'll shed part of their back in an S shape, or just the back part of their head or just two legs. It can be weird to get used to but it's perfectly normal.
You can see that only her head is in shed.

EGG LAYING:

If you get a female bearded dragon, she can and most likely will lay infertile eggs. This is not something they will readily do without a lay box to safely lay their eggs in. You have to provide one for them. If they don't have an environment they are comfortable laying their eggs in, it could cause egg binding which can be fatal or they may need surgery. Restlessness, scratching, frantically pacing, larger tear shaped body, weight gain a change or lack of appetite and and funny looking stools can all be signs your female is ready to lay eggs and looking for a place to dig. Here is a link that will give you a better understanding of egg binding and what may cause it and how you can prevent it.
http://pogopogona.com/caring-for-bearded-dragons/egg-binding-bearded-dragons

We use an 18 gallon rubbermaid tub that is opaque so you cannot see them with a 60% dirt 40% sand mix so it will stick together and not collapse when they dig their burrow. Moisten it to help get it to stick, make it a good 12-18 inches deep and give them a basking light to keep warm. Place your dragon in the tub early in the day and leave her be. We have to cover the top of the tub with a screen lid as some of the females will try to climb out. The first time around it could take up to a week for your dragon to get used to the lay box and be ready to really lay. Give it time and be patient. You may have to place her back in her enclosure for a day or days before she is ready to lay. But keep trying and in time, when they are ready, they will start digging. They'll dig until they are pleased with their burrow, turn around and lay their eggs (generally around 17-32 in our experience) and then cover up their eggs. Then give them a nice long soak in a luke warm bath and put them back in their enclosure. You'll want to increase their food and calcium intake after laying as it takes quite a toll on their body. You can feed your adult dragons bugs everyday along with their daily greens to get them back up to a good weight. Some females will lay up to three clutches in one season every 3-4 weeks. It just depends on the dragon and keep in mind they are all very different.


We hope you found this information to be helpful and that it covers your questions regarding bearded dragon care and how to properly set them up. We do understand that everyone has their differences in opinion and different experiences with their dragons. This is what has worked best for us and our rescues as well as many other experienced bearded dragon keepers. Thank you for visiting our blog!