We did a ton of research before bringing a bearded dragon home as a pet. We read forums. We bought ebooks and video courses. We watched hours upon hours of YouTube. After all that, we thought we were prepared to give our new beardie a great home.
But as with many things in life, nothing can prepare you for something quite like actually doing it. Now that we’ve had Bacardi for some time, we think back to all the things we wish we’d known prior to becoming a bearded dragon owner.
Don’t get me wrong. We love our little beardie. We do not, in the least, regret getting her. But we were unprepared for quite a few things and had to learn them on the go.
To hopefully save you some of the same hiccups we ran into, here is a list of the things we wish we’d known before getting a bearded dragon.
Want to know what you’ll be feeding your new bearded dragon? Make sure and check out our complete bearded dragon food list with 237 different foods listed. We’ll show you what’s safe, what’s not, and what the healthiest food choices are for your beardie!!!
- You’ll need a little more than just an aquarium and some bedding.
- Lighting and temperatures are critical.
- They eat live insects, so you’ll need to keep live insects in your house.
- Bearded dragons need regular time and attention.
- You’ll need to find a special vet.
- Bearded dragons need baths and nail trims just like other pets do.
- They can be picky eaters.
- Beardies are totally worth the effort!
Set Up The Right Habitat
Setting up a great home for your bearded dragon is one of the primary responsibilities of a good beardie parent. Unlike dogs and cats who simply share your home with you, bearded dragons need their own home set up, especially for them. (source)
1. You need room for a 2′ x 2′ x 4′ enclosure
After seeing a number of bearded dragons at local pet stores, we thought that we would simply need a small aquarium. Boy, were we wrong. Bearded dragons need a much larger vivarium than we originally planned for.
That meant finding something to put that enclosure on. It also meant finding a room that allowed enough space. A properly sized enclosure and stand to put it on will need more space than most people imagine.
If you aren’t sure just how big of a space you’ll need, make sure to check out our full guide to buying the perfect-sized vivarium for your bearded dragon here.
2. Temperatures and lighting are very important
While we did set up our vivarium prior to bringing Bacardi (our cute little beardie girl) home, we did not take the time to really dial in the needed temperatures.
Our cool side was too cold. Our basking spot was too hot. Our UV light was too close to the basking spot. We made quite a few mistakes at first! You can see the lessons we learned in our tank temp guide here.
The problem was that we made them after we had brought Bacardi home. It would have been a much better idea to get all those areas set up properly before we ever put her in her new home.
3. You’ll need a temperature gun
We didn’t use this at first and instead relied on wall-mounted thermometers. Bad move. A temperature gun is a necessity for all bearded dragon owners. There’s just no way around it.
It’s the only way to get an accurate reading on the basking spot. It also comes in handy when measuring the temperature of their bathwater. We use ours almost every day to check and double-check Bacardi’s home to make sure everything is just right.
A difference of a couple of degrees to humans is no big deal. To a bearded dragon, it can be huge. Make the investment and get a temperature gun right away.
You don’t need to go crazy here. We have a nice one that works great and is very reasonably priced. To see the gun we use and love, check it out here on Amazon.
4. You’ll need to regularly clean their tank
This means replacing all the substrate and disinfecting the walls. It also means scrubbing and disinfecting all of the things your beardie climbs on, hides under, or otherwise crawls across in their home.
Pretty much anything and everything you use for your bearded dragon needs regular cleaning. They can carry Salmonella and parasites. The same goes for your feeder insects. It’s best to stay on top of things.
Our vet recommends we do this once a week. We don’t. Our breeder recommends once every 6 months. We do it more often than that (about every 3-4 months). Here are our general guidelines that we think strike a nice balance between the two:
- Anything that gets pooped on gets cleaned or removed immediately.
- Food and water dishes get wiped down daily and cleaned weekly.
- The insect enclosure gets cleaned out every time we get a new batch of feeders
- The tank gets wiped down and disinfected when we change out the substrate
- Substrate (this will depend on the type you use) gets replaced every 3-4 months
- All bets are off if your beardie is sick. A first step to take right after calling the vet is to completely clean their home.
Before we brought Bacardi home, we basically thought we would set up her vivarium once and then be done. We now know there is much more maintenance involved. It wouldn’t have deterred us, but we wish we had known beforehand!
5. You’ll need a habitat for your feeder insects
Whether you go with crickets or roaches (see here for why roaches are the far superior choice), you’ll need a place for those little critters to live.
This means a dry place at room temperature. It also means a regular source of water and food. The idea is that they need to be “gut-loaded”. Basically, their tummies need to be full of things that are good for your beardie.
We feed our roaches something called roach chow and use this really cool stuff called water crystals to keep them hydrated. We like this combo pack you can get pretty cheaply on Amazon.
All this means that you will basically be keeping a tub of roaches as pets too. While I knew they ate live feeders, I never really gave too much thought to having to keep them and feed them. This is probably one of the biggest things I wish I had known!
