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Bearded dragons of the genus Pogona are known for being friendly and curious pets, but keeping them safe and healthy requires a significant amount of care and consideration. Pet owners need to make sure that their dragon's enclosure has the right amount of space, light and heat. Caring for a bearded dragon also involves knowing which types of food are best for their nutritional needs. Knowing the signs of illness or infection is also essential so that prompt veterinary care can be given when needed.
A bearded dragon's enclosure should provide plenty of room for it to move around. It's generally recommended that owners buy an aquarium that holds at least 40 gallons (151 liters) for smaller dragon species and up to 120 gallons (454 liters) for larger species since bearded dragons grow rapidly. Cages should measure at least 48 inches (122 cm) long, 24 inches (61 cm) wide and 18 inches (46 cm) high. The enclosure should not be lined with substances made up of small pieces that the dragon can ingest, such as gravel or sand. Owners can use newspaper or reptile carpeting to line the bottom of the enclosure instead.
Providing the right amount of heat is necessary when caring for a bearded dragon since it can't regulate its own temperature. Supplies such as heating pads, lamps that give off heat and ceramic heat emitters can be used to help keep daytime temperatures in the range of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) and up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) for basking. Nighttime temperatures should not drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius).
Bearded dragons need Ultraviolet B (UVB) to help keep their bones strong. Owners can purchase UVB bulbs that go directly in the enclosure, as long as they are placed at least 12 inches (30.5 cm) out of the dragon's reach. These bulbs should be replaced about every 12 months. Alternatively, bearded dragons can receive the UVB they need from direct sunlight outside or near an open window as long as their enclosure has a secure screen on top.
Caring for a bearded dragon means giving them a proper diet that consists of insects, vegetables and a weekly protein source, such as a mouse. Recommended vegetables include collard greens, kale, broccoli sprouts and dandelion greens. Insects, such as crickets or mealworms, should not be longer than the space between the dragon's eyes. Owners should also give adult dragons a reptile multivitamin once a month and a calcium supplement once a week. Fresh water should also be provided at all times in a bowl that is cleaned daily.
Owners should watch their dragon for physical or behavioral signs of illness. Gray skin coloring often indicates that a dragon is cold or sick. Other signs that a dragon should be examined by a veterinarian include a loss of appetite, cold skin, a lack of defecation and visible signs of mites, which look like tiny black or orange moving specks. When caring for a bearded dragon, yearly physical examinations for adults and exams twice a year for juveniles are highly recommended.
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