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Can My Bearded Dragon Get Sunburned?

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Because bearded lizards require ultraviolet or UV light in their enclosures, its no wonder you might worry whether your critter can get sunburned. The fact is that all animals, including reptiles, can get sunburned. However, reptiles have some protection against the dangers of UV light. In fact, UV light actually prevents a serious condition in bearded dragons. When shedding, these reptiles can experience discomfort not unlike the discomfort you feel when you're sunburned.

Sunburns, UV Light & Animals Explained

The adage that only humans and pigs can suffer sunburns is a myth. According to scientists at Cornell University and the Smithsonian's National Zoo, any animal can receive sunburns on exposed skin. Sunburns occur when UV light causes the increased production of melanin, the chemical that causes skin coloration, to protect the deeper skin layers from the light. Continued exposure, however, eventually allows the light to penetrate deeper into the skin, damaging skin cells and causing sunburns. Most animals do not experience sunburns because they have built-in protections, such as feathers or scales, to protect their skin from UV light.

Bearded Dragons & UV Light

Although too much UV light can cause sunburns to bearded dragons, they need exposure to sun or its artificial equivalent daily to prevent the development of disease. UV light comes in three bands, labeled A, B and C. UV-C light never reaches the planet. UV-B light actually stimulates the production of Vitamin D in both humans and bearded dragons. Bearded dragons cannot produce this essential vitamin without exposure to UV light. Insufficient levels of Vitamin A can cause metabolic bone disease in bearded dragons, which can be fatal. Additionally, bearded dragons need access to UV-A light in order to fully see their world. According to Zoo Med Laboratories, reptiles need UV-A for their psychological well-being and to prevent the reptile-equivalent of color blindness.

Shedding Skin & Sunburn Discomfort

While bearded dragons’ scales reduce their risk of experiencing sunburns, they can empathize with the discomfort humans experience from excess UV light exposure. Throughout their lives, bearded dragons shed their skin. This process involves the peeling of the old skin, which can be uncomfortable and itchy for bearded dragon. As a result, dragons can become grumpy during this period. Taking measures to help keep their skin moist will help loosen the old skin so it can peel off more easily, but it is never a good idea to assist your dragon by pulling off the old skin -- doing so can damage the new set of scales growing underneath.

Heat & Light Risks for Bearded Dragons

Though bearded dragons do not have to worry much about sunburns, sunlight and heat can cause other problems. While humans can regulate their temperatures internally, reptiles maintain their internal temperatures by moving in and out of the sun or other heat sources. If they remain stuck in a sunlit area for too long, for example, they can overheat and die before sunburns become an issue. Similarly, bearded dragons can receive thermal burns from heat rocks and similar structures in their enclosures.