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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 extremely cute, and the adults are so calm and peaceful that even people who say they would never have a reptile in the house are often swayed to change their minds once they get a chance to get close to them.
Many are bought as pets as an impulse buy – babies are sold quite cheaply these days and are readily available, and although some people read up and prepare for their new pet, there are still a large number who pick one up with little or nothing. any advice at all. Unfortunately many employees in pet stores and reptile centers are ignorant of the 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 properly.
1. Bearded Dragons grow Big and Fast
Although you may be looking 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 weigh up to 700 grams. Adults need a habitat that is 4ft x 2ft x 2ft in size, and will likely need this by the time they are eight to ten months old. It is therefore a false economy to buy a smaller habitat with the intention of upgrading when it grows larger, and it is best to buy the larger size first. Too many live in habitats 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 habitat – after all, in the desert no one gives them a feather during the first weeks!
Growing at the rate they do means they have big appetites and need to eat a lot and often like babies. They are not cheap pets to keep – a bearded dragon can cost as much as a small dog or cat to feed each week.
2. Bearded Dragons need the Right Temperatures
Coming from the hot arid desert of Australia they must have a temperature range in their habitat 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 they thermoregulate – that is, when too hot they should be able to move to a cooler area, and when too cold they should be able to move to warm up. The habitat must have a resting point under a heat lamp that reaches a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other end “the cool end” of the habitat 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 by using a thermostat.
Heat should be provided by a heat lamp – bearded dragons do not absorb heat from below, and indeed, cannot feel it. Heating stones and heat mats can easily burn them, so should not be used.
3. Bearded dragons need UVB Exposure
In the desert they play under the strong rays of the sun, which provides UVB and helps them synthesize vitamin D3. This is vital as it means they can use calcium which is essential to help their growth. The lack of UVB will lead to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) which causes deformities of the limbs, and which can only be treated if caught early, and is often fatal. Their UVB requirements are the highest of all reptiles kept in captivity. A fluorescent tube running the length of the habitat ensures that they are exposed to UVB the entire time the light is on. The best tubes to use are the Reptisun 10% or Arcadia 12%.
If they are exposed to UVB for 12 hours in the habitat, they get enough UVB, but even that is only equivalent to about 20 minutes under the full Australian sun. Therefore, furs should not be provided for bearded dragons because hiding will decrease their exposure to the beneficial UVB rays.
Babies are not precise eaters and tend to take loose substrate with mouthfuls of food. A kitchen towel is the best substrate for babies because it has no risk. Do not use sand until the baby is six months old, and NEVER use wood chips. This is to prevent an impact in the stomach, which is usually fatal.
5. Set up the Vivarium Before buying a Bearded Dragon
When you have your habitat, 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 get the right temperature. Setting up the habitat and letting it settle for about a week before you bring your baby home is the best idea.
6. Bringing Home a Bean Bearded Dragon
Most babies will travel quite comfortably in a small dark box. No additional heating is needed 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 it eats the first lot of crickets you eagerly put in the habitat, and then refuses to eat. Many new owners worry about this, but it’s just 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 take it out and handle it. Give it two weeks to settle before you take it. You can start to habituate it by putting your hand in the habitat while feeding or cleaning it.
When it’s time to start handling, grab it by sliding your hand under it and pulling it out. In the wild, their main predators are birds, so everything that comes up to them scares them.
From time to time your baby will get lines like tiger marks on his belly. These are stretch lines, but don’t worry too much about them. Many things cause momentary stress to a baby, and most are nothing to worry about. It could be a dark colored coat that they suddenly see out of the corner of their eye.
In the morning your beard will be cold and still. It takes about an hour for them to warm up and start moving, which is exactly how it would be in the desert. Just make sure you allow them time to wake up properly before offering food.
7. Feeding your baby Bearded Dragon
Babies up to the age of 12 weeks should be fed 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 a day should be dusted with calcium to prevent MBD. Finely chopped vegetables or fruits should always be available. When an adult 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 grasshoppers, but this will turn out to be much more expensive, and after eating grasshoppers, some do not eat crickets, because they are more bitter. Do not feed a basic diet of mealworms because their skins are high in chitin, which bearded dragons cannot digest very well. Mealworms and waxworms can be offered as an occasional treat.
Most bearded dragons do not eat dried or frozen food, so you will have to get used to feeding them live food.
8. Join a Forum
Baby bearded dragons seem to enjoy perplexing and unsettling 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 can give you advice and reassurance.
Raising a reptile that grows so fast is a great experience, and if you make sure their environment and feeding regime is right, you will have a pet that will live healthily for over 10 years. The first weeks and months are a critical period for raising a baby bearded dragon – they are not difficult to maintain as long as you take the time to understand what they need to grow and develop properly.
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