bearded dragon warming up

Pet Bearded Dragons [and 5 Things You Need to Know]

Bearded dragons, often referred to as beardies, are wonderful indoor and (partly) outdoor pets. They love the sun and warmth and can do the oddest things that make them quite adorable. Pet bearded dragons are much fun for dedicated pet owners who will enjoy the effort they take to care for.

The babies (hatchlings) will grow to adults in under 2 years and brumation (see reptile hibernation) will likely take place after the 1st year.

It can be difficult to identify the sex of the bearded dragon when they are only a few months old, although your vet has the means to help you there. There have been many a tale of a bearded dragon called ‘Mad Max’ only to find it probably should have been called ‘Mad Maxine’. (More in the article sexing bearded dragons).

Female bearded dragons can lay eggs once they are sexually mature whether they have been mated or not.

Where can I get a bearded dragon?

It is common to purchase baby bearded dragons from pet shops and breeders. If you are of a mind to adopt a bearded dragon then you will likely find there are many looking for homes in reptile rescue centers or shelters near you.

5 reasons bearded dragons make good pets

Here are 5 reasons bearded dragons make such good pets:

  1. They are docile and friendly. If they aren’t already, then they are tamable.
  2. They have some funny and adorable quirks.
  3. You can craft some incredible looking environments which can be most rewarding. Your masterpiece can add attraction to your home plus your bearded dragon gets valuable environmental enrichment out of your DIY project.
  4. Interacting and sharing a bond can bring enjoyment.
  5. Bearded dragons can bring you new friendships with likeminded people.
bearded dragon mobile phone
Kelly Wilson Mules beardie Blitz on the mobile phone.

Bearded dragons are not good pets [7 reasons you don’t want one]

Here are 7 reasons bearded dragons do not make good pets:

  1. If you don’t like touching insects…eww. (you will get used to it)
  2. Water dishes are great for pooping in, more eww.
  3. Can feel like a lot of work if you aren’t really into them. From cleaning of the bearded dragons housing and accessories to that of insect colonies, weekly at least.
  4. They can be expensive to keep between feed, electricity, replacement bulbs, vet bills if things go wrong and so on.
  5. Not all vets will cater for reptiles. Need to find a herp vet.
  6. If you don’t spend the time and money on their needs they can suffer badly and potentially cost them their lives.
  7. Not necessarily suitable for all the family, especially those who are immunocompromised. See more in the article can my bearded dragon make me sick?

How long bearded dragons live for [life span]

If well looked after, then bearded dragons can have a life span of 10+ years. How long bearded dragons live for is very much dependant on their care.

Unfortunately, 75% of pet reptiles in the UK die within their first year (Fry, 2015). This is not just an issue in the UK, it is worldwide. The quality of care directly impacts their life.

Given how long bearded dragons can live for, if intended for children, it is worth considering who will be looking after the pet if your children will move on to a college or out of home in 5 or 10 years.

Bearded dragon fun in the sun
Bearded dragon enjoying the sunshine and sprinkler on a hot day. (Leanna Potter’s Spike)

Housing needs of bearded dragons

Bearded dragons typically live indoors in captivity. However, if the weather permits then housing outdoors on sunny days is perfect for good health. Providing both indoor and outdoor housing gives the best of both worlds.

Making your own bearded dragons house as a DIY project is super rewarding and can be quite an attractive addition to your house. However, many pet bearded dragon owners will start with a readymade house.

Housing needs to be at the very minimum 4 foot and even at that, it is very small. Don’t be tempted or persuaded into buying a 20 gallon tank with the idea that you will upgrade later. There are so many flaws to the logic given in such cases that it’s hard to know where to start. Not the least being that a proper thermal gradient cannot be achieved in such a small area.

Glass tanks are the cheapest housing you will find for bearded dragons and some of the worst. Glass tanks often come in kits and none of it will save you money in the long run. Tanks are great for fish where you need to keep water in but offer inferior air movement, heat control and space for bearded dragons and other reptiles. Pathogens can quickly build up in poorly ventilated spaces.

Rather than buying inferior bearded dragon housing kits, build a good setup from the beginning.

Bearded dragon housing requires regular cleaning, the smaller it is the more often it needs to be.

