One of the most common questions that prospective bearded dragon owners ask us is, “do they smell bad?”. We aren’t surprised at all that they ask this. Common household pets like dogs, cats, rabbits, and hamsters can all smell pretty bad. It makes sense to ask about bearded dragons too.
Bearded dragons do not smell bad. They have almost no smell at all. If there is a bad smell coming from a bearded dragon’s enclosure, it could be several things other than the beardie itself. Proper tank maintenance will keep these odors to a minimum, making a bearded dragon one of the most odor-free pets you can own.
So if bearded dragons don’t smell, why are there so many articles and videos online with titles like “How to prevent bearded dragon odor” or “How to get rid of the smell of a bearded dragon”?
We have a one-word answer for you. Poop. Yep, poop. Virtually all of those articles are talking about bearded dragon poop. And yes, beardie poop smells. All poop smells. It’s kind of the nature of poop. But like we said, the bearded dragon itself has almost no odor!
In addition to poop, there are several other causes of odor that a bearded dragon owner might encounter. So let’s take a quick look at each and then talk for a minute about how to prevent or deal with them.
What causes odors in a bearded dragon enclosure?
As we mentioned, if there is a smell coming from your beardie’s home, it’s rarely going to be coming from the beardie themself. Unless they’ve crawled through something that smells, there is no way for them to emit anything that humans would call odorous.
Their skin is non-porous. They don’t get bad breath (and even if they did, they are too small to have it be an issue for us). The only thing they secrete is a waxy substance used to signal mates and mark territory, and that substance doesn’t smell bad, either.
But all that doesn’t mean you’ll never smell something foul coming from your beardie’s enclosure. And if you do, it’s probably one of the following things.
Number one with a bullet is poop. When our beardie, Bacardi, defecates, we can almost immediately smell it from across the room. It’s pretty bad.
But the same can be said of any household pet. If a dog or a cat decided to poop in the same room you were in, you’d smell it right away too! Beardies are not unique in the world of foul-smelling stool.
So what to do? Clean it up right away! Sounds simple, right? But you’d be surprised at how many bearded dragon owners let that poop stay in the tank, baking under the heat of the basking light, and then complain that their beardie smells.
Their bearded dragon does not smell! That lazy, irresponsible owner is what caused the smell, nothing else.
It’s important to quickly clean up after your beardie when they poop for a variety of reasons. The smell is only one of them. Poop can contain parasites and bacteria, and you really don’t want those laying around for your bearded dragon to live near or crawl through.
You also don’t want to give those parasites and bacteria time to move from the droppings to the substrate. Speedy clean-up is paramount to keeping a clean and healthy substrate.
This isn’t as common, but it does happen. Bearded dragons should be given fresh greens every day. (not sure which ones? Check out our complete nutrition guide here!) But they may not eat them right away, if at all.
But in higher humidity climates or larger tanks where the cool side doesn’t get much heat from the basking lamp, greens can sit and rot over time. Even the dried-out ones will start to decay eventually.
Decaying organic matter will smell. And it can smell pretty bad. So make sure to clean out that day-old salad every day when you give your bearded dragon their fresh greens for the day.
In addition to greens, bearded dragons should get fed insects regularly. Insects, unlike the bearded dragon, can definitely smell bad. To avoid this, follow a couple of basic guidelines.
First, don’t use crickets!!! Crickets smell terrible. Not to mention they are vile little creatures that should never be allowed in your home! Instead, use Dubia Roaches (see all the reasons why in our complete comparison here).
Dubia Roaches don’t have a strong odor. They are better than crickets in that and every other way.
Second, don’t feed your beardie their live feeders inside their tank. It’s always best to use a separate feeding tank or bin.
The reason for this is that roaches and crickets are crafty little bugs. They will run from your bearded dragon and hide. If you put them in your beardie’s tank, some of them simply will not get eaten because they are hiding.
Many times, they will stay hidden until they die. They will then decay in their hiding place, leaving you to wonder where that awful smell is coming from. Once again, it’s not your beardie! It’s the hidden decaying feeders your beardie never caught to eat.
The best practice is to feed your beardie roaches instead of crickets and do it in a separate bin where none of the insects can hide, die, and then decay.
Too much moisture
It’s vital to maintain proper humidity levels in your bearded dragon’s home. There are consequences to humidity that is too high or too low.
One of the consequences of high humidity is the possibility of mold or mildew. Both of those will create unwanted odor.
Whether you use a loose or solid substrate (Want to see what substrate we recommend, check out our full substrate guide here!), you’ll want to clean your substrate regularly.
Not only should you pick up any poop, dead skin, food, etc., as it happens, but the substrate should be thoroughly maintenanced once every 4-6 months.
For loose substrate, that entails removing all of the substrate, cleaning and disinfecting the tank, and then refilling the enclosure with brand-new substrate.
For hard substrate, that means removing it from the tank completely, cleaning and disinfecting the tank and the substrate, and reinstalling it all back where it belongs.
Not doing this allows moisture, skin, food, and bugs to collect in the tank. All of those things can decay and cause odor. Not to mention, there are health implications for your beardie if regular deep cleaning is not done.
How to manage odor in a bearded dragon’s tank
Basically, be a good, responsible bearded dragon owner! Follow the generally accepted husbandry guidelines you can find here on Beardie Bungalow or in a number of other places.
Keep their tank clean. Pick up their poop right away. Don’t allow organic matter to rot inside their tank. It’s simple stuff!
If you are a prospective bearded dragon owner reading this, rest assured that with even the most basic level of care, your bearded dragon will not smell!
How to manage odors if they occur
So how about the occasional times when odor does occur? What if they poop when you aren’t around, and it sits in the tank for a bit? What then?
Things like scented candles, incense, and chemically-laden air fresheners aren’t the best option. What’s pleasant to a full-size human can be overpowering or even toxic to a bearded dragon. But that doesn’t mean you have no options!
We are a fan of two very popular passive air freshening products.
The first is something called FreshWave. It’s a container of odor-absorbing gel pellets that you leave out in your room. The little pellets do a really great job of absorbing odors as they happen. We’ve used this in multiple rooms of our home, and it works pretty well!
Instead of adding odor to the air to mask the bad smells, FreshWave absorbs the odor out of the air and gets rid of it altogether. This stuff comes in various sizes, shapes, and options, and you can see all of them right here on Amazon.
Another product that works the same way, and we think works even better, are activated bamboo charcoal bags. These little gems are all-natural and are left out just like the FreshWave.
The charcoal inside the bag does a remarkably good job of absorbing odor. We have to keep our garbage cans inside our garage (townhome association rules, booo!), and for the longest time, our garage had a very unpleasant funk to it.
Once we added a couple of these charcoal bags, the odor was gone! They work great in our garage, and they work great in the room you keep your beardie in too!
Sources and Further Reading
What if it really is my bearded dragon that smells bad?
First, make sure that your beardie is on a regular bathing schedule. The odds are that it’s something on them that smells, not your beardie itself.
If a regular bath schedule is in place, a bad odor can be a sign of a severe health issue, and we recommend you take your pet to see your vet.
Can the type of tank I use affect whether or not it smells?
Yes! We always recommend a tank with a full coverage screen topper and a row of air vents towards the bottom. This allows for proper ventilation and airflow. This will help in a variety of ways, including preventing odors.
Why does my beardie’s poop smell so bad?
We agree! Beardie poop is its own special brand of gross! We aren’t sure exactly why, but on the whole, bearded dragon scat smells a lot worse than the poop that comes from many other household pets. Of course, those pets typically aren’t eating roaches and other live insects, either!
This is one of the many reasons we recommend cleaning it up as soon as it happens.