Bearded Dragon Care Page
Prepared by ReptiFiles
Bearded dragons are diurnal (day active), terrestrial lizards found throughout eastern and central Australia. Bearded dragons are omnivorous, so aside from munching a variety of vegetation, they mostly prey upon insects. Bearded dragons tend to be 18″-24″ long from snout to tail and have a lifespan of 10-15+ years. They are among the most popular pet lizards in the US!
This Care Guide been curated by ReptiFiles.
ReptiFiles is an online database of comprehensive, science-based reptile care guides created by reptile husbandry specialist Mariah Healey. ReptiFiles’ primary goal is to promote a higher standard of animal welfare within the reptile industry.Read Full Care Guide
Bearded Dragons at a Glance
These are some core facts about bearded dragon care:
Semi-Arid Desert, Scrubland, Dry Forest
Bearded Dragons are naturally found in Australia.
5 out of 5: Great Handleability
Bearded dragons are one of the most popular pet lizards in the world, with a calm, personable temperament. They generally tame down readily and are not excessively fearful toward humans.
Expected Weekly Dedication: 3 hours minimum
With a pet bearded dragon, daily chores may include preparing food, replacing water, and spot-cleaning. Food and water dishes should be disinfected weekly, as well as any soiled surfaces.
The amount and frequency of spot-cleaning required will depend on whether your enclosure is bioactive or not. We'll cover these respective chores in the Enclosure Enrichment section.
- Readily available
- Low to moderate humidity
- Tolerant of common beginner errors
- Very handleable/friendly
Things to be aware of:
- Large enclosure
- UVB required
- High basking temperature
Bearded dragons need at least a 4ʼx2ʼx2ʼ enclosure, preferably 5ʼx3ʼx3ʼ or larger.
Reptiles aren’t like dogs and cats that can simply roam around your house. They are very sensitive to their environment, and need their own enclosure set up according to their specific needs. This guide covers everything you will need to care for your pet bearded dragon properly.
Enclosure Size Requirements
Bearded dragons should be housed in an enclosure that is no smaller than 4’L x 2’W x 2’H. This is the bare minimum, calculated according to the reptile’s average length and activity patterns. We recommend a larger starting point of 5’L x 3’W x 3’H for beardies.
However, if you can provide an enclosure with more floor space and height, do it! Housing your dragon in a larger enclosure will encourage it to be more active and demonstrate more natural behaviors.
Can multiple bearded dragons be housed in the same enclosure?
No. Bearded dragons are solitary animals, and get stressed when they have other animals in their space without being able to escape.
Bearded Dragon Enclosure Examples
4'x2'x2' - Photo contributed by Jack Pierce
Substrate is the material that you use to cover the floor of the enclosure. This aspect of the enclosure is important for bearded dragons because it contributes to overall humidity levels, promotes natural burrowing behavior, helps keep nails filed down, and may even affect your pet’s joint health! For best results, bearded dragons should have at least 4” of substrate.
A great substrate for bearded dragons is a DIY mix of roughly 50% play sand + 30% untreated topsoil + 20% excavator clay. Topsoil must not contain any fertilizers, manure, or perlite/vermiculite - read the ingredients! Mix well, soak until muddy, then pack it firmly at the bottom of the enclosure. Make sure it is 100% dry before introducing your beardie to the setup.
You can also use a pre-packaged substrate, though this can be more costly. Depending on the brand, you may still need to add some topsoil (if too dusty) or sand (if too muddy) to reach desired consistency. Here are some recommended commercial substrates appropriate for beardies:
Another option is a bioactive setup. Bioactive enclosure setups are designed to mimic a reptile’s natural environment and stimulate natural behaviors. All above substrates can easily support bioactivity with the addition of a “cleanup crew” of isopods and springtails that clean up uneaten food, fallen leaves, and fecal remains, making bioactive substrates incredibly low maintenance.
Impaction and sand:
You might have heard elsewhere on the internet that sand is bad for bearded dragons. But that is a myth!
