It is common to hear of a bearded dragon causing serious injury or even death to companions with no warning. So, can two bearded dragons live together without harming each other?
Bearded dragons may be successfully kept together where the environment provided is suitable. Keeping bearded dragons together in the wrong conditions causes stress and results in inequitable use of resources such as heating and UVB. This will become quite apparent with young bearded dragons as one outgrows the other.
Dangers of Keeping Bearded Dragons Together
Here are 3 serious consequences of keeping bearded dragons together in inadequate conditions:
- Stress. Stress is a health issue, it causes disease (i.e. a stress is considered to be a trigger for coccidia, see the post on coccidiosis).
- Loss of body parts. In many instances tails, toes, feet, legs, eyes or worse are missing or damaged. So many pictures of bearded dragons are posted in forums and social media missing bits of their body.
- Killing their cage mate.
Housing young bearded dragons together is not necessarily any better than housing adults together in the wrong conditions. One will outgrow the other as it manages to dominate the habitat resources. Humans can not detect all the signals they give to each other, some are subtle. The growth of one will lag behind and before long there is a huge difference in the sizes of them. This was the case of Katniss and Primrose below.
These two bearded dragons got along so well together, did everything together. The next photo shows the smallest bearded dragon, Primrose. She was attacked by Katniss resulting in a broken jaw which could not be set by the vet due to her age (bone density), eye damage was unknown and significant bruising from internal damage.
Monitoring the cage mates together is not sufficient to protect them from harm. It is not possible to monitor pets 24/7 which leaves plenty of opportunity for issues to occur. Even when they are monitored we may not be quick enough to pick up on their subtle cues and they will be quicker at taking action than anyone can respond to.
The Bondi Vet (video below) discovered how this little bearded dragons tail started getting shorter. Can you guess what was doing it?
There are plenty of stories to go around on how attacks occur. One member described how they took their two bearded dragons into the living room. Each was with a handler and they went opposite sides of the room. No sooner had they relaxed their grip when one raced over to the other and immediately attacked. That is an indication of just how fast they can be when they feel the need to deal with another.
Another owner found his bearded dragon in his room mates cage in the morning. His mates bearded dragon did not survive the visit.
These sort of events are not isolated, they are repeated again and again. Bearded dragons with missing toes and tails is ridiculously common, much of the time is from a cage mate and is really quite unnecessary.
Bearded dragons do not live in a pack, they don’t curl up at night with their life long companion, nor do they hang around with their sibling. Bearded dragons are hatched ready to face life without parental care. On the other hand, humans need companionship and a lot of intense parental care as young ones. For us, it can be hard to think of depriving another animal of what we see is so necessary for our survival.
How Can Two Bearded Dragons Live Together in Harmony?
Bearded dragons can live together successfully given the right conditions. In fact, it is done all the time at zoos and wildlife parks. One of the major differences to domestic situations is the size of the enclosures the bearded dragons are provided.
Reproductive disorders are common in reptiles. One reason to keep a male and female and housing them within visual distance of each, is to prevent preovulatory stasis. One likely cause of preovulatory stasis is the lack of cues for stimulating ovulation (Knotek et al, 2017). Other causes include poor husbandry practices such as inadequate lighting and insufficient calcium to develop ova.
Here are 4 key guidelines to keeping bearded dragons together:
1. Keep them in large housing. (Latest review on bearded dragon tanks.)
2. Provide multiple basking spots and surface area that does not force competing with each other. Reptiles can notice subtle differences of height and placement of rocks and branches, access to a basking spot that elevates over the others that would escape our attention. Provide multiple basing spots with varying height will allow them to adjust themselves at different heights without competing.
3. Set up an environment and feeding program that does not trigger competition for food. Spread the food out allowing them to eat in different spots if needed.
4. Provide refuge. Necessary for reducing stress. Branches, rocks, vegetation, and so on. Bring it together making nooks and crannies to escape to.
To keep bearded dragons together successfully, here are 3 things to never do:
1. Never house males together. They are territorial and while they may appear friendly towards each other as juveniles, their hormones will kick in as they grow.
2. Don’t house different sized bearded dragons together. The smaller may be seen as food and certainly easy to attack.
3. Never keep them in small enclosures. Four foot is not sufficient for one or two. As young bearded dragons they are naturally very active, providing a large enclosure will support natural behaviors. If they are mature, then they need to be able to escape or get respite from each other when the need arises. More on housing sizes in the post on bearded dragon housing.
Knotek, Z., Cermakova, E., and Oliveri, M. (2017) Reproductive Medicine in Lizards. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, Volume 20(2): 411-438. ISSN 1094-9194, ISBN 9780323528665 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvex.2016.11.006.