It’s all fun and games when you consider adopting a bearded dragon until you look up their enclosures, and the price tags and workload are to die for – literally. Setting up bearded dragon enclosures is easily the most stressful part of keeping a beardie, and this is putting it nicely. You have so much to consider to ensure that your pet not only stays comfortable, but also healthy.
Beardies are strictly habitants of the Australian deserts where several factors are ideal for their survival. They are not wired to live in conditions other than theirs – and this is where the problem introduces itself. You simply have to create a replica of the natural bearded dragon habitat for them to coexist with you in your environment.
For a beginner, this may seem difficult, and I understand why. There are a gazillion references that swear they’re the best methods of setting up a bearded dragon tank. Till today, the argument on whether sand is a good substrate or not still stands, including other conflicting ideas like placing a water bowl in the enclosure. So, how do you set up the best enclosure possible for your bearded dragon? And how do you do this on a budget?
In this article, I’ll be taking you through the process of setting up a bearded dragon tank in the most profitable way possible. We’d be reviewing all that you need to oversee a safe tank setting for your happy and healthy bearded dragon to thrive. Let’s get right into it!
The 5 Major Items You Need To Set Up A Bearded Dragon Tank
There are staple items you must put on a list to set up a bearded dragon tank. Think of this section as your comprehensive checklist that will guide you to what you need for the enclosure.
Quick list of the stuff you need:
- The Tank
- Featuring devices
- Tank accessories
1. The Tank
Bearded dragon tanks come in different sizes, materials, and prizes for you to choose from, and they all have their pros and cons. The size of your beardie and the type of system you’d want to keep it in (for breeding purposes or just as a pet) will determine how large or long-lasting you’d need the tank to be.
How big of a tank does a bearded dragon need?
When choosing a bearded dragon tank, you have to consider the size and age of your pet to determine the actual size of the tank you need. However, I do not agree with this advice for a few reasons. One of them is because beardies grow so fast!
The “expert-recommended” beginner tank size is 25 gallons (24”x12”x20” – LxWxH). If you start with a small tank size, you’d only get 3 to 5 months of use before your beardie adds a few inches and starts to feel tight and stressed. The same happens if you get a 50-gallon tank. The best thing to do is to start big – a 100-gallon to 300-gallon tank (view on Amazon) – so that when your beardie gets to adulthood and grows up to 24 inches in length, you wouldn’t have to bother spending more money to change or upgrade tanks.
There are 3 major tank types to choose from, and I have highlighted their strengths and weaknesses to help you skim through what you need.
Glass enclosures are the most popular type of terrarium for bearded dragons. Glass tanks are easy to clean, reflect light properly, hold zero room for bacteria to thrive, and last long in good use, so this easily puts it on the go-to list when you’re setting up an enclosure for your pet (view on Amazon). The downside of using glass tanks is that they’re easy to break, weigh a ton, and are ridiculously expensive to purchase. If you overlook these cons, the glass tank is really the best option you can get.
- Expense Cutting Tip:
One way you can cut down the expenses is by purchasing second-hand terrariums. You can consult with professional breeders on where to get hand-me-down tanks. Sometimes, they may have one or two laying around their store that they’d be willing to sell to you if you’re on their good side.
Another good tip is to purchase aquariums from aquarists. Since aquariums are made to hold water, they’d be much more durable to fit your bearded dragon and would last much longer. Sometimes the aquariums may have a few cracks here or there that you can purchase for even lower amounts and patch up later. Just be careful not to choose a way too damaged tank because then you’d be at a loss.
Wooden tanks (view on Amazon) are also pretty common choices to house bearded dragons. They come relatively cheaper than glass and plastic tanks and appear pretty simple. Wooden tanks majorly have all three sides made out of wood, and the front (viewing side) made out of glass where you can see your beardie through. However, they’re pretty prone to molding and housing bacteria which isn’t good for your beardie’s health. They are also tacky and require much more effort to clean and maintain, causing them not to last as long as glass tanks.
Plastic or acrylic terrariums can be either very simple and cheap or high-grade complicated and expensive (view on Amazon). Of course, the expensive ABS plastic tanks cost an arm and leg to purchase. Some of the plastic tanks appear as a one-piece with tinted sides and extra accessories. They’re also pretty sturdy and safe for housing bearded dragons and are easy to clean and maintain.
The cheaper plastic tanks are made of regular plastic that is prone to damage and highly reactive with heat. The last thing you need is for your bearded dragon to be in the center of hazardous fumes when the temperature gets high in the tank. So, I do not recommend regular plastic tanks at all.
