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If you’re reading this article its probably because your considering or maybe already decided that bearded dragons would make the perfect pet, and now you’re looking for some guidance on the best set up for you and your new dragon(s). This means you’re going to need to look at buying a vivarium. The decision on whether to buy a new or used vivarium can be a tricky one, so we’ll help you to make that decision in this post.
Fantastic!! Bearded dragons are awesome but do bearded dragons they make good pets? NO…… they make great pets! They are social easy to handle and probably the easiest to manage out of all the dragons. Dragons are a good starting point if this is your first encounter with with reptiles.
Setting Up Your Vivarium ……. New Or Used?
As everything in life there are pros and cons to the options we chose the choices we make, the same applies when starting up your first vivarium…. Should I buy new or could I buy used? But before you buy your vivarium there are several things to consider before starting up for example: what space do you have for your vivarium? You want to make sure that the tank you choose will fit in the space you have also ensuring that the tank is big enough for its purpose. How many bearded dragons are you starting with? how young are they? Again this correlates to tank size, if you’re buying babies/juveniles than you can house them in a smaller tank to begin with but adult bearded dragons will need a bigger tank from the outset.
Ideally adults should housed in a tank with a minimum length of 4 ft. Where possible I would advise starting with a bigger tank as it has its advantages; you will only need to buy one tank (cost saving) it’s easier to regulate the ambient temperature allowing a hotter basking area at one end and a cooler area at the other. Your dragon will have plenty of space.
With these things considered you may have a clearer idea of what size tank you want to start with but still unsure whether new or used is best for you.
Buying a New Vivarium
Buying a vivarium from new can be costly. If you’re buying from a reputable reptile supplier they should be able to guide and advise you on what you need for a basic start up. Alternatively there are starter vivariums that come complete with lighting and heating fixtures (bulbs not usually supplied). Buying a vivarium this way ensures your can get your vivarium up and running quickly but again can be expensive. If you’re not sure what you’ll need though, this can be a good option and one such pre-packaged vivarium is available at Amazon here.
There is a myriad of reptile paraphernalia to choose from making it extremely easy to buy more than you need to begin with. Try to avoid being tempted to buy more than you need for the initial start up especially items for decor. When setting up your vivarium you want to make it a nice environment for your dragon to live and you also want it to look aesthetically pleasing and this is where you can easily get carried away.
I advise that you start with a couple of key items such as a basking rock, somewhere to hide and something to climb on likes branches. Choose items that are in keeping with the tank size. This should prevent you spending more than you need to avoid cluttering your vivarium. You can always add to it once your dragons are housed.
Buying a Used Vivarium
If you’re looking for that bargain first setup or if cash is tight then buying a vivarium that’s already been used is worth serious consideration. There are numerous sites where you can buy and sell goods and you will often find that if someone is selling a vivarium it will often come as a complete set up. You will need to buy new UV bulbs because you wont know how old they are and the UV degrades. Bearded dragons require a high level of UV rays to thrive.
If you look around its possible to get everything you need and possibly more to start up at just a fraction of the cost of buying new! Not all used vivariums would have been used to house a bearded dragon so not all the lighting and heating accessories will be suitable. These will have to be an additional purchase.
Make sure to scrutinise everything
Caution is required when buying a vivarium and equipment that’s already been used. Careful scrutiny of the vivarium and electrical systems are required. Check your potential vivarium is sound and fit for purpose and that there are no obvious gaps around the seams. Look for areas of rotting or damp (often where the water bowl was previously positioned).
Be sure all the seals are intact. Make absolutely certain the air vents fit securely and the vent holes are not to big because because this will allow any rogue bugs you thought you fed them to escape through! UV light will over time make plastic brittle, be sure to feel the integrity of the vents and plastic fittings close to the UV bulb. (an example of this is shown in the video at the end)of this article.
Make sure the glass fits securely and slides open smoothly (if previous owner used sand this can get in the runners and can wear down the glass and it eventually falls out of the top runners).
When it come to the electrical items ideally you want to see them in use and working before buying. Also check for faulty and/or exposed wiring this could be a potential fire hazard.
Don’t forget to clean
You’ve finally found the complete bargain vivarium …… but before you can introduce your dragon to its new home everything you bought must be meticulously cleaned and disinfected. And I do mean everything I cannot stress this enough!! Used vivariums can harbor bacteria and other nasties that your dragon has not been exposed and can make your dragon sick!! Good old soap and water to begin to remove all traces of the last occupant. Pay special attention to the corners, door runners and fixtures and fittings. Remember to rinse well.
After cleaning, everything will need disinfecting use a reptile friendly disinfectant. Read the instructions carefully as some must be rinsed after use while others can be left to air dry. Items of decor must also be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, a dishwasher can be useful to speed up the cleaning of multiple items. For all the hard to reach or awkward areas a steam cleaner with a directional nozzle attachment works really well. Now everything is cleaned, steamed, disinfected and air dried you are ready assemble and arrange your vivarium.
