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Deciding to get a bearded dragon can be a big decision.  At AVC, we know that all pets are family and deserve the best care available.  Bearded dragons make wonderful pets and are a popular choice for reptile lovers, those with allergies, and for children (know your child and research reptiles first, a bearded dragon is not always a good fit for children).  Bearded dragons require a moderate amount of care and need a specific environment with numerous components, which can be expensive to set up.  To help you determine if a bearded dragon is right for you and your family, here are some veterinary guidelines to consider before you get your pet:

RESEARCH –Before getting a bearded dragon, do the research.  There are many species of reptiles that have become popular as pets.  The most common species of bearded dragon found at pet stores and kept as pets is the Inland Bearded Dragon.  Affectionately known as “beardies”, these lizards are popular because of their calm and friendly nature, and the relatively low amount of care they require when compared to other reptiles.  After you decide a bearded dragon is the right pet for you, determine where you will keep the beardie and whether you can afford the initial set up and continuing care.  If you have children, especially young ones, make sure they understand how and when to interact with the animal.  Remember to wash your hands after handling or interacting with the beardie.  If you have other pets, ensure the beardie is safe from predatory dogs or cats.  Remember to take your time before getting a new pet.  Many owners are enthusiastic when they first get their pet and quickly lose interest.  Remember that bearded dragons can live from seven to ten plus years.  If you get a bearded dragon and lose interest, rehome it through the proper channels and do not release it into the wild.  Captive bred bearded dragons will not survive if set loose.

SELECTION –Beardies can be bought at pet stores, through private parties, and may sometimes be adopted through rescue organizations.  Once you determine a beardie is right for you, find a reputable seller.  Your beardie should be alert, responsive, and calm.  Make sure the lizard’s eyes, nose, and mouth are clean and clear.  Check to make sure the beardie has all its toes, nails, and complete tail; beardies do not regenerate body parts.  Ensure there are no injuries, open sores, or burns.  Watch your prospective dragon walk, climb, and lift their head.  Determine whether the beardie is a juvenile (usually less than ten inches long) or mature (greater than ten inches).  If the first or second place you go to does not have the beardie you want, keep looking.  The right bearded dragon for you is out there.  If you discover another reptile you are interested in, do not be discouraged.  Our veterinarians and staff at AVC will be happy to answer any questions you may have about other reptiles as pets.

HABITAT – While the initial cost of a bearded dragon is relatively low compared to other reptiles, bearded dragons require specific habitats with components that can be costly and add up quickly.  Set up your beardie’s habitat several days prior to bringing your new pet home.  An adult dragon requires a minimum of a 50 gallon terrarium.  Glass or plastic enclosures are recommended as they retain heat and lessen the chance of injury common with wire or wooden cages.  Provide a screen or wire top that will allow light and heat to reach your beardie and prevent escape.  Although beardies climb to bask, they are not climbers and do best in an enclosure that is longer and wider, versus a taller enclosure.  Provide a substrate for your dragon.  The best substrate for a bearded dragon is a highly debated subject within the bearded dragon community.  Which substrate you use can be determined by the age of the bearded dragon, how much time you have to keep it properly cleaned, and personal preference.  Substrate choices include: reptile carpet, sand, newspaper, bark and mulch, and the newest trend, ceramic tile.  If you are unsure what to use, ask one of our veterinarians.  Include some large rocks or branches for your beardie to bask on.  Lastly, make sure you provide the proper lighting and heating.  Beardies are ectothermic and require an external heat source to warm their bodies.  You will need one light to provide UVA/UVB rays and one to provide heat.  Bearded dragons require approximately 12 hours of “sun” a day and should have a habitat temperature between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking area of 100 to 110 degrees.

DIET – Feed your beardie every day.  Beardies are omnivores and will eat a combination of fruits, vegetables, small insects, and even pinkie mice.  Pet stores are a great place to buy mealworms, crickets, waxworms, pellets, and pinkie mice.  The fruits and vegetables offered should be high in calcium and other vitamins, and low in phosphorus and sugars.  Dark, leafy greens such as kale, romaine lettuce, and collard greens are excellent choices and squash, peppers, and non-citrus fruits may be offered as well.  A diet consisting of only pellets is not recommended.  Although beardies require very little water and get the majority of what they need from their diet, some owners provide small water dishes for their beardies.  If you choose not to provide a water dish, other options include misting or bathing your dragon regularly.  It is important to remember that beardies need an environment with very low humidity (dry).  Consult the AVC staff for specific dietary needs and more recommendations.  A dietary necessity, especially with young animals, is a calcium supplement. Animals housed indoors under artificial lighting should receive a calcium supplement complete with vitamin D3.  In addition to a calcium supplement, a reptile multivitamin is highly recommended and will aid in ensuring that no nutritional deficiencies occur over time.  Animals that do not eat a balanced diet or receive calcium supplements often succumb to metabolic bone disease.

HEALTH ISSUES –Beardies are relatively hardy pets.  You can help keep your pet healthy by being a responsible and attentive owner.  A large, clean enclosure with proper lighting and heat, a basking area, and a well-balanced diet will help to keep your pet from getting sick.  Even with proper animal husbandry, some animals do get sick.  In the case of bearded dragons, deficiencies of calcium and vitamin D3 or improper heating and lighting cause most illnesses.  Symptoms of calcium and vitamin deficiency include deformities, lumps, trouble walking or climbing, and lethargy.  Watch your pet for signs of diarrhea or constipation, lack of appetite, or signs of fungus or mucus.  Beardies do shed their skin periodically.  When your beardie is shedding, make sure the skin is dry and thin.  Damp or crusty looking skin may be the result of a fungal infection.  Should any of these symptoms present themselves, bring your beardie to AVC as soon as possible.  When caught early, most conditions are reversible, but if untreated, the prognosis becomes more guarded.  If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, or just want to bring them in for a wellness exam, the doctors and staff at AVC would love to meet you and your pet.  Congratulations on your new bearded dragon.