Occasional Contributor

New or Potential Bearded Dragon Owners Please Read

I'm writing this as a 37 year-old female that has owned pet reptiles since I was the age of 8 years old, and who lost my male Bearded Dragon last year at the age of 11 years old (I got him when he was just over a month old). I currently have a female Beardie who just turned 7 months old and who is in perfect health, is already over 17" long, and already weighs nearly 400 grams.

I'm an active and senior member of the Bearded Dragon forums at www.beardeddragon.org, which I highly recommend any and all new Bearded Dragon owners or people thinking or preparing to get a pet Bearded Dragon join immediately, as it is absolutely without a doubt the most accurate, informative source for information on PROPER Bearded Dragon health, lighting, habitat, behavior, breeding and egg-laying, and anything and everything else related to PROPERLY caring for a pet Bearded Dragon. Unfortunately I have found that 99% of the information given to potential and current Bearded Dragon owners by pet store employees, breeders, and other Bearded Dragon forums is completely wrong and detrimental to their Bearded Dragon's health and well-being.

Let's face it: Most pet store employees, especially those that work at big-box pet stores know nothing about properly caring for a Bearded Dragon. It's a very unfortunate and ironic reality that is proven every single day by the vast number of new Beardie owners frantically coming onto our forum, begging for help for their sick or dying baby Bearded Dragon. And at least 90% of the time in these situations, after we learn about the habitats that they are keeping their new Bearded Dragons in, what substrate they have in the bottom of their Beardie's enclosure, what light bulbs they are using as UVA, UVB, and heat sources for their Beardies, and what the temperatures are inside their Beardie's enclosure (and what they are using to measure these temperatures), we can immediately diagnose why their Bearded Dragon is lethargic, not moving, not eating, not drinking, is having muscle twitching, is having seizures, is vomiting, is not pooping, has runny or smelly poops, has undigested food in their poop, has lumps or bumps on their bodies, has bent or misshapen extremities and/or tails, is constantly keeping their eyes shut, or is flipping itself over onto it's back.

These are the most common complaints, signs, and symptoms reported by new Bearded Dragon owners, and in all honesty the cause is 100% improper habitat, lighting, or diet. Their Beardies are typically not ill, or at least do not have an illness caused by a parasite, bacteria, or fungus. They are ill because their owners do not have the proper set-ups or diets for their Beardies, and after these new, worried Beardie owners realize that nearly everything they bought for their new pet is inadequate, the universal response we get from them is "I don't understand, I bought everything the person at the pet store told me I needed", or "How can this be, I bought a kit specifically made for Bearded Dragons", or "The pet shop employee and I built a kit for my new Beardie piece by piece", or "The guy at the pet shop was the reptile specialist, how could he not know that crushed walnut shell substrate could kill my Bearded Dragon?" (I use the crushed walnut shell substrate as a specific example because it's a very common reason young Beardies die). The truth of the matter is that most pet shops, especially big-box pet shops, do not educate their employees on specific reptile husbandry at all, they often don't even have the correct set-ups for the live reptiles they're selling. I cannot tell you how many PetSmarts and Petcos I've been in where the Bearded Dragon tanks did not have ANY UVB light at all, or the UVB light they were using was a coil bulb, burning the young Bearded Dragon's eyes so badly that they all had their eyes completely shut full-time. They put too many lizards in the same tank that is too small for one baby Bearded Dragon, and every baby inside the tiny tank has a nipped tail (usually infected as well) and is missing toenails and entire toes. Bearded dragons are solitary reptiles, meaning that they live alone in their natural, wild environments. They don't want to be with other Bearded Dragons at any time other than the males who want to be with a female to mate and that's it. So as a result of pet store employees selling multiple baby bearded dragons to one person and telling them they can live together in the same enclosure "As long as you buy them a bigger enclosure when they get older", we get numerous, daily posts from people who have had two Beardies living in the same enclosure since they bought them as babies 6 months prior, have had no issues at all, and then suddenly one of their Beardies attacked the other one, causing severe injuries that require a Certified Herp Vet or even killing the other Beardie. Or often these multi-beardie owners come on and say that they have one bearded dragon that is thriving and growing, while it's tank mate is half the size of the other beardie, is lethargic, and stopped eating. Often times they will post a photo of this beardie and not only do we see a tiny, malnourished, stunted beardie that has been dominated by it's tank mate and not allowed to eat much if any live food, but often the poor, scared, stressed beardie is missing multiple toes, feet, legs, and almost always has no tail. And the owner now cannot afford to buy an entire separate set-ups and lighting, and says that they never would have bought two bearded dragons if the pet store employee had not told them they could safely and happily be housed together.