2. Lighting And Basking Fixtures
Certainly, you’d need the best lighting and basking lamps you can get. Of course, some people will prefer to play the “just start somewhere” game, but I can confirm that it is one of the worst pieces of advice you can take. Low-quality basking bulbs don’t beep alarms when they cease to produce UVB rays – the energy source for beardies – and before you know it, your dragon is falling ill leaving you without a clue. I have seen this happen more frequently than you think.
The UVB rays from the sun serve bearded dragons exactly the purpose of glucose and calcium in us, humans. Without these items, we would fail to build strong bones or generate energy for our bodies to synthesize.
UVB rays are highly crucial for beardies to grow, thrive, and fight diseases. It provides the Vitamin D that they essentially need to grow strong and survive. One of the major effects of poor UVB rays in bearded dragons is metabolic bone diseases, which happen to formulate at the early stages of their development and then affect them as they age.
Basking lamps are also quite important to beardies; they imitate the sun’s rays and provide bearded dragons with the heat needed for metabolism day by day and the Vitamin D needed for skeletal development.
One major mistake bearded owners make is to put a basking and UVB ray 2-in-1 lamp above the basking spot only. So, the bearded dragon will have to decide between basking under heat rays to receive the required UVB rays or relaxing under the shade and receiving none. This is stressful to your beardie and can deprive it of getting its required nutrients thereby staying healthy.
What you need to ideally light up your bearded dragon enclosure is a 2-in-1 heating and UVB lamp (view on Amazon) that emits both heat and UVB rays to keep your beardie healthy. Aside from this lamp, you also need a fluorescent UVB ray lamp (view on Amazon) to cover up at least most of the enclosure in UVB rays so that your beardie can leave the basking spot and still get some active beams.
Make sure you avoid the starter pack coil UVB heat bulbs that pet stores try to woo people with! These types of lamps do not even do close to what is needed in terms of providing beneficial rays to the tank. They die out quickly and cease to provide the UVB that your pet needs leading to further illnesses or complications.
- Should I get a night (tinted) lamp for my bearded dragon tank?
Absolutely not! It is terribly bad to keep your beardie in tinted light all through the night no matter how promising the light bulbs are, and putting night bulbs is really the most unprofessional advice you can get. There’s no reason on earth why your beardie should have light beaming through the terrarium in the middle of the night. Imagine you had to sleep with red light beating on your eyelids– it would be horrible! I seriously do not recommend this idea and I debunk this advice with valor.
3. Substrate And Flooring – 10 Flooring/Substrate Types With Expert Reviews
The substrate is one of the most controversial topics in setting up a beardie enclosure. Each expert will decide a particular substrate is best and swear by it, leaving beginners at the detriment of “practice and fail” methods. The truth is, there would always be pros and cons to each type of substrate. It would depend on what you’d rather sacrifice and how much time and energy you have in your hands dedicated to caring for your bearded dragon.
Sand is very dangerous for beardies to live in because it’s simply impossible to keep them from eating it by mistake. When it’s time to feed, they will dive for the bugs and get grains of sand in their mouths too. Before you know it, your bearded dragon is impacted which is fatal in the worst-case scenarios.
Some may argue that you do not necessarily have to feed your beardie in its enclosure with sand, but aside from the possibility of getting impacted, sand is also not hygienic. When your beardie poops (or pees), you most likely won’t find it in time. It gets absorbed into the sand and permits a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause your beardie to fall ill. I find that the only good thing about using sand is the affordability, which is certainly not in the best interest of your beardie.
“If there is sand in the bearded dragon’s natural habitat, why is sand not advisable as substrate?” I get this question a lot, and the answer always comes as a surprise; There is no plentiful loose sand in Australian deserts. It’s mostly clay, rocks, and dirt that consists of debris from decayed plants over time – and then a small percent of sand. So it’s simply “unnatural” for bearded dragons to have sand under their bellies at all times.
“What if the beardie needs to dig and there’s no sand?” Bearded dragons don’t dig out of habit unless it’s a pregnant female seeking to lay her eggs. In this case, you can arrange a lay box separately from the enclosure and put the female in it temporarily till the eggs are laid. So, you don’t have anything to worry about at all, and you definitely do not need sand.
Paper Substrate (Flooring)
The paper substrate isn’t exactly the all-around best type of substrate, but it can be ranked as one of the safest for your bearded dragon. It is affordable, easy to manage, and will not hurt your bearded dragon in any way. It is also the best bet for beginners or pet owners that have minimal free time to deal with heavy-duty cleanup and whatnot using other substrate ideas.
The only issue I have with the paper substrate is that it does not necessarily replicate the natural habitat of bearded dragons, and some beardies have shown signs of stress in response to this flooring. However, if your beardie doesn’t mind the plain void, then you’re good to go with the paper substrate.
