How to control your Bearded Dragons heat when it's hot weather

There comes a time here in the UK where we do actually get some warm weather. While many of us will lap it up and lavish in its wonder, there will be many of us scratching our heads, and somewhat panicking regarding the heat playing havoc with our Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) enclosures....

...So let's go through some of the issues, and possible solutions to aid getting through these warmer months.

How to cool down your Beardie's vivarium | How to reduce the humidity level in your Bearded Dragon’s vivarium | Bearded Dragon overheating symptoms | | Is it normal for Beardie's to sleep all day? | Taking Bearded Dragons outside

How to cool down your Bearded Dragon’s vivarium

  • Thermostat: The first thing, and absolutely the most important piece of equipment a reptile keeper should have in any setup is a thermostat.

    This will subtly dim the bulb when the set temperature is reached, thus reducing its output and reducing the heat emitted from the bulb.

    The thermostat serves as a vital piece of equipment - a lifesaving piece.

    For our dragon vivaria we should be using overhead heat only (no heat-mats). So with that, a high range dimming thermostat should be connected.

    Personally. I use Microclimate thermostats. The Evo or Evo Lite are perfect for the dragon enclosures.

    But as long as it’s a high range dimming thermostat, brand is irrelevant. It’s that thermostats given job that is the important part.

    Many people message me in a panic as their setup bulb is off pretty much all day due to the thermostat doing its job.

    Please understand the thermostat is doing exactly what it must to keep that setup safe.

    And importantly, that bulb will usually be on first thing when the light comes on and the dragon should bask then, energising for the day ahead.

    The same goes for early evening when it's cooler, the bulb will probably come on.

    Don't worry about it being off 90% of the day, it’s still warm enough within that setup for the dragon to live as normal, feed, poo. All should remain normal in the routines.

a thermostatA thermostat is the most important item for controlling the heat in your Beardie's vivarium

Worse case scenario here.....

We are in the midst of a heat wave and it’s 30c+ outside. This amps up that room temperature and it will of course affect the temperature within your vivaria.

So without a thermostat involved, that heat bulb stays on, full power, full heat, regardless of the temperature in the setup.

That setup will reach 40c+ throughout fairly quickly.

This gives the poor dragon no escape from extreme temperature. This can kill your dragon, simple as that. I've seen it happen before.

But with the thermostat, once that temperature reaches the set 40c on the basking zone, the bulb will dim, sometimes completely off. Thus allowing the setup to cool, and stay safe for the inhabitant. No deaths here.

  • Fans: The best thing to enable cooling in a setup for me is fans.

    They can be attached via the setup vents on the rear of the enclosure (or wherever your vents are). One blows fresh air in the enclosure, the other, sucks it out, thus producing a steady airflow change in the enclosure. This will help keep things cool by a few degrees.

    Room fans in the same room as the enclosures will of course help things too.

    I have used the Lucky Reptile Terra Fan set in the past, with great success.

  • fans built into the back of a vivariumThe back of a vivarium cooled using fans - photo courtesy of Stephen Horrocks 2018

    • Airflow and Ventilation Adding more airflow and ventilation will of course help.

      I know a few people who will open the vivarium glass doors several inches either side and secure some mesh in the openings. This increases airflow, and aids cooling.

      And if you are a DIY enthusiast you could add more ventilation yourself via the rear or sides of the enclosure.

    mesh between the vivarium door opening and sideYou can secure mesh in the opening of your vivarium's door - photo courtesy of Stephen Horrocks 2018

    • Misting: Misting of the enclosures morning, afternoon and evening will help keep things cooler.
    • Water bowls: Having a water bowl large and safe enough for the dragon to soak in if he or she chooses is a great option.
    • A moist hide: This area will be a cool and darker area for the dragon to retreat to if needed.

      A simple hide big enough for the dragon to fit in, filled with sphagnum moss and kept moist. A perfect for a little dragon cooling room :)

    a hide with sphagnum moss insideA hide with moist sphagnum moss can help your beardie stay cool

    • Substrate: Naturally and instinctively your dragon will dig. This is not only for enrichment and their preferred natural hunting and foraging method. But they also do it to stay warmer in a burrow that they sleep in every night. And also to stay cool in the peak heat times of the Australian midday sun.

      This is what they have done on an evolutionary level for millions of years. So it's a great idea to allow them the chance to do the same in your vivarium.