Because every single body system and bodily function of a Bearded Dragon relies upon the proper wavelength and amount of UVB light per day, as well as a proper basking spot temperature and a proper temperature gradient inside their enclosure, I'm posting a very quick, direct, and accurate guide below explaining what the correct UVB light for bearded dragons (the one sold in the United States), yes that's right, there is only ONE UVB LIGHT sold in the US that provides both the appropriate wavelength and amount of UVB light for bearded dragons (excluding the very expensive Mercury Vapor Bulbs). This guide also explains the only other light bulb you need to have for a Bearded Dragon in addition to the UVB light, a bright white basking bulb, as well as the proper basking spot temperature, proper tank temperature gradient, and how to use the basking bulb and the basking spot to achieve those temperatures; also what to use to get the 3 main temperature readings in a bearded dragon's enclosure, as the cheap, round thermometers that pet shops have stuck-on the glass in every live reptile tank are absolute junk and obviously do not and cannot give an accurate temperature reading for a particular spot, but only a general air temperature near where it's stuck, which is often off by +/- 10-20 degrees. That's right folks, pet shops have NO IDEA what their reptile tanks temperature is, and don't even attempt to get a basking spot temperature...Do you?

Before I posting the guide below, which I wrote as a response to a new beardie owner's questions about why her new baby Beardie is not moving, won't eat, and has its eyes constantly closed, I want to give the best bit of advice I can give to anyone preparing to get a pet Bearded Dragon by buying and setting-up the enclosure first: DO NOT BUY A "STARTER KIT" OR ANY "KIT" THAT IS MEANT TO BE FOR A BEARDED DRAGON; BUY INDIVIDUAL ITEMS! No matter what manufacturer's kit you're looking at, All Living Things, Exo-Terra, National Geographic, Zilla, etc., they all contain incorrect lighting, incorrect thermometers, and incorrect substrates. The only things you are getting in any of those kits that you will not need to replace are the enclosure/tank itself (which you WILL HAVE TO EVENTUALLY REPLACE with a bigger enclosure when your Bearded Dragon reaches about 6 months old anyway), and one of the light fixtures that holds a normal light bulb, which you will need to hold your bright white basking bulb. That's it, the rest of the kit is complete rubbish.

Here's EVERYTHING you need to set-ups a proper, accurate, healthy enclosure for a baby Bearded Dragon (if you think or you hear that you cannot put a baby Bearded Dragon into an enclosure large enough for an adult Bearded Dragon, this is totally incorrect information, after all, they live in the desert as babies from birth, with unlimited space, small baby Beardies will thrive in a very large enclosure; you will obviously save a ton of money by buying the only enclosure your Bearded Dragon will ever need right off the bat):

