Fallen in love with a Bearded Dragon and you're unsure what to do? Look no further...
Updated: 4 days ago
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Pre-purchase Bearded Dragon Checklist
Unless you have experience with a certain animal, buying an animal on a whim is not usually a good idea. Researching the particular animal you want to bring home before doing so will ensure you are aware of lifespan, size, compatibility - with your existing animals and also your lifestyle, requirements - both husbandry and dietary, and detection of problems. A Bearded Dragon is no exception to this. Species dependent, your Bearded Dragon can live over a decade so make sure this is a commitment you are willing to take on. Lifespan isn’t the only contributing factor in this decision, cost is also a factor. A proper Bearded Dragon set up initially isn’t cheap.
There are several things to consider after deciding a Bearded Dragon is for you. Which species has caught your eye? There are 8 species of Dragon in the Bearded Dragon genus. Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata), Blacksoil Plains Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni), Kimberley Bearded Dragon (Pogona microlepidota), Western Dwarf Bearded Dragon( Pogona minor minor),Western Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minima), North-west Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor mitchelli) Nullarbor Bearded Dragon (Pogona nullarbor) and Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps). The most commonly kept species are the Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) and the Blacksoil Plains Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni) which means they will be a lot easier to source. The Kimberly Bearded Dragon (Pogona microlepidota) and the Nullarbor Bearded Dragon (Pogona nullarbor) are not likely kept in captivity.
After deciding upon the species of Bearded Dragon you will need to check that your state allows you to keep that particular species (E.g. Tasmania will not allow you to import and keep any reptile that is not native to Tasmania). Most states require you to get a reptile licence to allow you to keep any reptile, but some states don’t require you to have a licence if you only want to keep one of a common reptile (E.g. Victoria will allow you to keep one Blue-tongued Lizard without a licence or paperwork for that lizard). It can get extremely confusing, especially as each state differs from the next, so the best advice I can give you is ring the correct government department in your state and ask. If you still have your doubts, get them to email you what they told you over the phone so you have it in writing. Once you know whether or not you are able to go ahead with your desired pet you will most likely need to get yourself a licence. Everything these days is done online - it's a Government website - the best advice I can offer you there is allow plenty of time and maybe if you're an adult, pour a drink or grab your stress ball! Receiving your licence should be instantaneous once you have paid your licencing fee.
I cannot stress to you how important researching your Bearded Dragon is. And I mean proper research, not just throwing a question out to a broad-spectrum group on Facebook. Read a book or two, go to a website that is well respected in the field, join a reputable Australian Bearded Dragon page on Facebook (there is a massive difference between the Australian Facebook pages dedicated to Bearded Dragon lovers and the American ones unfortunately - a quick glance through posts should let you see the differences), etc. Researching how your Bearded Dragon lives in the wild will help you immensely when it comes to enclosure set-up, husbandry needs, dietary requirements, animal traits, temperament, compatibility, natural enrichment and so much more. By researching how your Bearded Dragon lives in the wild can also help you with a few little teething problems. E.g. - you have bought a very young Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) but no matter what you do he will not drink out of a bowl. Researching your lizard in the wild would tell you that they drink the dew off plants, rocks etc. So spraying the enclosure with water from a spray bottle will do the trick until he learns to drink from a bowl.
It is a much smoother process if you have your enclosure set up and tested before bringing home your Bearded Dragon. It’s like cycling a fish tank with bacteria and checking your PH levels - you will need to make sure your enclosure is set up properly and maintains the proper temperature and humidity levels your Bearded Dragon requires to thrive. My advice on your enclosure would be - bigger is better if you can do it. They will utilize the space. They will also get exercise which is very important in keeping your animal in peak condition. It has been proven natural enrichment keeps animals healthier and happier. When buying an enclosure for the first time my advice is not to go straight to the pet shop - unfortunately most will just try to sell you what is most expensive and everything that goes with it. This is where your research comes in handy (I keep going back to this!) - a reputable group on Facebook will be able to tell you what they have found worked for them and what didn't. Eg a fish tank is not going to keep in heat and humidity like a wooden enclosure with a glass or Perspex front (either store bought or custom made) will. You don’t have to buy that $100 piece of driftwood in the pet shop, you will be able to get advice on how to make sure that cool branch in your Bottlebrush tree is safe to put in for climbing/basking and nail trimming. If you can have your enclosure set up for about a week beforehand and measure your temps in your hot end, cool end and basking spots you will be able to see what is working, what isn’t and have time to adjust what you need to before bringing home your new pet. Enclosure aside you will also need substrate (cover for the enclosure floor), hides, climbing apparatus, drink and food bowls, something to bask on and a heat source for basking, UV light and casing, thermometer and of course food (live crickets, mealworms or wood roaches in the beginning until they readily accept vegetable matter as well as they do insects).
