Oh. My. God. WHAT IS THAT SMELL?!?!? If you are a beardie owner, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Our loveable little dragons can take some mean-smelling dumps. Not only that, the runny piles they leave are a pain to clean up. If only they could be potty trained!
Well, they can!
It is possible to potty or litter train a bearded dragon. With patience and consistency, your bearded dragon can be trained to go to the bathroom in a designated place. This can be very helpful for those that use a solid substrate like tile or carpet as cleaning those surfaces can be a challenge.
Learn your beardie’s habits
Like their human owners, bearded dragons are creatures of habit. They like to sleep in the same place each night. They head to their basking spot at about the same time each morning. They become expectant of food at a predetermined time each day.
In fact, there’s quite a bit about their behavior and preferences that will become predictable over time. One of those things is their “evacuation schedule”, aka when they like to poop.
That schedule can be impacted by a number of variables. When they eat, when they bask, their digestive health and a myriad of other factors will make a difference. Not to mention, no two beardies are alike.
It’s important to realize that bearded dragons are creatures of habit. It’s even more important to realize that your beardie will have its own set of unique habits for you to learn. Knowing your individual pet and their habits is the first step in attempting to potty train them.
Get your beardie on a schedule
In order to know your beardie’s routine, it’s very important that you have your own routine and habits when it comes to caring for them.
Most of your beardie’s behaviors will be cued by the cycle of their day. That cycle starts with the typical 12 hours on and 12 hours off of their lights. This simulates a natural day of sunlight outside.
Once your artificial day and night are set via your lights, you’ll also want to standardize your feeding time. Some owners feed once a day, some twice.
It doesn’t so much matter which you do. What matters is that those feeding times happen at the same time each day.
As many beardie owners can attest, when you put the food out does not always determine when your beardie eats. Some will let their bowl of veggies sit for hours before devouring it. Some will munch right away.
Some beardies will hunt their insect food immediately. Others will lazily watch it move about its enclosure until they decide to get up and catch it.
Don’t worry so much about when your beardie decides to eat the food you give it. Worry instead about putting out its food at the same time every day. Same time, every day, no exceptions if possible.
Know when your beardie likes to poop
Remember, we are trying to potty train our bearded dragon. This isn’t a health thing, it’s a habit thing. Getting them on a routine makes it so their little bodies are ready to poop at the same time each day.
One important note is that not all beardies poop every day. Some will go every day. Some every other. Others may even go multiple days or even a week or two between bowel movements. It will be important for you to become familiar with your unique beardie’s schedule.
Once you know when they like to poop, your next task is to figure out where they like to poop. This, hopefully, will be an easy step.
Know where your beardie likes to poop
On the whole, bearded dragons are clean animals. They usually don’t want to be in or near their feces. This, in part, will determine where they like to go.
They usually like to poop in a place where their vent and bodies are clear of feces. They do this in different ways. Some change their body position. Others hunt for a suitable location in their enclosure.
That means that your beardie, over time, will find and revisit the same spot over and over to evacuate their little beardie bowels. They will almost always have a favorite spot or two to poop.
Other beardies will not want to poop in their enclosure at all. If possible, they will wait until you take them out. Then it’s fair game to let go on you or your furniture. This isn’t ideal, but it is important to know if your beardie’s favorite spot to go is not in their vivarium.
Remember, no matter where they go, get it cleaned up asap. This is not only a healthy thing (beardie scat can contain salmonella and other dangerous bacteria), but it will keep their favorite spot clean, so they want to use it again.
The daily bath method
If your beardie is the “poop outside the enclosure” type, you can use this to your advantage. Combine this knowledge with knowing when your bearded dragon likes to poop, and you can effectively start using the daily bath method.
We should all be giving our beardies baths 2-3 times per week. It’s a regular part of bearded dragon care. See our full bathing guide here for details!
What many will find is that their bearded dragons love bath time. They soak and splash and drink and generally enjoy it.
A lot of beardies also like to poop in the bath. So if your beardie doesn’t like to poop in their enclosure, see if they like doing it in the bath. Quite a few of them do!