Although sick bearded dragons have been known to suffer from substrate impactions, studies have shown that impaction is usually a symptom of a larger health condition, not a standalone issue. Furthermore, bearded dragons actually live on sandy soil in the wild. If your bearded dragon is healthy, pre-washed, silica-free play sand or fine-grain dune sand is perfectly safe, although we strongly recommend mixing it with topsoil and clay for a substrate that most closely replicates their natural environment. Sand alone can't hold burrows and the loose, slippery texture can be hard on your beardie's joints.
If you are still worried about impaction, however, using a “solid” substrate such as paper towels or slate tile is fine, although it is less enriching, less comfortable, and less natural than an appropriate loose substrate.
Unsafe Substrates for Bearded Dragons
These substrates are particularly dangerous to bearded dragons because they pose major health risks. Avoid the following substrates at all costs and stick to the list in the previous section.
- Reptile carpet - harbors bacteria, can rip out teeth/claws & break toes
- Shelf liner - produces dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
- Linoleum - produces dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
- Calcium sand - causes severe impaction due to presence of calcium carbonate
- Wood shavings, chips, or bark - causes impaction & discomfort
- Coconut fiber (Eco Earth) - dusty when dry, humid when wet, high risk of respiratory issues
- Ground walnut shell - dusty, dangerously sharp, & causes severe impaction
When you first bring your new bearded dragon home, you will need to quarantine for at least 1 month. This means keeping the enclosure as sterile as possible and closely monitoring the beardie's health.
Paper towels are the best substrate for quarantine, as they can be frequently replaced and make it easier to observe feces and other potential health issues. Paper towels should be fully replaced at least once a week and any soiled areas must be replaced daily. Once your beardie has shown a clean bill of health, you can introduce your long-term substrate to the enclosure.
If you already have other reptiles in your home, you should extend the quarantine period to 3 months, keep the enclosure in a separate room if possible, and make sure not to share any tools or decor between your new beardie and other pets, unless fully sanitized between each use.
Reptiles are much more intelligent than we humans tend to give them credit for, and that means they need things to entertain them. Otherwise they exist in a state of perpetual boredom, which makes them dull, inactive, and overall less interesting as pets. When reptiles have objects to interact with in their enclosure, they become less stressed and more engaged with their environment. This practice is called environmental enrichment.
It’s important to choose enrichment items (a.k.a. enclosure décor) that are appropriate to your pet’s natural behaviors. Bearded dragons are skilled climbers and burrowers, so providing a deep layer of substrate and sturdy climbing objects is essential for this species. Here are some other objects that serve a vital function in a bearded dragon terrarium:
A flat, elevated surface for basking beneath the heat source, ideally made out of stone or wood for optimal thermal performance. The basking platform should be flat and large enough to accommodate at least most of the dragon’s body.
A hide is a cave or burrow to hide out of sight as needed, which helps increase sense of security. Beardies need at least 1 hide on the warm side, though we recommend providing an additional hides throughout the temperature gradient. People like having options, and beardies do, too. Hides should be large enough to accommodate the dragon’s whole body when curled, but should also be a tight fit.
Should be thick and sturdy enough for the dragon to climb on without shifting. Particularly tall/long branches may need to be anchored to the sides and/or floor of the enclosure. Large cork tubes can easily double as both a basking platform and a hide! If you collect wood from outside, just give it a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC &/or bake in the oven at 250°F for about an hour.
Rocks add to the naturalistic appeal of an enclosure, and absorb heat when placed close to your heat source, creating additional basking spots. If you collect rocks from outside, give them a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC. NEVER bake rocks, as they may explode!
Both live and artificial foliage can be used to enhance your beardie’s enclosure, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Fake plants are easier to clean and tend to withstand being climbed on better than their live counterparts, but they may off-gas chemicals. Live plants are less sturdy and higher maintenance, but safer for your lizard's health. Make sure to only use drought-tolerant and nontoxic plants such as air plant, aloe, dandelion, echeveria, crassula, agave, and festuca grass. Sanitize any artificial plants before adding to the enclosure.
