New Bearded Dragon Owner?
If you’re a new bearded dragon owner (perhaps you got one for Christmas?) you’re possibly a bit daunted about where to begin with looking after them. Never fear, BeardedDragonsRock is here to help you – everyone was a new bearded dragon owner at some point or another. To be fair, once you’ve had yours a while you’ll come to realise that your Bearded Dragon is in fact, a new Human Owner…
But, joking aside, you’re quite lucky as a new bearded dragon owner in this day and age because when we first got ours, there wasn’t much information available online (online wasn’t like it is today!) and finding information was really quite difficult. Nowadays there’s Facebook Groups you can join to ask for help, there’s eBooks available and there’s websites like this one.
Bearded Dragons are in (my opinion) the most interactive of all the reptiles, they are both characterful and fun. They are possibly one of the easier reptiles to keep due to their hardiness. But when I say easy I mean that their needs are not as complex as some other reptiles such as frilled dragons or chameleons. Research and good husbandry is key to successfully keeping reptiles. Bearded dragons are no exception, they still have a specific set of requirements to enable them to thrive and stay healthy.
You’ve made a good choice!
What Will I Need?
We’ve written loads of articles that go into greater depth about what you’ll need, but they are scattered across multiple posts and generally assume you’re researching a specific bearded dragon topic. In this post I hope to bring together all those posts as a very beginner friendly roadmap to starting out.
Vivarium (also known as Terrarium or Tank)
Firstly, you’ll need a vivarium to become your new scaly friend’s home. You have three choices here – although only the first two are really relevant if you’ve already got your bearded dragon.
- Buy a new Vivarium
- Buy a used Vivarium
- Build your own Vivarium
Our article Should I buy a new or used Vivarium goes over some of the different pros and cons. It is worth a quick read on its own. You may end up with things you don’t actually need if you buy a new kit from a pet shop. I say this because many pet-shops are not bearded dragon (or even reptile in general) specialists. Different reptile species have very different housing needs and many kits are quite generic.
Whether you’ve bought a baby dragon or an adult dragon, the minimum recommended size of vivarium for a bearded dragon is 4 feet long by roughly 3 feet high and 2 feet deep.
Unlike some other reptiles, Bearded Dragons don’t need a tall vivarium. They do like to climb a little, so you do need some height in the tank. But, the tank should be longer than it is tall. This is unlike for example, a chameleon who likes to climb up into the branches.
I don’t recommend starting with a small tank for a baby and then putting them into a bigger one later. It’s wasting your money and moving bearded dragons as they grow can cause them stress. They’re creatures of habit and changing their home suddenly can take them a bit of time to get used to. Start full size and save yourself some money.
Some forums and online sources say that if the tank is too large this can cause bearded dragons to stress. I think this is a nonsense. Bearded Dragons live in Australia. Your tank will never be as large as Australia. As long as you provide plenty of hidey hole places they won’t be stressed.
I prefer a wooden vivarium rather than all glass. Wooden framed tanks have a number of advantages. They’re easier to keep up to temperature. The sides of a wooden vivarium don’t cause reflections which your dragon will see himself in. Bearded dragons are quite territorial and if they see another dragon they’ll get stressed, or try to dominate it. They’re not as smart as us and don’t realise that they’re looking at their own reflection.
Substrate (also known as flooring)
This is a highly contentious subject, and to some extent depends on your level of experience with Bearded Dragon husbandry. Also the age of your Beardie is an extremely important factor when deciding on the substrate. There are two types of substrate particle an non-particle. For a new owner it’s my opinion (at least initially) to avoid any particle based substrates (such as sand).
Babies and juvenile bearded dragons should avoid all particle substrate. This will avoid minimise the risk of impaction which can be fatal. Paper based substrates are a good option for babies, make sure the paper can’t be eaten. Tiles also work well for the youngsters. Make sure the tiles have a nonslip surface otherwise your bearded dragon wont be able to get a grip! Other options include reptile carpet and sand mats.