Wood can be used as flooring for bearded dragons in their enclosures, and similarly to the paper substrate, they are fairly ideal for the long run. The main problem with this substrate is that it soaks in moisture easily and could get moldy improving the likelihood of bacteria inside the enclosure. Asides from that, it’s easy to clean and maintain, and it’s affordable if you’re seeking to remain on a budget. Ensure that you use a quality plank and coat it with a good waterproof finish to prevent moisture and mold from building up.
Wood shavings are an absolute, big NO to use as a substrate for your beardie. Not only do bacteria love to breed and thrive in it, but the dust also gets in literally every inlet your bearded dragon has and can lead to serious digestive and respiratory illnesses. I certainly do not advise this kind of substrate for any reason at all.
Bio Shell Substrate
Grounded coconut, almond, and peanut shells are also examples of substrate types, just not good ones. While they are fairly affordable, it’s simply too loose to be safe enough for beardies to thrive. Loose substrate leads to impaction and respiratory diseases, which could then lead to death if prolonged.
By far, ceramic tiles happen to be the best kind of bearded dragon enclosure yet (view on Amazon). They are easy to install, affordable, safe, and easy to maintain. Ceramic tiles come in different colors, shapes, and textures that allow you to customize the enclosure to resemble the natural habitat of bearded dragons which generally improves the behavior of your beardie.
The ceramic tiles are also good heat absorbers that display an overall good environment– it’s a win-win situation for both you and your pet. The only problem with ceramic tiles is that some of them come with grooves that cut deep enough to house poop and bacteria. So, when cleaning textured ceramic tiles, you may need to put in extra work to remove the dirt from the cracks preferably with a toothbrush.
Slate flooring for bearded dragons is also a good flooring choice. They’re pretty similar to ceramic tiles, too. The only difference between them is they’re not as textured as ceramics and they have a wider spectrum of colors and designs to choose from. If you’re experimental, you’d benefit from the numerous styles there are. Slates are much easier to clean too, in comparison to ceramics. Since they’re smooth, you can easily wipe and mop out the goo.
However, slate flooring offers little to no grip to bearded dragons like ceramic tiles. This may not be a big deal, but it sure does take the naturalistic feel away from the enclosure.
Reptile Grass carpets are widely accepted among beardie owners for being much more suitable compared to sand, but they’re surely not as good as ceramics, slates, or paper. This is because carpets are porous and have the tendency to breed bacteria. They are also much more complicated to clean or maintain as you’d basically need to remove the entire carpet, wash, and dry it every week.
In a few cases, bearded dragons get their claws caught in the threads and then injure themselves struggling to get free. This will of course depend on the texture of the carpet; the coarser it is, the more dangerous. If you must use a reptile carpet, ensure that you purchase a carpet with soft and lower-cut threading so that your beardie doesn’t get tangled in it. Aside from all the cons, they do look aesthetically pleasing in the enclosure.
Another pretty common substrate or flooring item in bearded dragon enclosures is the plastic carpet. They come in various colors and designs and are pretty easy to use. Plastic carpets are also very easy to clean and maintain, however, they’re not as durable as you’d need them to be. After several swipes, wipes, and scrapes, they’d begin to bruise and perforate. I’d recommend you use them as a temporary fix before you get a much more durable and permanent solution.
Plastic tile flooring is also quite popular, and just as hazardous as you can probably imagine. Plastics and heat are not exactly the best matches for housing a bearded dragon for long hours in a stretch. Remember that beardies are constantly under heat lamps, and since plastic reacts readily with heat, they will emit dangerous fumes into the air that will be detrimental to your beardie’s health in the long run.
The pros of using plastic tiles are they are easy to clean and maintain, they’re cheap, and they’re lightweight. Other than that, I’d rather you seek safer options.
4. Beardie Tank Measuring Devices
Two major devices help to keep track of the condition of the bearded dragon enclosure so that it doesn’t go over or under the required number. In the beardie tank, the temperature should not exceed 104° to 107° Fahrenheit in hot areas and 71° to 73° Fahrenheit in shaded areas. The humidity levels must be around 30% to 40% to ensure that your beardie doesn’t contract respiratory illnesses. In all of these, you will need a thermometer and a hygrometer at all times to measure these values and keep them on track.
For a much more accurate description of the temperature, use a hand-held temperature gun (view on Amazon) to confirm the conditions. This way you’re able to tell just how hot the basking spot is and if it is detrimental to your bearded dragon.
- Temperature Tip:
When it gets too cold in your environment and the tank gets too cold for safety – say under 65° Fahrenheit – you can use a ceramic heat emitter to warm up the tank.
