What set up do I need for my Bearded Dragon?

From the size of your vivarium, to what substrate, heating and lighting you need, our Bearded Dragon set up article aims to guide you through the process.

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.

Their accommodation must take into account their adult size although a youngster around a month old will obviously be considerably smaller, measuring just 10-13cm (4-5in), including its tail at this stage.

Your Bearded Dragon's care should include the right set up and diet and you should also consider Bearded Dragon insurance. .

Our article tells you in 10 simple steps how to set up your Bearded Dragon's vivarium.

1. Bearded Dragon vivariums

A vivarium is the most popular housing for a Bearded Dragon. They 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.

Vivariums are also easy to keep clean.

Vivariums are widely available in a range of different sizes, and they are usually stocked by specialist reptile outlets and larger pet stores.

a bearded dragon inside a vivariumYour beardies vivarium should be at least 4ft x 2ft x 2ft

2. 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).

In fact the larger the vivarium size the better.

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.

Also, although a young Bearded Dragon can obviously be housed in a smaller vivarium than an adult, 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.

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. This may help to intensify their colour. 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 

3. What is the best temperature for Bearded Dragons?

Your Bearded Dragon's vivarium temperature should be at a gradient, with a warmer end and cooler end.

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.

4. Heating your Bearded Dragon's vivarium

The vivarium can be heated by:

  • spot lamp of suitable wattage that should be held in a reflector that will concentrate the warmth downwards into the enclosure.
  • In the wild, the sun’s rays do more than simply provide the thermal energy that a Bearded Dragon requires, therefore a basic spotlight will not be adequate to keep these lizards in good health.

  • You can also use a ceramic heat emitter. These will warm the overall air temperature in the vivarium.

5. Bearded Dragon lighting

You should provide full spectrum UVB lighting for your Bearded Dragon.

UVB lighting is essential as it mimics the ultraviolet component of sunlight.  UVB is essential to allow calcium to be absorbed into the body, being vital for the manufacture of Vitamin D3 in the reptile’s skin. 

You should also ensure that there is adequate calcium provided in the 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.

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.

UV distance for Bearded Dragons

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.

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.

Bearded Dragon hatching from its eggA Bearded Dragon hatching from its egg. These lizards grow rapidly in size.

6. Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) in Beardies

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.

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
  • Lino
  • Newspaper

Your vivarium and sand

It is generally not recommended to keep young Bearded Dragons on sand because of the risk 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 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.

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 slightly if running around his vivarium.

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. Vivarium decoration ideas 

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.

Bearded Dragon with a hideNatural 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...

Get a quote

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.