Adults are much more robust and both particle and non particle substrate can be used. Important consideration is required when choosing a particle based substrate. Tiles, reptile carpet and sand mats are also are a good option for adult dragons if you prefer an non-particle substrate.
For a more comprehensive guide to suitable substrates see Substrates for Bearded Dragons which is a good read.
Lighting and Heating
We’ve written some more articles on Bearded Dragon Lighting And Heating. It’s definitely worth a read of these because this is probably the most important aspect of Bearded Dragon Husbandry. It can make the difference between a thriving dragon or dying dragon.
The right temperature is vital for Bearded Dragon Health. It’s needed for them to have enough energy to hunt and digest their food and for their internal organs to function properly. For Bearded Dragons (and any reptiles) it’s not just about being comfy.
Have a look at this article about Bearded Dragon lighting and heating for more information, but for now the key points are;
- You’ll need a basking lamp. A warm, heat producing lamp under which Beardie can sit and bask.
- You’ll need a UVB strip lamp to provide UV light for calcium absorption
- You may need a ceramic heat emitter for additional heat or if your overnight temperatures drop too low.
Lamp Times And Temperatures
Basking lamps and UVB lamps should be switched on for around 12 hours a day and turned off overnight. Bearded Dragons have excellent colour vision in normal light and don’t need red lights for any reason. Some pet shops will recommend a red light is left on overnight for bearded dragons. This isn’t true – and some evidence suggests that this red light is harmful. We don’t recommend any lights on overnight.
The UV strip light should cover at least three quarters of the tank length so as to provide enough UV light where-ever beardie is (except when they’re hiding). The basking lamp should be set up at one end of the tank, not in the middle. This is so that you can create a temperature gradient in the tank. One end being very warm indeed and the other end being cooler.
Warm end temperature should be 38 to 43 Celsius ( 100 to 110 Fahrenheit )
Cool end temperature should be 22 to 27 Celsius ( 72 to 80 Fahrenheit )
Lights on for 12 to 14 hours per day. No lights overnight.
If the tank gets too cold overnight, grab a Ceramic Heat Emitter to keep the overnight temperature around 22 to 27 Celsius.
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Heatpads / Heatrocks
No. Don’t. Other reptiles do benefit from these items but Bearded Dragons do not. In fact, these items are potentially dangerous to Beardies. Bearded Dragons rely on heat on their backs to determine how hot they’re getting. They can’t feel heat very well at all on their bellies. Heatpads and heatrocks have a strong chance of burning them without them even knowing. We’ve seen bearded dragons with significant underbelly burns because of the use of heatpads or heatrocks.
This might seem strange since the rock underneath the basking lamp will be getting warm. The difference is that this rock is getting warm from an overhead source. The bearded dragon will feel that it is getting hot. Heatrocks and heatpads have no overhead source and your bearded dragon simply won’t know they’re being burned. Also of course, heat from an overhead source will fall on your dragons back when they bask, meaning that the surface they’re laying on will cool down since they’re shading it. Heatrocks or heatpads will continue heating.
Under Tank Heaters
These can be used, with caution. For the same reasons as above though, be careful with these. Make sure they don’t make the substrate too warm. If you’re using an underfloor heater to keep the temperature up overnight when the basking lamp is off make sure that the temperature of the floor isn’t above the 22 or so degrees. I’d recommend a Ceramic Heat Emitter lamp instead of undertank heating. The Ceramic lamp will only heat the air in the tank, not the floor. But again, this is a bit of a ‘religious debate’ as some owners swear by undertank heating. If done properly it’s probably OK, but does carry similar dangers to heatrocks. For new owners it’s probably best avoided.
Timers, Thermostats and Hygrometers
You’ll need these to keep the environment right for your new bearded dragon. These are relatively inexpensive. We list some of the options in our article about The Cost Of Keeping a Bearded Dragon. It’s worth a quick read for addition information.
Do what when?
- Timers – to automatically control lights on and off times. Possibly a second one to control CHE on/off time if overnight temperatures are a bit too low.
- Thermostats – to ensure the temperatures are correct, both at the warm end and the cool end. You’ll need a high range or high temperature version for a bearded dragon. Their temperature requirements are higher than most reptiles.