A background makes your enclosure look more naturalistic and can let your beardie feel more secure. Backgrounds with built-in ledges make use of vertical and wall space that may otherwise go to waste, allowing your beardie to climb. Ledges should be sturdy enough to support the lizard's weight and large enough to accommodate most of their body.
How do I keep my enclosure clean?
To control the growth of pathogens and keep your bearded dragon’s enclosure hygienic and odor-free, it’s important to clean it regularly.
Spot-cleaning should be performed daily. This is the routine removal of uneaten food, feces, urates, and contaminated substrate. Soiled surfaces, food dishes, and water dishes should be scrubbed with reptile-safe disinfectant and rinsed at least weekly. Substrate should be completely removed and replaced every 4-6 months, depending on how diligent you are about spot-cleaning. This is also a good time to completely disinfect the enclosure with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine.
If you have a bioactive enclosure, “cleaning” will be more like periodic maintenance: watering the plants, adding biodegradables, and feeding the CUC as needed. Substrate does not need to be replaced. Some spot-cleaning will still be required for urates and soiled surfaces. Food and water dishes should be disinfected weekly.
Bearded dragons need 3 types of lamps in their enclosure: A strong UVB lamp, a 6500K daylight lamp, and cluster heat lamps.
UVB is important for enabling vitamin D3 synthesis, strengthening the immune system, and encouraging proper organ function. It also stimulates the production of serotonin, a feel-good hormone. When beardies don’t get UVB, they can become D3 deficient, which leads to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). UVB can’t just be replaced with a vitamin D3 supplement for bearded dragons!
UVA is important for allowing full-color vision, because bearded dragons can see UVA wavelengths (humans can’t!). It is sensed by their pineal gland to regulate a circadian rhythm and is suspected to play a role in mental health and appetite.
The 6500K daylight lamp provides extra illumination at a color temperature that is similar to sunlight. As diurnal reptiles, bearded dragons are highly stimulated by having a well-lit environment during the day. Bright daytime lighting is likely to encourage more activity, better appetite, and better mental health.
Infrared radiation (i.e. heat) is important for reptiles' thermoregulation. As ectotherms, they rely on the heat of the sun to warm their bodies and stimulate their metabolism, digest their food, and stay alert and active. The shorter the wavelength, the deeper it can penetrate their muscle tissue. In captivity, we can provide this with specific heat bulbs that emit the most beneficial infrared wavelengths (IR-A and IR-B).
All light and heat should be kept on a regular schedule using outlet timers or done manually. This allows for a predictable day/night cycle which the lizard can follow, allowing for natural hormonal rhythms and good mental health. We recommend the following schedule for bearded dragons, based on their natural environment:
|Spring||14hrs ON / 10hrs OFF|
|Summer||16hrs ON / 8hrs OFF|
|Fall||12hrs ON / 12hrs OFF|
|Winter||10hrs ON / 14hrs OFF|
Bearded dragons need plenty of strong UVB in order to stay healthy and must be provided with a 10-14% UVB output T5 lamp. We recommend Arcadia or Zoo Med brand linear fluorescent tubes, as these brands produce the best and most reliable UV lamps on the market.
The lamp should be roughly half the length of the enclosure in order to create an appropriate UV gradient, and placed on the same side as the heat lamps. So if you have a 48” long enclosure, you will need a 22” T5 HO UVB bulb.
Best UV bulbs for bearded dragons:
Distance and Mesh
The strength of the UVB lamp’s output varies according to distance from the bulb - stronger when closer, and weaker when further away. If you are using a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure your UVB lamp’s output, the UVI (UV Index) reading should be between 4.0-6.0 on the basking platform, and down to 0 on the cool side.
If you don't have a Solarmeter, here is an estimate of how far away your basking platform should be, based on which bulb you are using and whether the lamp is mounted above or below mesh:
|BULB TYPE||ABOVE MESH||BELOW MESH|
|Zoo Med T5 HO 10.0||10-12”||14-16”|
|Arcadia Desert 12%||10-12”||14-16”|
|Arcadia Dragon 14%||10-13”||15-20”|
To optimize your UVB bulb’s performance, you will need a high-quality reflective T5 HO fixture. Some lamps come in kits that already include a fixture, such as the Arcadia ProT5 kit. Otherwise, Zoo Med and Vivarium Electronics make various fixtures for T5 bulbs.
