Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are lizards that occur naturally in the arid interior of Australia, and can grow up to about 60cm (2ft) when adult.
As a pet they're very popular, and have their own little personalities. There correct setup forms an important part of their care, as does the correct diet.
Your Beardie's setup will need to include (click to jump to the relevant section)
Find out more about vet fee cover your Bearded Dragon.
1. How big a vivarium do Bearded Dragons need?
A baby, juvenile and adult Bearded Dragon will require a vivarium measuring at least 1.2 x 0.6 x 0.6m (4 x 2 x 2ft).
You should provide this even for baby Bearded Dragons as they grow very quickly.
Vivariums are usually front opening, which means that your Bearded Dragon will easily see you opening the sliding door.
This is important because in the wild, predators would attack from above, so a tank that is top opening could make your Beardie feel threatened when you go to him.
And although Bearded Dragons do not climb as readily as some lizards, they do still like to rest off the ground on occasions. This needs to be reflected in the height of the enclosure.
A baby Beardie will only measure 10-13cm (4-5in), including its tail, so in theory you could house him in a smaller vivarium than an adult.
However it is actually false economy to purchase a set-up of this size, because it will soon need upgrading as your pet gets larger.
Individual Bearded Dragons grow at different rates, but they are likely to reach adult size by the time that they are about a year of age.
Your beardies vivarium should be at least 4ft x 2ft x 2ft
Should I choose a plastic or wood vivarium?
White melamine (a permanently hardened form of plastic) may be the best choice for the sides of the box because this reflects the light well, just as happens in the Bearded Dragon’s natural habitat where the light intensity is high.
Furthermore, a melamine surface is very easy to clean, simply by wiping it over.
Find out how much it costs to set up a vivarium in our article: Bearded Dragon set up costs
2. What is the correct temperature for Bearded Dragons?
At the warmer end of the vivarium you should aim for a hot spot of around 37°C (100°F). The cooler end of the vivarium should be around 26°C (80°F). The best night time temperature for your Bearded Dragon’s vivarium is 21°C (70°F).
Ensuring your Bearded Dragon's vivarium is heated correctly is very important.
Although reptiles are described as cold-blooded and are therefore dependent on the warmth of their surroundings in order to be active, their metabolism is such that they should not be kept at a constant temperature.
Bearded Dragons live in an area where the temperature can become very hot during the day, which then falls away at night.
The correct temperature gradient should therefore reflect the arid landscape and changing night time temperature.
3. Bearded Dragon light and heat
Basking bulbs, also known as spot bulbs, provide an intense source of light and heat for your Beardie, replicating the sun's heat and light.
You can buy basking lamps from the Northampton Reptile Centre. Don't forget that it'll need to be held in a reflector that will concentrate the warmth downwards into your Beardie's vivarium.
Do Bearded Dragons need heat at night?
Bearded Dragons don't necessarily need heating at night. According to Pete Hawkins, allowing a drop in temperature at night allows their bodies to thermoregulate.
It gives them a chance to slow down, in preparation for the morning.
It means that by the time their heating comes back on in the morning, they've got a reason to get up, bask and do more. It helps 'kick start' their day.
Leaving the heating on at night could discourage them from basking during the day, meaning they do less and eat less.
Of course this all depends on how cold your house gets at night - if below 10 degrees, then you'll probably need to think about putting on your Beardie's Ceramic Heat Emitter.
You can buy a Ceramic Heat Emitter from the Northampton Reptile Centre. They emit no light, only heat.
4. Bearded Dragons and UVB light
You should provide full spectrum UVB lighting for your Bearded Dragon. You can buy a range of UVB tubes from Northampton Reptile Centre.
UVB lighting is essential as it mimics the ultraviolet component of sunlight. It's vital for the manufacture of Vitamin D3 in your Beardie's skin, which allows calcium to be absorbed into his body.
You should also ensure that there is adequate calcium provided in your Bearded Dragon’s diet as well.
It is now possible to acquire lamps that emit both heat and the beneficial UV rays at the same time, minimising the need for additional expenditure on fitments.
You can buy the Arcadia Deep Heat Projector from the Northampton Reptile Centre.
It is very important to read the directions for use though, to be sure that you appreciate how to incorporate a lamp of this type effectively into your set-up.
How much time should Bearded Dragons spend in UV?
Your Bearded Dragon should receive around 14 - 16 hours of UV exposure in the summer months, and 10 - 12 in the winter.
How far away should UV light be from my Bearded Dragon?
