Even though bearded dragons do not sweat or exude any natural smell of their own, they can get a bit smelly from time to time. So what causes them to stink and how can you keep your bearded dragon smelling fresh as a daisy?
Can you wash a bearded dragon with Dawn dish soap? No, you should never wash your bearded dragon with Dawn dish soap. Household cleaning products contain harsh chemicals, such as sulfates, which can damage your reptile’s skin. She could also ingest these products while soaking in her bath.
Even though you can’t use Dawn dish soap to clean your dragon, there are plenty of other options for keeping your beardie, and her terrarium, fresh, clean, and odor-free. It takes some diligence on your part, but it is quite doable.
What Causes Bearded Dragons to Smell Bad?
The biggest reason for a stinky beardie is a dirty tank.
In the wild, bearded dragons and other reptiles have miles of habitat to explore. This means that they have plenty of room to poop and that their droppings have no chance of accumulating in their living space. When your dragon lives in a terrarium or cage with limited square footage, however, this accumulation of feces can quickly become a problem.
Failing to clean feces out of your bearded dragon’s environment on a regular basis can allow bacteria to grow inside her living space. Bearded dragons and other reptiles are particularly susceptible to skin infections.
Bacterial growth in a terrarium not only increases the chances of an infection in your beardie, it also causes a decidedly stinky smell in the tank. This stench can easily transfer onto your beardie’s body, making them smell bad as well.
Fungal infections are also fairly common in bearded dragons and can also cause them to smell. An unsanitary, unclean environment or an inappropriately high humidity level can increase the risk of a fungal infection.
If your bearded dragon does have this type of infection, you’ll need to take her to the veterinarian. Other signs of fungal infections included flaking skin, lack of appetite, lethargy, mucus around the dragon’s mouth or eyes, and excessive gaping.
Leftover food in your bearded dragon’s tank can contribute to a bad odor. Leaving unconsumed food inside your dragon’s terrarium is not recommended. The items that make up a bearded dragon’s diet, such as insects, fruit and vegetables, begin to rot rather quickly and can make your bearded dragon sick if they are consumed past their prime.
If your bearded dragon does not finish a meal, you should remove her leftovers by the end of the day at the latest.
Using a cheap substrate can also cause your bearded friend to smell a little funky. If you’ve elected to use a more cost-effective substrate, such as wood chips, they might give off a recognizable smell that will transfer to your beardie.
(Please note that these types of substrates don’t typically cause other issues. However, you must be sure to purchase wood chips that are not treated with chemicals. Additionally, smaller wood chips may not be the best bet for baby bearded dragons, as they can easily be ingested.)
Spot Cleaning Your Bearded Dragon’s Home
To keep your bearded dragon’s tank clean, sanitary and odorless, you will need to spot-clean it each day. Near the end of the day, clean up all food leftovers, including dead insects, pieces of partially-consumed insects, and leftover fruit and vegetables.
Do not leave any food in your bearded dragon’s tank for more than a day. You should also take this opportunity to provide your beardie with a fresh dish of water.
You will also need to spot clean your dragon’s substrate and tank decor each day. Remove any droppings from your substrate of choice and replace it, if necessary. If you use paper or paper towels as a substrate, remove the pieces that have touched your dragon’s feces and replace them with new paper.
If you use reptile carpet, you will need to remove the pieces that become soiled. You might want to have several pieces of it available so you can quickly switch it out when it becomes dirty.
Dirty carpet should be cleaned with hot, soapy water and dried thoroughly before replacing it in your dragon’s tank. You may want to consider the fact that reptile carpet becomes dirty very quickly and is not the easiest form of substrate for maintaining cleanliness.
You can use a weak solution of water and vinegar to clean any smooth, hard dragon decorations. This solution should be 20% white vinegar and 80% water. Decorations that cannot be wiped down should be removed from the tank and washed or soaked with soapy water. You can also use a diluted bleach solution on these items if necessary. Thoroughly rinse and dry these items before returning them to your dragon’s habitat.
Weekly and Monthly Tank Cleaning
In addition to daily spot-cleaning, once per week you should do a more thorough cleaning of your dragon’s habitat. This will necessitate temporarily removing your beardie from her home. Once she is safe and occupied, remove all decorations and dishes from her tank and clean them thoroughly.
You should also spot clean your dragon’s substrate at this time, using the methods mentioned above.
Here comes the really fun part: Once a month, you need to do a deep clean of your bearded dragon’s habitat. This includes removing all substrate, dishes, and decorations from her cage or terrarium. You can soak decorations, dishes, and reptile carpet in a solution of diluted bleach and water.
While they are soaking, thoroughly wipe down your dragon’s tank with the same bleach and water solution, or with hot, soapy water.
It is important to remember that bearded dragons are very susceptible to chemicals, as well as the smells of those chemicals. While you are cleaning your beardie’s habitat, you should keep her far enough away that she will not be affected by the smell of the cleaning products you are using.
Make sure that all items, including your bearded dragon’s tank, are completely rinsed and dried before she comes into contact with them again. Any excess moisture can serve as a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria, as previously mentioned.
How to Bathe Your Dragon
Just because you can’t scrub your bearded dragon down with soap, doesn’t mean they don’t need regular baths. Baths are essential for these reptiles and provide a wealth of health benefits.
Dehydration and constipation are common issues in bearded dragons. Regular baths allow your bearded dragon to drink water, help her to poop, and provide some excellent skincare benefits. Ideally, you should bathe your dragon in her own space — a plastic storage container makes the perfect beardie bathtub.
In part, this is because the products you use in the shower, such as soap, shampoo, and body wash, can be harmful if your bearded dragon ingests them or if they come into contact with her skin.
You should bathe your bearded dragon at least twice per week, more often if she is shedding or you believe she might be constipated. To properly bathe your beardie, fill her tub with 1-3 inches of water. The water level should not be any higher than your dragon’s shoulders, or where her front legs meet her body.
Your dragon’s bathwater should be warm, but not hot, approximately 90-96 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also place a rock or other item in the bath for your beadie to climb onto if she needs a break.
Let your bearded dragon soak for about 15-20 minutes. If she poops in the bath, be sure to remove it promptly (using a plastic cup or gloved hands), or, if she’s just about reached her maximum bathing time, go ahead and end the bath.
If your bearded dragon has walked through poop in her tank, or taken on some stinky terrarium smells, skip the soap and gently brush her with only a soft-bristled toothbrush while she’s in the bath.
Again, this action should be very delicate, really more of a massage, and you must be sure to brush only in the natural direction of your dragon’s scales. You can also gently pour water over your dragon’s back, being very careful to avoid her mouth and eyes.
There are some “dragon wash” products on the market that claim to contain only all-natural ingredients. Please check with your veterinarian before using a product like this.
Dawn dish soap, as well as other human-friendly household products, can pose serious health risks to bearded dragons and other reptiles. Although bearded dragons require regular baths for various reasons, they do not need to be washed with soap during these baths.
A stinky dragon is typically the result of a dirty living environment. Be sure to keep your bearded dragon’s tank clean, sanitary, and dry, and you shouldn’t have any issues with a smelly pet.