If you want to keep a bearded dragon as a pet, you must duplicate their natural environment as much as possible. Although no real comparison to that of the wild, natural habitat for bearded dragons is fairly easy to recreate. The more closely you duplicate their natural habitat, the healthier your bearded dragon will be. On the other hand, if you fail to provide a suitable environment, your bearded dragon lifespan will decrease dramatically, this happens quite often.
Bearded Dragon Enclosure/Cage
An appropriately sized cage with tight-fitting lids makes a wonderful home for bearded dragons. Avoid keeping your beardie in wire cages as it doesn’t retain heat and also can result in foot and nose trauma.
If you still want to use a wire cage, make sure it is of an appropriate size having a proper substrate in it, and the wire is coated with plastic to lessen the possibility of injury. Bearded dragons can also be kept in aquariums. For hatchling, we recommend 10-15 gallons and for adults a 55-60 gallons’ aquarium.
We recommend a simple design that is easy to clean. If you choose to keep your beardie in a wood cage, make sure it is properly sealed with a waterproofing agent such as polyurethane and its joints caulked to enable cleaning and disinfection. After applying polyurethane, the cage must be thoroughly aired out and dried up before placing a bearded dragon in it, or it can result in toxicity.
The substrate is what lines the bottom of the bearded dragon’s cage. It should be aesthetically pleasing, absorbent, easy to clean, and digestible if swallowed. The substrate can be a flat newspaper, AstroTurf, indoor/outdoor carpet, or brown wrapping paper.
Avoid using cedar shavings, kitty litter, gravel, wood shavings, crushed corn cob, or potting soil that contains pesticides, vermiculite, fertilizer or wetting agents. You should also avoid Calci-sand/ digestible sand products, even though they may be recommended, your beardie can die from impaction due to eating Caci-sand.
If you don’t want to use any specific pet product, you can use a simple paper towel for young bearded dragons. For adults, you can use a 50/50 mixture of play sand and topsoil with some vermiculite added in to retain moisture to facilitate digging.
Landscaping and ‘Furniture
You can’t keep your bearded dragon in a bare tank/cage and expect it to be happy. Get some accessories and be creative with it. Below is a list of stuff bearded dragons love to have in their cages.
- Cage Furniture
- Branches for Climbing
- Tank backgrounds
Bearded Dragon Hide
Bearded dragons love a place where they can hide. The hide should be something with an enclosed area where the bearded dragon can easily hide from light such as empty cardboard, flower pot or cardboard box. A hide is also helpful during the brumation period where bearded dragons sleep heavily for weeks.
Bearded dragons also like hammocks. Special hammocks made just for reptiles are available in every pet store. You can easily get the one with suction cups and hooks at the ends so you can easily stick them in your tank.
Branches for Climbing
Bearded dragons enjoy climbing, so try to have at least one branch under the secondary heat source (discussed below) that they can bask and climb on. If you want to add multiple branches, make sure they are of various sizes and free of pitch and sap – oak works very well.
If you want to get a real branch, make sure it doesn’t have any holes in it where feeder insects can hide. The branches should not be wider or thinner than the width of the bearded dragon to ensure safety.
Beside branches you can also use boards covered with indoor/outdoor carpets, it makes the best climbing posts. Smooth, flat-bottom rocks are also good addition to the bearded dragon habitat that can help wear down the toenails.
Plants are a beneficial addition to bearded dragon’s enclosure. Appropriate plants provide shade, humidity, sense of security and also beautify the enclosure. Dracaena, hibiscus, and Ficus benjamina are all good options. When choosing plants, make sure they are nontoxic, and the potting soil doesn’t contain vermiculite, fertilizer, pesticides, or wetting agents.
To remove chemicals from plants, wash them with water spray and water them thoroughly several times to the point where water runs out of the bottom of the pot. It’s also a good idea to put the newly purchased plants somewhere in the house for a day or two before putting them into the enclosure.
You will need a background for the back of your tank especially if you have one that is made of glass. Without a background, the cage may still look empty, even with the basking spot, the food bowls, hiding and everything. An appropriate background will not only make your dragon feel more secure, but it will also add an aesthetic quality to the enclosure.
Bearded dragons are cold-blooded animals from a desert-like environment, so their cages need to be heated for proper digestion. If a bearded dragon is not getting enough heat, it cannot properly digest its food that can lead to many diseases.
The tank/cage should have two sides a hot and a cold side so, the dragon can move to a warmer part of the cage and vice versa. The hot side should be 95 F° for adults and 110 F° for juveniles. And the cold side should be around 85 F°. You will need a separate thermometer for each side to monitor the temperature. (one for cold and one for hot side).