At the end of this article there is a video to demonstrate how we have cleaned and restored a used vivarium. Or click to see our restoration video.
Setting Up a Vivarium: A Quick Guide
It is important to allow yourself adequate time to setup your vivarium properly before buying your bearded dragon. (I know that I sound like I’m stating the obvious but you would be surprised how many novices get carried away and purchase the whole kit and caboodle, including the new tenant before the vivarium is ready to be occupied).
Use this time to regulate the temperature gradient of your vivarium, as this is essential for the health and well being of your bearded dragon. They will require a hot end or basking area with an average temperature of between 38 – 43 degrees Celsius (100-110 F). The cooler end should have temperatures between 22.0 -27.0 degrees Celsius (71 – 80 F). Baby bearded dragons will need to be at the hotter end of this scale (105-110 degrees Celsius)
Bearded dragons like all reptiles are cold blooded. Unlike us they are unable to generate their own body heat instead they have to thermoregulate their temperature by sourcing heat from their surroundings and absorbing it through their skin. When they become too hot they seek out a cooler area allowing the heat to disperse.
Heating and Lighting
As well as heat, your vivarium will also need some form of lighting. Different options are available including ceramic heat bulbs but they provide no light, fluorescent tube bulb (10-12% UVB), or an all in one reptile bulb that provides heat light and UV. Whichever option or combo you choose please make sure your dragon gets at least 10-12 hours of UVB light daily!
(In my tank I use a fluorescent bulb for lighting 12% UVB and an all in one Arcadia D3 100w basking lamp. I have a large custom built tank 5ft x 2ft x 3ft)
I strongly advise that you buy NEW (not used) heat/light bulbs so you can be sure that they have adequate UVB this is essential for the health of your bearded dragon. The UVB output from a lamp degrades over time but you won’t be able to tell.
UV bulbs should be changed every 6 – 9 months this is because the UV levels degrade.
Here is a quick guide to lighting and temperature requirements
Thermometers and Hydrometers
You will need at least two thermometers (one at each end) to monitor the gradient temperatures. These are relatively cheap and easy to source. Digital thermometers provide more accurate readings but will cost a bit more than the dial or strip thermometer.
You will also need a hydrometer, this measures the humidity in the vivarium / tank. They are available as a singular or doubled with a temperature gauge. For more in depth information on temperatures and humidity see Humidity and Bearded Dragons
It’s a good idea to use timers for your heating and lighting. You can program the times you want to come on and off then forget about them. Timers are easy to set up and and cheap to buy.
This is another extremely important consideration and will depend on the age of your dragon. For babies and juveniles under 1 year old I would advise using a simple substrate like newspaper. For a funky retro look wallpaper off cuts work well as do short pile carpet. Wall tiles could even be used with the raw side facing up and shiny side down so your dragon does not look as though they’re ice skating. All these options are cheap and hygienically easy to manage.
I highly recommend that you avoid using any course or granulated substrates like sand, gravel or bark chippings for the youngsters. This is because they will inadvertently ingest the loose material usually while feeding and consequently could lead to impaction of the intestine making your dragon extremely sick. This can be serious and life threatening to your dragon! Alternatively if you really want that desert look you could use sheets of extra fine sandpaper or you can buy reptile sand mats which are more costly.
Adults on the other hand will cope with sand and coarse materials. There are plenty of options on the market allegedly suitable for reptiles. These include calci-sand and repti-sand (both expensive) and walnut shells. and should not be used for bearded dragons!!
If you are going to use a loose substrate the best option is sand. Not just any old sand. It must be fine in texture, non toxic and silica free. That’s where children’s play sand come in to its own. It ticks all those boxes and is extremely cheap – 15kg will set you back around £5.00 ( $7.50 ) and will last you ages!
For more information on substrates, you can see our post dedicated to Substrates For Bearded Dragons.
You will also need
Food and water bowl.
Some decor, branches for climbing, something to bask on, and somewhere to hide. Note that if you want to put plastic foliage in your vivarium make sure nothing is loose on it and there are no small parts where an overzealous beardie thinks its food. As this will cause serious health implications. If you notice your bearded dragon is attempting to eat the decor it is advisable to remove the offending item!
Setting up a vivarium can be expensive but you can source your own wood, basking rocks and stones. Not only will it save you money it will really make your vivarium unique. Take a look at Wood for vivariums to see how.
Watch Our Used Vivarium Restoration Video
When we were buying a vivarium we chose to go with a used one and restore it to it’s former glory. Below is the video of us restoring the second hand vivarium, including some of the note so good features that needed to be changed before we could put the bearded dragons in it.
Good Luck and have fun with your bearded dragon!
If you have any questions, comments or feedback please leave a comment below. If you have questions, we’ll do our best to answer them for you! We look forward to hearing from you 🙂