More on bearded dragon indoor and outdoor housing.

As part of the housing special lighting and heating is required, substrate to cover the floor of the housing and accessories for enrichment.

diy background for bearded dragon
DIY background for bearded dragon house made from foam and grout.

Bearded dragons running around the house [House Proofing]

Many pet bearded dragons will get to run around the house of their human. House proofing is needed to make the environment safe and prevent them going missing.

One case I remember in the community was of a bearded dragon that disappeared during winter in the house after being let out. Some months later it resurfaced. The conclusion was that it had cooled down during its roaming around the house sufficiently that it went into brumation and came out once the weather had warmed.

Here are 7 precautions to take before you let your bearded dragon out:

  1. Ensure anything that shouldn’t be eaten or licked is out of the way. That includes little things that can get stuck in the digestive tract to poisons.
  2. If you have more than one bearded dragon, don’t let small ones out with big ones. That has been known to be fatal.
  3. Your bearded dragon can get into all sorts of places you can’t, like under your cupboard.
  4. Falling off shiny table surfaces and other heights that claws can’t hold onto can break little bones. Keep them off tables and other surfaces they cannot grip on.
  5. Little claws can get stuck in carpet and toes can be lost. Best not to go on carpet.
  6. Poop! Bath first to help move the bowels is a good thing, then run around.
  7. Limit the time spent out and away from UVB, heat source and humidity that its housing provides for it.
Game of poking out tongue between bearded dragon and its human. u/lnfinity

Nutrition

Your level of understanding your pet bearded dragon nutritional requirements, will have a direct impact on the quality of its life.

Starting as insectivores when they are young, bearded dragons grow into being omnivore by the time they reach adulthood.

As a good pet bearded dragon owner, you will handle a range of insects and other invertebrate. Once you get over your initial ewww factor, assuming you don’t handle insects already, then you may find caring for insects adds to your own enjoyment. It’s an extension of being a bearded dragon owner and it truly can be fun on its own.

Bearded dragons are generalists and require a range of foods from feeder insects (invertebrate in general) to vegetation.

Travelling with bearded dragons

Sometimes your bearded dragon will need to travel with you, mostly to the vet. Some will be stressed, and some will seem, at least to the human eye, to be ok.

Travel using a small carrier that will protect your bearded dragon from harm while travelling including overheating.

Note that while it does seem fun to travel with your bearded dragon on the dashboard, it is dangerous. Should the brakes have to be applied rapidly or any manner of things, animals can become seriously injured or killed.

If you are an Australian reptile keeper, then your license (depending on the state you live in) likely restricts where your bearded dragon can be taken.

Can I get allergic to bearded dragons?

Being allergic to a bearded dragon may not be such an issue however their feeder insects (such as crickets) may cause an allergic reaction. Speak with your family doctor for advice before buying your bearded dragon.

Is a bearded dragon a good pet for a child?

A bearded dragon can make a good pet for a child depending on their age and the support they will be given. A bearded dragon could be a good pet for a 10 year old child with parental help.

The level of care that needs to be understood will require parental support. It will also be useful to monitor your bearded dragon’s health and ensure veterinary support is given when needed. As a parent, being well versed on what the needs of a bearded dragon are mean you can provide assistance where needed.

In terms of handling, starting out with a bearded dragon that already has a good disposition will be helpful for children.

Caring for reptiles is not straight forward and they are expensive to own compared to say a cat or a dog.

pet bearded dragon with pet cat
Pet bearded dragon and pet cat sharing a moment. (Tracey Wellards Norbert)

Are bearded dragons good with other pets?

Bearded dragons can be great with other pets. However, the nature of the bearded dragon that you choose and the animal that it will mix with are of course the deciding factors.

Whether it is safe to have a cat or a dog around your bearded dragon will definitely depend on their nature. Cats are of course hunters, but many domestic cats get on with their scaly friends. In my household, the cats cannot be trusted with a bearded dragon.

Puppet and Puff from picklified

Is it ok to have a bearded dragon when pregnant?

I may be ok to have a bearded dragon if you or someone in the household is pregnant.

One of the most common concerns with pet reptiles is salmonella, although it is not the only zoonotic disease to consider. The AVMA (2009) recommend putting in place some standard cleaning and hygiene measures which include washing our hands and not letting reptiles near your bedrooms or the kitchen.