6. Know the initial Cost
We knew ahead of time that even though our rescue beardie was going to be free, there would still be costs associated with owning a pet. And wow, did we underestimate those costs.
Vivarium, lighting, food, and a ton of other small things added up fast. Throw in a vet checkup, boarding when we are out of town, and medicine when she is sick. Cost is something to be prepared for before you ever bring your beardie home.
For a full breakdown of what it costs to own a bearded dragon, see our very detailed review of that topic here. It’s an eye-opener.
7. You will need to spend time with your beardie
I thought that a beardie was something we’d keep in a tank, go look at occasionally, and otherwise not have to spend too much time with.
While bearded dragons do not require a ton of time, they do require dedicated attention 1-2 times per day. Every day. And this was more than we were expecting.
Daily food prep and feeding. Regular baths. Social time (something we really enjoy). Cleaning. Regular habitat checks. The list goes on (for more details on some of these, see below).
In the end, it’s not a lot, but we probably spend about 15-30 minutes with Bacardi every day. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it was more than we thought it would be.
Luckily, we have come to really love our little beardie baby and look forward to our time with her!
8. They need regular care
Like any pet, bearded dragons do require some regular care. We expected that. What we didn’t expect was what some of that regular care would be. Baths, feeding, playtime, and vet visits are just some of the things you’ll be doing.
9. Beardies need baths
Wait, what?! Baths? A lizard? I think that was my verbatim reply when I first found this out.
When I was a dog owner, I occasionally washed my dogs. If they started to stink, they got a bath. But that wasn’t that often. Turns out beardies need baths a whole lot more often than that.
So we now give Bacardi a bath a few times a week. Some days she likes it. Some days she wants no part of it. But we do it nonetheless.
Not sure about this whole beardie bath time thing? You are in luck! We have a full guide with pictures that you can see here. It will review not only how to give your beardie a bath but outlines everything you’ll need as well as what your bathing schedule should look like.
10. Beardies need their nails trimmed
Okay, so maybe they don’t need a manicure, but they sure as heck do need their nails trimmed!
In the wild, bearded dragons live in trees, on rocks, and in dirt or sand. All these materials do a nice job of keeping their nails filed down.
Unfortunately, this just doesn’t happen in most vivariums. Over time, your bearded dragon’s nails will grow long and razor-sharp. These little finger stilettos can cause some serious damage to your skin if not attended to.
This means that every once in a while (read that as needed), you’ll need to trim those finger needles down to a manageable length and sharpness.
Luckily, this is pretty easy to do. The key is making a habit of playing with your beardie’s toes whenever you handle them. This way, they are used to it when it comes time to cut their nails.
Oh, and no need for special trimmers. You can use a pair of normal human nail clippers for this! We don’t recommend sharing with your beardie, but you can get them their own for far less than special “reptile clippers”.
Not too sure about trimming those little daggers down to size? We wrote a short but useful guide to that that you can see here.
11. Beardies need regular vet visits
They also need to see a vet when they aren’t acting right. It’s much better to see one too soon than too late. The need for yearly checkups along with acute care is something we wish we’d known upfront.
It not only means more added to the overall cost of ownership, but it also means you need to find a quality vet in the first place. Odds are that your neighborhood cat and dog vet won’t have the knowledge or equipment needed to take proper care of your bearded dragon.
You are looking for either an exotic pet vet or a “herp vet” (one that specializes in reptiles). This is something you’ll want to locate before you bring your beardie home. If you are in the Chicagoland area, you are in luck! It would be incredibly difficult to find a better reptile vet than the folks at Chicago Exotics in Skokie!
We did not do this, and when Bacardi got sick, it was a scramble to find someone to see her. Luckily, one of the vets in our area is a mobile one, and he came right out to the house!
For peace of mind, find your vet before you find your beardie. It’s a lot easier that way!
Wondering just how often you’ll need that vet and how much it might cost? Check out our full guide to bearded dragon vet care here.
12. Bearded dragons can get sick
Speaking of vets, we never realized that beardies could get sick. In fact, there are quite a few things they can come down with.
From long-term ailments like metabolic bone disease to short-term issues like impactions, it’s not uncommon for even the most well-cared-for bearded dragon to need a vet every now and then.
We aren’t sure why, but before getting Bacardi, we just assumed they never got sick or had problems. They seemed like fierce and hardy animals to us, and we simply never thought they might fall ill and need their owner to come to the rescue.
Beardies are a quirky lot. At first, we thought they might make a boring pet. Boy, were we wrong. We love being beardie parents. In becoming loving bearded dragon parents, we’ve spent a lot of time with our Bacardi. She surprises us all the time.
13. Beardies have a personality
Some days, Bacardi gives us the stink eye. That’s one way she tells us she is not up for being handled that day. She climbs up the wall behind her hammock and stays there. She doesn’t want anything to do with us sometimes.
