When you think of family pets, the usual animals that come to mind are cats and dogs. However, there are many other animals that can make great family pets. One that is rising in popularity is the bearded dragon.
So, do bearded dragons make good pets? Bearded dragons make great pets, due to their ease of care, calm temperament and unique appearance. They are the ideal lizard for both kids and adults alike.
Bearded dragons are quirky pets that can bring joy for many years. If you’re thinking of getting one, read on to find out why they are becoming more popular and some other things you should know before getting one.
#1 – Bearded Dragons Are Easy to Care For
Bearded dragons require normal pet care – like food, water, and housing – and they also require a bit of specialized care in the form of heat and lighting in the habitats that you create for them. Fortunately, after the initial cost of getting your bearded dragon set up, there isn’t much cost involved in the upkeep.
Food and Water
Bearded dragons are omnivores, and they eat a mixture of plants, vegetables, and insects. Most domesticated bearded dragons are fed crickets and small or chopped vegetables with leafy greens. They are even known to eat fruit.
When it comes to water, you should provide your dragon with water in a small dish. Moreover, some bearded dragons enjoy relaxing in water. If yours likes to do this, you can place a larger dish of water into its tank for it to soak.
Adult bearded dragons eat a larger variety of insects that include waxworms, silkworms, earthworms, and more. Before feeding your dragon it’s insects, it’s recommended to gut load them, and then dust them with calcium and Vitamin D (without phosphorus) to combat metabolic bone disease.
You shouldn’t feed your dragon wild insects, and you should never feed them fireflies. Be aware that young bearded dragons can experience impaction if fed too many insects, so make sure to focus on including a balance of insects and greens, vegetables, and fruits for your juvenile bearded dragons.
To properly house a single adult bearded dragon, you should purchase a 75-gallon tank that has a secure cover, preferably a screened top. You can buy a smaller tank for young bearded dragons; however, if you do this, you will be replacing the tank when it grows, and that can get costly.
Not only does your bearded dragon need a proper tank, but it also needs certain things inside of it to remain comfortable. For young bearded dragons, you should stay away from any loose materials because they may get curious and eat them. Use reptile carpet, ceramic tiles or newspaper to line the tank of a young dragon.
For older bearded dragons, you can use washed play sand to place at the bottom of the tank if you are wanting something different than the carpet or paper, however, I wouldn’t really recommend this as it can still pose a risk of causing impaction, even in older dragons. Never use things like wood shavings, nutshells, or anything else that can cause digestive issues if they are swallowed.
Another addition to your bearded dragon tank should be a perch. Dragons like to relax above the ground, so you can add things like medium-sized rocks and halved logs and branches into their tank to give them things to perch on. Lastly, give the bearded dragon a hideaway or two to escape when it feels the need.
Bearded dragons are native to Australia, and they love direct heat. To create a proper heat environment, you should add UVA and UVB rays with special fluorescent bulbs that you can purchase from pet stores. Make sure they are placed where your dragon can be within 12 inches of them.
You can purchase mercury vapor bulbs that supply both UVA and UVB heat and double up as a basking lamp. Additionally, giving your bearded dragon actual sunlight is beneficial.
Bearded dragons are cold-blooded. This is why heated lighting is important. They have to regulate their own body temperatures, so making sure they are provided with proper lighting and hiding places in their tanks is crucial.
#2 – Bearded Dragons Are Well Behaved
Even though their name suggests otherwise, bearded dragons are incredibly docile and can even be affectionate. They don’t have to stay in their cages constantly. They can be held and loved, just like a cat or a dog.
Bearded dragons tend to be more passive than other reptiles. Their temperament is calm, and they often communicate with their owners by running their limbs up and down the glass of their tanks or staring you down because they want dinner.
Bearded dragons will make fun movements and gestures and cuddle up to their owners. Some people even take their bearded dragons for walks with a leash!
#3 – Bearded Dragons Live Long Lives
Most bearded dragons in America are bred in captivity, but that does not affect their longevity. These reptiles enjoy their lives for ten to fifteen years with proper care. You should be aware that there are specific illnesses and ailments that can affect your dragon, so it’s advised to have a reptile veterinarian.