-Enclosure (at least a 40 gallon breeder tank (most common enclosure used) with a mesh lid; ideally an enclosure that measures 4'x2'x2' minimum); cost varies, check Craigslist for a used one, a new 40 gallon breeder tank with a mesh lid costs between $50-$100
-18" or 24" Reptisun 10.0 T8 UVB Tube Bulb (18" bulb costs $37 in-store at Petco but is only $23 online at www.petmountain.com)
-18" or 24" T8 Flourescent Tube Light Fixture (costs $10 at Walmart)
-100 watt or 150 watt bright white halogen Indoor Flood Bulb for the Basking Light ($3 at Walmart, $1 at Dollar Tree)
-6", 8", or 10" Clamp Lamp Fixture ($6-$8 at Walmart for the generic metal fixture, Walmart also sells a Flukers Reptile clamp lamp in the pet department for $15)
***-You typically do not need any light at all for nighttime, and want ALL LIGHTS OFF at night! All of the "Nighttime Bulbs", whether they are moonlight bulbs, infrared bulbs, etc. disrupt the sleep of Bearded Dragons and you want NO LIGHTS OF ANY COLOR ON AT NIGHTTIME! If your house stays at 65 degrees Fahrenheit or above at night and your Bearded Dragon's enclosure stays at 65 degrees Fahrenheit or above at night with no lights on, then you are fine and you need NO NIGHTTIME HEAT SOURCE. However, if your house or your Beardie's enclosure does drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night with all of his lights off, then you need to buy a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) and a second Clamp Lamp Fixture for it. A CHE looks kind of like a coil bulb but it does not emit any light at all, just heat. A CHE fits into a regular lightbulb fixture, so if you think you're going to buy a CHE then you'll need to buy 2 Clamp Lamp Fixtures, one for your bright white basking bulb and one for the CHE. ONLY USE THE CHE AT NIGHT WHILE THE BASKING LAMP IS OFF, AS IT WILL RAISE THE TEMPERATURE IN THE ENCLOSURE! Some people also use a CHE during the day while their basking light is on, ONLY if the basking bulb isn't keeping the hot side temperature between 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit. You can buy a CHE at Petco for between $10-$20).
-Digital Thermometer with Probe on a Wire ($9.99 at Petco); Accurite brand Digital Thermometer and Hygrometer (humidity reading) with a Probe on a Wire sold at Walmart for $12)
-Solid Substrate (NEVER USE A LOOSE SUBSTRATE FOR A BABY BEARDED DRAGON UNDER ONE YEAR OF AGE, THEY WILL INGEST IT AND BECOME IMPACTED; FOR ADULT BEARDED DRAGONS YOU CAN USE ONLY SCREEN-WASHED PLAYSAND, 50 pounds costs $3 at Home Depot); Solid Substrates include paper towels, non-adhesive shelf liner, ceramic or vinyl tiles, Reptile Carpet
-Various Enclosure Decorations (You need a hide or something your baby can get under for shade and privacy, and you need something to use as a basking spot that will allow your Bearded Dragon to be within 6"-8" inches from the bright white basking light, can be a rock, piece of driftwood, a specifically made reptile basking platform, etc.; You obviously can buy a ton of different decorations for your enclosure, I do not recommend the green, plastic reptile hammocks or climbing ladders, they tend to get their toes and toenails caught in them and break their toes and feet. I also do not recommend fake, plastic plants for babies because they tend to try to eat them and can become impacted).
-Calcium Powder w/D3 (Walmart sells Flukers brand for $3.28)
-A Multivitamin Powder made for Bearded Dragons (Repashy Calcium plus is what I use because on vitamin days I can just use it and not have to also add separate calcium powder, plus the Repashy uses Beta Carotene as it's Vitamin A source rather than synthetic vitamin A that can cause toxicity easily in Beardies; Repashy Calcium Plus costs $7 at Petco)

AND THAT'S IT! No red, blue, or black colored bulbs, no night bulbs, no heat mats or heat rocks (NEVER USE A HEAT ROCK FOR A BEARDED DRAGON, VERY BAD, WILL BURN THEM AND DOES NO GOOD, THEY GET THEIR HEAT FROM ABOVE), that is all you need for a proper Bearded Dragon set-up, and this will provide the correct and adequate UVB light, UVA light, Calcium and vitamin supplementation, everything good and nothing bad or unnecessary.


