Tips for parenting a bearded dragon

I became a parent when I was just 8 years old. The choice was all mine, but I was completely unprepared; how could an eight-year-old girl prepare for something like this? Now I know what you’re thinking; what was the baby’s name? I named her Lucky because I was so lucky to have her in my life. Actually, I’m still rather lucky that she’s still around; those first few years were what you could call a “learning experience”. With that said, I can assure you this eight-year journey has taught true joy and hardships of being responsible for another life. Late nights, medical surprises, and sacrifices are certainly part of the package, but not without the joy, love, and feeling of completeness that owning a lizard can bring. It’s safe to say that my two bearded dragons are my best friends. Bearded dragons are awesome, but it takes a lot of work and dedication to keep them happy. Hopefully, this brief guide will give you some instruction on how to care for a bearded dragon or influence your decision on whether you can become a scaly parent. When I first got my beardies, my impression of their diet was as follows: insects, water, chocolate, ice cream, and Hot Pockets. In my defense, I was an imaginative 8- year-old, and I was only projecting my ideal diet onto my new scaly friends (don’t worry, they were fed properly by my father during those days). Later on, I learned that providing your bearded dragon with a quality diet is a must. Bearded dragons are omnivores; therefore, they require a variety of meat, fruits, and vegetables. Before you get excited, no, you cannot share your Big Mac with your bearded dragon. However, you can go to the pet store and buy healthy crickets, super worms, and hornworms for them. The main protein for bearded dragons should come from crickets. Baby bearded dragons should consume roughly 30-80 crickets a week, while adults only need about 15-20. You do not have to feed crickets to adult bearded dragons every day, but, if that is the case, then their diet should be supplemented by about 10-20 super worms. Problems can surface if you give your bearded dragons crickets straight from the store since the crickets are essentially just skeletons with wings. However, you can combat these problems by buying the crickets 1-2 days prior to feeding your lizard and placing them in a cricket holder with a sufficient amount of cricket food (the best stuff is yellow and smells like rotten eggs). This process, known as gut loading, supplies a lot more fat to the cricket and is more nutritional for the lizard. Along with that, the crickets are like juicy water balloons, so watching them get consumed by your beardies mighty jowls is truly a fantastic spectacle. If you don’t want to deal with blockage, lizard vomit, and a sad dragon, then I suggest that you gut load your crickets. Along with healthy insects, bearded dragons should be consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables: such as apples, kale, squash, pumpkin, banana, dandelion leaves, bell peppers, bok choy, and collard greens. Some of these foods can be fed more frequently than others, but the wide variety allows you to experiment and find what your lizard likes the best. If you are ever unsure about whether you should feed something to your lizard, please consult your vet, and don’t be that guy that kills his bearded dragon because “you thought it would be cool if he ate a firefly.” In the bearded dragon community, we like to call those people Ding Dings. Don’t be a Ding Ding; feed responsibly. Sadly, because you are a responsible pet owner, you cannot allow your bearded dragon to roam freely around your house. Bearded dragons require very specific ecosystems in terms of heat, schedule, and surroundings. In short, their terrariums should replicate their wild environments as closely as possible. For example, my bearded dragons receive about 14-16 hours of their daytime lighting and 8-10 hours of their nighttime lighting. Depending on the size of the tank, there should be a “hot” side (91-110 degrees Fahrenheit) and a cooler side that does not exceed more than 85 degrees. In order to achieve this perfect lizard paradise, you should purchase a basking bulb, a UV bulb, and an infrared light for the nighttime. Not only do these lights provide your bearded dragons with light and heat, but they also keep the boogieman away. Each bulb’s wattage depends on the size of the tank that you have, but you can monitor their effects with a stick on thermometer. Along with pristine lighting, your bearded dragons should have shady places to hide in (mini caves work well) fake plants, and easy access to water at all times. Finally, I strongly suggest that you do NOT use substrate as bedding. After using sand for years, my lizard, Blaze, had an abscess form in his digestive tract thanks to sand blockage. Thanks to those grainy demons, I’m still medicating him 5 months later. Now I use a brand of liner called Bayou Boy; It’s really cheap, easy to clean, and breaks easily, so their claws don’t get ripped out, and they can tear it apart for a nest if they want to. Although replicating a wild animal’s environment with artificial materials is a rather difficult task, it is vital for your bearded dragon's health and happiness.

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