T5 bulbs last 12 months before requiring replacement, as their UVB output decays over time. Off-brand UVB bulbs are likely to have shorter lifespans and unreliable output. Avoid “compact” and coil UVB bulbs, as these cannot properly distribute a UV gradient across the enclosure.
We strongly advise adding 1-3" to the recommended distance to account for your specific dragon's height.
It takes a lot to light a large enclosure, UVB and heat bulbs aren't going to be enough to provide the bright light that a diurnal reptile needs for simulating natural sunlight. The brightest reptile light fixture currently on the market is the Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar. They’re expensive, but the sheer output of bright, beautifully white light makes them worth the investment. We highly recommend installing one in your dragon's enclosure, or one of our other recommended ~6500K daylight lamps:
As poikilotherms, bearded dragons need access to a variety of temperatures within a certain range in order to properly regulate their metabolism:
- Basking surface: 105-115°F
- Cool side ambient: 72-85°F
- Nighttime: 65-75°F. Night temps can drop as low as 55°F, but shouldn’t be higher than 80°F.
All heat lamps should be turned off at night and kept on a regular day/night cycle that matches the same schedule as the UVB and daylight lamps, allowing for a natural temperature drop and a healthy circadian rhythm.
The best way to create a nice hot basking area for your bearded dragon is with a cluster of at least two halogen heat bulbs, such as:
The exact wattage that will work best for you varies based on the distance between the bulb and the basking platform, as well as local room temperature. Using a dimming thermostat or an on/off thermostat with a plug-in dimmer allows you to adjust it to the right temperature and keep your beardie safe. Keep in mind that all heat sources should be regulated by a thermostat, so for a cluster of lamps, you will either need separate thermostats for each fixture or a multi-outlet thermostat like the Herpstat2. Place the thermostat probe directly on the basking surface below the heat source.
You will also need a lamp to put your bulbs in. You can use several separate dome lamps, a combo dome, or internally mounted fixtures, as long as they have a ceramic socket to make sure that the bulb doesn’t get too hot for the lamp (risking electrical fire).
Unsafe Heat Sources
These heat sources are particularly dangerous to bearded dragons because they can pose major health risks and cause stress. Avoid the following heat sources at all costs and stick to the bulbs we recommend above.
❌ Colored bulbs
Red, blue, purple, and other colored light bulbs are inappropriate for almost all reptiles. They can wash out your lizard’s vision and make it harder to hunt and move freely. In fact, blue lights are known to potentially damage reptiles’ eyes!
❌ “Nighttime” bulbs
The idea that reptiles can't see red, purple, or “black” light is a myth! They may not be able to see the color, but they can still see the light. Using any lights at night can interfere with your lizard’s day/night cycle, causing stress and poor health.
❌ Heat rocks
Heat rocks (also known as hot rocks/rock heaters/etc.) are notoriously unreliable and many reptiles have lost their lives due to severe burns caused by these devices. They’re also not a good choice for heating your enclosure, as it only warms the rock’s surface, not the surrounding air.
❓ Mercury vapor bulbs
MVB's and other heat+UVB combination bulbs (Zoo Med PowerSun, Exo Terra Solar Glo) are very powerful, but can be difficult to control for new keepers. These bulbs cannot be used with thermostats or a dimmer, so the amount of heat and UVB must be regulated by adjusting the height of the lamp. We only recommend using MVB if you have a tall enough enclosure to accommodate vertical adjustment and a Solarmeter to test UVI at the basking area. It's safer and easier to provide and control your heat and UVB separately with a thermostat and our UV lamp distance chart.