Here's The Guide:

You've got multiple bad things going on here, I'll try to help you as much as I can but you need to fix a lot of things very quickly or you're going to end up having a very sick or dead Bearded Dragon.

Bearded Dragons are very, very specific in their lighting and heating needs, because without the correct wavelength and amount of UVB light, and without the correct temperature in their basking area, they cannot process their nutrition, which causes huge problems. They cannot process their calcium or make vitamin D3 or process it either, so if their UVB light and basking light/temperature is wrong it doesn't matter if you dust their insects in calcium and D3 or sprinkle it on their veggies every day, they won't be able to process it. And if their basking spot is not hot enough they cannot digest anything they eat, and eventually they will stop eating all together. They will not grow at the appropriate rate and will eventually stop growing. So you're looking at a stunted bearded dragon that is going to be under sized, skinny, dehydrated, and also has Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), both problems that will soon kill him.

His eyes are being effected by the coil UVB light bulb you have. As you stated, both coil and compact UVB bulbs are horrible for Bearded Dragons for a bunch of reasons, even though they put them in those "Bearded Dragon Starter Kits" that you end up having to replace everything that comes in them anyway and spending more money. Both the compact and coil UVB bulbs put out the completely wrong wavelength and amount of UVB light that Bearded Dragons need to process their vitamins and minerals, and to digest their food. So that coil UVB bulb you have is not doing a thing for him that's good, and unfortunately the coil bulbs also cause serious damage to their eyes. So that's what is wrong with his eye. If you turn that coil UVB light off you'll notice his eye getting better by the next day. The only UVB bulbs sold in this country that put out the correct wavelength and amount of UVB light for Bearded Dragons are the long, flourescent, tube bulbs that are made by ZooMed, called Reptisun 10.0 UVB bulbs. They are expensive but absolutely necessary if you want your Bearded Dragon to live. I don't know what size tank you have your Beardie in but they come in several different sizes of tubes, you'll need at least an 18" inch tube for your Beardie to receive proper UVB light.

So here's what you do: #1, turn off that coil UVB light you have and pitch it. His eyes will immediately start to get better, you can flush them, both eyes twice a day, with either turtle eyedrops or just the plain Visine eyedrops with no medicine added, just saline, in the meantime. Now, if you go to Petco for the 18" inch Reptisun 10.0 T5 UVB tube light it will cost you $37.99 in store, and I think right now they are like $27 on Petco online, so if you look it up on your phone on Petco's website and take your phone into your local Petco they'll price match their own online price. MAKE SURE YOU GET THE REPTISUN 10.0 T8 18" TUBE BULB THAT COMES IN A LONG YELLOW PACKAGE !!! Do not buy the Reptisun 5.0 T8 tube bulb that they also carry that comes in a long, red package! The 5.0 tube bulb is much cheaper, I believe the regular in store price is $25.99 vs. $37.99 regular in store price for the 10.0 T8, but the 5.0 tube bulb is for tropical reptiles, not desert reptiles, and will not do anything for your Bearded Dragon. I've seen people make this common mistake because the 5.0 T8 tube bulb is cheaper that the 10.0 T8 tube bulb, but you must have the 10.0 T8 tube bulb!!!

After you buy the 18" inch Reptisun 10.0 T8 UVB tube bulb, you'll need a fixture for it... DON'T BUY THE $70 fixture at Petco...Also, please DO NOT BUY THE 18" INCH ZILLA 50 DESERT T8 TUBE BULB AND FIXTURE COMBO FOR $39.99 AT PETCO!!! t seems like a good deal because you get the bulb and the fixture for $39.99, but it's not the correct wavelength or amount of UVB light for your Beardie! A lot of the store staff at Petco mean well but don't have a clue what they're talking about, they sell what they want to sell, or they just advise people to buy the same lights that work for a tropical gecko or another lizard, and Bearded Dragons have very different needs! While the Zilla 50 T8 is a tube UVB bulb and won't hurt his eyes, it will not allow him to process his food. AND IF YOU FOLLOW MY DIRECTIONS YOU WON'T SPEND ANY MORE THAN $38 FOR THE PROPER UVB BULB AND FIXTURE!!!