On other days, she jumps out of her hammock and runs to the front of her vivarium, excited to see us. She loves being held and handled and sitting on our shoulders. She is as social as can be.
Some days, she’ll sit in the bath until we take her out. On other days, she runs and jumps out immediately. Some days we can pick her up, and she doesn’t move. Others, she’s a running, jumping beardie moving all over the place.
In other words, she has moods just like any other pet we’ve ever had. Getting to know these moods, how to recognize them, and what she most wants because of them has been fascinating!
We wish we’d known Bacardi would have so much character before getting her. It’s become one of our favorite things about her!
14. Bearded dragons like attention
In fact, they need it regularly. There are some people who will tell you that bearded dragons are solitary animals, and they are just fine if left alone constantly. Our experience with them tells an entirely different story!
Before we became bearded dragon parents, we thought we’d rarely, if ever, handle Bacardi. Boy, were we wrong.
We’ve learned over time that she is a happier beardie when we take her out and say hi every day. The more we handle her, the more she seems to like it.
We were petrified of hurting Bacardi when we first got her. We were overly gentle and truly feared causing harm to the newest member of our family.
Then the vet came. And wow, was he NOT gentle!
Now, he wasn’t rough or harmful or dangerous at all. But he wasn’t letting her have her way either. He held her firmly. He showed us how to do the same. You can see exactly what he taught us in our step-by-step guide to picking up and holding a bearded dragon here!
He also showed us how quickly Bacardi calmed down when she knew she wasn’t going to escape our hands. In fact, she would settle right down, close her eyes, and take a nap!
This was a critical discovery that we wish we’d known before we brought Bacardi home. She easily could have jumped from our hands when we first got her and ended up hurt. Now we are confident that she can’t do that. We are even more confident that we’re not going to hurt her by keeping a firm grip.
We recommend going to a breeder and having them show you how to hold a bearded dragon. Firmly without hurting them. It will make your life so much easier and keep them safer at the same time!
15. Bearded Dragons are picky eaters
Especially when it comes to their greens.
When we first brought Bacardi home, we bought some turnip and collard greens for her to eat. We figured that that would suffice for her daily beardie salad. Wow, were we wrong!
It took us a solid 4-6 weeks to finally find which green she likes and will readily eat! Escarole, endive, bell peppers, carrots, mustard greens, and red lettuce are now staples. Occasionally, she’ll get a treat with some mango.
How do we know she likes those things? Because we’ve literally tried every other fruit, veggie, and green out there, that is okay for beardies to eat.
This has been a far cry from the dogs I’ve owned. For dogs, the general rule is if it fits in their mouth, they’ll eat it. Not so much for bearded dragons!
16. Breeders and vets are a much better source of information than online forums
When researching beardies before bringing Bacardi home, we must have read every forum post about bearded dragons that there is. Do you know what we learned? Not much. We wasted a lot of time.
Sure there is some good information there. But there’s also a lot of guessing. So we went elsewhere for information.
In a one-hour conversation with a breeder/reptile shop owner combined with a 90-minute chat with a herp vet, we learned infinitely more than we ever learned from an online forum.
From those two sources, we got better, safer, and more reliable information than we’d gotten anywhere else. In fact, most of what you will read here on the Beardie Bungalow is based on what those folks and others like them have shared with us.
We realize not everyone has access to these resources. In fact, that’s a big reason why we put Beardie Bungalow together. We wanted to try to give bearded dragon owners accurate information that would help their bearded dragons thrive.
We wish we’d known that before we spent so much time reading arguments on forums!
17. Some people will think you are weird
When we tell people about Bacardi, we usually get one of two reactions.
One where people think it’s cool and interesting. Another is where people think we’re a lot weirder than they might first have suspected.
Then throw in the fact that we feed Bacardi roaches. My oh my, the looks and reactions we get then!
But we love Bacardi, and we don’t care what people think. So we have worms in the fridge and roaches in the office. So we like to pet a scaly little reptile and talk to her like a baby. We don’t care.
But be prepared. People WILL think you are strange!
18. You will fall in love with your bearded dragon
We knew we’d like having a beardie before we got Bacardi. We love animals and hadn’t had one in the house for a while. What we were not prepared for is just how much we’d like her.
We’ve absolutely fallen in love with Bacardi. She is the sweetest, most quirky, fun pet ever! We’re so glad we got her.
We love her so much. We both check on her hourly with a webcam we bought to keep an eye on her. We highly recommend this. For just a few bucks, this EZViz camera is one of the best beardie accessories we’ve bought!
If we ever need to smile or laugh or just take our minds off of work, we pull out our phones and check on Bacardi. It always does the trick.
Sure, there are a lot of things we wish we’d known before we brought Bacardi home. But none of them would have set us on a different path. We would have been more prepared but no less in love with our little beardie girl.
Hopefully, this list will help some of you. Enjoy your new bearded dragon! I promise you will grow to love them!