Buying a Bearded Dragon
There are loads of pet shops that sell reptiles and many of these also sell bearded dragons. Unfortunately some of these pet shops are staffed by people with little to no experience of correct husbandry of them – and they often get treated in the same was as other reptiles ( humid environment, red lights etc ). Given that this can be the case, the advice a pet shop might give you about the correct equipment and husbandry can be dicey at best.
There’s no real way to know if a pet shop has kept their dragons in optimal conditions except by inspecting the setups yourself and knowing what they need ( check our Bearded Dragon Habitat category for more information ) so that you can see for yourself. We’d recommend that you don’t buy from a pet shop the first time you go in, go back multiple times to make sure that the tanks are always clean not just the day you visited. If you notice that last week there were 6 babies in a tank ( they do like to co-habit babies… ) and this week there are none, it could be a sign they’ve all been sold ( unlikely ) or more importantly it could indicate that something went wrong. Some diseases are easily spread between dragon colonies, such as yellow fungus or adenovirus and no pet shop will admit that this has happened. So check back on your potential buddies over a few days or even weeks to see that they stay healthy.
Of course, not all pet shops are bad. Most aren’t. But some are. It’s worth doing some research online to find reputable stores – or even better, research online to find a reputable breeder near you and go direct to them rather than a petstore. There are loads of Facebook Groups you can ask around in – ours is called Bearded Dragons Rock and you’re more than welcome to join and ask there.
A reputable breeder will have their husbandry all sorted and will definitely make sure as best they can that their dragons are disease free ( see My Bearded Dragon Looks Sick – What Could It Be? for information on the various illnesses they can pick up ). A breeders reputation depends on having good husbandry, good advice and healthy dragons. You might pay a little more from a breeder but the chances of having a dragon with genetic problems or health issues should be much reduced. If you have a specific gender in mind for your dragon, the breeder is more likely to be able to tell you which gender is which at a much younger age than the petstore is likely to be able to. There’s no guarantee there though with young ones – they’re quite difficult to sex at a young age.
Another option to consider will be a local rescue centre that deals with Bearded Dragons. For a new keeper though you probably want to look for a re-home that is healthy but the previous keeper couldn’t keep them any more. Re-homing a sick dragon isn’t for the faint of heart and takes a lot of work to rehabilitate them depending on what’s wrong. Be guided by the rescue centre here though, they’ll have the dragon’s best interests at heart and won’t let you take one they don’t think you can cope with.
A good breeder or rescue centre ( such as the RSPCA in the UK ) will check that you know what you’re doing, provide advise and solutions for the areas you’re unsure and make sure the home the animal is going to is appropriate before letting you take the little buddy away. This might sound a bit harsh, but it’s in everyone’s interests, especially the dragon’s.
What Should I Look For When Buying A Bearded Dragon?
If you’re buying from a breeder you probably won’t need to be looking through this list as we’d hope any breeder will be selling healthy happy dragons, but it can be wise even then to make sure you’re not being duped. If you’re buying from a pet shop, definitely check this list of things to look for;
- Make sure the dragon is active during the day. This is particularly true for babies as they don’t brumate – so don’t let the shop fool you into thinking a lethargic one is just brumating. They should be alert and aware of your presence, keeping a watchful eye on your next move.
- Check their skin to see that it looks healthy and their eyes are nice and bright. Beardies do carry some excess skin so they can lay flat and soak up the sun. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re underfed, so don’t panic if there’s a little bit of excess skin.
- Make sure they’re not stargazing. This is a significant sign of Adenovirus which is highly contagious and will kill most baby bearded dragons within 90 days. Any petshop that has Dragons that are stargazing should be avoided, forever. Stargazing is when the lizard looks vertically upwards, while their body remains horizontal – sort of like straining their neck to see the stars. They’ll occasionally look back down, but mostly straight up – or even bending their necks over their backs to look backwards. No healthy dragon does this. They may also flip onto their backs occassionally – something which again, no healthy dragon ever does.
- Have a look at their eyes, nose and mouth. Eyes should be nice and bright, alert and looking at what’s going on. Eyelids shouldn’t be droopy and eyes shouldn’t be bulgy ( some dragons will bulge their eyes briefly for a stretch, particularly when shedding ). The nose and mouth should be clean and dry with no excess secretions. They may have their mouths open and their tongues sticking out as this is what they do to regulate their body heat.
- See if you can be around when they’re fed. Are they eating well? Babies should eat live food ( generally no bigger than the gap between their eyes for safety ). They should become super alert when live food is around, looking excitedly. Of course if they only been fed a few minutes ago they may not, so check when they were last fed.
- Have a good smell of the pet shop or premises. If the place stinks they’re probably not cleaning often enough. Lack of cleaning spreads diseases. Do the staff wash their hands with soap and water between handling different animals?
- In some places, pet shops will need to be licenced by the local authority – is this one?
- Ask if you can take the dragon out of the enclosure before deciding to buy – this gives you the chance to check it over thoroughly and also shows you how active the dragon will be. Babies can be a bit skittish ( and should ) and should generally interact with you at least a little. Once you have hold of the dragon you can check that they have all their toes, fingers and that their tail is intact with no nips missing.
- Check there’s no lacerations or unexplained bumps or lumps or missing scales.
Hopefully this post helps to guide you in what to look for when buying a dragon. If you want more information about the equipment you’ll need to go with them, check our post about Equipment You’ll Need For Your Bearded Dragon or Buying A Vivarium or the various posts in the Bearded Dragon Habitat category.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please leave a comment below or join our Free Facebook group at Bearded Dragons Rock on Facebook.