Primary Heat Source
To keep the temperature of the entire cage within the appropriate range, a primary heat source is necessary. During the daytime, a series of incandescent lights over the cage works really well. But these lights will need to be turned off during the night, and another heat source may be needed depending on the cage temperature.
During the night, you can use something like ceramic infrared heat panel or emitters, a heating pad placed under the cage, or a nocturnal reptile incandescent light that produce heat and little visible light. For larger cages/enclosures, you can use a separate room thermostat or a space heater to keep the room at the appropriate temperature. You will also need to place a fire alarm in the cage where heat sources are used.
Secondary Heat Source
A secondary heat source is used to create more heat in the specific area of the enclosure (hotter side) to provide a temperature gradient. The secondary heat source should cover only about 25 to 30% surface of the entire cage. For adults, you can use a 30-75-watt incandescent bulb in a ceramic base or a special ‘Basking Lights’ that you can easily find in the pet stores. Make sure the light only shines on a particular basking area from the outside of the cage.
The temperature of basking spot should be between 95 F° – 110 F°. For hatchlings, if kept in smaller aquariums, lights of lower wattage should be used, or the temperature will rise too quickly and become too hot for them. NEVER USE HOT ROCKS AS HEAT SOURCES.
Bearded Dragon Light
The brighter their cage, the happier bearded dragons will be. Bearded dragons are naturally found in the deserts of Australia, so they require full spectrum lighting for 12-14 hours each day. Full spectrum lights are different from household lights. It emits light in all UV ranges and needs to be evenly spread throughout the enclosure. There also needs to be a way that the bearded dragon can come with 6 to 8 inches of the light source. You can use a branch, rock or any other thing that your bearded dragon can climb on and reach the light source.
You will need to have two types of light in your bearded dragon enclosure/cage.
- A basking bulb/light
- UVA/UVB long fluorescent tube light
Bearded Dragon Basking Light
In addition to providing heat, Incandescent light also provides visible white light. You can use incandescent and fluorescent light fixtures to provide visible white light to all areas of the cage/enclosure. The basking light is very important for bearded dragons; it provides heat that helps reptiles digest their food. The light must be bright white because bearded dragons don’t do well with colored lights. Only unfiltered white light is recommended.
In addition to heat and white light, bearded dragons also need access to natural sunlight. They get their Vitamin D from a certain spectrum of ultraviolet (UV) light called UVB. A dragon is likely to develop the metabolic bone disease if it is not getting enough UVA/UVB light on a regular basis. There is no artificial light available that is as good as a sun in providing UVB, that is why we recommend taking your beardie outside when the temperature is over 70°F on a sunny day.
If a bearded dragon doesn’t have access to natural sunlight, special lights that mimic natural sunlight needs to be installed in the cage/enclosure. The light must be full spectrum (UVA/UVB) and should emit light in the 290-320 nanometer range. The purpose of these type of bulbs is not to generate heat, but to provide UVA/UVB rays.
Ideally, one UVB bulb is enough to eliminate the entire tank/cage. Make sure you leave enough space for a basking bulb when installing a UVB light if you are planning on getting one. Lights that produce both UVB and white light are also available. Some of the best brands include Zoomed’s Reptile Lights and Durotest’s Vita-Lite. Remember, you will need to replace these lights because it loses its strength over time.
Water and Humidity
Although bearded dragons get most of their water requirements from the insects and vegetation they eat, fresh drinking water should be available for them at all times. For water, a shallow bowl should be used that cannot be tipped over. You will also need to maintain an appropriate level of humidity, especially during the winter months when the humidity is low.
Proper humidity is necessary for proper bearded dragon shedding. You will need to mist your bearded dragon with water at least three times a week. Some dragons also enjoy soaking in a water tub. Make sure the bearded dragon can get in and out of the container easily when it wants. You will also need to replace the water and clean the container on a regular basis, since the dragon may defecate in the water.
The cage, water bowl, and food should be cleaned on a regular basis with a 1:10 dilution of household bleach. Make sure to rinse the items well after cleaning. It is also important to wash your hands after cleaning the cage or handling the dragon because they can harbor a bacteria called salmonella.
If You Have More Than One
Bearded dragons are territorial and may fight when housed together. A male and female can be caged together. However, the male may become too aggressive during the breeding season and must be removed.
Larger dragons, when kept with smaller ones, may try to keep the smaller ones away from food and heat source. If you are planning to house bearded dragons together, make sure the cage is large enough to decrease the possibility of aggression.