So after you buy the 18 inch Reptisun 10.0 UVB bulb at Petco for $26.99 instead of the regular in store retail of $37.99 by price matching their online price, go to Walmart, and go back to the aisle where the light bulbs are. They sell a regular old 18" flourescent tube light fixture for $10! GET ONE THAT SAYS IT COMES WITH A REFLECTIVE BACKING, MOST IF NOT ALL DO BUT MAKE SURE! The Reptisun UVB Tube bulb you're buying at Petco is a normal T8 tube light bulb, so any of the Walmart 18" flourescent tube fixtures will work perfectly! THE FIXTURE YOU BUY AT WALMART WILL HAVE A FLEXIBLE, PLASTIC COVER OVER WHERE THE TUBE BULB SHINES THROUGH...REMOVE THIS FLEXIBLE PLASTIC AND THROW IT AWAY!!! IT WILL BLOCK THE UVB!!! Also, while you're in Walmart and in the lightbulb aisle, find a normal, every day, BRIGHT WHITE (not "soft white") 90 watt or 100 watt light bulb. (Obviously not an LED bulb, just a normal, household light bulb). 100 watt will most likely be what you'll find, and judging by your temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit the 100 watt is what you need. This will now be your basking bulb, your 60 watt basking bulb, whatever it is, isn't a high enough wattage and doesn't keep his tank nearly hot enough. I'll explain that in a second, but keep in mind that for a bearded dragon you do not need a special, expensive basking bulb at all, all you need is normal, every day, household "BRIGHT WHITE" light bulb (must be "BRIGHT" white, not soft white or yellow). These are the only two bulbs you'll need for your Beardie, the long tube Reptisun 10.0 UVB and the 100 watt bright white basking bulb. That's it for bulbs!!! And you'll want to put them side-by-side and have them always on at the same time, so your beardie will always be getting the proper UVB light while he's basking!!!

So here's the deal on tank temperatures for Bearded Dragons:

#1, you need a proper thermometer with a probe that you can move around and place on the exact 3 spots that are important to his health and well-being. Those stick-on, round thermometers that are cheap and you buy at Petco and everywhere else suck, they are usually off, + or - 10 to 20 degrees, and you can't measure his basking spot temperature, which is the most important temperature to a beardie. You can buy a digital thermometer with a probe on a wire at Petco while you're buying the Reptisun UVB tube, they cost $9.99 and they have a Petco brand one that is black and a Zoomed one that is yellow, both are fine and both I believe are the same price. Again, they have a little digital thermometer body with a small LCD screen and then a wire coming out of it with a black probe connected. You place the digital part outside of the tank somewhere with suction cups that come with it, and then you run the probe inside his tank so you can move it to measure the 3 temperature spots.

So there needs to be a temperature gradient developed inside your beardie's tank, from cold side to hot side, and then you'll have the hottest spot, his basking spot, elevated and directly under the new Reptisun UVB Tube and the new bright white, 100 watt basking lightbulb. You'll measure all 3 spots by moving the probe on the new thermometer into each spot and letting it sit there for at least 30 minutes to allow it to heat up and get an accurate reading. The correct 3 temperatures for your beardie's tank in order for him to process his vitamins and minerals, digest his food, and for him to be comfortable are as follows:

Cold Side: 74-80 degrees Fahrenheit
Hot Side: 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit
Basking Spot: 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit (0-1 year old); 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit (1 year old and older); I don't know how old your beardie is so pay attention to this change in his basking spot temperature depending on his age.