If they do, and you also know when they generally need to go, you can make baths a daily ritual (or however often your beardie likes to go). If you give them a nice warm bath at potty time, you kill two birds with one stone.
This is also the preferred method when it comes to ease of cleanup. Simply pour the soiled bathwater into the toilet, flush, and you’re done. Of course, you’ll want to do a good job of cleaning out the bath bin, but that’s a quick and easy task.
With this method, as long as you don’t miss bath time, their vivarium stays nice and poop-free all the time. And you can also avoid that oh-so-unpleasant smell that comes with realizing your beardie has pooped in its home.
Many bearded dragon owners have reported that when using this method, their beardie will even let them know they need to poop by “glass dancing” (jumping up on the vivarium glass anxiously). Here’s one report as an example:
“Every morning, my beardie will get up and bask first thing in the morning. Then she’ll come down to eat her salad that I put down every morning. About a half-hour, after she eats, she starts glass dancing until I take her out and put her in her bath. Like clockwork, she poops almost immediately. She doesn’t like to go in her cage and will dance until I take her out and put her in a bath.”
The litter box method
*Warning, don’t use cat litter for this method. If ingested, this will be dangerous to your beardie. Instead, use Repti chips, a safe substitute for this method.
Cats will use a litter box naturally. Beardies will not. This method takes some time and effort as you will need to train your beardie to use the box.
You will also probably want to slowly change where in their enclosure they poop. This adds another layer of challenge to this method. But fear not. It can be done!
Here are the steps to litter training your beardie:
- Find their favorite spot to poop
- Lay down a square of napkin or paper towel in this spot
- Once they are used to pooping on the paper, put the paper in a small, shallow “box” that will eventually become the “litter box”
- Slowly start to add Repti chips (or the loose substrate of your choice, see our guide here) to the box over the paper
- Eventually, remove the paper
- Slowly, over time, move the box to your desired location
Remember, take your time, and be patient! Spend a week or two at each stage. Maybe longer. You are building a habit, and it will take time for your beardie to follow along.
Also, be aware that your beardie may not get through all the steps. Some will stop at the paper towel step. They’ll poop on one but won’t once you add loose substrate or a “box.” That’s okay.
If you can get them to go on a piece of newspaper or paper towel, and that’s it, that’s still a win! Just put down a new piece every day, and your cleanup has become infinitely easier.
This is especially true if they like to poop on the items in their vivarium and not just on the substrate. Cleaning those items (branches, rocks, hides, etc.) can be a real pain.
If you can get to a point where you rubber band a piece of paper towel to their climbing branch, and that’s where they go, you win. This is still potty training them, and it makes your life easier. It makes theirs cleaner too!
No two beardies are the same
We’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Every beardie is unique. While the above methods will work for many, they won’t work for others.
Don’t get frustrated. Our beardies are wild animals. Some wilder than others.
Love your bearded dragon for who they are, even if you can’t potty train them.
That said, if you can get them trained, your life as a bearded dragon owner just got a ton easier. It’s well worth the time and effort to at least try. Be patient, stick with it, and you could be the proud parent of a potty-trained bearded dragon!
Sources and Further Reading
How do I clean and disinfect a soiled beardie bath container?
If you use the daily bath method, make sure to clean and disinfect your bathing container. A diluted bleach mixture will be most effective, but it’s very, very important to make sure it is well-rinsed. Bleach will harm your beardie, so be careful!
You can also use a diluted vinegar mixture. This will do a nice job of cleaning and disinfecting and is an inexpensive alternative.
In either case, make sure to rinse and dry your bathing container before using it again!
How long does it take to potty train my bearded dragon?
For the daily bath method, it can take only days. This, in our opinion, is the preferred method if you have the time for a regular bath.
For the litter box method, it can take months before you have them using a box, and the box is located where you want it. It also may never happen at all, depending on you your diligence and your beardie’s temperament.
Do I need to wash my hands after handling my bearded dragon?
YES!!! Bearded dragons and their feces can contain both bacteria (like salmonella) and parasites. Always wash your hands well after handling them or working in their enclosure!