What Are The Costs Associated With Keeping A Bearded Dragon?
As pets go, Bearded Dragons are relatively easy to look after. The cost of keeping a bearded dragon is relatively low compared to other reptiles. There are some upfront and ongoing costs though, such as the cost of setting up the vivarium initially. Then there are ongoing costs such as the electricity required to keep their environment correct. The cost of food and potentially veterinary costs also need to be factored in. Let’s look at these in a bit more depth.
Initial Setup Costs
The Bearded Dragon itself will probably cost money, unless you’re being given one as a rescue for free for example. Normal costs in the UK for a Bearded Dragon is around the £35-50 mark, or $60-100 in the USA. I’d recommend looking for a reputable breeder rather than using a Pet Shop. This can depend on what’s available in your area.
Although I’ve listed the cost of the Bearded Dragon itself first, the actual purchase of the bearded dragon shouldn’t happen until you’ve done all your research and decided you can definitely look after one. If you’ve decided all that, you’ll want to get your Vivarium set up first before moving your new dragon in. Some people call a vivarium a tank or a terrarium.
The initial cost of the Vivarium will vary depending on whether you want to buy all brand new gear or whether you’re happy with second hand. We’ve written a post which can help you decide whether you should go for new or second hand.
Second Hand Vivarium Costs
A second hand vivarium is going to vary in cost depending on how desperate the original owner is to sell. It’ll depend on what it also comes with. They’ll probably start around the £100 mark though for a reasonable 4 feet long enclosure. eBay can probably help here.
If you’re buying a bearded dragon from an advert they often come with all their gear as a package. The prices seem to range from about £75 to £250.
New Vivarium Costs
If you’re going to be buying brand new vivarium equipment you’ll definitely be paying a lot more. However, you do have the peace of mind of knowing that everything is brand new. It should have a warranty. It’ll be clean and sterile and never been lived in before.
What you’ll need;
These can cost anywhere between £150 all the way up to £400 or more. This will depend on whether you want just the vivarium. You also have to decide if you want it made of wood or glass. Finally, whether you want a built in cabinet or are happy to stand the Viv on the floor or a cabinet you already have.
Bearded Dragons originate from the arid desert and forest regions of Australia. They’re used to a temperature of anywhere between 24 and 43 degrees celsius. This is considerably warmer than most of us would like to keep our houses at. A vivarium is quite small and the dragon will require the ability to choose their own temperature throughout the day. A heat-lamp is the best way to provide the range of temperatures required. Through the use of a heat-lamp, the basking end can be kept at around 40-43 celsius. The cool end should be kept at around the 24-26 degree mark. Correct temperatures are essential to your Bearded Dragon’s health.
The Basking lamp bulb itself will cost around £4-5 and should be replaced every 6-9 months. They’ll of course also require a bulb holder, which will initially set you back around £15.
You might require a ceramic heating element for overnight warmth, depending on what temperature your house gets down to overnight. These are also a good backup plan in case your Basking Lamp fails as the ceramic heating element will be more robust.
Unless you’re using a D3 type basking lamp your bearded dragon is going to need a UV lamp. A D3 provides both heat and UV. Bearded Dragons require ultraviolet light to synthesise Vitamin D3 to metabolise calcium properly. Without enough calcium in their diet or Vitamin D3 synthesis your bearded dragon is going to be at grave risk of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) which is a fatal condition. You can check this post which goes into the lighting requirements in more details.
I’d recommend a UV Strip light at the back of the tank as a separate item from the basking lamp. In the wild the bearded dragon would be able to step out of the direct sun and into the shade. They would still be receiving good doses of UV even whilst in the shade. A separate strip light for UV mimics this situation.
A UV strip light bulb with a T5 fitting and the mount will cost around the £40 mark.
Your bearded dragon is going to want around 12 – 14 hours of UV light and basking lamp temperatures. These need to be switched off overnight when they should be sleeping. You can of course switch them on and off manually but it’s generally more convenient to set up a timer. Any electrical store is likely to carry mechanical mains timer switches. They can usually be set to have multiple on-off schedules too. They’re likely to be around the £5 mark.
Thermometers and Thermostat
You’ll need at least two thermometers, one for the cool end and one for the basking end. It’s quite important to measure the humidity in the air as well. This is because bearded dragons come from Australia. The areas of Australia that dragons tend to live are quite dry arid areas with a low relative humidity. Too much humidity can therefore lead to respiratory issues for your bearded dragon.
You can get away with 1 thermometer and move it around to check the temperatures at either end. However, this is fiddly and can lead to erroneous results as the thermometer will need time to settle to read the right temperature. Of course, opening the tank up to move the thermometer around also disrupts the temperature a bit too.
Analogue or Digital Thermostats?
I’ve used a couple of digital thermometers which have a lead that hangs down into the basking area. The leads are at about the same height as the dragon is when he’s basking. The cool end has a lead attached to the wall. They both come out to the LCD displays outside so I can see them easily. The hygrometer is a simple analog affair which is stuck to the back wall.
Analogue thermometers that stick to the back of the tank will cost you around £5 each. Digital ones (which are much more accurate and easier to place the probe in the right place) are more expensive. They’re around the £15 mark. You can also get thermometer-hygrometer combinations for about £5 now.
If I was going to setup again I’d probably get one of these for the cool end and a normal digital thermometer for the basking end. I recently changed mine to 2 of these at each end. They cost about £5 for 2 on Amazon!
On/Off Or Dimming Thermostats?
