When people hear the word “dragon”, it immediately conjures up visions of fire and teeth and epic HBO tv shows. So it’s natural that one of the first questions prospective bearded dragon owners ask is “do they bite?”.
While bearded dragons can bite, they rarely do unless provoked. Bearded dragons are generally docile animals and unless they feel threatened or mistake your fingers for food, they will typically not bite. Bearded dragon bites are far less frequent and less serious than a typical cat or dog bite.
In fact, the more they are handled, the more docile they tend to be. This is why quality breeders tend to handle their beardies daily (in many cases, multiple times per day). The more that young bearded dragons are handled, the better they are with people.
The better they are with people, the less likely they are to bite someone. This doesn’t mean that beardies that are used to humans won’t ever bite them. But it does mean that with a little knowledge, the chances of your beardie biting you are extremely low.
Why do bearded dragons bite?
Bearded dragons bite for 3 main reasons. They can feel threatened, be hungry, or not be well socialized. Regular and proper care and handling of your bearded dragon can eliminate all three of these causes. A well cared for, properly fed, and regularly handled bearded dragon will almost never bite.
There are several reasons that a bearded dragon may bite. Understanding these reasons is a great first step in making sure it never happens to you. We think it bears repeating, though, that biting is not in their nature. This isn’t a problem beardie owners should worry about too much.
This one should be obvious, but it surprises many beardie owners. A hungry beardie, like any other hungry animal, may bite. There are several reasons for this, but keeping your dragon on a regular feeding schedule and ensuring they are well fed is a tremendously good step towards preventing a bite.
Sometimes it can be as simple as the bearded dragon mistaking your finger for food. This can happen because they are used to you feeding them by hand. It can also happen because your finger kinda sorta looks like a tasty worm!
This can also happen if your hand smells like food. Beardies have keen senses, and if it smells like food, a hungry bearded dragon may try to eat it! If you have just handled food or feeder insects, make sure to wash your hands before reaching for your bearded dragon.
Washing your hands prior to handling your beardie is a best practice anyway. This is just one more reason to make it a habit!
Beardies, in the wild, are prey animals. They make a tasty snack for all types of predators, from birds to various ground-dwelling animals. If your bearded dragon mistakes you for a predator, they may try to defend themselves by biting you.
It’s best not to surprise them or come at them from above (where birds attack from). If you do, you could risk a bite.
Even if you think you know your beardie well, it’s a best practice never to startle them.
One of the ways you’ll know your beardie is on the defensive is if they puff up their beard and it turns black. This is a great sign that your beardie is feeling threatened, and this might not be the best time to reach in and handle them.
If your beardie is acting this way, stay back and let them calm down. Leave them be for now and come back when they are calm. Never force the issue.
Beardies who have been tended to and handled by humans from birth are much more docile than those that aren’t. As I mentioned before, a good breeder regularly handles their babies and juveniles just for this reason.
Dragons that don’t receive this attention will often react poorly to a person reaching for them. They do not know that you mean them no harm. To them, you are a threat, and until they feel otherwise, they may get very aggressive.
This is one of many reasons to source your beardie from a reputable dealer. It’s also a great reason to handle the beardie you are looking to adopt prior to adopting them.
Our beardie, Bacardi, is a rescue. Fortunately, she was handled regularly and is not aggressive toward us at all. That’s not true of all rescues. Many rescues have been mistreated or ignored for their entire lives.
We recommend adopting a rescue if at all possible, but make sure you know their temperament and what it might take to work with and handle them before adopting them!
This will be important to all bearded dragon owners but even more so to those with children.
Learning the proper way to pick up and handle a bearded dragon is a critical skill for all beardie owners to have.
Bearded dragons are small compared to humans. They can be easily hurt if they are picked up or held the wrong way. Children often do this unintentionally.
Like any animal (us included!), a bearded dragon may bite if it is being hurt, squeezed, pinched, or otherwise harmed. It’s a natural defensive reflex that should be expected.
For this reason, make sure that anyone who will be picking up or handling your beardie understands the proper way to do so. If you aren’t sure of what that way may be, see our complete step-by-step guide with pictures here!
Does a bite from a beardie hurt?
Once people realize that beardies can bite (although, again, they probably won’t!), the next logical question is, does it hurt?
Like many answers when it comes to beardies, it depends.
