Dog and cat owners are all too familiar with the need to bathe their pets. Their pets, after all, have fur coats that gather dust and dirt, trap odors, and spread allergy-inducing dander all over the house. It’s pretty clear when a dog or a cat needs a bath.
Most other pet owners don’t pay as much attention to hygiene, especially those of us who prefer scaly friends to furry ones.
We clean out their bedding, sure, but how much more hygiene could a reptile really need?
The answer is, not much. Just like you don’t technically have to bathe your dog.
The dog is fine being dirty, its you who doesn’t like the smell. Of course, plenty of people complain that bearded dragons smell, too.
Bathing a Bearded Dragon: What You Should Know
Bearded dragons are one of the most popular exotic pets, and a lot of people do bathe them.
In terms of dragon hygiene, there’s more benefit to the dragons than most people realize.
Although they’re desert creatures without much access to large pools of water in the wild, they tend to get dirtier in a terrarium than wild dragons do.
Bathing your dragon keeps them clean, helps them stay hydrated, eases the shedding of their skin, and can even relieve mild constipation.
While you need to be careful not to bathe your dragon too often, baths are a recommended part of your dragons weekly routine.
For many of them it’s an enjoyable, stimulating activity.
Most dragons enjoy sitting in a pool of warm water, and they may even splash around a bit.
Bathing is a good way to help keep your dragon hydrated.
In the wild, they get most of the water they need from the food and from the dew that gathers on the desert plants in the morning.
In your home, there’s no dew and the water content of their food is often low.
You should already have a source of water available to them in the terrarium, but bath time can still supplement their water needs.
Bathing your dragon also removes old skin cells and can make shedding easier. Perhaps most importantly, bathing simply cleans your dragon.
Yes, dragons don’t need baths.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t get dirty, or that you won’t want or need to clean them.
Remember, wild dragons never bathe, but they aren’t kept in a small confined space with their own waste.
No matter how often you clean the terrarium, your dragon is spending some of its time surrounded by its own feces.
That means it’s exposed to more bacteria than wild dragons, and it also means that occasionally your dragon will drag itself through its own mess.
Bath time can help you bond with your dragon, and will make sure that your dragon stays as clean as possible.
If you happen to be one of those people who think bearded dragons smell, you probably need to give your dragon a bath.
But how do you bathe a lizard? Here are a few tips to make sure your dragons bath time goes smoothly.
Don’t bathe too often
If you put your dragon in a pool of water, it will drink the water.
That’s fine, this is part of how we keep them hydrated. Just remember that dragons are desert creatures; they can over-hydrate easily.
Too much water can cause watery stool, which can lead to diarrhea, which can dehydrate your dragon.
It’s recommended that you don’t bathe them more than once a week.
Don’t use soap
This, too, is because your dragon is going to drink the water.
Don’t put anything in the water that you don’t want to go into your dragon’s stomach.
You don’t want any soap or detergent in the bath
Where to bathe your dragon
You can bathe your bearded dragon in anything that holds water.
Some people use the kitchen sink or a bathtub, others use plastic storage bins.
There are no hard and fast rules here, you just need something that has enough room for your dragon and will hold water.
Water temperature and depth
This is the most important part to get right. Too much water is going to stress out your dragon, especially if it has never been bathed before.
Again, this is a desert animal.
It has no instinctive wish to be submerged in water, and will probably think that it’s in danger if the water gets too deep.
Some dragons love the water and take to it right away, others will never be comfortable in it, and most fall somewhere in the middle.
Each individual dragon is different, so be gentle the first few times you bathe your dragon until you have a good feel for how it likes the water.
You want the water to go up to about its knees, maybe a bit deeper if your dragon seems OK with it.
Yes, this means your dragon will not be submerged in the water.
Just get a small cup and gently pour the water over its back and tail. Do not pour the water over its face or head.
For juvenile dragons, you’ll end up filling the sink or tub with about a half inch to an inch of water.
For adults, it can be anywhere from one to three inches, depending on the size of your dragon.
Start on the low end of the scale, and add more water after you put your dragon in if the water level looks low.
It’s a good idea to place an object like a rock or log in the bath that will let them climb out of the water if they get distressed.
You can simply pour the warm water over them there if they don’t want to sit in the water.
If they never get used to the bath, you can also place the rock or log in an empty tub and pour water over them.
If your dragon is shedding, or you just want to make your that they really get clean, a toothbrush with soft bristles is a good way to clean them in the water.
Just brush them gently with it, avoiding the face.