The thermostat is necessary to control the heat of the basking zone, as it is easy to overheat your dragon. There are two types of thermostat. An on/off type which will control the temperature of the basking area by turning the basking lamp off if it’s too warm. There are also ‘dimming’ thermostats. These regulate the temperature by adjusting the brightness of the basking lamp depending on the temperature of the basking area. If it’s too warm the thermostat will dim the bulb a little, allowing the area to cool more slowly than the on/off approach. The dimming thermostats are more expensive than their on/off counterpart but do provide a more natural environment. Dimming thermostats do not work with MVB (D3) bulbs though.
On/Off thermostats are around the £25 mark and the dimming thermostats are around the £50 mark. A third type of thermostat is available for ceramic heaters called a pulse thermostat. It’s similar to the dimming thermostat, but only suitable for non light emitting heat sources. Since it pulses the heat source, which if it were a light would cause it to flash. The pulse thermometers are around the £50 mark too. I’m really not sure if there is any great benefit to them over a dimming stat.
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Flooring / Substrate
This can vary depending on what you’d like to put down on the floor for your bearded dragon. I’d generally not recommend a loose substrate like sand or woodchippings. This is especially true for young bearded dragons. These can cause impaction, which leads to pain and suffering and potentially vet bills.
Tiles can be good, or newspaper. I’d probably avoid kitchen roll or toilet paper as bearded dragons have been known to eat it. The chemicals in these aren’t going be good for them, not to mention the risk of impaction again.
We’ve written another article about substrates. You can check it out to decide which substrate is best for your bearded dragon.
So, flooring for your vivarium is going to set you back around £15 – 25.
By furniture I mean thinks like basking logs, hammocks (though I don’t particularly like hammocks!), hiding caves, plants and things. The level of expenditure here is so variable it’s not really useful for me to go into it. And if you’re a little bit handy you can actually make your own caves, basking rocks and things.
At the very minimum you’re going to want to provide a couple of bowls for food and water.
The cost of this aspect is going to range from a couple of quid up to where-ever you want. It all depends on how fancy you want to go.
Summary of Upfront Costs
Second hand / used vivarium is going to vary between £75 to £250 depending on the deal you get.
New vivarium is going to vary between £300 to over £500.
Fortunately Bearded Dragons aren’t that expensive to keep. Hopefully the upfront costs haven’t put you off. Let’s face it, a brand new puppy from a reputable dealer is going to cost you close to twice that. And that’s before you even think of buying his bowls, leads, vaccinations and bed…
The ongoing costs for bearded dragons are as follows;
This is, in my experience, is so minimal it’s barely worth even considering. I’ve looked at other people’s costs too. Most agree that for one vivarium, the extra cost to your electricity is going to be something around £1-2/week. Obviously costs for our US friends will be different because they pay a very different (smaller) amount for their electricity. This will depend on a few factors such as the size of your tank and your energy supplier.
This works out at roughly £4-8 per month, or £12 to £24 per quarter.
This is an ongoing cost that most people will forget to factor in. Particularly if you’re looking at the vivarium and the lights all appear to be working properly. The problem is that the UV bulbs degrade over time. The recommended time between changing them is between 6 – 9 months. The Mercury Vapour All In One bulbs are recommended to be changed annually. T5 fluorescent tubes should be changed every 6-9 months.
The MV-AIO bulbs come in at around £50 and the T5 strip lights are around £25. This means you’re looking at around £50 every six months. This equates to about £9 per month (rounded up).
This all depends on what you’re going to be feeding your bearded dragon. It also depends whether you’re going to breed / grow your own. You’ll need to bear in mind that they’ll need a mixture of live food and leafy greens and vegetables.
If you’re buying all your food is that you’ll be looking at around £5-10 / week as a ballpark figure. This depends on a number of factors such as the size of your bearded dragon. The season can affect the amount too (sometimes your dragon isn’t going to be as hungry). It also depends on whether you’re buying greens specifically for your bearded dragon. If you’re happy to share the greens you eat for dinner with them it will reduce the cost.
Standard supplements will last quite a considerably long time. For example the calcium dusting powder that you will need to dust some live insects with, generally costs around £5-10. But it is going to last up to a year. So the cost of these supplements is negligible.
These can vary wildly depending on the genetics of your bearded dragon, the luck of your dragon and the husbandry you provide. Not all vet trips are due to bad husbandry. Some are going to be basic checkups, others will be just bad luck.
The last vet trip for our bearded dragon was around £25. This included a course of antibiotics – £25 for this sort of treatment really wasn’t bad. It is still cheaper than the average vet bill for a puppy or dog.
If Vet bills are a concern you can consider Exotic Pet Insurance. Insurance provides cover for up to £1000 of vet bills. For the basic cover it costs around £128/year which can be spread over 10 months, making £12.80 per month. This is easily going to be the biggest cost you’ll face. But it can provide peace of mind against having to make a health decision based on finances.
Summary Of Monthly Ongoing Costs
- Electricity up to £8
- Replacement Lights £9
- Food up to £40 (but likely less)
- Supplements up to £1
- Vet Bills up to £13
Total, up to around £71 per month, if you include the pet insurance. Around £58 per month if you don’t mind taking the chance on not having pet insurance, but it’s probably worth putting that £13 per month aside anyway to get a contingency stash in case of the unexpected.
Hopefully this post has helped you to see the potential costs associated with keeping a bearded dragon as a pet. There is some scope for reducing those costs as you can see, and in particular when it comes to the food, if you can buy in bulk, or breed/grow your own food, these can be brought down quite considerably.
Keeping a dog or a cat is going to cost you just as much if not more per month. Both have the potential to upset the neighbours whereas your bearded dragon won’t offend anyone! And a bearded dragon is considerably cooler.