If your beardie is a baby or juvenile, probably not. Everyone’s pain tolerance is different, but those little guys don’t have a lot of power in their jaws, so their bite probably won’t break the skin and probably won’t hurt, either.
If you have an adult, it probably will hurt a bit. A bearded dragon has a row of sharp little teeth. Combine that with the stronger bite that comes from a larger adult, and it may break the skin as well.
This will draw a little blood and will sting. But honestly, it’s not a big deal. Most beardie owners who have been bitten report that it was more of a shock than anything else. The pain is exaggerated because you aren’t expecting it.
This is not a reason to shy away from owning a bearded dragon! A bite from a dog or cat is much, much worse. And, having owned both of those, it’s much more likely to happen with a dog or cat than getting bitten by your bearded dragon!
Is it dangerous?
In short, no. We’ll discuss treatment protocol next, but as long as you take care of the bite promptly, there really isn’t any danger.
One thing people don’t often think about, however, is the danger to the beardie. It’s really important to remain calm if a bite happens.
Children should never be allowed to hold a bearded dragon where a long fall is possible. They should be sitting down with the beardie over their lap. If a bite occurs and they jerk back, it is a shorter, safer fall to the lap instead of a long dangerous fall to the ground.
This, of course, is true of adults too! If your little friend nips you, don’t jerk your hands back and drop them! I promise you’ll be okay, and I’m mostly certain they mean you no harm. Don’t get mad or upset. They are wild animals, after all!
On rare occasions, beardies may bite and not let go. In this case, again, stay calm. Definitely don’t pull your hand back or shake it. Keep it still. Calmly reach over and remove their mouth from your hand.
Bearded dragons can’t create a ton of force with their jaws. It should be fairly easy to open their mouth and remove it from your skin. Do this gently.
Post-bite, I would put them back in their enclosure and let them calm down. Don’t try to punish them or yell at them. That won’t help anything and will typically stress your beardie out. Remember, they probably had a very innocent reason for biting you.
How to treat a bearded dragon bite
If the bite doesn’t break the skin, there really isn’t any chance of any issues. It’s always advisable to wash your hands after handling your bearded dragon, and this would be no exception.
If the bite does break the skin, treat it like any other cut or scratch. First, wash and disinfect the bite. Alcohol, peroxide, or Neosporin are all good choices. Then, if needed, apply a band-aid. It’s just that easy.
Make sure not to skip the disinfection step. Beardies can carry salmonella. While this is typically only found in their stool, it’s not a bad idea to err on the side of caution.
Also, as with anything that breaks the skin, it’s always a good idea to make sure your tetanus shot is up to date. Doctors recommend having one every 5-10 years (consult your doctor on this as I am definitely not a doctor or medical professional of any kind!).
How to prevent getting bitten
To summarize, here’s a quick list of ways to prevent a bite from happening in the first place.
- Pick them up correctly. Come from behind or the side. Predators come from above!
- Feed them daily!
- Wash your hands before handling them.
- Don’t stress them, be gentle!!!
You’ll get to know your beardie. Once you do, you’ll know when they are likely to nip (if at all). We know that our beardie, Bacardi, gets very excited when she sees me getting her roaches ready for feeding time.
Once she sees this, she is in eating mode. I have to be very cautious when I pick her up to put her in her feeding bin, or she will nip at my hand. In fact, I’ve learned to hide the roach preparation from her in the first place, specifically, so this doesn’t happen.
Bearded dragons make great pets, even for kids!
It is important to remember that bearded dragons are docile animals. They are great around people and kids. Bites are very unusual, and most could have been prevented by following the guidelines listed above.
I like to remind people that cats and dogs both bite, and their bite is a lot worse. In fact, pretty much any pet has the potential to bite. Don’t let this keep you from having a beardie!
Sources and Further Reading
Are bearded dragons venomous?
Long thought to be non-venomous, bearded dragons actually do secrete a mild venom when biting their prey. It is mostly harmless to humans and, at worst, may cause slight swelling. We wrote a really interesting article all about this topic that you can read here!
Are bearded dragon teeth sharp?
Yes, they are. Baby and juvenile bearded dragons whose teeth have not come in fully, they will feel like bumps along their gums. Once developed, they will be a row of small, sharp teeth designed for catching and munching on their prey.
What do bearded dragons do when threatened?
As mentioned above, a bite is possible in this scenario. But far more often, your beardie will flatten out and become very still. This is a natural defense mechanism designed to prevent birds and other prey animals from seeing them.