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Myths and Facts about Bearded Dragon Care

Zilla Bearded DragonYou may have noticed that there is a lot of bearded dragon information floating around on the internet, and not all of it is true.  With so much inaccurate information being shared around the reptile community, it can be difficult to understand bearded dragon care fact versus fiction. 

To help you make the right choices for your pet, we took some of the most common bearded dragon questions and sent them to the experts to help set the record straight on proper bearded dragon care. 

Who We Interviewed 

Barton C. Huber, DVM - Veterinarian and owner of Animal Medical Center of Corona
Dr. Huber’s area of expertise is in small and exotic animals. His family has over 60 reptiles of various species such as snakes, tortoises and lizards.

Michael W. Miller, DVM - Small Animal Veterinarian employed at Lakewood Animal Hospital
Dr. Miller established a rescue at his animal hospital for local injured wild turtles. He is also an active ARAV (Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians) member, and many of the recommendations provided in this article are inspired by discussions with other ARAV members.

 

Bearded Dragon Terrarium Questions

Is there a benefit to providing UVB gradients to bearded dragons?

There are many health benefits to providing UVB gradients in your bearded dragon terrarium. UVB allows the synthesis of vitamin D3, which helps to absorb calcium. Proper lighting and heating promotes better overall health and regulates behaviors such as feeding, diurnal movement, and mating.

Generally, gradients are a good idea for light and temperature but they are difficult to achieve, particularly in smaller enclosures. One way to allow a gradient for exposure to UVB is to offer different types of hides – some with partial obstruction of lighting (net, plant or screen) and some with complete shade (cave, box or tunnel).

 

Is there any evidence that shows colored lights negatively affect bearded dragons?

“I am not aware of any research that has proved this,” explained Dr. Miller “The only concern about this is if the colored lights are being used instead of appropriate UVB lighting.”

Some owners misunderstand the type of lights that provide UVB. Purple/blue lights do not equal Ultraviolet lighting. You have to be careful to ensure that the light you use is providing the output you intend.

Many think that loose substrate used for bearded dragons causes impaction. What causes impaction and is loose substrate the primary cause?

Note: Impaction is the term used when substances build up in a bearded dragon’s digestive system, becoming solid and blocking food from passing through their digestive channel. If your bearded dragon shows signs of impaction such as serious constipation, changes in behavior, spitting up food or an inability to walk around normally, take them to your veterinarian. 

When babies and juveniles are kept on sand we do see frequent sand impaction. However, this is seen more from mealworms than any other single ingested item.

Anything that is eaten and cannot pass through the gastrointestinal tract can cause an impaction. This can be substrate, food items or anything else a bearded dragon may eat. So while sand can cause an impaction, it is not the only thing that can, and it is usually a secondary issue to another problem such as dehydration or lack of proper calcium and lighting.
 
One Australian reptile veterinarian suggests that the type of sand plays the biggest role in sand-causing impactions. In the wild of the Australian outback, bearded dragons are more likely to be on compacted sand with large rocks, not on the very finely ground play sand that many owners use in their habitats. Some bearded dragons can do well on sand, but for many it’s not worth the risk.

Can bearded dragons be housed together successfully?

In the wild, bearded dragons tend to be solitary creatures, and we do see injuries caused by fighting when some bearded dragons are housed together. However, like dogs and cats (or any other pet), not every bearded dragon has the same temperament. Some may get along better than others. Ultimately, it’s your decision about whether you trust your pets together and whether it’s worth the risk of fighting and injury.

Many owners successfully house multiple bearded dragons together. If you choose to do so, be sure to have a big enough space, as well as lots of branches and basking spots. Keep in mind that housing males together can often be more difficult and can lead to fighting and injury.

Do I need to have more than one bearded dragon in a terrarium so they don’t get lonely?

In the wild, bearded dragons are solitary creatures so they don’t necessarily need another bearded dragon friend. In fact, interaction with their owners may be enough. 

Keep in mind that the nature and disposition of each bearded dragon is different. There are some pets that do like extra attention, whether it be from their human or another bearded dragon.

Is it true that slate is the best substrate for bearded dragons?

Surfaces like slate and/or indoor and outdoor carpet work very well. The wild Australian outback has a lot of rocky terrain, so be sure to add large rocks and branches to your terrarium to better mimic a bearded dragon’s natural environment.

 

 

Bearded Dragon Food and Water Questions

What important things should bearded dragon owners consider when preparing food?  Can pellets be part of a good diet or a sole source of nutrition?

Insects are calcium and multivitamin deficient, so you need to supplement insect-only diets somehow to ensure proper pet health. Usually this can be achieved through calcium and multivitamin supplements via gut-loading or dusting the prey items before feeding. 

