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Spotlight Bearded Dragons: Owning a Bearded Dragon

October 23, 2012

Bearded Dragons – Owning

General Information

Bearded Dragons are popular, well-known lizards and are currently considered one of the best pet lizards. There are eight species of Bearded Dragons but the most popular one is the Inland or Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps), from the arid to semi-arid southeastern parts of Australia, and this species is the one that will be mainly be discussed in this handout.

Owners often refer to them as “beardies”. They are attractive, heavy-bodied lizards with a flattened body and a broad triangular head. They have a spiny pouch (or beard) under their chin or jawbone that can be expanded when they are threatened or are aroused during mating. The pouch will also turn black when aroused. They have a characteristic series of spines projecting horizontally from the sides of the body, running from the head to the base of the tail. Full grown, healthy adults, can reach 18-22 inches (45-56 cm) from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail.

Sexing a baby Bearded Dragon is very challenging. In the adult, the male has larger femoral pores (used for scent marking), which are located on the underside of the thighs just in front of the vent. The males are slightly larger than the females, have a larger head and darker “beard”. There are many color variations, both naturally and selectively bred, including light tan, dark brown, or slightly green, with highlights of black, red, orange or gold. The young are semi-arboreal (live in trees) and the adults are mostly terrestrial, climbing occasionally to bask or search for prey. Bearded dragons live about 7-12 years if properly looked after.

This lizard is omnivorous, which means that they eat both plant and animal based foods. Bearded dragons have a behavior unique to them called arm waving, a term that describes what it actually looks like. They lift up one arm slowly and then slowly place it down again. A slow head bob often accompanies the wave. This purpose of this action is not entirely understood, but it is believed to be a form of communication, possibly indicating submission to a larger or more dominant animal.

They are highly social, friendly, animated, curious, docile and gentle animals that are easy to tame and are very responsive to their owners. Bearded dragons are hardy, robust, eat well and have a flexible diet. Bearded dragons can make great pets if cared for properly. Please do your “homework” and research as much as possible about this type of pet before bringing it into your life. They are suitable as pets for children if they are properly supervised.


Who can help me?

  • You should inquire with your veterinarian first to see if they handle exotics. If they do, it is recommended you make an appointment with them as they will have thorough knowledge of you as well as the patient.
  • Our Department of Avian & Exotic Medicine is available to see your pet by appointment, Dr. Magazu and Dr. Newkirk would be glad to help!

How do Bearded Dragons differ from other pets?

  • Bearded Dragons do not have diaphragms; they use muscles located between their ribs (intercostal muscles) for breathing.
  • Bearded Dragons have a three-chambered heart; dogs, cats, and people have four chambers in their hearts.
  • Bearded Dragons have a renal portal blood system, which means that blood from the hind limbs is filtered by the kidneys before reaching the general circulation. This means toxins from the rear limbs (as could occur from wounds on the legs) as well as drugs injected into the rear legs would probably be filtered through the kidneys before entering the general circulation.
  • Bearded Dragons excrete uric acid (the white portion of their excretion) as the main waste product of protein metabolism (dogs, cats, and people excrete liquid urea). This allows them to adapt to desert environments, where water supply might be restricted.
  • Males have two reproductive organs called hemipenes.
  • More then one Bearded Dragon can be kept in a cage (as long as it is big enough) but only one adult male should be present. Adult females may become aggressive.
  • Bearded Dragons have a cloaca, which is a reservoir for secretions from the urinary, gastrointestinal, and reproductive systems; the cloaca exits externally through the vent, located on the ventral or undersurface, between the back legs.
  • The skin is covered with scales and is usually shed in patches as they grow, unlike snakes where the skin is usually shed in one piece.
  • Bearded Dragons explore their environment by flicking out the tongue, and licking or tongue-testing with a light touch of the tongue. This is like “sniffing” and is a sensory function

How do I select a Bearded Dragon?

Most owners buy Bearded Dragons locally from a breeder or pet store. They breed well in captivity and are wildly available. Young, captive-raised animals make the best pets. Older imported animals are harder to tame, may harbor internal parasites, and often suffer from the stress of imposed captivity. Avoid sick-looking animals.

Start out right with a healthy pet. Avoid lizards that appear skinny, have loose skin or sunken eyes, and appear inactive or lethargic. A healthy Bearded Dragon is usually aware, active, and alert as often evidenced by the front legs pushing the chest and head upright and high. The girth of the tail by the back legs should be round, plump and full, not sunken and bony. The vent or cloaca should be clean and free of wetness or stool stuck to it. If you can GENTLY open the mouth (tapping lightly on the snout with a finger often works), there should be a small amount of clear saliva present and a bright pink tongue and oral cavity. Mucus that is cloudy or “cottage cheese” in appearance is a sign of mouth rot, as is redness or pinpoint hemorrhages or bruising on the mucus membranes. Always inquire about the guarantee in case the Bearded Dragon is found to be unhealthy.

My Bearded Dragon looks healthy? Does he need to see the veterinarian?

Within 48 hours of your purchase, your Bearded Dragon should be examined by a veterinarian familiar with reptiles. The physical examination includes determining the animal’s weight, as well as checking for abnormalities. The animal is examined for signs of dehydration and starvation. A fecal test is done to check for internal parasites. Many veterinarians consider all Bearded Dragons (even those bred in captivity) to have pinworms, so your Bearded Dragon may be routinely dewormed for these parasites (these pinworms are not transmissible to people). The oral cavity is examined for signs of infectious stomatitis (mouth rot). No vaccines are required for Bearded Dragons. Your doctor may recommend blood tests, bacterial cultures, or radiographs (X-rays) to check for other diseases. If all turns out well, your Bearded Dragon will be given a clean bill of health. Like all pets, Bearded Dragon should be examined and have their feces tested for parasites annually.

Rick Axelson, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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