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How to Raise a Baby Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are becoming very popular pets, and it’s not hard to see why. Babies are very cute, and adults are so calm and quiet that even people who say they would never have a reptile in the house are often swayed to change their minds once they have had an opportunity to get close to them.
Many people were bought as pets as an impulse buy – babies are sold very cheaply today and are readily available, and although some people read and prepare for their new pets, there are still a large number who take one with little or no. advice at all. Unfortunately many staff at pet stores and reptile centers are ignorant of proper housing and feeding arrangements leading to bearded dragons having unhealthy and often short lives.
If you are tempted to buy a baby bearded dragon here are some tips to help you raise a bearded dragon well.
1. Bearded dragons grow big and fast
Although you may look at a baby that is only 5 to 6 inches long, by the time it is twelve months old, it will be between 18 and 22 inches long and will weigh up to 700 grams. Adults need a vivarium that is 4ft x 2ft x 2ft in size, and they will probably need this when they are eight to ten months old. Therefore it is a false economy to buy a smaller vivarium with the intention of upgrading as it grows larger, and it is better to buy the larger size first. Too many live in vivariums where they can’t turn properly without hitting their nose on the glass and tail on the background.
Despite the myth baby bearded dragons do not feel lost in a large vivarium – after all, in the desert there is no one to give them a feather for their first weeks!
To grow at the speed they do means they have big appetites and need to eat a lot and often as babies. They are not cheap pets to keep – a bearded dragon can cost as much as a puppy or cat to feed every week.
2. Bearded dragons need the right temperature
From the hot arid desert of Australia they need to have a temperature range in their vivarium that mimics their natural environment. Setting up a mini desert in your home is part of the fun of keeping them. Being cold-blooded animals thermoregulate – that is, when it is too hot they should be able to move to a cooler area, and when it is too cold they should be able to move to get warm. The vivarium needs to have a basking spot under a heat lamp that reaches a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other end of the ‘cool end’ of the vivarium should be no more than 85 degrees. At night they should be able to experience a good temperature drop, so the heating should be turned off as long as the ambient temperature does not fall below 65 degrees for babies, and 60 degrees for adults. Temperatures should be maintained at the correct levels using a thermostat.
Heat should be provided by a heat lamp – dragon beard does not absorb the heat from below, and indeed, can not feel it. Heat stones and heat mats can easily burn them, so should not be used.
3. Bearded dragons need UVB exposure
In the desert, they bask under the sun’s strong rays that provide UVB and help them synthesize vitamin D3. This is very important because it means they can use the calcium that is essential to help their growth. Lack of UVB leads to metabolic bone disease (MBD) which causes limb deformities, and can only be treated if caught early, and is often fatal. UVB requirements are the highest of all reptiles kept in captivity. A fluorescent tube runs the length of the vivarium to ensure exposure to UVB the entire time the light is on. The best tubes to use are Reptisun 10% or Arcadia 12%.
If they are exposed to UVB for 12 hours in the vivarium, they get enough UVB, but even this is only equivalent to about 20 minutes under the full Australian sun. For this reason, bearded dragons should not be given hides because hiding them will reduce their exposure to beneficial UVB rays.
Babies are not accurate eaters and tend to pick up loose and clogged substrates in food. Kitchen towel is the best substrate for babies because it does not carry any risk. Do not use sand until the baby is six months old, and NEVER use woodchips. This is to prevent the impact of the stomach which is usually fatal.
5. Set up the Vivarium before you buy a bearded dragon
When you have your vivarium, you will find that the temperatures will fluctuate at first, and you will need time to play with the position of the probe for the thermostat before you find the correct temperature range. Setting up the vivarium and letting it settle for about a week before bringing your baby home is the best idea.
6. Bring home a baby bearded dragon
Most babies will travel quite comfortably in a small black box. There is no need for additional heating unless the weather is very cold. In this case you can use a hot water bottle to keep the box warm.
When you first bring your new baby home you may find that he eats the first lot of crickets you put in the vivarium, and refuses to eat. Many new owners worry about this, but it is only a reaction to the stress of moving. It takes up to a fortnight for a baby to settle into a normal eating pattern.
To help it settle in it’s best to resist that urge to pull it out and handle it. Give it two weeks to settle before you pick it up. You can start using it by putting your hand in the vivarium when feeding or cleaning it.
When it’s time to start touching, pick it up by sliding your hand under it and pick it up. In the wild, their main predators are birds, so anything that comes above them scares them.
From time to time your baby will get lines like tiger marks on his belly. These are stress lines, but don’t worry about them. Many things cause momentary stress in a baby, and most are nothing to be concerned about. It could be a dark colored dress they suddenly see out of the corner of their eyes.
The next morning, your beardie will be cold and still. It takes about an hour to warm up and start moving around which is the same as it would be in the desert. Just make sure you allow them time to wake up well before offering food.
7. Feed your baby Bearded Dragon
Babies up to the age of 12 weeks need to eat 3 times a day with small-sized crickets (first or second stage). Each meal should be as much as they can eat in 10 minutes. One meal per day with calcium should be removed to prevent MBD. Finely chopped vegetables or fruits should always be available. By adulthood your beardie will be 80% vegetarian, so he needs to get used to eating vegetables early.
The best live food is crickets because of the amount they eat. You can eat locusts, but this will work out much more expensive, and once they have eaten locusts some do not take to eating locusts against as they are more bitter. Do not eat a staple diet of mealworms as their skins contain a lot of chitin which bearded dragons cannot digest very well. Meal worms and wax worms can be offered as an occasional treat.
Most bearded dragons do not eat dry or frozen food, so you will need to get used to live food.
8. Join a forum
Baby bearded dragons seem to enjoy perplexing and worrying their new owners. Join a bearded dragon or reptile forum so you can ask for advice from people who have had the same concerns as you and will be able to give you advice and reassurance.
Raising a reptile that grows so fast is a great experience, and if you ensure their environment and diet are good, you will have a pet that will live healthily for more than 10 years. The first weeks and months are a critical period in raising a baby bearded dragon – they are not difficult to maintain just as long as you take the time to understand what they need to grow and develop properly.
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