Bearded dragons are popular and advertised as easy to care for by most pet stores. They say this because, for the most part, bearded dragons are docile, fun to play with, and don’t require huge enclosures. However, anyone who owns any sort of pet should know how to properly care for it. But before you go out and purchase one, you might be wondering if bearded dragons are hard to care for?
Bearded dragons are not necessarily hard to care for. They’re easy to please and, once you get it down, caring for them is easy. However, bearded dragons require a complex tank setup and feeding schedule that can make them seem hard to care for, especially for a beginner.
In this article, you’ll learn more about what might make a bearded dragon hard to take care of and how you can make it easier on yourself. Read on to find out more about the basics of bearded dragon care.
Is A Bearded Dragon Hard to Care for?
Every chain pet store will hand you a little pamphlet with a happy, healthy bearded dragon on the front of it. They’ll tell you a bearded dragon is easy to care for, but is it?
A bearded dragon is not inherently an easy pet to care for. Though they’re generally docile, this is generally the case when properly handled and cared for. In addition, they need to follow a relatively strict schedule in order to thrive.
Is a Bearded Dragon’s Temperament Hard To Deal With?
Bearded dragons can be trained to be docile. If handled properly, they like to cuddle, perch on shoulders, and roam about. However, even though they can be gentle and playful creatures, there are certain steps you need to take to get there.
Generally speaking, bearded dragons have an easy-going temperament. Though this is not always the case especially if not properly cared for from an early age. That said, most bearded dragons enjoy being handled.
Behavior Issues Can Make A Bearded Dragon Hard To Care For
Any pet including bearded dragons can have behavior issues that make them hard to care for. For the most part, bearded dragons do not have as many behavior issues as many other pet lizards. That said, one of the more common issues for a bearded dragon might be food aggression.
Food aggression is the leading cause of a poor temperament in a bearded dragon. Food aggression usually occurs as a direct result of an inconsistent feeding schedule. If a bearded dragon is food-aggressive, you’ll notice signs like jumping, lunging, or attempting to bite at the sight of your hand. They do this because they directly associate your hand with food.
By connecting your hand with being fed, the bearded dragon can become confused and think that your hand is food. This only worsens if your feeding schedule is inconsistent because they’ll be hungry, which can lead them to act on their impulse.
To reduce the risk of food aggression, you can:
- Find a good feeding schedule. You should put greens in with your dragon in the morning to give it time to pick at them. After a few hours, you can add in some bugs or worms.
- Feed outside of the tank. Their tanks are their home base, right? They may think that your hand is prey, entering their territory. As such, they think it’s okay to attack. Instead, when you notice food-aggressive behaviors, start taking them out of their tanks and feeding them elsewhere, like in a storage bin or a cardboard box.
- Feed them more during feeding times. They may be so aggressive with food because they’re not being satiated at feeding time. Offer them more greens and bugs and see if that cuts down on the behavior.
- Feed with tongs. If all else fails, you can remove your hand from the equation entirely and feed them with a pair of tongs. That puts space between their serrated gums and your hand. However, keep in mind that you do need to hold your dragon at least occasionally, or else the aggressive behavior may impact other aspects of its care.
Tank aggression is basically food aggression’s scary cousin. With aggressive food behaviors, it’s less scary because you know the dragon doesn’t actually want to hurt you. It’s just hungry.
However, in a tank-aggressive dragon, this isn’t the case. Tank aggression is usually caused by a lack of handling. Your dragon hasn’t been picked up and introduced to you enough yet.
Not holding your bearded dragon enough will certainly make caring for it more difficult because it can lead to problems taking them out of the tank. If you’re unable to hold the animal, you can’t properly clean its tank, which can cause serious health issues like:
- Respiratory infections
A bearded dragon that is displaying aggressive tank behaviors is doing so because it thinks you’re challenging it. It thinks you’re going to hurt it or try to push it out of its territory. If your dragon is tank aggressive, you’ll see signs like:
- Black bearding
- Puffing up
- Opening their mouths/hissing
When you notice your dragon is becoming tank-aggressive, you should:
- Back away. If you’ve just gone near it and it’s lunged at you or displayed discomfort in any way, don’t keep trying right away. That will lead to more stress, which will only affirm the bearded dragon’s assumption that you’re trying to harm it.
