Bearded dragons are becoming popular pets, and it’s not hard to see why. Babies are really cute, and the adults so calm and placid that even people who say they’d never have a reptile in the house tend to be swayed to change their mind once they’ve have an chance to get up close to them.
Many are purchased as pets as an impulse purchase – infants are being sold very cheaply nowadays and are easily available, and even though some people do read up and prepare for their new pet, there are still a huge number who take one on with little if any advice at all. Regrettably many staff in pet stores and reptile centers are ignorant regarding the appropriate housing and feeding arrangements leading to bearded dragons that have a unhealthy and frequently short life.
If you are tempted to purchase a baby bearded dragon here’s some advice to help you to raise a bearded dragon correctly.
- Bearded Dragons grow Big and Fast
Although you may be looking at a baby which is only 5 to 6 inches in length, by the time it is twelve months old it’ll be between 18 and 22 inches long and will weigh up to 700 grams. Adults require a vivarium that is 4ft x 2ft x 2ft in size, and will probably need this by the time they are eight to ten months old. It’s therefore a false economy to buy a smaller vivarium with the intention to upgrade as it grows bigger, and it’s ideal to purchase the larger size first. Too many live in vivariums where they cannot turn round properly without slamming their nose on the glass and tail onto the background.
Despite the myth baby bearded dragons do not feel lost in a large vivarium – after all, in the desert no one gives them a pen for the first few weeks!
To grow at the speed they do means they have big appetites and have to be fed lots and frequently as babies. They aren’t cheap pets to keep – a bearded dragon can cost as much as a little cat or dog to feed every week.
Coming from the hot arid desert of Australia that they need to have a temperature range in their vivarium that mimics their natural environment. Setting up a mini desert in your home is a part of the fun of keeping them. Being cold blooded creatures they thermoregulate – that is, when too hot they need to be able to move to a cooler place, and if too cold should be able to move to get warm. The vivarium ought to have a basking spot under a heat lamp that reaches a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other end’the cool end’ of the vivarium should be no longer than 85 degrees. At night they should be able to experience a good temperature drop, so the heating should be turned off as long as the ambient temperature does not fall below 65 degrees for babies, and 60 degrees for adults. Temperatures should be kept at the correct levels by using a thermostat.
Heat should be supplied by way of a heat lamp – bearded dragons do not absorb heat from below, and indeed, cannot feel it. Heat stones and heat mats can easily burn them so shouldn’t be used. Bearded dragons want Exposure to UVB
In the desert they bask beneath the strong rays of sunlight which provides UVB and assists them synthesize vitamin D3. This is vital as it means they can use calcium that’s essential to aid their development. The lack of UVB will lead to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) which causes deformities of the limbs, and which can only be treated if caught early, and can be deadly. Their UVB requirements are the greatest of all reptiles kept in captivity. A fluorescent tube running the length of the vivarium ensures they are exposed to UVB for the whole period that the light in on. The top tubes to use are the Reptisun 10% or Arcadia 12%.
If they’re exposed to UVB for 12 hours at the vivarium they get adequate UVB, but even this is only equal to about 20 minutes under the complete Australian sun. For this reason hides shouldn’t be provided for bearded dragons as hiding away will lessen their vulnerability to the beneficial UVB rays.
Babies aren’t accurate feeders and often pick up loose substrate with mouthfuls of food. Kitchen towel is the best substrate for babies as it carries no risk. Do not use sand until the infant is six months old, and NEVER use woodchip. This is to avoid impaction in the stomach that’s usually fatal. Set up the Vivarium Before Purchasing a Bearded Dragon
When you’ve got your vivarium you will find the temperatures will fluctuate initially, and you’ll need time to fool around with the position of the probe for the thermostat before you get the right temperature range. Setting up the vivarium and letting it settle down for about a week before you bring your baby home is the best idea.
- Bringing Home a Baby Bearded Dragon
Most infants will travel quite comfortably in a tiny dark box. There is no need for additional heating unless the weather is very cold. In this case you can use a hot water bottle to keep the box warm.
When you first bring your new baby home you might find it eats the first bunch of crickets you eagerly put in the vivarium, and then won’t eat. Many new owners worry about it, but it’s only a response to the stress of moving. It takes up to a fortnight for a baby to settle into a regular eating pattern.
To help it settle in it’s ideal to resist that urge to take it out and manage it. Give it two weeks to settle until you pick it up. You can start getting it used to you by putting your hand in the vivarium when feeding or cleaning it out.
When it’s time to start handling, pick it up by sliding your hand underneath it and scooping it up. In the wild their most important predators are birds, so anything coming at them above scares them.
From time to time your baby will get lines like tiger markings on its belly. These are stress lines, but do not over worry about them. Many things cause momentary stress to a baby, and most are nothing to be concerned about. It could be a dark colored coat they suddenly see from the corner of their eye. It takes about an hour for them to warm up and begin moving around which is just as it would be in the desert. Just make sure you allow them time to wake up properly before offering food. Feeding your baby Bearded Dragon
Infants up to age 12 weeks will need to be fed 3 times a day with small sized crickets (first or second instar). Each feed should be as numerous as they can eat in 10 minutes. One feed every day should be dusted with calcium to prevent MBD. Finely chopped vegetables or fruit should always be available. When adult your beardie will be 80% vegetarian, so he needs to get used to eating veggies early.
The best livefood is crickets because of the amount they eat. You can feed locusts, but this will work out a lot more expensive, and as soon as they have eaten locusts some do not take to eating crickets against since they’re more bitter. Do not feed a basic diet of meal worms as their skins are high in chitin which bearded dragons can’t digest very well. Meal worms and wax worms can be provided as an occasional treat.
Most bearded dragons don’t eat dried or frozen food, so you’ll need to get accustomed to feeding livefood. Join a Forum
Baby bearded dragons seem to relish perplexing and stressing their new owners. Combine a bearded dragon or reptile forum so you can request advice from people who’ve had the very same worries as you and will be able to give you advice and reassurance.
Raising a reptile which develops so quickly is a great experience, and if you ensure their surroundings and feeding regime is appropriate you’ll have a pet that will live a healthy live in excess of 10 years. The first few weeks and months are a vital period in raising a baby bearded dragon – they are not tricky to keep just so long as you take care to understand what they should grow and develop correctly.