A healthy bearded dragon that is well-cared for can have a lifespan of 10 years. And some captive bearded dragons have been reported to live up to 15 years!!
As exciting as it might be to have a bearded for more than a decade – the first challenge is often getting them to eat on the first day you take them home!
In the first weeks, even with the best of intentions, it is very difficult to learn and do everything that the breeder or reptile store has been naturally doing for years.
Yet, over time, you will begin to build a special bond with your dragon. And you recognize how amazing dragons are in their capacity to grow, shed and heal.
If you were to read through a list of bearded dragon illnesses, you might be surprised to learn that they share a lot of the same diseases as humans such as gout; periodontitis (gum disease); liver failure; and cancer.
Not all diseases such as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) are curable. But for many other ailments, they can usually be cured with proper treatment.
In our experience at Raising Bearded Dragons, we believe that preventive care is often the best remedy for maximizing your beardie’s life span.
Here’s some of our recommended husbandry practices to help your dragon live a full, healthy and happy life.
- Proper Hygiene: Your terrarium can become a breeding ground for parasites and infections. This happens when a dragon has eliminated in their tank. They might walk through their feces, sleep in it or accidentally ingest it. Thus we recommend spot cleaning terrariums immediately (or as soon as possible) after your dragon has eliminated in their tank. To spot clean, you throw away their feces, spray some disinfectant such as Zoo Med’s “Wipe Out”, an all-in-one disinfectant, cleaner and deodorizer and wipe clean. We recommend you do a deep cleaning of your terrarium at least one time per month.
- Journal Key Dates: Do you remember the last time your bearded dragon went into brumation or you changed their light bulbs? If not, this is why we recommend you get a small journal or notebook where you can record observations, writes notes and keep a food log. Use this notebook to keep track of things such as what your dragon is eating and how frequently; things you notice about their behavior; the date you changed their lighting; or the color of their urate (poop).
- An Alkaline Diet: Bearded dragons can develop diseases such as periodontitis (gum disease) and other health issues from not eating enough fresh and crunchy vegetables. Lack of vegetables causes their body to become too acidic and makes it difficult to fight off illnesses. The vegetables in their salads should be fresh, colorful and rotated out every few weeks to ensure they are getting a proper mix of vitamins and to prevent hypo or hyper vitaminosis.
- Quarantine Your Reptiles: While it is not commonly spoken about we HIGHLY RECOMMEND you quarantine your reptiles which means keeping any newly acquired reptiles in a completely separate room and terrarium for the first 3 months. Additionally, make sure you always wash your hands; always change and clean the tank; and never share water with your other reptiles. This helps to confirm that your new reptile is not sick or carrying any parasites. Unfortunately we have personally known reptile enthusiasts who have lost their entire collection because one of their new reptiles had an infection / parasites and it quickly spread to all the other reptiles without warning or a way to control it.
- UVB and Calcium with D3 – Proper UVB lights that are changed regularly and a Calcium + D3 supplement are essential for preventing the dreaded and incurable Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). Additionally, a best practice is making sure you do not feed your dragon until at least 2 hours after you have turned their lights on. This allows their body to fully warm up and properly digest their food. And at the end of the day, make sure you feed them at least 2 hours before you turn the lights off for the same reason. If their body is not fully warm, they will get impacted and their food that has not been properly eliminated may develop bacteria while it is still inside their bodies.
- Safety & Protection – We consider safety and protection the ways in which you handle your dragon and set up their environment. As one of our RBD members affectionately says, you should ‘booty scoop’ your dragon, meaning pick them up from behind from their underside. They should not be dangling from your hands but instead placed firmly in the palm of your hand. Another precaution is to make sure their basking limb is set up in a way that it is not difficult for them to climb or on the flip side is easy for them to fall off and get hurt. It happens and can lead to sprained and broken limbs. Finally, bearded dragons have sensitive stomachs and can often feel vibrations from the base of their tank. So they may be able to sense and feel fierce thunderstorms or loud construction in your neighborhood. Provide a hide for them so they feel they have a safe place they can go when you are not able to be home with them or hold them.
- Get fecal exams done annually – If your bearded dragon stops eating unexpectedly and it seems to be something out of the norm we would typically recommend a fecal exam to make sure parasites are not the underlying issue. However, even if your dragon is not showing signs of sickness, we recommend your dragon gets a fecal exam done once a year as it is often the best measurement of their health. And early detection can often be the difference between giving them new life or a very fast and unexpected death.
- Dry your dragon thoroughly after bathing – After you bathe your bearded dragon, before putting them back in their terrarium make sure you snuggle with them for a bit so they can thoroughly dry off. A bearded dragon may have small drops of water in their scales. The problem is putting a dragon in the tank before they are fully dry makes the temperatures fluctuate. It is also difficult for the dragon to regulate their own temperature. This is also why you should not leave their water bowl in their tank because it has the same affect. If the humidity levels constantly fluctuate the dragon can easily get sick because their body temperature is always changing and going between hot and cold temperatures. Their immune system will weaken making it difficult for them to fight off sickness.
- Properly Care for Gravid Females: Have you noticed your female bearded dragon digging and burrowing? She might be looking for a place to hide her eggs that she will soon lay? Did you know a female bearded dragon can get pregnant with infertile eggs? This means the eggs that she will lay will not have babies in them. However, the crazy thing is she needs to be cared for the same as if the eggs were fertile otherwise the eggs can rupture inside her body and kill her. If you feel her belly and notice that you feel some small lumps in there that might be a sign. Until she lays her eggs she will need to be given a dig box (or place to dig); nice warm soaks; increased calcium; and silkworms as her primary feeder worm. They have a very high level of nutrients in there. Once she lays the eggs they will need to be discarded. They will look similar to fertile eggs but they will be flattened because there will be nothing in there. Give her a little extra love and support after this period.
- All We Need Is Love: Bearded Dragons are living creatures. They are smart and can be trained. Talking to them, cuddling with them and simply giving them attention every day can help keep them calm & happy and provide you a trusted and loyal companion for years to come.
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