- Approach slowly. This means two things: approach the tank slowly with your whole body. Don’t run up too fast, and don’t tap on the glass. Then, when you’re trying to reach your hand in, approach that slowly, too. Don’t reach in and swoop them up. Rest your hand inside the tank for a few seconds and let them sniff you out.
- Don’t be jumpy. They might still be upset when you try to stick your hand inside the tank, even if you’ve done everything right. If they come at you aggressively, try to remain calm. Otherwise, you might make matters worse.
Other Issues That Can Make A Bearded Dragon Hard To Care For
There are other issues that can make a bearded dragon hard to care for. Though they do not require huge enclosures like some of the popular giant lizards, they still require a decent-sized set-up. In addition to the tank size, you will also need lighting, heat, substrate, and more to properly care for a bearded dragon.
Though not technically something the animal has any control over, the expenses involved with caring for a bearded dragon can quickly become one of the hardest aspects of owning it. You can get the actual bearded dragon itself for a decent price, especially if you do choose to buy from a chain pet store.
Unfortunately, the expenses don’t stop there.
Bearded Dragon Tank Setup
Bearded dragons live their whole lives in tanks, so their environment needs to be nice and have everything that a dragon needs to live a long and happy life. The minimum sized tank you’ll need for a bearded dragon used to be 40 gallons (36in x 18in x 18in).
Recent studies have found that a full-grown bearded dragon should be housed in a tank no smaller than 120 gallons (4ft x 2ft x 2ft).
The tank alone will cost you upwards of $100 brand new, though you might be able to find a deal on used tanks using sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. However, the tank is just the beginning.
In addition, you’ll need:
- A good UVB bulb. Bearded dragons need UVB to survive. Without it, they can develop issues like metabolic bone disease (MBD) or digestive health issues. If you’d like a UVB to mount inside your tank, you should opt for a T8 bulb. But if you’re looking for an outside-the-tank option, a T5 bulb is better. Your tube UVB bulb should cover no less than 2/3rds of the tank.
- A basking bulb. The temperature your dragon needs is going to depend on its age; younger dragons need hotter temps, while older ones can be a bit cooler. Whatever the case may be for your dragon, you should always get a basking bulb that’s at least 100 watts and a backup to have on standby.
- Proper temperature control. Analog thermometers do not make the cut. You’ll also need a digital thermometer on both the warm and cool sides of the tank and an infrared heat gun to check the temperature of the basking spot.
- Ceramic heat emitter. If your house gets below 65 degrees at night, you need to have a ceramic heat emitter. It will keep the tank warm enough at night to keep them from getting too cold. Otherwise, it can mess up their circadian rhythm and their digestion.
- Incidental funds. This is imperative when caring for a bearded dragon. You never know when a bulb will break or a thermometer will go awry.
Bearded Dragon Food Costs
Bearded dragons eat a lot, especially in their first few months of life. During this time, they’re constantly growing. Baby dragons should eat anywhere from 40-70 bugs or worms per day. They also should be offered fresh greens daily, like turnip greens, collard greens, or mustard greens. They can also have fruit sometimes, but only as a treat.
Bearded dragons also need a calcium supplement sprinkled into their food regularly. This also helps prevent MBD. You can get separate powders: one with D3 and one without, or you can go for a more all-in-one approach with something like Repashy Calcium Plus.
For good quality feeders, you can expect to spend anywhere from $50-$100 a month on bugs alone. How much you actually spend will increase based on the number of dragons you have. In terms of fresh greens and assorted treats, you can expect to spend anywhere from $20-$50 per month. Luckily, the calcium supplement doesn’t need to be given every day (more like about four times per week), so it will last longer. Though, a bottle will run you anywhere from $10-$20.
Overall, if you own a bearded dragon, you should budget to spend about $150 a month on feeding them. If you know you struggle to meet financial needs, this can make a dragon hard to care for.
With an animal like a bearded dragon, it can be easy to think that you don’t really need to take them to the vet. They don’t need vaccinations as dogs and cats do, and they don’t get spayed/neutered. However, they do still need to go to the vet regularly.