It is not recommended by the CDC to have reptiles with children under 5 years of age, especially babies. Other immunocompromised individuals are also at risk with reptiles.

Direct contact is not required to transfer disease. Indirect contact can result in illness. For example, handling a reptile and then cuddling a child.

See Dr Emecheta’s post on can my bearded dragon make me sick for more on zoonotic diseases and speak to your family doctor.

Costs of owning a bearded dragon

7 costs in owning a bearded dragon to consider:

  1. Initial outlay of the bearded dragon.
  2. Initial outlay of the housing (indoor and outdoor).
  3. Initial lighting and heating plus replacement UVB lighting (every 6-12 months).
  4. Vet bills. Your bearded dragon should see your vet within a few days of buying at least annually from there on.
  5. Insects (quantity reduces as they get older and they become more of an omnivore).
  6. Veterinary grade disinfectant and perhaps a steam cleaner (see cleaning).
  7. Substrates depending on what is used.

The costs of keeping a bearded dragon are looked at in depth in the post bearded dragon costs and includes how to calculate electricity costs.

Natural habitat

While it is often said bearded dragons come from the desert, that isn’t strictly true. Bearded dragons come from a range of habitats from woodlands to deserts. More on the wild bearded dragons natural habitat here.

5 Things You Need to Know Before you Buy a Pet Bearded Dragon

1. Bearded dragons are exotic pets.

Bearded Dragons are easy to take care of, compared to some other reptiles, this is why they are often referred to as the beginners reptile. However, they are highly dependent on their environment and quality of care for their good health. Their care is vastly different to that of more common pets such as cats or dogs.

To provide the best care for your bearded dragon you will need to understand its needs first.

2. Bearded dragons are high maintenance work and expensive.

Bearded dragons take a lot of effort to keep well compared to the average cat or dog and the lighting and heating is expensive.

Bearded dragons require a specialised environment that must be kept clean to prevent diseases.

Their food, feeder insects also requires some effort to maintain.

3. Bearded dragons eat creepy crawly insects and other invertebrate.

Ready to handle insects? Bearded dragons eat cockroaches, crickets and all manner of creepy crawlies. It is not a case of feeding one insect or another, there needs to be a range of feeders.

The feeder insects need to be maintained as well. Either you will need to breed your own colonies of insects or purchase them in.

4. Find a herp vet first.

Finding a herp vet is not always easy. Find a herp vet before buying your bearded dragon. Don’t leave this until you need a vet, that could be a heartbreaking moment.

It is also best to have a vet check your bearded dragon once you get it. This will provide the vet with some history on your bearded dragon, the vet will be able to check for existing health problems and provide you with sound advice.

bearded dragon pet sunning itself on a rock
Bearded dragon sunning itself on a rock. Courtesy of Rebelle Robinson.

5. Don’t be tempted to buy a pair.

Bearded dragons are generally best kept alone, they don’t need friends. You will be your pet bearded dragons friend.

If you do decide to buy a pair, ensure they are not related or there will be further difficulties later on trying to keep them separate to prevent breeding.

For more on keeping bearded dragons together and setting up for harmony see the post on bearded dragons living together. Males are very territorial and cannot be housed together ever.

bearded dragon attached and bonded to its owner
Bearded dragon attached and bonded, sleeping on a warm shoulder. (Just Peter’s father with Otto)

8 Different Species of Bearded Dragons

There are 8 different species of bearded dragons being:

  • Pogona barbata (Cuvier, 1829) aka Eastern, Common or Coastal bearded dragon
  • Pogona vitticeps aka Central or Inland bearded dragon.
  • Pogona minor minor (Sternfeld, 1919) aka Dwarf bearded dragon
  • Pogona minor minima (Loveridge, 1933) aka Western bearded dragon
  • Pogona microlepidota (Glauert, 1952) aka Kimberley bearded dragon
  • Pogona henrylawsoni (Wells and Wellington, 1985) Lawson’s dragon, Black Soil bearded dragon, Black Soil Plains bearded dragon, Downs bearded dragon, Dumpy bearded dragon and Rankin’s dragon.
  • Pogona minor mitchelli (Badhman, 1976) North West bearded dragon.
  • Pogona nullarbor (Badham, 1976) Nullarbor bearded dragon

Outside of Australia, the most commonly available is the Pogona vitticeps (aka central or inland bearded dragon). If you are not sure what you have bought, chances are it is a Pogona vitticeps.