If the water is too hot, you risk scalding your dragon. If it’s too cool, you might bring the dragon’s body temperature down too much.
Keep the water between 85 and 100 degrees and your dragon will be nice and comfortable in the bath.
Note that most hot water taps in the US heat the water to 120 degrees, so you’ll need to let the water cool before putting your dragon in, or use both the hot and cold taps to lower the temperature of the water.
Let your dragon soak in the water for 20 minutes or so, occasionally pouring some water over its back. Keep checking the water temperature, too.
As it cools, remove some of the cooler water and replace it with fresh hot water to keep your dragon comfortable and warm.
Watch how the dragon behaves, too.
Some dragons will happily swim in deeper water, but if it keeps swimming to the edge of the tub, swims in circles around the edge of the tub, or is trying to climb its way out, that dragon is panicking and trying to escape.
You might want not want to bathe that dragon very often, keep the water shallow when you do, and include objects that your dragon can climb on.
You might be tempted to leave your dragon in the bathe longer if it’s really enjoying it, but 20-30 minutes is the upper limit recommended by most.
Keeping the dragons in the water too long risks over hydration or lowering the body temperature too much.
If you’re keeping the water hot, you can even overheat your dragon.
Don’t forget to dry off your dragon!
Once the bath is over, you need to dry off your dragon.
Remember, water evaporating off a surface cools it down- this is the primary cooling mechanism for our own bodies.
If you forget to dry your dragon off, evaporative cooling could bring its body temperature dangerously low.
And no, you can’t just place your wet dragon under a heating lamp.
The lamp won’t begin to heat the dragons body until it’s evaporated all of the water off of its skin, and it’s temperature will be dropping the whole time.
Wet skin will also cause some substrates, like sand, to stick your dragon. After you remove them from the water, use a soft, clean towel to gently pat them dry.
Once your dragon is dry, place it under the heat lamp.
Even with you drying it off, it’s bound to have lost some body heat as the bath water cooled.
That means that once your dragon is dry, you want to get it under its basking lamp.
Dirty bath water
There’s a very good chance your dragon will poop in the bath.
Something about the warm water stimulates their bowels; it’s common enough that most dragon-bathers assume their dragon will do it every time.
If and when that happens, either remove the feces from the water or end the bath.
You definitely don’t want your dragon swimming around in its own feces.
Clean the tub/container
You just cleaned your dragon in there. There are likely pieces of old skin, dirt, and other grime left behind.
Not to mention the fact that your dragon just used the bath as a toilet.
Clean the container after each use so it’s always ready to be used again.
Benefits of bathing your dragon
It’s already been mentioned that bathing can help keep your dragon clean, but there are other benefits.
Bathing helps relieve constipation
If you notice that your dragon hasn’t defecated for several days, a warm bath might help. The warm water can stimulate them to go, and can make the process a little easier. It it doesn’t work, take your dragon to the vet.
Even if it does, you’ll want to talk to your vet about what caused the constipation in the first place. This can be a fatal condition for bearded dragons, so you want to be sure you understand why it’s happening and what you need to do to prevent it from happening again.
Bathing helps treat dehydration
It’s true that bathing too often can over hydrate your dragon. If you have a dragon who’s already dehydrated, though a bath can hydrate them quickly.
In fact, many breeders say that bathing is one of the best ways to hydrate your dragon, because a lot of times dragons that won’t drink from a bowl will drink deeply during a bath.
Bathing helps with shedding
High humidity will help any reptile shed it’s skin, but it’s hard to maintain a high level of humidity in a bearded dragon tank because of the high temperatures they need. Plus, they don’t really thrive in a humid environment anyway, since they’re a desert lizard.
A soak in warm water will do the trick if they have stubborn old skin that just won’t shed. The water loosens and softens the layer of dead skin, and you can easily rub it off yourself while you’re bathing them.
A gentle scrub with a clean, soft bristled toothbrush is also a good way to get rid of stubborn old skin that won’t come off.
Bathing a lizard seems like a weird thing to do, and most first-time dragon owners probably don’t know that their dragon needs a bath. Even people with experience caring for other reptiles might be surprised- snakes don’t need baths, even though most of them like the water.
Bearded Dragons, though, really do benefit from regular bathing. It keeps them clean, helps them shed, and for a lot of them it’s a fun and relaxing way to spend twenty minutes.
Your experience will depend on your specific dragon, since they’re all different and some will absolutely hate the water.
Young dragons can be slowly introduced to bathing and will be more likely to enjoy baths as an adult if they are, but no matter the age of the dragon bathing is an important part of caring for your scaly friend.