The best way to keep your bearded dragon healthy and happy is to provide it with a proper diet and lighting and schedule checkups with your reptile veterinarian to prevent any illnesses from taking over.
Some conditions that can affect bearded dragons are:
- Metabolic Bone Disease, or MBD, is the most common health issue associated with bearded dragons. It is most likely seen in young dragons that are less than 2 years old. It is caused by an improper diet or a lack of exposure to the correct light.
- Parasites can infect bearded dragons, as well. The most common parasite is the pinworm, which may not cause any symptoms. However, sometimes parasites can cause diarrhea and weight loss.
- Respiratory infections (especially pneumonia) can infect bearded dragons when they are not fed correctly or when they are kept in environments that are too cold or dirty. If a lizard has a respiratory issue, they will usually sneeze, have discharge from their eyes or nose, form bubbles in their mouths or noses, exhibit shallow breathing, have a decreased appetite and experience lethargy.
- Adenovirus is a sickness that normally only infects juvenile bearded dragons but can affect adult dragons as well. Generally, this infection causes fatal hepatitis and gastrointestinal issues. Dragons experiencing this sickness are weak, do not eat, and often die.
As you can see, most health issues that affect bearded dragons can be prevented with proper care. So, if you make sure that you feed your dragon correctly and give it warmth and proper shelter, you can have a loving pet for over a decade.
#4 – Bearded Dragons Have a Unique Appearance
Bearded dragons are not only fun-loving creatures; they also look awesome! Having a pet reptile is exciting and kids love being able to tell people that they have a pet dragon!
The most distinct characteristic of the bearded dragon is its “beard.” The dragon has a flap of skin around its throat that it flares out when it feels like it is being threatened or if it’s feeling territorial. Normally, bearded dragons are tan or yellow in color and can be a mixture of both.
As juveniles, it is hard to tell male and female bearded dragons apart. However, as they get older, male dragons generally develop larger heads and darker, more prominent beards. All dragons have a wedge-shaped head and spines on different parts of their bodies.
#5 – Bearded Dragons Are Great with Kids
Many of the reasons that bearded dragons are good with kids are the same reasons that they make great pets to begin with. Being easy to care for means that children can get involved with their care themselves.
Because the bearded dragons are well-behaved and live long lives, children can have this family pet for a long time. The best part for many kids is that they can tell people that they have a pet dragon at home – bringing to mind images of fantastical dragons and mysterious dinosaurs.
However, there are a few other reasons that bearded dragons make amazing pets for children.
- They are hypoallergenic. Many kids who cannot have pets cannot have them due to allergies to pet dander and hair. But bearded dragons are hairless reptiles!
- They don’t need tons of attention. Of course, each bearded dragon is different, so some may be more attention-seeking than others. But they are generally low maintenance animals.
- They are great beginner pets. Because of their calm demeanor and the fact that they are really easy to feed and to care for, it helps children to develop skills that are vital in caring for another living being.
The 411 on Bearded Dragons
You now know some reasons why bearded dragons make good pets, but when did bearded dragons fall onto the “family pet” radar? Bearded dragons first started being kept as pets in the 1990s, and they have risen in popularity since. Thirty years later, and they are one of the most common reptiles kept as pets in the United States.
There are eight species of bearded dragons, and they are all native to Australia and nicknamed “beardies.” The eight species of bearded dragon are:
- Eastern bearded dragon (Pogona barbata)
- Rankin’s dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni)
- Kimberley bearded dragon (Pogona microlepidota)
- Western bearded dragon (Pogona minima)
- Dwarf bearded dragon (Pogona minor)
- North-west bearded dragon (Pogona mitchelli)
- Nullarbor bearded dragon (Pogona Nullarbor)
- Central or Inland bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps)
The most common bearded dragon kept as a pet is the central or inland bearded dragon. All dragons in the United States are bred in captivity. Australia passed laws against exporting bearded dragons in the 1960s, but they were already present in America because of the exotic pet trade.
The size of a bearded dragon is determined by many factors – like the species, environment, diet, and sex. This is one reason why it is important to house bearded dragons in a cage that is big enough to allow them to grow to their full size.