- Humidity Tip:
If you live in a pretty humid environment and you find it difficult to maintain the required humidity percentage for the terrarium, I suggest you make a small rice pillow out of a sock and plop it inside the tank. This will help to soak up the moisture in the air and make it much arider.
To increase the humidity, you can easily mist the inside of the tank with a spray bottle or place a water bowl inside the terrarium and the humidity will immediately improve.
5. Tank Accessories
Tank accessories include beardie furniture and finishing that serve either functional or non-functional roles in the beardie tank. For example, the bearded dragon basking object – a log, rock, or anything of the sort – is considered furniture along with other items like mini flower pots or other forms of decor. Here you can consider throwing in a beardie hammock or a fuzzy blanket to spice things up the notch.
List of beardie accessories you need:
- A basking rock with a hollow part underneath to serve as shade
- A food bowl
- Driftwood for your beardie to scratch on during shedding
- A beardie hammock or blanket
- Wallpapers to provide a sense of security for your beardie
4 Simple Steps To Set Up A Bearded Dragon Enclosure
Now that you know what you need to set up your beardie’s tank, assemble your findings. Here is how to build and create an amazing environment for your scaly little friend:
1. Clean The Tank Properly
Before you put your beardie inside the tank, it’s important to ensure that it’s clean and disinfected to prevent your pet from contracting any illnesses. There are a few ways to go about this, and I have created a section dedicated to cleaning the beardie tank below. Read on!
2. Introduce The Substrate/ Flooring
Now, what comes next is the substrate or flooring, and it’s pretty easy to install. All you have to do is to lay the flooring onto the floor of the bearded dragon’s tank ensuring that no open leaks or cracks are present to prevent food or dirt from falling in.
3. Arrange The Furniture
The beardie furniture doesn’t need to be excessive or too busy to give your pet enough room to roam about. At this juncture, you can experiment and play around with where you want each item to be and how you want the terrarium to look.
4. Assemble The Light Fixtures
After the substrate/flooring and furniture have been secured, you can then proceed to insert the light fixtures onto the terrarium. The fluorescent UVB bulb can either go inside or outside the terrarium depending on the type of tank and/or your preferences.
Best And Safest Way To Clean A Bearded Dragon Terrarium
The safest method for cleaning a bearded dragon tank is by using 50/50 vinegar and water to thoroughly wipe and scrub the glass. For a stronger effect, you can use a safe veterinary disinfectant or hydrogen peroxide to disinfect the tank. You must know that regular cleaning and disinfecting are different and should be taken both seriously.
Regular cleaning can be done every two days or at least thrice a week. It involves removing or moving the items around to do a quick sweep and stain wipe to improve the hygiene of the environment.
With deep cleaning, you’d have to remove and disinfect every item in the terrarium every week.
Carpets should be thrown into the washing machine or left to soak in bubbly water and then rinsed off to clean. Slate and tiles should be scrubbed with soap and then rinsed with water or disinfected with disinfectant and then properly rinsed. The food and drinking bowl should be properly scrubbed with dish soap and rinsed severally to get the scent out, or disinfected if smeared with poop.
Should I Feed My Dragon Inside The Tank Or Outside?
Taking out your bearded dragon every time it needs to eat is pretty stressful for the beardie, and for you too, in fact. It does not create a good relationship between the dragon and its feeding time, or with you. If you are using a substrate that requires you to feed the bearded dragon outside the tank, perhaps that substrate isn’t the best option to be using. Why not seek other options like paper towels and newspapers that wouldn’t mind the spoilage that comes with feeding your beardie?
I am very positive that your dragon would appreciate it if you simply just fed it its bugs in the tank.
How Long Should I Keep My Beardie Outside The Tank?
The duration for keeping your pet outside its tank is not definitive. Every dragon is different and would like to explore contrarily. While some may prefer to lazy around and lay in their hammocks all day, other beardies may prefer to run around and explore the sitting room for longer periods. I suggest bonding or spending time with your pet for an hour at a time. As soon as it starts to show distress, quickly put the beardie back in its terrarium to rest.
After our life-long discussion, you are now an expert in setting up your bearded dragon’s terrarium. While there is much to learn before you successfully mount your beardie’s tank, it’s not too difficult to achieve either. It can be quite a challenge, but it’s nothing you can’t do if you gather the right materials.
Ensure that you sit through the article and highlight the areas that would suit your preferences and requirements the most so that you can make the best choices for you and your pet beardie. If you encounter any more technical difficulties, which I doubt you will, you can always refer to a professional breeder to help you through the hassle. Good luck!