Some will be able to get the Pogona barbata (aka common or eastern bearded dragon) and even fewer will be able to get hold of the Pogona minor (aka dwarf bearded dragon).

Are there 8 or 9 species of bearded dragons? There are 8 recognised species of bearded dragons. The 9th of the species sometimes spoken of is the rare hybrid, the vittikens.

The vittikens is not classed as a species in Australia. The vittikens is a deliberate cross of the Pogona vitticeps and Pogona minor. The vittikens is able to reproduce offspring.

Do bearded dragons lay eggs? Yes, bearded dragons can lay eggs once they are sexually mature whether they have been mated or not.

Bearded dragon, the best pet reptile? from Clint’s Reptiles

Can you have a Bearded Dragon as a Pet in Australia and Licenses

Although Australian’s have the distinct advantage of having access to all species of bearded dragons, we cannot keep them all. In Australia no pet owner can legally keep all the species of bearded dragons at the same time. This is because:

  1. In Australia, only the species naturally available in the state can be kept and the bearded dragons that live in each state can be different.
  2. Not all species of bearded dragons have been exported outside of Australia and they cannot be legally exported out of Australia as pets.

In the bearded dragons native homelands of Australia keeping bearded dragons is far more restrictive than elsewhere in the world. Laws and licencing by state governments determine limit what species can be kept as pets and who can have them. All states will only allow the native species of that state to be kept in the state.

Tasmania is an exception to keeping bearded dragons, they are not allowed in Tasmania. Bearded dragons do not naturally occur in Tasmania and they are on the pest invasion list to ensure it stays that way.

In any state, to protect wildlife, the authorities will seize animals that have not been obtained legally and legal action may be pursued. The best course of action is to contact your state authorities prior to obtaining any bearded dragon to confirm requirements.

Where ever a license is required, the seller must ensure you have a license before they sell to you. You will have to provide them with evidence so take your certificate.

Conversely, you need to check the seller has a licence. In any state requiring a license there will also be a requirement to submit paperwork either annually or as bearded dragons come and go from your care.

Getting a license does sound onerous and sometimes it is. On the good side it cuts down impulse buying which is very important for reptiles since there is a lot involved in keeping them healthy.

Just a note that the laws in Australia can change at any time. This section is intended to provide you with information on which government department you need to contact and the licensing that is likely required.

Australian Capital Territory Licensing Requirements

This is the most lenient state of all with no licence required for the Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbatus). Pogona barbatus is classed as Category A meaning captive-bred reptiles that anyone with no prior experience can keep. For the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) you need a Category B licence which requires two years experience in Category A animal keeping.

The licence has a 5 year life, costs about $40 and the application is a little lengthy. Applicants must be 15 years and over. The application will be assessed against the Reptile Policy and they like to see in the application general proof of ability to care for your reptile and competence, include photos.

Find more information at the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate – Environment website.

New South Wales Reptile Keepers licence

New South Wales residents have the greatest choice of bearded dragons to choose from. Absolutely no reptiles are exempt from licensing. Species are separated into classes and the majority of bearded dragons are listed as class 1. The applicant must be over 16 years of age so for children, parents must submit the licence application. The application form is basic. Two years is around $70 and 5 years is around $150. The following species are listed by the Department as being Class 1:

  • Eastern (Common) Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata)
  • Downs Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni)
  • Western Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minima)
  • Dwarf Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minor)
  • Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps)

The following species are listed by the Department as being Class 2:

  • Small-scaled Bearded Dragon (Pogona microlepidota)

New South Wales Department of Environment and Heritage has a Code of Practice for the Private Keeping of Reptiles which has mandatory and recommended guidelines for keeping reptiles.

Northern Territory Wildlife Carers Permit

Under the Parks and Wildlife Commission the Dwarf Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor) and Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is in the Least Concern classification which is related to its conservation status. In other words, they aren’t endangered and the state doesn’t see them at risk.

The Central Bearded Dragon may be kept without a permit as long as they were obtained lawfully.