Bearded dragons need fecal tests. During one of these, a vet tests your dragon’s poop for issues like parasites and looks for undigested food, which can indicate digestive problems. They don’t need them super regularly, but rather about once every six months or more if your dragon goes into brumation.
Brumation means that the dragon essentially goes to sleep for long periods of time (anywhere from 3 weeks to 4 months). During this time, they don’t really bask or eat, though they may come up to do so occasionally. If you notice your dragon brumating, you should take a fecal sample to the vet. Otherwise, undetected parasites or undigested food can build up in their system and make them very sick.
You should take your bearded dragon to the vet if you notice:
- Trouble breathing/wheezing/coughing
- Lack of appetite
- Runny/discolored poop
- Refusal to bask
- Abnormal behaviors
The cost of a vet visit will vary depending on your vet. However, as a general rule, you should have at least $500 available just in case an emergency arises. When you’re getting ready to take a fecal sample in, you can grab one from their tank, put it in a bag, and freeze it if you need to. If possible, though, fresher samples are better.
You can’t just shove a dragon in a tank and expect it to thrive. You also need to be aware of things like:
- The substrate. Bearded dragons should not be on calcium sand, which is what often comes in “bearded dragon starter kits.” This kind of sand and many other loose substrates like regular sand, coconut fibers, and gravel can cause constipation, which can be fatal.
- General cleaning. The tanks they live in need to be kept clean at all times. Otherwise, they’re at increased risks for parasites, URIs, or fungus. You should spot clean the tank daily and deep clean once a month.
- The humidity. Bearded dragons are extremely susceptible to upper respiratory infections (URIs). They need a humidity level between 15% and 35%. Any more than that, especially for prolonged periods, and they’re at risk. You can purchase a hygrometer to help you gauge the humidity, and if it’s too high, you can get a dehumidifier.
If you know you’re going to struggle to keep up with the proper husbandry a bearded dragon needs to live a happy life, you should not own one. This part is by far the hardest for the majority of people day-to-day.
Are Bearded Dragons Too Difficult for Beginners?
At the end of the day, bearded dragons are good for anybody, as long as you can properly care for them. The animals themselves are incredible:
- They have unique personalities
- They love to be around humans
- They’re generally easy to please.
- Some people can even train their dragons to do tricks, though you probably shouldn’t go into getting a bearded dragon just so you can teach it to roll over.
In comparison to some other reptiles, bearded dragons are not hard to care for. They don’t require a tank full of water, which opens the door to complex filtration systems. They also don’t eat big feeders like mice, which is a good thing for a beginner who is squeamish. In addition, they don’t get too big.
Once you have everything you need to care for the dragon, they’re definitely easy to care for because they really don’t require too much. You need to feed them and clean up their tanks, but other than that, you just have to leave them alone and let them bask or take them out from time to time for handling.
Are Bearded Dragons Good for Kids?
Bearded dragons, being so docile makes them a popular pet lizard for kids, whether at home or even as a class pet.
Your kids can use them as a learning experience:
- They can learn how to properly hold an animal.
- They can learn all about morphs, patterns, and even where they come from.
Overall, bearded dragons can be a great asset to a child’s education.
Bearded dragons are a great way to teach a child responsibility, but you also need to be prepared to step in as a parent or authority figure and make sure the animal is really getting what it needs. That means checking for signs of discomfort, aggression, or illness. You should never leave a child and a bearded dragon—or any animal, for that matter—unattended until they are a bit older and mature.
Bearded dragons are hard to care for in a lot of ways, especially monetarily. But this is true of most pets. They are an investment, their care continues to be an investment, and they can live for upwards of 15 years with proper care. A bearded dragon is not something you should purchase if you’re not 100% ready to commit to giving it all that it needs.
That said, all pets are hard to care for and my goal is not to convince you to not purchase a bearded dragon. Compared to many other reptiles they are not too difficult to care for. In fact, I would put them in the beginner category of pet reptiles. My goal is simply to help you understand the big responsibility of caring for pet reptiles.
Once you’ve got a good routine going, though, taking care of your bearded dragon really does become easy. You’ll have the fun-spirited, quirky lizard of your dreams. You just have to be willing to work to get there and to keep them healthy and happy for as long as possible.