To track the temperatures in your bearded dragon's enclosure, you will need a good thermometer. Temp gun-style infrared thermometers are useful for measuring surface temperatures anywhere in the enclosure. However, digital probe thermometers are useful for being able to track local air temperatures at a glance. It's best to have at least 2 thermometers to measure temps on each end of the heat gradient. Here are some devices we recommend for measuring temperatures:
Although bearded dragons are perceived as desert reptiles, they still need moisture in their environment to stay well hydrated — dehydration is one of the most common problems seen in pet bearded dragons!
The average humidity in your beardie’s enclosure should stay between 30-60%. This number is probably similar to the humidity levels in your own home, but it’s still important to keep track of the specific humidity in your dragon’s enclosure. You can measure humidity with a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Combo Gauge linked in the Measuring Temperature section.
Hygrometers should be placed within 12” above the substrate towards the middle of the enclosure to give you an accurate idea of average humidity levels (or one on either side if using a thermo/hygro combo meter).
Bearded dragons are known to brumate instinctively during winter. Although this is a survival mechanism that enables them to live through times of cold weather and scarce food in their natural habitat, this instinct still manifests in captivity as part of their natural cycle, and is perfectly healthy.
For information on how to brumate your bearded dragon safely and effectively, go here.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous, which means that they require both animal and plant-based foods for a balanced diet. To be more specific, bearded dragons need a diet of mostly insects and greens, in different proportions of each depending on their life stage.
Here is a basic feeding schedule for pet bearded dragons:
|Hatchlings (0-6 months)||2x a day||Daily|
|Juveniles (6-12 months)||1x a day||Daily|
|Adults (12+ months)||1-2x a week||Daily|
In other words, bearded dragons require roughly 60-80% protein for hatchlings, 60% for juveniles, and 15-30% for adults, with the rest of the diet coming from vegetation. One serving of insects should be as many as your dragon can eat in about 5 minutes.
The key to a healthy, balanced diet is variety, so make sure to provide as many different kinds of foods in your beardie’s diet as possible!
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Dubia roaches
- Discoid roaches
- Red runner roaches
- Hornworms (captive bred only)
- Snails (captive bred only)
- Bell pepper
- Cucumber, peeled
- Carrot, grated raw
- Squash, raw
- Sugar snap peas
- Yam, grated raw
Fruits (TREAT ONLY)
- Cactus fruit (prickly pear)
- Beet greens
- Bok choy
- Cactus pads
- Carrot greens
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Mustard greens
- Mustard cress
- Pea shoots
- Spring mix
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
Because of its high sugar content, fruit is best used only as a rare treat (1x/month). Superworms, butterworms, and waxworms are high in fat and should be used as occasional treats rather than regular feeders. Moderating your beardie's treats can help prevent obesity, dental disease, and related health problems.
Always offer live insects. Dead or canned insects don’t trigger your beardie's “hunting mode,” so they most likely won’t get eaten. Make sure to gutload your insects with fresh veggies at least 12 hours before feeding.
All feeders should be captive bred. Don’t feed your gecko bugs from your backyard — these can make your pet sick! Here are some sites we recommend to buy safe, captive bred feeders:
Although live insects and fresh veggies are most ideal for your beardie, sometimes you may run out of certain foods or just want to bolster your lizard's diet. Insectivore and omnivore commercial diets are not a complete replacement for live, fresh food, but it's good to have some non-perishable options on hand for emergencies, or just for added variety! These are the diets/foods we recommend for bearded dragons:
- Repashy Beardie Buffet (veg+insects)
- Arcadia OmniGold (veg+insects)
- Repashy Grub Pie (insects)
- Repashy Grasshopper Pie (insects)
- Repashy Mealworm Pie (insects)
- Repashy Superworm Pie (insects)
- Wet-preserved insects (canned or vacuum-sealed)
Prepare Repashy products according to the instructions on the label. Make sure any commercial diets or pre-killed insects are served wet, as your beardie gets most of its hydration from its food. Dried or freeze-dried insects are devoid of necessary moisture and nutrition and are not good for your beardie!
Calcium and Vitamin Supplements
To make sure that your bearded dragon is getting all of the vitamins and minerals that their bodies need, it’s important to use calcium and vitamin supplements as part of their diet.
