CARING FOR YOUR BABY BEARDED DRAGON
Before you start reading… I’ve made a brand new website that answer your questions and MORE.
Please visit it here: Baby Dragon Care
Meet Jonathon Blink, an inquisitive young dragon of the pogona-persuasion. If you are reading this page, then most likely it is because (1) you are curious as to the proper care for your baby (hatchling) bearded dragon, or (2) you are looking for a page where you can get some first-hand advice on restoring the health of a dragon that has taken a turn for the worst.
If you are anything like me, you have a parental bond to your pet. Much of your happiness rests on his or her happiness and health, am I right? This attitude is pretty standard, and in my opinion, key! If you aren’t interested in the habits, characteristics, and mood of your new pet… you don’t really deserve one.
My Brief Story: Beginning as a “young pup” I grew up with a fondness for anything living (except maybe bats). Thinking back, we always had a dog, a cat…but they always felt like a playful sibling to me. Reptiles on the other hand, where more of a “personal” pet, whereby it was your responsibility to re-create a replica of its natural environment (heat, humidity, wet/dryness,etc). Reptiles don’t have the freedom that we give other pets, but if we were to put ourselves in their scales…we’d certainly want an owner that is a herpetologically-knowledgeable-landscape -artist, who feeds, waters and cleans in a timely fashion. And that’s just what I became! In college, I got a job with Aquamain’s Fish and Reptile World in Greensboro, NC and quickly shot up the ladder to “Reptile & Plant Curator” [a big responsibility, but a labor of love]. For three years, I took care of 100s of snakes, spiders, geckos, and of course…dragons. It was with the dragons that I found that I had a talent for “reading” them… (don’t know what you wanna call it) …of discovering what they needed to survive. Back then I might have been called “The Dragon Whisperer” if the book/film had been popular in that time. The first dragon I owned was the worse of the lot, health-wise. The owner of store said to me, “This one’s a goner. If you want to take him home and see what you can do with him, be my guest.” I’ll spare you the long story, and just say that within a week, Judah Ben Hur made a complete turnaround and lived a full dragon’s life; even becoming a great-grandmother before she died peacefully in 2006.
You’ve just purchased your baby beardie,… so the drive to pet, love, and press the littl’ guy to your cheek must be driving you nuts, eh? Well, not so fast. There are a few rules to follow when handling baby beardies.
- Don’t use quick, jerky/nervous, movements when picking up your new pet. They are easily startled and plays heavily on their stress levels. Be confident and smooth in your approach [this will come with time]. Never pry your beardie off his/her perch. Coax him/her into your hand if you can, otherwise, pick him up at a more opportune time.
- Scoop under their body, supporting their trunk. Never grab by the tail and avoid “pinning” him/her against the floor. This should be a “no-brainer?” Once you have him/her in your hand, the littl’ fella will want to start climbing. Cup your hands together if you are transporting him somewhere. You can leave a little “sliver/hole” so that he can breath or poke his head out.
- Avoid placing him/her anywhere high up. Many of these guys think they have wings! Truth is, they don’t… and they risk internal damage (or worse) if they fall. Avoid taking them outside (parasites, mites, etc), in public (yes, many people are still frightened of these kinda things) or in colder temperatures (at least for any prolonged length of time).
- (*conjecture*) Wait at least 2 hours after your dragon feeds before you handle him/her. Sufficient time under their heat lamp/lights will ensure proper digestion. As the dragon grows in age and, more importantly, SIZE, you will be able to handle him/her more and for longer periods of time. For a baby bearded dragon, from 1-4 months olds, I will only handle for 5-10 minutes at a time, once or twice a day. I find that this is a healthy dose of “loving interaction”. Also, avoid handling your dragon too much during the first 2 weeks in order for your new lizard to adequately “climatize” and become comfortable in his/her new home.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
Raising a bearded dragon from a baby/hatchling should be attempted only as long as these criteria are met: (1) You are responsible (2) You are caring (3) You are experienced with reptiles OR willing to study the needs, habitat, living conditions, diet & nutrition of these guys (4) Vow to never be neglectful of their needs.