You change the temperature of his basking spot by raising and lowering the basking spot and/or the basking light. It would be easier to direct you if I knew how large your tank was. It should be at least a 20 gallon long tank if your beardie is 0-1 year old, at 1 year old and up he'll need at least a 40 gallon long, also known as a 40 gallon breeder tank. The 20 gallon long tank allows for a temperature gradient between hot and cold sides. If you have a small baby dragon in a 10 gallon tank it's impossible to establish a proper temperature gradient because the tank is too small. So if you're using a 10 gallon tank you can really only make sure to get his basking spot temperature correct, as that's controllable by raising and lowering the basking spot and/or the basking light, but you're better off to buy at least a 20 gallon long if not the 40 gallon breeder because a 10 gallon is way too small anyway. This is also why using a household BRIGHT white lightbulb is nice, they're cheap and if you find the 100watt is putting his basking spot temperature above 110 degrees no matter what you do, you can go down to a 75 watt. Again, I don't know what size tank you have or I'd be better able to tell you what bulb to get; 60 watt like you have is definitely not high enough wattage.

Measure the cool side temperature and the hot side temperature by placing the probe on the floor in the middle of that side for 30 minutes. The basking spot temperature is measured by putting the probe right where he lays after he eats. The Reptisun tube UVB light needs to be within 6-8 inches of his basking spot for him to get the amount of UVB light he needs, so again, depending on your tank size and height, you may need to get him a taller basking spot, or even better for him all the way around, get some of the heavy-duty Velcro at Walmart that holds up to 10 pounds, it costs like $3-$4 for enough to do this, and mount the UVB tube fixture INSIDE his tank, velcroing it to the underside of the tank lid. I have mine stuck to the underside of the mesh screen lid with this heavy-duty Velcro so that it puts my girl's UVB tube fixture 6 inches away from her basking spot, and my basking bulb in still on top of the lid. You don't want the basking lamp inside the tank, just the UVB, because believe it or not, up to 50% of the UVB can be absorbed or blocked by the mesh or glass lid! ALSO, ONCE AGAIN, MAKE SURE YOU REMOVE THAT CLEAR, FLEXIBLE, PLASTIC COVER THAT COMES WITH THE TUBE LIGHT FIXTURE YOU BUY AT WALMART TO COVER THE LIGHT BULB!!! UVB lights throw little to no heat, so don't worry about him being too close to the UVB light, he needs it and it won't burn him.

The only other thing I can think of is dusting your beardie's crickets with calcium powder WITH D3, as well as sprinkling it on his veggies. If he is 0-1 year old you should dust all of his insects and sprinkle it on all of his veggies EVERY SINGLE DAY! After he turns a year old you can do the same every other day. If he's over a year old now, I suggest you use it every single day for the next 6 months to compensate for the lack of proper UVB light, then switch to every other day. You can actually now buy Flukers Calcium Powder with D3 at Walmart, in the aquarium section by the fish food, towards the bottom. It's a little white container and costs $3-4. Also, you should be dusting all of his insects with a multivitamin powder like Repashy, Herpavite, etc. that you purchase at Petco, and be doing this 4 days a week from now on throughout his life.
New Member

Re: New or Potential Bearded Dragon Owners Please Read

Wow, your the only one who actually KNOWS anything. I totally agree on what you think. My brother has a beardie, and he used sand when he first got it, because the petco worker told him so. He then, when he put it in its new tank, put in sand. Later, he was looking at bearded dragon care online, and saw "Sand is dangerous for bearded dragons. DO NOT use it as a substrate, as it can KILL them." So he instantly got every last grain of sand out of the bottom of that tank and switched to paper towel. He also found other things the petco worker told him that he was doing wrong. Now, I am writing this about a year later. His beardie is healthy, and has the right habitat. Also, he has a Crested Newt. They are so rare, I cant believe he found one at a store. I like reptiles aswell. I have a leopard gecko, and his name is Leonardo Quinton Cinnamon Buns (Leo for short). Im sure your article will be VERY helpful to new beardie owners. It has ALL the information you would need. I hope more people see this.

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