Feeder insects should be lightly dusted with calcium powder at every feeding. This is easily done by putting the feeders in a plastic bag with some calcium powder and lightly shaking them around. Here are the calcium powders we recommend for bearded dragons (choose 1):
Salads can be occasionally dusted with a multivitamin powder. Use according to manufacturer directions. Here are the multivitamin powders we recommend for bearded dragons (choose 1):
Keeping Your Beardie Hydrated
There’s a common myth that bearded dragons shouldn’t have water bowls in their enclosures because they don’t need to drink water and the bowl will unnecessarily raise enclosure humidity levels. Both of these are false!
Your bearded dragon should have access to a small- to medium-sized, shallow bowl of water at all times. Make sure that the water is always kept fresh and clean, and disinfect the bowl with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC, Rescue, or chlorhexidine once a week to inhibit pathogens.
Do not use distilled or softened water! Tap, spring, and even filtered water (assuming that it’s safe for humans to drink) contains minerals vital to your beardie's health. You can dechlorinate tap water with a conditioner like ReptiSafe.
Taming & Handling
Bearded dragons are usually quite tame, which is one of the reasons why they’re such popular pets. However, it’s still important to respect their boundaries and work to build a trusting relationship with your pet. This requires lots of patience, but is very rewarding in the end.
- Wait at least two weeks for the dragon to settle in before handling.
- Let it get used to your presence.
- Offer food via your fingers or soft-tipped feeding tongs to build trust.
- Use slow movements.
- Let the dragon come to you.
- Scoop the dragon up from below.
- Support all four feet during handling.
- Wash your hands before and after handling.
- Start handling your bearded dragon as soon as you bring it home.
- Grab it from above.
- Pick at loose skin.
- Let children handle the lizard without supervision.
Another way you can bond with your bearded dragon is by designing enrichment activities for it to enjoy! This is fun for your bearded dragon and fun for you to watch. There are a variety of ways you can design enrichment activities for your dragon, such as supervised free-roaming, hanging a bouquet of greens from the top of the enclosure, and using puzzle feeders.
Bearded Dragon Body Language
Bearded dragons have a variety of body language cues. When you learn to understand these cues, you can understand your pet’s mood and needs better, and react accordingly.
Arm waving — Submissive gesture. The dragon is saying, “I’m not a threat to you!”
Dark beard — Something’s not right. They may be uncomfortable/in pain or feeling irritable. However, if you have a male, he might just be showing off!
Flexed beard — Territorial display. It means, “Back off!” when paired with gaping. However, your dragon may also just be stretching.
Gaping — Territorial display. This is a warning that your dragon is about to bite. However, if your dragon isn’t opening its mouth very wide, and it happens to be basking, then they’re just “panting” because they’re hot, and it’s part of normal thermoregulation.
Head bobbing — Dominance display. This means, “I’m the boss!” Male dragons do it the most often, but female dragons do it, too.
“Pancaking” — This is when the dragon spreads its ribcage and flattens its body against the ground. If this is sudden, they’re feeling frightened. However, if they’re just laying around, they’re probably feeling relaxed.
“Sexy leg” — This is when the dragon extends one or two legs to their full extent. This is just a good stretch!
Tail curved upward — Your beardie is feeling alert, which is always a good thing.
Here are some common health problems to look out for.
The most common illnesses and health problems in bearded dragons are metabolic bone disease, intestinal parasites, impaction, respiratory infections, and tail rot. If your bearded dragon is displaying potential symptoms of illness, it’s important to take them to an experienced reptile veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment. Do not try to treat them at home, as you could make the problem worse!
Signs of a healthy dragon:
- Clear eyes
- Slender, muscular body
- Straight spine and limbs
- Breathing with mouth closed
- Firm, dark poo with a small white urate
- Eats regularly
- Moves freely and easily
- Alert, confident attitude
Signs of an unhealthy dragon:
- Curved limbs
- Kinked spine
- Discolored, stiff tail
- Excessive weight gain
- Rapid weight loss
- Breathing with mouth open
- Runny and/or very smelly stool