      Personally, I use a play-sand and topsoil mix. With a ratio based on more topsoil, say around 40/60.

    How to reduce the humidity level in your Bearded Dragon’s vivarium

    The ideal humidity in a dragon setup is commonly thought to be around 30/40%, with the humidity naturally rising again in the night.

    People do tend to panic with their setup humidity. With things such as respiratory infections being something I hear almost daily due to such panic.

    People must remember, humidity is only ever a problem if the air-flow is poor.

    Therefore, it’s important you have ample ventilation to allow the flow of air, and rid that stale air which causes the bacteria and illness.

    You could have a higher humidity all day every day if you have ample ventilation to allow the flow of air, and rid that stale air which causes the bacteria and illness.

    At the end of the day, the humidity inside your vivarium is only ever going to be as low as the humidity in your home.

    If you are having issues due to such, tackle the cause as opposed to trying to lower the setup alone.

    basking Bearded DragonUsing a thermometer and other cooling methods your Beardie's basking habits should remain unchanged

    Bearded Dragon overheating symptoms

    In these hot conditions, lethargy can be an issue and in turn, lack of eating.

    It's always best to book a vet visit if only so they can aid the monitoring of weight during this period.

    If ultimately, no weight-loss is happening, it really shouldn't be an issue.

    You’ll find a hot dragon will seek shelter and the cool, naturally spending far more time in the cool end of the setup. Under hides, in water bowls, all natural attempts to cool down.

    You should continue to offer food and hydration options via misting, a water bowl, a moist hide and even a bath if the water is drank orally (they do not absorb water via the cloaca/vent, or through their 100% waterproof keratin skin).

    With this, the basking habits of a healthy dragon should still really remain regardless.

    They should still get up at lights on, bask for an hour or so, thus energising under the heat bulb and UVB for the day ahead.

    After this hour or so, they will dig, glass-surf, climb, hide, or do what a dragon wants. And they should bask in burst periods throughout the day.

    And remember, it’s not actually a good thing if your dragon is basking all day.

    If this is the case, I’d suggest a look at your temperatures and UVB. One, or both of which I'd say is not up to the quality they naturally require. Hence the extended basking session trying to fully energise without success.

    Is it normal for Bearded Dragons to sleep all day in summer?

    It's not a good thing if your Bearded Dragon is sleeping all day, and the same reasons as above are the main cause - heat and UVB issues.

    As mentioned above, you know your dragons behaviour. If there are any behavioural changes that are out of character please don't hesitate to visit your exotic vet.

    Lethargy, laziness and loss of appetite, of course can be due to the weather. But can also be linked to other illness such as a parasite burden, Metabolic Bone Disease, Atadenovirus and so on.

    So for piece of mind, and of course your dragons benefit, do what you must.

    Taking Bearded Dragons outside

    This is a great thing for your dragon, but you must take precautions.

    If you have never taken your dragon out for some natural UVB benefit, ease them into this. Don't go out and keep them out for an extended period of time.

    With any time outside, use the safety of a playpen. These are easily obtained at Argos, or most supermarkets. I prefer the canvas/mesh type.

    Please always offer a filled water bowl in the pen. Also offer shade and shelter so they can get away from that powerful UVB if they choose, and feel safe and secure.

    Don't use harnesses. These are not suitable for many reasons, the main reason being, a leash or harness should only be used with animals you have some verbal control over. Like a dog ;-)

    With a dragon, you do not have such, and if they get startled, they will run. A harness can and will cause broken or dislocated limbs, or worse, death. I've seen all of these in the past. They really are not a safe or secure option for such tasks.

    How long can Bearded Dragons be outside and in the sun?

    At first Bearded Dragons can be outside and in the sun for around 5 to 10 minutes a day for a week or so. You can slowly increase the time span if there are no signs of stress such as black beard, running or trying to get away.

    The exposure to the natural UVB will be highly beneficial to your dragon. However, even when your dragon is acclimatised to it, 30 mins to 1 hour is more than enough exposure.

    You must remember, it’s a big scary world outside. New sights, new smells, and that intense UV exposure, which can all stress out a dragon.

    If your dragon tries to get away, hide, etc take them back indoors to the safety of their own established territory (their vivarium). Don't prolong their stress, as stress = illness.