Inland Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps about to make short work of a mealworm.
In this week find yourself a good reptile vet. If you are in rural areas you may be restricted with choice, but having the vet’s phone number and address handy saves a lot of stress trying to find one in a hurry if you are in a panic. It is also helpful to get Betadine and F10 in this week to ensure you have them on hand. Betadine is good to have in the medicine cabinet for cuts, abrasions and some skin disorders. F10 is a veterinary grade disinfectant.
Now we get to the exciting part - sourcing your animal! Where you live in Australia will have some impact on sourcing your animal. Not every state allows the sale of Bearded Dragons in pet shops so you may have to find a breeder. If you find a good breeder that isn’t close don’t rule them out - freight may be an option. A pet shop will always be more expensive than a breeder. They have overheads that breeders do not, but they also have the convenience of you being able to get everything you need in one spot. I am in no way preferring one option over another - both have their advantages and disadvantages. This is also where researching your animal will have huge benefits (back to this again!) - you will know what you need and what you don’t need, if the information you have been given is correct or not which allows you to either proceed with the purchase or not. There are great breeders and pet shops, just as there are dodgy breeders and pet shops. By asking for recommendations in a reputable Australian Bearded Dragon group you will quickly learn who was great (and who was not!) with not only their animals but any aftercare queries you may have.
A young Eastern Bearded Dragon, Pogona barbata
If possible see your Bearded Dragon before purchasing. The enclosure the Bearded Dragon lives in is a good indicator on health and husbandry. It should be clean. Ask the breeder/pet shop to feed it in front of you so you know that it is eating unaided and the lunges for the crickets are on point. A healthy Bearded Dragon should have all limbs and toes (5 front toes and also 5 back toes) and all of its tail. (Bearded Dragons are often housed together when young, sometimes up to 20 per enclosure. They are movement orientated. It is not uncommon for hatchlings housed this way to be missing digits or tail tips as they have mistaken a sibling’s tail as a cricket or wood roach out of the corner of their eye).Their eyes should be alert, not sunken or cloudy and definitely without any discharge. They should be active and responsive, not lethargic. They shouldn't be overly skinny, especially in their tail and lower back. Ask to handle the Bearded Dragon you are looking at purchasing. Ensuring it cannot escape from your hands visually make sure there are no deformities, lumps and open wounds. A healthy Bearded Dragon should be upright in your hands, not limp. While you have your Bearded Dragon close check the mouth and nostrils. There should be no phlegm, bubbles, wheezing, sneezing, blockages and the Bearded Dragon should not have laboured breathing. There should be nothing blocking the ears, nostrils and mouth and the inside of the mouth should be yellow in colour. At this point it is also a good idea to check the cloaca, toes and ear openings for retained shed.
When it comes to determining the sex of a very young hatchling Bearded Dragon, there is no reliable method other than candling. Males will have a slightly thicker tail at the base, but this can prove an unreliable method if some from the same clutch grow faster than others or they are mid-way through a growth spurt.
Compatibility is always a hot topic. In the wild, bearded dragons are solitary and do not want or need the company of other lizards. If this is attempted invariably one lizard becomes dominant over the other which can lead to stress and subsequent health problems. Some do it and never ever have a problem, while others do it and have nothing but problems. If you are going to keep more than Bearded Dragon in an enclosure you have to realise that they may not get along, so purchasing another enclosure in case of emergencies would be a good idea.
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