Water, & our Bearded Dragons

Authored by Pete Hawkins: Chameleon Network / Bearded Dragons Network / Snake Network / Lizard Network / Amphibian Network

Water & Bearded Dragons

As you may or may not know, Bearded Dragons are native to Central Australia. So with just a quick Google search you have all the info needed at your fingertips regarding the natural habitat. A land of sand, soil, clay, & woodland areas.
I have always used this Australian government site to show people the “facts” about the conditions our Dragons are naturally acclimatized to; The above link will take you to the Rainfall over Australia for the last 10 months.

And as you can see, the central Australia area (where our Dragons run free) rainfall varies between 0 mm to 300 mm a year.
That’s not much is it…

Natural Territory of Bearded Dragons

Image from Wikipedia. Natural territory

Also, with an average mean maximum temperature last year of 36c, any fallen water is soon dispersed. This means, no puddles or water pool’s to drink from.

For this reason Bearded Dragons have developed the ability to survive very happily without needing a constant water supply. Extracting all their hydration needs from their foraging. Be it live-food or plants.

How they can survive is very much to do with their kidney functionality. Bearded Dragon kidneys work far more efficient than ours. Not only at purifying water taken in, but also extracting fluids from anything eaten by removing as much fluid as possible. It will then disburse urates to the Cloaca (which is a kind of reservoir area for any secretions from the urinary, gastrointestinal system). It’s not finished there either. Their body will then have another go and squeeze out any fluid missed the first time around. Thus resulting in the final deposit, a semi-solid excretion, or better known as, the white bit in the poo.

In conclusion, you can see from the above website that the day time temperatures are high (average of 35c – 45c), night-time temperatures are pretty low in comparison (between 9c – 18c). So, water is pretty much non-existent to them in many of these areas. So your dragon does not need, or want, swimming and drinking lessons. Reason being, they live happily without any constant water supply. And in most areas, no water at all.

The odd bath WILL also help. But ONLY if the water is taken in via the mouth. Not the Vent area.

As we need to try to recreate their natural habitat as much as possible, this means water is optional inside your vivarium due to the above. I feel a small bowl in the cool-end provides the “hydration option“. If they use a bowl, by all means, keep it in there. If not, remove it if you wish. But you MUST provide other hydration options.

As mentioned above, all hydration for our Dragons should come in the form of well hydrated live-food, and veg/greens/fruits. The odd bath will also help. But ONLY if they water Is taken in via the mouth. Not the vent area (Cloaca)…more on this later. They certainly don’t need daily bath’s. Not only is it unnatural for them, but to many baths can actually increase, although rare, the risk of R.I. (Steam), ear infections, and eye problems (water/chlorine does irritate).

This doesn’t mean don’t ever bathe your Dragon. Baths are fine. A bath will often be a stimulant for them to drink. But of course, many dragon keepers will be more than familiar with what I call, “dragon vivarium Feng Shui“. When they will do a poo, and proceed to walk through it, then walk it around the vivarium. Even on the glass. So, a bath well-earned here. Obviously, don’t let them drink any water that has faecal matter floating about.

So unless under medication/Vet advice, a few baths a month is ample to provide drinking stimulation.

Personally, my current Dragons do not drink from a water bowl. I have tried many times. But they do in a bath. Also, via a spray bottle when out for exercise, which is my preferred method. I will also do a light spray as soon as the lights are on in the mornings. Both the vivarium, and dragons face. This simulates a natural morning dew, thus re-creates the wild adaptation of the capillary transfer of collected moisture into the mouth.

Wild Bearded Dragon

Wild Dragon

Also, remember babies are at risk of dehydration more than the adults. So the odd extra bath helps things here if they drink. But they should be getting maximum hydration from live food and greens. One of the best ways of seeing if more fluid is needed in your dragon’s diet is looking at the urate with the poo.

A nice bright white = nicely hydrated
Slightly Yellow = Introduce a little extra hydration (sprinkle water on greens, or cucumber, lettuce even, once a week)
Yellow/hard = Extreme dehydration. First off – Vet advice/appointment. Daily baths (if they drink), extra watery greens (cucumber),

Baths, The Myth

No water at all was taken in via the vent area, on any occasion

Many believe a dragon will hydrate via the skin and Cloaca (rear Vent) during a bath session. Although this ‘may’ be correct for other reptiles, and certainly the skin is true with many amphibians; for our dragons, it’s false. Reptile skin is designed for maximum effect to keep water/hydration in, not disperse. None goes to waste.

Amphibians on the other hand, will take in fluids from the skin, and moist humid habitat often necessary.
A dragon’s skin is made from a keratin based protein, which is 100% waterproof. So no water will make its way in.
What can happen is water gets trapped between the scales, not drying properly can cause scale rot over time.

Also it is thought they can hydrate via the rear vent (Cloaca). I don’t actually know where this came from, I’ve never been convinced this would be the case.
It was not until I was talking with my friend, and Vet, about this some years ago that the myth was finally squashed for me.
He proceeded to show me 2 publications. One by Dr. Wade Sherbrooke (Dr. Sherbrooke Journal of Herp), where experiments were taken using dyed water and various lizards in a bath. Dragons included, no water at all was taken in via the vent area, on any occasion. The second, a more recent Veterinary publication, regarding the use of ‘Powerade’ in dehydration circumstances. Again, proven a pointless test unless taken in orally.

Since all those years ago, I’ve discussed the subject many times, with many keepers of reptiles, in many groups/forums, and reptile meetings. Even banned from some Facebook groups…for providing “Facts”. Some people don’t like facts it seems. But, that is another discussion for another time.

I’m surprised by just how long this “vent drinking” myth has been going around.

Bearded Dragon Drinking via a dripper

One of my Dragons drinking from a dripper

The publications from Dr. Sherbrooke was from the early 1990’s, so I’m surprised by just how long this “vent drinking” myth has been going around. Also, if you actually think it through. Water entering the Cloaca for hydration makes no sense at all.

How would it enter the system to hydrate the blood, organs? Making its way, in reverse, through the Dragon’s body. Yep, it doesn’t make sense, pretty simple really.

If anything, a bath poses a dehydration risk.

We all know during a bath session, a Dragon will often empty its bowels. You may also notice the odd partially undigested Morio worm, or Locust wing/leg. Reason being, due to warm water being a muscle relaxant, in conjunction with the possible swimming motions performed, the bowels are often emptied, prematurely. This food has not been fully utilized by the Dragon. So, food for thought here I think…

To summarize – Like any living thing, hydration is vital. It’s all about providing the option for your Dragon to drink. If that means water bowl, dripper, bath, then so be it. Use what works for you and your dragon.

But it is essential you keep live food fully gut-loaded, and hydrated. This in-turn, gets passed on to your Dragon. Along with variety in both veg/greens/plants/fruits, and live food, and hydration methods mentioned above for example, all hydration needs should be met without any issues.

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