Bearded dragons can range in size from about 24 inches (Pogona vitticeps) to 4 to 6 inches (Pogona Microlepidota). They will only reach their full size if they are well-fed and healthy. Additionally, male dragons tend to be larger than females of the same species.
The bearded dragon’s natural habitat is warm and arid; this is the environment that should be recreated inside of their enclosure. Their favorite places to live are deserts and subtropical woodlands, savannas, and scrublands.
Because the United States has bred its bearded dragons for decades. you can find color variations on American bearded dragons that aren’t normally found in the wild. However, there are some things that breeding in captivity doesn’t change.
For instance, bearded dragons are always going to be cold-blooded reptiles, therefore having a warm environment to live in is vital to their health.
Yes, bearded dragons are docile creatures. However, when they are in the wild, they must also protect themselves. Like all animals, bearded dragons have defenses in place. For example, adult male bearded dragons will fight other males to protect their turf, compete for a female, or for food.
Bearded dragons use their beards to communicate. Their beards can change color and they often respond to threats by puffing their beards out, opening their mouths, raising their heads, and hissing.
In the wild as the temperatures begin to drop, bearded dragons go through brumation, which is a form of hibernation. They become more dormant, stop eating, and only drink water rarely.
Male bearded dragons make entire rituals out of their courtship of a female, “dancing” and bobbing their heads. Female bearded dragons can actually store sperm, which allows them to lay multiple batches of eggs from a single mating.
A little-known fact is that the temperature during the incubation of a bearded dragon egg can change the sex of the embryo! If the temperature as incredibly high, developing male chromosomes will change to female chromosomes.
A Bearded Dragon’s Specific Diet
Perhaps the most difficult part of raising a bearded dragon is making sure that it gets all the nutrients it needs to thrive. The dragons are susceptible to illnesses if they do not receive proper nutrition.
Here are some tips for feeding your bearded dragon:
- Good insects to feed your dragon are crickets, mealworms, kingworms, waxworms, earthworms, cockroaches, and locusts.
- Fruits that your bearded dragon can eat are figs, melon, apples, mango, papaya, dates, peaches, apricots, plums, and kiwi.
- Soft fruits are best fed to your beardie only once a month because of their sugar content.
- Vegetables that are great for your pet are peas, green beans, courgette, butternut squash, sweet potato, bell pepper, okra, and broccoli.
- The best leafy greens for bearded dragons are kale, collard greens, parsley, clover, dandelion greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, endives, rockets, and corianders.
- Occasional food items that are great for beardies are sprouts, tomatoes, blueberries, pears, grated carrot, bananas, grapes, and cucumbers.
- Make sure to cut fruits and vegetables into smaller, bite-sized pieces before giving them to your dragon.
- If you place live insects into your dragon’s cage for feeding, make sure that you remove any that find their way into the water bowl.
Just like there are foods that are suggested to feed your bearded dragon, there are also foods that you should never feed it, like:
- Iceberg lettuce – mostly water with no nutritional value
- Spinach and beets – can cause calcium deficiency and lead to metabolic bone disease
- Wild insects – contain parasites that can hurt reptiles
- Fireflies – insects that glow are toxic to eat
- Avocadoes – have chemicals that are toxic for bearded dragons
- Rhubarb – has lots of oxalic acid and can poison beardies
- No fish or seafood
- None of the following wild plants – bracken fern, buttercup, crocus, daffodil, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, oak, and poppy
Baby bearded dragons need many more insects than vegetables and must be fed more often. Juvenile bearded dragons should eat a halved mix of about 50% insects and 50% plants, vegetables, and fruits. Adult bearded dragons need only about 25% insects in their diets, having more can make them obese.
Lastly, because of the risk of vitamin deficiency, it is recommended to use calcium and multi-vitamin powders to add essential nutrients to their food. Be careful to not mix the vitamin supplements, though.
Bearded dragons make great pets. They are different and amazing for young children that are just learning to love and care for another living being. Do not let the diet scare you off. While it may be specific, it’s not complicated.
So, if your family is interested in finding the perfect pet that even the kids can help take care of, visit your local pet shop and check out the bearded dragon section!