Your UV light should be placed twelve inches from the floor of the enclosure. If your vivarium is taller than this, then use extra substrate to reduce the distance.
The height of the lamp above the position of the Bearded Dragon is vital, because the effectiveness of the UV output falls as the distance increases.
Having a reflector that will concentrate the UV light downwards is very important, but you also need to bear in mind that any grill – as may be advisable to prevent the possible risk of your pet coming into contact with the lamp and suffering potentially fatal burns – will decrease the UV output.
Never put your UV lamp on the outside of the enclosure as the vital UV rays won't be able to reach your Beardie.
Be aware - UV output declines over time!
Another very important consideration is that the UV output of these lamps declines over time.
This means that they will need to be replaced typically after 10-12 months of use, even though they are seemingly still working.
It is therefore a good idea to write the date when you started using a lamp in a diary, so you can remember when you need to replace it.
In addition, if you register your purchase online, some manufacturers will email you when the lamp is likely to need replacing.
Specialist reptile shops can also test lamps for you, for their UVB output.
It is often worth having a spare one available though in any event, just in case it blows at a time over Christmas perhaps, when it will be hard to replace.
These lamps also act as a source of UVA which acts as an appetite stimulant.
Do my Bearded Dragons have to have a UVB light?
Absolutely yes. UVB lighting helps the body to manufacture Vitamin D3. This vitamin is essential in the absorption of Calcium. In the absence of sufficient Vitamin D3, a Bearded Dragon will suffer from the effects of what is known as Metabolic Bone Disease (often abbreviated simply to MBD).
In cases of this type, calcium is drawn out of the bones, causing them to become weak. A Bearded Dragons skeleton can become weak, and if its jawbones are affected then it will have problems with eating.
It will also have difficulty in walking. MBD is a potentially fatal and yet easily preventable condition.
A Bearded Dragon hatching from its egg. These lizards grow rapidly in size.
5. Dimming and pulse thermostats for Bearded Dragons
A dimming thermostat is most suitable if you use a spot lamp. It works by reducing or increasing steadily the amount of energy being sent to your light, rather than sending it in pulses as a pulse thermostat does.
A pulse thermostat under these circumstances would cause your lighting to 'pulse', which could be distracting for not only you but also your Beardie! It's also not the best for your light, as it could damage it.
The Pulse thermostat is most suitable for a non-light emitting source, such as a ceramic heat emitter or a deep heat projector.
This thermostat sends ‘pulses’ of energy to your heating, as the temperature drops. Reactions to temperature changes are quick, and it’s an efficient way of maintaining the right temperature.
6. Temperature and thermometers for Bearded Dragons
In order to maintain the correct temperature for your Bearded Dragon, you'll need a thermometer. It may be a good idea to have a couple, one for each end of the vivarium, in order to ensure that a temperature gradient is maintained.
You can buy thermometers from the Northampton Reptile Centre.
7. Substrate for Bearded Dragons
- You can use sand (although you should be aware of the risk of impaction)
- Reptile carpet
- Paper towels
- Ceramic tiles
Your vivarium and sand
It is often not recommended to keep baby Bearded Dragons on sand because of fears that they might swallow particles with their food.
The sand may then accumulate in the lizard’s digestive tract, giving rise to the condition known as impaction.
This condition is especially likely to arise if your pet’s food intake is deficient in key minerals such as calcium, as this may encourage it to eat the sand, swallowing much more as a result.
Be sure that you are using supplements correctly, that the UV light does not need replacing, and that the temperature range across the vivarium is adequate, in order to minimise this risk.
Impaction can ultimately be fatal, blocking the passage of food, and the only way to overcome the obstruction and saving the lizard’s life in this case will probably be by surgery.
The risk of impaction is lower with adult Bearded Dragons, but only use special sand sold for use with reptiles.
Their food should be offered in a large container too, so there is less risk of it being dragged on to the vivarium floor and becoming contaminated with sand.
One advantage of this substrate over paper is that it can be spot cleaned easily with a suitable tool, so there is no need to disrupt the enclosure frequently for cleaning purposes.
However, it may be better to avoid sand altogether simply due to the increased risk that your Bearded Dragon could accidentally eat it.
Your vivarium and reptile carpets
Sand creates a relatively natural floor covering in the vivarium, but alternatively, you can use a reptile carpet for example, that can be cut and fitted to the floor area.
The only thing in this case is to ensure that there is no risk of the Bearded Dragon being caught up in this fabric, especially as young Beardies have particularly sharp nails. Floor coverings of this type are likely to need washing though, to keep them clean.