Variety is important in a bearded dragon’s diet and should be implemented from the start. But be cautious, because it is easy to spoil your pet. Too many people just feed their pets superworms or hornworms because their bearded dragon seems to really like them. Soon, that will be all they eat.

“My veggie mix for my dragons is the same for my tortoises -  a variety of greens, carrots, squash and occasional fruit blended together and mixed with tortoise chow,” said Dr. Huber “So, in regards to pellets, yes if you include tortoise pellets but I don't believe it should be a solo diet. I like my guys chasing bugs - crickets and dubias so that the get some exercise.”

“One frustration for reptile veterinarians is that the exact daily requirements are for all vitamins is unknown in our patients.” said Dr. Miller “We worry that our patients are not getting enough, but then we also worry that they could get too much if improperly supplemented. We base our recommendations on our experience even though the scientific studies have not given us precise data to use. So, as reptile veterinary medicine continues to advance – new exciting research is being done at several universities. Our recommendations may change based on new scientific evidence.”

 

Is it dangerous to feed my bearded dragon mealworms or superworms?

Usually mealworms or superworms are not dangerous, but for some small individuals, there are some cases of large prey items getting stuck in the throat or causing impactions if not properly digested. So, pay attention to the size of the prey item compared to the size of your bearded dragon.

Both are "addicting" in that the dragon may stop eating other foods if given too many worms. Feed these to your bearded dragon sparingly and mix them with other food to provide variety and surplus nutrition, Dr. Huber explains, “My gang does get superworms once a week. We mix them with veggies that day.”

 

Is it true if I leave too many crickets in the terrarium they will attack my bearded dragon?

This has been known to happen with sick bearded dragons. Stray crickets can find hiding places around your terrarium, so as you clean your dragon's cage, branches and all, be on the lookout for extra crickets.

In addition, be wary of putting too many crickets in with baby and juvenile dragons, as that can cause the dragon to worry and stress, which is not healthy and could cause them to develop a fear of the bug.

 

Do do bearded dragons need a water bowl in their enclosure at all times?

Yes! Even though they are considered a desert species, dehydration in pet bearded dragons can lead to health issues.

Although they do not consume a lot of water, it is important that they soak in water once a week or so. As such, it is recommend that you keep a water dish in the enclosure.

What are the top nutritional and hydration issues seen with bearded dragons and what advice do you have to avoid those issues?

One of the top issues with baby bearded dragons is that they will dehydrate quickly. They have to be put in water, don't assume they will drink. Make sure their food is not too large and has all the nutrition they need. 

A lot of veterinarians consider health issues with bearded dragons to be caused by a calcium deficiency, until proven otherwise, because of how frequently we see patients with improper nutrition.

One way to combat nutritional issues with bearded dragons is to provide variety in their diet. While this can be difficult to accomplish, it is very beneficial to your pet. One way to achieve this is to offer wild caught insects – which can be controversial. Some people worry about parasites or toxins in wild caught insects, but it’s usually safe as long as you aren’t feeding your bearded dragon fireflies or other poisonous insects. Try catching bugs by a porch light at night or placing a plywood board or old log in the backyard and turning it over to find some nutritious naturally-gut-loaded treats for your bearded dragon.

 

 

Bearded Dragon Behavioral Questions

Is it dangerous for a bearded dragon to be laid on their back?

No. This can be part of a routine physical exam. There is no need to be concerned if the veterinary technician or veterinarian holds your bearded dragon in this way. They may not like it, but it is not dangerous.

As you hold your pet on their back, be sure to hold them securely because some do panic (especially ones that are not handled on a regular basis). If you hold them loosely and they struggle, that creates an opportunity for injury.

What does it mean when a bearded dragon is running around their cage a lot?

This behavior alone does not mean one specific thing, but it could indicate something is wrong if it is not part of your bearded dragon’s normal behaviors.

If this behavior is unusual for you pet it could mean they are stressed out, afraid or feeling insecure in some way. Make sure they have safe places to rest and make sure it is not too hot in the terrarium.

 

Is it true that if I put my bearded dragon in too large of a terrarium right away it will stress it out?

In the wild, there are no walls so theoretically this shouldn’t be a problem. However in captive reptiles, we do sometimes worry about causing stress from changing their habitat too abruptly. Stress can also be caused if they have trouble finding live prey in their large terrarium.

Thank you to the veterinarians who took the time to give us their professional opinions on these topics. We hope this answered some of your bearded dragon care questions! 

Interested in more bearded dragon information? Take a look at our care sheet now.


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