Victoria – Private Wildlife Licence

The Department of Environment and Primary Industries requires a licence to keep Bearded Dragons. They class the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) and Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata) as Schedule 3 reptile and the Downs Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni) is Schedule 4.

The application will take a bit of time. Does require you to keep a record book which the Department issues.

Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Private Keeping of Reptiles

Queensland – Recreational wildlife licence (birds, reptiles, amphibians)

Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection requires applicants to be over 13 years old. The form isn’t overly onerous. No restrictions on which species of Bearded Dragon you can keep but a maximum of 2 under the standard licence. Must maintain a record book which is not difficult. Cost of licence is approximately $70.

Western Australia – Pet herpetofauna keeper’s licence

A licence is required in Western Australia through the Department of Parks and Wildlife to keep the Western Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minor) which is classified as Category 2, the only one that can be kept in WA. The Reptiles that can be kept in Western Australia are listed in in the Approved Reptile Keeping List 2016.

A record book must be kept which is returned to the department annually. The application form requires a bit of work and goes into personal experience and ability. You will provide them with your experience and description of facilities amongst other things. Licences for Category 2 are from $20 for one year to $40 for 3 years. Licence holders must be 14 years and over. For further information on licencing Herpetofauna go to the DPAW website.

Tasmania Herpetology Permit

Can you keep a bearded dragon in Tasmania? Not as a pet. Bearded dragons don’t live in Tasmania naturally and they are a prohibited import. For more information go to the Parks and Wildlife Services Herpetology website page.

South Australia – Permit to keep and sell protected animals

Under the control of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources 1 bearded dragon can be kept without a licence, for more a licence is required.

Requires a record book to be kept. Reasonably easy form. Three options for licence duration are 1 year $65, 3 years $190 and 5 years $320.

This information has been provided based on research and direct contact with state authorities, it is not guaranteed to be accurate. Contact your state authorities prior to obtaining your Bearded Dragon.

Need to know about how much it costs to own a bearded dragon? See the post on costs of keeping a bearded dragon (and electricity costs).

What is a morph bearded dragon?

A morph is one of the distinct forms (visually or behaviourally different) within a species. People are constantly coming up with more morphs. Some present more issues than others. There are variations of colours within morphs.

Are bearded dragons venomous?

Bearded dragons have venom secreting glands on the upper and lower jaws (Fry, et al. 2005). However the are venom is not effective on humans.

How big do bearded dragons get?

Bearded dragons can get up to 25 cm from snout to vent, although this varies with species and specialist breeds.

What is difference between a fancy bearded dragon and a normal bearded dragon?

The term fancy bearded dragon is used by some of the big pet stores to indicate that the bearded dragon has something different about it to the normal. It may have brighter or red color, smoother skin and less scaling.

Do bearded dragons bite?

Bearded dragons can bite although it is not their first line of defense, typically they would prefer to run away. They can break skin with their sharp little teeth.

You might also like

Perfect names for Your bearded dragon

Can my bearded dragon make me sick?

Building trust and friendship with your bearded dragon

Should I get a friend for my bearded dragon?

References

  • AVMA (2009) Salmonella: Amphibians and Reptiles (FAQ). American Veterinary Medical Association
  • CDC (2014) Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Pet Bearded Dragons https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/cotham-04-14/advice-pet-owners.html
  • Fry, B. 2105 Venomous Reptiles and Their Toxins: Evolution, Pathophysiology, and Biodiscovery.
  • Fry, B.G.; Vidal, N.; Norman, J.A.; Vonk, F.J.; Scheib, H.; Ranjan, S.F.; Kuruppu, S.; Fung, K.; Hedges, S.B.; Richardson, M.K.; Hodgson, W.C.; Ignjatovic, V.; Summerhayes, R.; and Kochva, E. 2005. Early evolution of the venom system in lizards and snakes. Nature 439: 584-588. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04328
  • Stauber, A. G., and Booth, D. J. 2003. Allometry in the Bearded Dragon Pogona barbata (Sauria: Agamidae): Sex and Geographic Differences. Australian Zoologist. Vol: 32 (2) pages 238-245 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.zool.2010.09.003

Will you be getting a bearded dragon? Share your news with us.

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