Your vivarium, lino and ceramic tiles
Lino and ceramic tiles are generally very durable and easy to keep clean. They can also be trimmed to size.
The downside is that your Beardie could slip on them
You can buy lino and tiles from shops like B&Q.
Your vivarium, paper towels and newspaper
These are a quick option for your vivarium, and are easy to keep clean. You simply pick them up and throw them away!
Although they seem like a cheap option, over time the cost would begin to mount up. Therefore these may only be a short term option.
How many times have you wondered why your beardie isn't eating? Read our article on Loss of Appetite in Reptiles.
8. Bearded Dragon vivarium decoration
You can provide the following decoration for your Bearded Dragon's vivarium:
- Rock or slate
- Hide or retreat
- A hammock
- Wooden branches
Rock or slate
It is important to include a dark rock or a piece of slate beneath the heat source, allowing the Bearded Dragon to pick up some radiant warmth here, as well as directly from above.
You will soon notice that your pet develops a set routine, just as it would in the wild.
In the morning when the lights come on, it will bask here for a period, to warm itself up, and starts to become active.
As diurnal lizards – meaning that they are active during the day – a Bearded Dragon will then begin to seek food, moving around the vivarium once it has warmed up.
Natural hides can be given to Bearded Dragons
Hides or retreats inside the vivarium
A retreat in the enclosure where the lizard can cool off as required, located away from warmer end, should be provided.
Hides of this type come in a variety of designs and sizes. It is important to keep the floor area relatively free though, so it may be worth thinking about getting a design of hide that can be incorporated into the corner of the enclosure.
In fairness though, not all Bearded Dragons, particularly as they grow larger, will use a hide.
A hammock inside the vivarium
Another piece of decor that you can provide is a hammock, and in some cases, this may also strangely serve as a hide as well.
Your Bearded Dragon may choose to sleep on the hammock, and may even retreat on occasions beneath it.
What is important is that it is firmly fixed in place. Beware again with a small Beardie in particular that it cannot become caught up in the material of the hammock by its claws.
Wooden branches inside the vivarium
If you decide to include any wooden branches that your pet can climb up, ensure that these are firmly supported in the vivarium and will not tip over as this could seriously injure or even kill your pet.
It is also vital as mentioned previously that there is no risk of your Bearded Dragon being able to reach the heat source and burn itself by clambering up in this way, or from a hammock.
You can get other items such as plastic plants to add to the vivarium, but these objects are really about making the interior more attractive to onlookers rather than benefiting the occupant.
9. Bearded Dragon insurance
Vet fee cover is usually the main reason that loving pet owners choose to insure their pets. With the introduction of new treatments and diagnostics, vet fees can quickly become eye wateringly high.
Unfortunately, we don’t know when our pets are going to become ill, so ensuring that you’ve got enough money set aside for these bills can at times be difficult. That's where pet insurance comes in.
ExoticDirect can cover Bearded Dragon's for up to £1,000 worth of vet fees, death and theft. They also offer a vet fee only policy and a death and theft only policy.
Find out more about Bearded Dragon insurance, or...
Alternatively you can call us on 0345 982 5505
10. Where should I locate the vivarium?
The positioning of the vivarium is important. Firstly, from a practical standpoint, it needs to be close enough to a power point to ensure that the electrical equipment can be connected here without difficulty. In terms of safety, be sure that you have enough sockets, so as not to have to rely on adaptors.
It is also important to ensure that the vivarium is not located in direct sunlight during the day, as the interior could rapidly heat up to a potentially fatal level for your pet. Choose a location away from draughts or busy areas of the home, and avoid using chemical sprays in the vicinity of the enclosure, as these could be harmful.
The vivarium itself will need to be supported on a chest or table, rather than being left on the floor, partly because this will help to ensure that you can interact with your pet and attend to its needs more easily. It also affords the Bearded Dragon a greater sense of security. You will have to be careful though to ensure that it is not able to escape when you have the door open, as it could otherwise tumble to the floor, injuring itself as a consequence.
Can Bearded Dragons be housed together?
Bearded Dragons are best kept separately. This will avoid any aggression or bullying, which is most likely to occur as they become sexually mature. You should also avoid keeping young and old Bearded Dragon's together.
When considering Bearded Care, it is important to refer back to their behaviour in the wild. When a clutch of eggs hatches, the youngsters head their separate ways and are on their own. Ultimately, they will establish their own territories. Beardies are not social by nature, and are best kept separately.