Bearded dragon bath time is a key feature of many a beardie’s weekly routine.
But do bearded dragons need baths?
Do owners do more harm than good, by bathing a reptile that originates from arid areas?
Here are the facts behind the how, what, why, and when of bearded dragon bath times.
Why Owners Bathe Their Beardies
The number one reason owners bathe their beardies is to hydrate them.
Folklore has it that reptiles drink through their anuses.
Thus, the theory goes that regular bathing prevents dehydration.
The hydration argument is so compelling that it’s widely repeated, even among some vets.
But it’s an urban myth. Reptiles do not drink via their anuses.
Not convinced? Read on.
An Urban Myth
To prove the point, specialist reptile vet Douglas Mader had one of his intern students conduct a scientific study. They weighed reptiles before a bath and after.
The reptiles weighed LESS after the bath than before. How come?
It seems the bath stimulates reptiles to use the toilet, rather than drink. Thus, they had a net loss of weight due to emptying their cloaca, rather than a gain due to “drinking.”
Also, those reptiles had blood drawn before and after the bath. This was to measure two blood parameters (packed cell volume and total protein).
Both of these parameters should go down if the reptiles took fluid on board. But neither did.
Because the reptiles didn’t drink through their anuses.
However, giving a bearded dragon bath time is not a total waste of time.
Being in water, especially if there is gentle splashing, often stimulates the dragon to drink…using the more conventional route of their mouth.
Do Bearded Dragons Need Baths?
The best we can say is a definite “Maybe.”
The act of bathing beardies gives them an opportunity to drink their bath water.
The benefit of a bearded dragon bath is the same, although the method of delivery (using the mouth rather than the anus) is different.
Still clinging to the idea of cloacal drinking? Then consider where bearded dragons originate from.
Bearded dragons come from Australia – central Australia, as it happens. This is about as arid and dry as a place gets.
They spend their waking hours basking on rocks or burrow into the sand to avoid the heat.
Where does a wild bearded dragon bathe? It doesn’t!
The dragons’ natural environment lacks the pools and rivers that invite reptiles to soak.
Another argument against cloaca drinking is that hot environment.
A mucous membrane capable of absorbing water would also be capable of losing water. Thus, cloacal drinking would be a disadvantage rather than an advantage.
Do Bearded Dragons Need to Drink?
All living things need water. So how do desert dwelling creatures find moisture?
The answer is “in their food.”
In the wild, bearded dragons eat a varied diet of insects and plants. It is this food that provides most of the moisture they need.
However, you should still offer bearded dragons water to drink. In captivity, they are dependent on the food you offer for their water.
Should their diet not contain enough moisture, they are not at liberty to track down a highly hydrated snack.
If you would like your bearded dragons to take in more water, try this trick. Simply mist their veggies with water.
Then, when they eat, they take in more moisture.
With this said – always ensure beardies have access to water.
Providing Drinking Water for Beardies
Provide bearded dragon drinking water in a large shallow bowl of water. A flat, ceramic bowl is best, as it can’t be knocked over.
That bowl of water also has other health benefits. Evaporation from the surface of the water provides vital humidity.
This is especially important when beardies are shedding. An overly dry atmosphere makes shedding tricky and leads to retained shed, when the reptile has difficulty removing the shed skin from parts of its body.
And the last word on water bowls goes to hygiene.
Reptiles, including bearded dragons, can shed salmonella. While beardies may not be sick themselves, they are a source of infection for people.
Be scrupulous when cleaning water (and food bowls). Keep them well away from areas used for human food preparation and keep a separate set of dishcloths and cleaning utensils.
How to Bathe a Bearded Dragon
A bearded dragon bath does have benefits.
For example, it’s a great way to build trust with your beardie. Plus, it does give them the chance to drink if they wish.
Bearded dragons are cold blooded and depend on the ambient temperature to keep warm. Make sure the bathroom is comfortably warm to keep the beardie happy.
It’s also best to bathe your reptile on an empty stomach. This prevents food in the gut not being digested if their body temperature drops.
To bathe a bearded dragon, get everything ready in advance. A large bowl, such as a dedicated plastic washing up bowl, is ideal. (Remember: don’t do the dishes in it afterwards!)
Put enough water in the bowl, so that it covers half the depth of the dragon’s belly. This should allow the beardie to safely keep its head above water.
The ideal water temperature is slightly warmer than our own body heat. When you dip a finger in, the water should feel warm to hot, but never scalding.
Some experts advise adding special reptile “water softeners” to the bath water.
This is due to processed tap water containing high levels of fluoride which are irritant to the dragon’s gut. These conditioners prevent this from happening.
Gently place the beardie in the water. Try softly splashing water over its body, to encourage your pet to drink.
Allow the bearded dragon to bathe for around 10 – 20 minutes. Remove your beardie as soon as the water cools.
Pop the newly washed beardie onto its basking spot to warm up and dry off.
Should You Mist a Bearded Dragon?
Humidity is a finicky thing. When the humidity is too high or too low, this can cause problems for a bearded dragon.
When the ambient humidity is constantly high, this can predispose it to fungal infections and respiratory disease.
When the humidity is too low, this causes difficulties shedding.
Instead, in drier months it’s important to hit a sweet spot. This can be achieved by misting the bearded dragon with water several times a week.
Don’t saturate the dragon, just a gentle drizzle is fine. Alternatively, supply that large flat drinking bowl so that evaporation from the surface does the trick.
The Bearded Dragon Bath: What Do We Know?
All living creatures require water, bearded dragons included.
While wild bearded dragons can regulate how much water they take in by varying what they eat, tame beardies cannot do this.
This means they should have access to water in their vivarium.
And while bath times aren’t essential, the splashing may encourage a bearded dragon to drink the bath water and keep hydrated.
Resources and Further Reading
- Stanhope Vet Center, Bearded Dragon Care.
- Divers, S. Management of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual,
- Mader, D. The Vet Report: Fluid Therapy in Reptiles. Reptiles Magazine.