What set up do I need for my Bearded Dragon?

David Alderton is the editor of Practical Reptile Keeping. Here he writes for us about the set-up requirements for Bearded Dragons.

Aquariums | Vivariums | Can male and female bearded dragons be kept together? | The vivarium's position | What's best for the bottom of the vivarium? | What temperature should my vivarium be? | The importance of lighting | Decoration in your vivarium | Pet insurance

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 housing 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.

Along with other important considerations such as Bearded Dragon insurance, your Beardie's set up and food requirements should be carefully provided for. You can get a no obligation quote for beardie insurance through ExoticDirect, and you can learn more about your beardie's diet in their article Bearded Dragon Food Advice.

Your Bearded Dragon’s Housing – Aquariums

There are two basic options when it comes to housing Bearded Dragons. Some owners prefer to choose a big aquarium for their pet, but the large expanse of glass here means that young Bearded Dragons in particular can suffer badly from stress.

At this stage they are naturally skittish being very aware of real or perceived dangers, and they must have surroundings that offer them seclusion. It is however possible to get special naturalistic backgrounds to fit along the back and sides of the tank which can help, but obtaining a suitable cover for top of the enclosure can be difficult

Furthermore, a glass enclosure is heavy to move when necessary, and is also easily damaged. Access is only possible via the top, and this can be distressing for a young Bearded Dragon, in particular because hands reaching down into the tank are instinctively reminiscent of a predator swooping down from above. Obtaining a suitable ventilated top for the aquarium also may not be easy – an aquarium lid will not provide sufficient ventilation.

Your Bearded Dragon’s Housing – Vivariums

Another possibility, which is a better option for housing Bearded Dragons, is a vivarium. Units of this type are widely available in a range of different sizes, and they are usually stocked by specialist reptile outlets and larger pet stores. Box-like in design, such enclosures consist of an enclosed wooden-style top and sides, combined with a sliding glass or acrylic front giving access to the interior. It is also a good idea to invest in a vivarium lock, so that there will be no risk of your pet escaping through the front.

What size tank or vivarium should your Bearded Dragon have?

An adult will require a vivarium measuring at least 1.2x0.6x0.6m (4x2x2ft), and obviously, a larger size is 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.

A Bearded Dragon hatching from its egg. These lizards grow rapidly in size. Photo bulldog studios/www.shutterstock.com

As a guide therefore, an adult will require a vivarium measuring at least 1.2x0.6x0.6m (4x2x2ft), and obviously, a larger size is better.

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 according to some breeders, 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.

Can a male and female Bearded Dragon be kept 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. 

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.

ExoticDirect's Bearded Dragon insurance can cover your Beardie for vet fees, mortality and theft. 

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Alternatively you can call us on 0345 982 5505

What's best for the bottom of my Bearded Dragon's vivarium?

  • You can use sand (although you should be aware of the risk of impaction)
  • Reptile carpet or
  • Paper towels  

You can choose from a variety of so-called ‘substrates’ to cover the base of the vivarium. These can vary from paper toweling through to materials specifically sold for this purpose by reptile outlets.

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.

A range of different options are available as floor coverings for the vivarium., including special forms of carpeting, as seen here. Photo: Kike Fernandez/www.shutterstock.com

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

What temperature should my Bearded Dragon's tank be?

  • At the warmer end of the enclosure the aim should be to achieve a hot spot of around 37°C (100°F)
  • The temperature at the opposite 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. Within the confines of the vivarium therefore, aim to create a thermal gradient along the length of the enclosure.

It is always important to be aware of the natural environment in which a reptile lives, when planning its accommodation. Bearded Dragons live in an area where the temperature can become very hot during the day, which then falls away at night. At the warmer end of the enclosure therefore, the aim should be to achieve a hot spot that should be about 37°C (100°F).

The temperature at the opposite end of the vivarium should be around 26°C (80°F), so the lizard can move back and forth, enabling it to adjust its body temperature. The best night time temperature for your Bearded Dragon’s vivarium should be 21°C (70°F). This will reflect the arid landscape and changing night time temperature.

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

How many times have you wondered why your beardie isn't eating? Read our article on Loss of Appetite in Reptiles.

The importance of lighting and your Bearded Dragon

While infrared rays provide warmth, the ultraviolet component of sunlight 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 can provide calcium through their diet.

Metabolic Bone Disease in Bearded Dragons

This has widespread effects through the body, helping to regulate calcium levels. 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 Dragon can then encounter problems in eating, if its jawbones are affected in this way, and it will also have difficulty in walking. MBD is a potentially fatal and yet easily preventable condition.

Use Full Spectrum UVB lighting

You need to use full spectrum UVB lighting, and ensure 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 output and the lamp distance from your beardie

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 that will not be instantly obvious 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.

Decoration inside your Bearded Dragon’s vivarium

In terms of designing the interior of the cage, 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-style 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.

Why worry about unexpected vet fees?

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Recent Beardie claim paid by ExoticDirect:

  • Stomatitis (inflammation of the mucous membrane of the mouth) £368

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.

Pet insurance - why it's important to be prepared!

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.

Get a quote

Alternatively you can call us on 0345 982 5505