IN A NUTSHELL
Bearded Dragons are indigenous to the continent of Australia (but are likely “captive bred”) and are from the of the genus Pogona; subfamily Agaminae. The common species established in U.S. herpetoculture is the Pogona vitticeps, or “central bearded dragon” (see my pictures of “Jonathon”). It is nearly impossible to tell male from female until approximately a year of age. There are signs and behaviors to look for… so do the research (it’s still hard to tell for sure). The mortality rate of baby beardies are high and are not recommended for the beginning reptile owner (however a “Yearling” is well-worth the extra cost if you are want to ensure enjoyment per ease-of-care). Your baby will grow quickly within the first several months as long as it is supplied with proper lighting (UVA & UVB), heat (cool side of ~80 deg and hotspot of at least 115 deg. AND please purchase a digital thermometer.), and diet (crickets, crickets, crickets! babies need their protein. Fortify them with Calcium & Vitamin D3 powder). Do not start you baby lizard in anything smaller than a 15 gallon tank (as he/she will quickly require more room) and nothing over 40 gallons (as too much space is harder to heat, and crickets are harder to find for a baby). Clean water should be offered via a medicine dropper once every 3 days so the baby is adequately hydrated [babies do not recognized "standing pools" of water]. NEVER USE HOT ROCKS! Undertank heating pads are the only acceptable product, but should be used only to aid in upping the ambient air temperature within the cage; never as a main source of heat. Bearded dragons receive their warmth from above, and while a warm rock, log, or substrate will help their digestion…they NEED an overhead source of heat [I prefer the ceramic heat emitters. Pricey, but will last you several years]. Once every week or so, offer your dragon finely-sliced snips of calcium-rich veggies like kale and collard greens. Baby dragons should be fed two-to-three week old crickets (3/8 inch) two to three times a day. Watch each feeding and be sure to remove the crickets that he/she does not eat. Young dragons are easily stressed by crickets climbing on them. Mealworms are a convenient source of food in that they can be preserved for longer periods of time (compared to crickets). There is a myth that says you must “cut off the mealworm’s head before feeding it to your dragon, lest it gnawls away at your dragons innards). Not true… however, the tough exoskeleton of the mealworm is quite hard for the baby dragons to digest and are therefore recommended as a “last resort” food source.
-For more info, purchase General Care and Maintenance of Bearded Dragons, by Philippe de Vosjoli and Robert Mailloux-
-Also (NEW) Facebook Group Page : http://www.facebook.com/babybeardie
PROBLEMS AND CONCERNS
When something goes wrong (especially in this day-in-age) we rush to find the answers, particularly when it comes to our beloved pets. One of the main concerns that I have is that most veterinarians have limited experience with lizards (particularly smaller lizards) and can therefore do more harm then good (not to mention cost you a pretty penny). [note: there ARE plenty of qualified veterinarians; you just need to be positive about their qualifications. So ASK THEM. If they have little experience, get them to refer you to someone]. My other concern is that many medicinal agents are capable of worsening the situation. For example, if you bought your new pet in a pet store there is over a 50% chance that your pet has contacted some kind of internal parasite. Coccidia, a microscopic parasite, is commonly treated by either Albon, Panacur or Metronidazole. This liquid, other antibiotics and worming medicines not only treat the problem, but they also destroy a portion of the good bacteria in the dragon’s digestive tract. I’ve seen dragons rebound from this type of treatment… but remember… baby hatchlings are much more fragile. The good news is THIS = like the human body, a dragon’s is very hardy, and to an extent, nearly as recopritive (under the right conditions & proper care). For more on Coccidia (some signs of which are: lethargy, not eating, and/or wet & smelly stools) visit Denise Bushnell’s article at BeardedDragon.Org.
Always feel free to email me any of your Questions & Concerns
MORE RESOURCES ON BABY DRAGONS
CARING FOR YOUR BABY DRAGON – By: Michael Joyce (Status: Coming Soon!)