- Hygrometers – to make sure the tank isn’t too humid.
Humidity is very important when it comes to Bearded Dragons. They are desert / scrubland dwelling creatures of outback Australia and their habitat in general is extremely dry. Most reptile owners assume that reptiles require a humid environment – and in many cases they’d be right. However a constant high humidity for a bearded dragon can be detrimental for their health. Causing problems from Upper Respiratory Tract Infections to mould. When I was in Victoria, some days in summer would have a humidity level of less than 10%.
Aim for a humidity level of around 35-40% but no higher. We go into this in a bit more depth in our article Questions About Bearded Dragon Care. It is worth a read for extra tips.
Decorations / Rocks, Plants and Logs
In this case it’s really only your imagination that limits you here. I’ve seen some bearded dragon setups that are really quite bland and sterile looking. One basking log, a small cave and a bowl for food… Imagine if this was your home – you’d probably get quite bored quite quickly. Yes, Bearded Dragons Can Get Bored. An enclosure that is too minimal could possibly cause some activities such as glass surfing, or other stress activities.
I like to create my vivariums to look good in the room they are in. More importantly still providing interest including a variety of things for the bearded dragon to climb on, sit on, hide under or relax in front of. Be mindful not to overcrowd the tank your bearded dragon will still require space to move around. You can put in some real plants if you want to. Make sure they’re safe for bearded dragons, as they’ll probably eat them. Real plants can be put in pots or trays with dirt. Make sure the dirt you use is sterile though, as bearded dragons can pick up parasites from soil. The only other downside with real plants is that they need watering and this can increase the humidity. So keep your eye on that.
Of course, you can also use plastic plants to spice up the decor and provide hiding places. Do beware that bearded dragons are omnivores. They will potentially try to nosh on those fake plastic leaves. The fake plants need to be tough enough to withstand dragon teeth.
Small water features are OK, but watch that humidity. Make sure there’s no possibility for your bearded dragon to drown in them.
Bearded dragons are omnivores – meaning they eat both live food (meat) and vegetables. The types of food and the ratios of meat to veg changes depending on the ages. Our article on Which Live Foods Do Bearded Dragons Eat provides some really good information. The article about Which Vegetables Do Bearded Dragons Eat goes into more depth about vegetable diet.
Baby bearded dragons require more (but smaller) insects than Adult dragons, who’ll eat more variety of vegetables than babies.
You can buy live food online and at many reputable pet stores. The vegetables are available at pretty much every supermarket.
Avoid wild insects or flowers/greens though. You don’t what they contain and they could be full of parasites or chemicals that will be harmful.
Bearded Dragons require a good calcium intake. You may need to look at some calcium supplement to go along with their diet. Make sure your UVB lamps are up to scratch too because dietary calcium cannot be absorbed properly with vitamin D3. Bearded dragons (like humans) create this through their skin using UVB. Dietary supplements of Vitamin D3 are shown to be largely ineffective at improving calcium metabolism. The only satisfactory way is proper UV light.
Finally, you’ll want to find yourself a good, reputable Exotic Vet in your area. Normal vets generally aren’t specialists in Bearded Dragons. Many normal vets will tell you your dragon is fine when in fact they’re not. A good Herpetologist Vet will be worth their weight in gold if things start to go wrong. It’s worth finding one now rather than waiting until something does go wrong. If nothing else, you’ll probably want an annual checkup (with a faecal checkup) to make sure your bearded dragon hasn’t picked up any parasites.
Pet insurance is also worth investigating so that if anything does go wrong you’re not concerned with the monetary cost of looking after your new little friend.
A Friend For Years To Come
If looked after properly a Bearded Dragon will be with your for potentially 10 to 14 years. They will rely on you for all their needs. In return they’ll entertain you and you’ll come to think of them as one of the family. You may even like them more than some members of your family 🙂
If you have any questions about your new bearded dragon, please join our Facebook Group or feel free to leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to help you. Hopefully you’ll come to love your Beardie(s) as much as we do ours.