Bearded dragon care: How to keep your pet reptile healthy and happy

bearded dragon care: how to look after your pet reptile
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Bearded dragons are one of the most popular lizard species to be kept as pets in the UK. They originate in Australia and have the scientific name of Pogona Vitticeps. While we have kept these reptiles as pets for many years, it is important to remember that they are a wild species and therefore their lifestyle needs to mimic that of the wild as much as possible.

If you are considering getting a bearded dragon, you must make sure you are ready to make a long-term commitment, as these lizards can live for 10 to 15 years. Bearded dragon care is quite particular and they have many special needs, including specific living conditions and dietary requirements.

Below are some top tips for bearded dragon care, to ensure you keep your lizard happy and healthy.

1. Invest in a decent vivarium for your bearded dragon

Bearded dragons need a highly specific environment to be comfortable, so it’s important you don’t skimp when buying a vivarium. According to the RSPCA, the minimum size for one adult dragon is 120cm long by 60cm high and 60 cm wide.

You can choose either a wooden vivarium or a plastic one. Plastic tends to be easier to clean and it reflects the light well inside the tank. Don’t worry about starting out with a large vivarium if you have a baby dragon, as they grow quickly. Fill it with lots of accessories, such as wood.

It needs to be well ventilated, secure and have both a hot end and a cool end to mimic that of its natural habitat. Between 38 and 42 degrees Celsius is recommended for the hottest side and between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius for the cooler end. The vivarium should also have bright and shaded areas.

A UV tube light is also required at 10-12% in the hotter side of the vivarium, this is to ensure your bearded dragon remains healthy. Without it, they could develop metabolic bone disease that could significantly shorten their lifespan.

2. Switch the lights off at night

An important part of bearded dragon care is a clear routine for your reptile. 

AIICIOO Basking Bulb Heat Emitter – Ceramic Heating Lamps

(Image credit: Amazon)

This solid ceramic heat lamp is perfect for high humidity environments like your bearded dragon’s vivarium. It doesn’t emit light, instead only “muscle penetrating” infrared heat which will make a more comfortable environment for your lizard at night. You can buy it here.

Switching off the lamps at night will help your beardie understand the cycle of day and night. However, in their natural habitat, they would normally remain warm at night. 

While it’s not absolutely necessary for your bearded dragon to remain hot at night, if your home gets quite chilly, it’s worth investing in a ceramic heat emitter, which emits only heat and no light. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature in the vivarium and adjust accordingly.

3. Feed your bearded dragon a varied diet

To provide the best bearded dragon care, ensuring they get a varied diet of the right foods and water is imperative to their health and happiness. These reptiles are omnivores, meaning they’re content with a diet of insects and vegetables. Brown crickets are a standard on the menu and dragons find them easy to catch and digest. If you fancy treating your lizard every now and then, then try mealworms, cockroaches or waxworms for something a bit meatier.

Bearded dragons like leafy greens such as kale, and colorful vegetables such as peppers and carrots can make a salad more appealing to your beardie. Grating vegetables can provide different textures for them too. Avoid acidic foods such as onions, as these can cause stomach upset, and always include a big bowl of water in their vivarium. Both food and water should be kept on the cool side of the tank.

4. Make sure your bearded dragon gets enough vitamins

While your bearded dragon should get most of the vitamins and minerals they need from their food, you can also sprinkle vitamin powders on their food to supplement their diet.

AIICIOO Reptile UVB Bulb

(Image credit: Amazon)

This bearded dragon UVB bulb from Amazon provides 10% UVB for the synthesis of vitamin D3. It also has a ceramic bulb which is better for bearded dragon care, as it will generate heat in the vivarium and encourage natural behaviour. You can buy it, here.

Your bearded dragon needs vitamin D3 to use the calcium they receive efficiently. They can get a lot of their Vitamin D through a UVB light, which is a requirement in your bearded dragon’s vivarium.

Your UVB light should be around 10-12%. A T5 Lamp is one of the best options here, as these have a range of 45-63cm and last up to 12 months. Be aware that the UVB rays will decline over time, so be sure to keep a note of when you bought it so you know when it’s time for a replacement.

If you are unsure of the UVB levels in your bearded dragon’s vivarium or you only have a low percentage UVB lamp, then you can always supplement your lizard's diet with some D3 powder and calcium powder.

5. Don’t overcrowd your bearded dragon

Bearded dragons are solitary creatures and they like a lot of space. This is why it’s important to provide them with a large tank from a young age, and be sure to remove accessories as and when they grow so they have enough room to move around. It is not generally recommended to keep more than one bearded dragon in a vivarium.

Always make sure you handle your bearded dragon with care, too. They like some attention, but make sure you hold their weight securely and never pick them up by the tail (that should go without saying). 

When preparing to pick up your reptile, don’t stare them in the eyes or make any sudden movements as this can make them feel threatened. It’s also best to only take them out of the vivarium when it’s quiet and there are no other pets around as this may stress them out.

bearded dragon care: how to look after your pet reptile

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Final tips for the best bearded dragon care

Bearded dragons are a great pet to have, and while the set-up costs can seem expensive, if given the right care, they are generally low-maintenance pets. 

If you’re thinking of getting a bearded dragon, just remember that they still need love and attention, so you will still need to invest a lot of time in your pet to ensure they get the right amount of engagement and mental stimulation from you. Remember these five tips and your bearded dragon will live a long and happy life!

Sarah Butcher

Sarah is a freelance writer and marketer, covering a variety of topics from lifestyle and fitness to sustainability and travel. When she’s not writing for PetsRadar or other websites, she can be found looking after her pet chickens or relaxing with a cuppa and a cute doggo snoozing on her lap!