To prevent disease problems in your bearded dragon, its environment should have ideal temperature, humidity and day-length.
Bearded dragons are ecto-thermic, they can not regulate their own temperature so their body temperature changes depending on the environment. When bearded dragons are cold their body slows down. They need heat to feed, be active, healthy and breed.
- The preferred body temperature of bearded dragons is 35-39 degrees. Enclosures need to be kept at a range of 2-3 degrees either side of their body temperature.
- A 40-75 watt blue light or an infrared heat lamp should be provided at one end of the enclosure. Rocks or logs need to be placed under or around the heat lamp for basking.
- A good source of ultraviolet light (either natural sunlight or artificial UV light) helps prevent vitamin D deficiency, skin and bone disorders. You will need to replace the light every 3-6 months.
- Ideally, the enclosure should be made from wood and Perspex, and should be large enough for movement.
- A humidity level of 35-75% should be maintained. (Place a shallow dish of water in the enclosure.)
- Thermometers and humidity gauges are essential.
Bearded dragons are omnivores and opportunistic feeders readily eating anything that moves or that they can fit in their mouth. They have a simple stomach with the caecum enlarged to aid in plant digestion and the tract ends in the cloaca.
Bearded dragons in the wild
Bearded dragons are diurnal and have a wide variety of food available in the wild. They need heat to be active, so in the wild they will often bask in the morning sun until their body has warmed enough to have the energy to forage or hunt for their food. Then they will bask in the afternoon sun to digest their food. In the wild, juveniles and adults will eat different types of food, some examples of food in the wild are:
- Small insects
- Some leaves and grasses
- Some species of flowers
- Leafy greens
- Seasonal fruits
- Small rodents
Bearded dragons in captivity
The domestic bearded dragon’s diet should be close to the diet in the wild. Any fruits and vegetables must be fresh and needs to be chopped into small pieces, no bigger that the space between their eyes. The food needs to be able to move smoothly along the digestive tract to avoid impaction. Any food that the bearded dragon has not eaten needs to be removed.
Fruits and vegetables that can be offered are:
- Bok Choy
Presentation of vegetables can be in a small bowl. Hygiene is important, fruits and vegetables need to be stored in the refrigerator to stay fresh, and the feeding bowl must be cleaned before and after every use to avoid contamination of any kind. Fresh water should also be given every day to every second day and can be offered in a similar type bowl but needs to also be big enough for the bearded dragon to bath in.
Live food like crickets and cockroaches should also be offered to the bearded dragon and can be sourced at most reptile supplier or pet stores. Live food will entice the bearded dragon to chase and hunt their food. Beared dragon pellets are also available and come in different sixes; the pellets are made up of mixed ingredients but should not be the dragon’s only source of food. Small amounts of wet mixed cat food (no fish or any sea food) can also be given.
Frequency of feeding
Juvenile’s food should be 60-70% meat and 40-30% vegetation. Adults should get 30% meat and 70 vegetation.
Hatchlings – (approx 0-3 months) should be fed small amounts of food 2-3 times a day.
Juveniles – (the first year of the bearded dragon’s life) they should be fed every day then as they grow to an adult feeding can be reduced to every second day, then every third day.
Adults full grown – can be fed once a week. Their diet will consist mainly of vegetables but approx 30% can be live food.
Monitor your bearded dragon’s diet until a feeding routine is found that suits them specifically. Bearded dragons also need a calcium supplement to grow and it’s even more important in juveniles and pregnant females. Beared dragons will require this for life. These supplements can be purchased at most reptile supplier or pet stores. The amount of supplement will depend on the age of the bearded dragon. Follow directions provided with the specific product.
If bearded dragons do not show interest in the food that is offered there can be many different reasons why. They will feed more in summer months and in winter if cooled down will reduce feeding or not eat all. Bearded dragons need to be warm enough to feed and to digest their food so the environment, temperature, time of feeding and health of the bearded dragon needs to be considered every time food is given. The food that is given must always be fresh with supplements given throughout their life.
If housing together, hatchlings and juveniles can be competitive over food, if one hatchling is more competitive then another they can cause injury to one another, the hatchling that is more well fed will become food dominant and may start nipping the smaller hatchlings and biting their toes. If this is evident the larger hatchlings will need to be separated from the smaller hatchlings.
Diseases in bearded dragons
There are many different health issues that can occur with bearded dragons. One common disease seen in reptiles, mostly lizards is Metabolic bone disease (MBD). There can be a few causes, one of them being a lack of calcium in their diet. Temperature can also affect calcium absorption; they need the heat to properly digest their food. Bearded dragons also need UV lighting to assist in the absorption of calcium. If bearded dragons do not receive the correct amount of calcium, they will start to absorb it from other parts of the body, including their bones.
Some symptoms seen in bearded dragons with MBD are:
- Bone fractures
- Stunted growth
- Bent bones
- Decrease in activity and eating
Prevention is better than cure, so monitoring your bearded dragons diet intake, giving the correct amount of calcium supplement and providing the desirable environment for your bearded dragon will ensure your bearded dragon lives a happy and healthy life
- Worming every six months.
- Annual health check.