Bearded Dragons - Housing
What type of cage does my Bearded Dragon require?
The Bearded Dragons are popular, well-known lizards and currently considered one of the best pet lizards. There are eight species of Bearded Dragons but the most popular one is the Inland or Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps), from the arid to semi-arid southeastern parts of Australia, and which we will be discussing in this handout.
The minimum cage size for a juvenile lizard is a 20-gallon aquarium, depending on the size of the Bearded Dragon. As the animal grows you will want to provide a 60 - 100 gallon (or bigger), or a special room or part of a room with ample floor space to allow the Bearded Dragon to walk around and explore. A minimum guideline suggests the length of the cage should be at least 2 times their total length (tip of nose to tip of tail), one time their width and one time their height. The aquarium should be at least 16" wide so they can turn around without problems. The cage should be well ventilated with a secure protective top to keep the animal in and other animals out.
"Bigger is better, but is also more to manage."
Bigger is better, but is also more to manage. More then one Bearded Dragon can be kept in a cage (as long as it is big enough) but only one adult male should be present. Adult females may become aggressive.
Does my Bearded Dragon need bedding in his cage?
Substrate, or bedding material, should be easy to clean, disinfect and non-toxic to the lizard if accidentally eaten. Newspaper, butcher paper, towels, or preferably Astroturf (or artificial grass) is recommended. When using Astroturf, buy two pieces and cut them to fit the bottom of the cage. With two pieces, one is placed in the cage and one is kept as a spare outside the cage. That way, when the Astroturf inside the cage becomes soiled, you'll always have a clean, dry piece available. Clean the soiled turf with ordinary soap and water and disinfect with diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 10 parts water). Avoid harsher products unless your reptile veterinarian approves them. Thoroughly rinse it and hang it to dry, ready to use at the next cage cleaning.
AVOID sand, gravel, wood shavings, corn cob material, walnut shells, and cat litter, as these are not only difficult to clean but can cause intestinal impaction if eaten, either on purpose or accidentally. Cedar wood shavings are toxic to reptiles!
What else do I need in the cage?
Rocks easy enough to climb on or around in the cage also allow for basking and provide a more interesting, natural environment. The Bearded Dragon may enjoy low, horizontal, natural branches as well. Make sure they are secure and won't fall onto the lizard and injure it. All reptiles appreciate a hiding place. Artificial plants or real non-toxic plants can be arranged to provide a hiding place, as can clay pots, cardboard boxes, pieces of bark, half-domed hollow logs, commercial pet caves and other containers that provide a secure area.
Fresh water in a crock that won't easily tip over should be available at all times. Put the Bearded Dragon's food into a similar shallow clean dish that is not easily upset.
"'Hot Rocks' or 'Sizzle Rocks' are dangerous, ineffective, and should be avoided"
Reptiles are cold-blooded and need a range of temperatures within the cage to regulate their internal body temperature. Environmental temperature determines the activity of the Bearded Dragon. They slow down in cooler temperatures. A heat source is necessary for all reptiles. Ideally, the cage should be set up so that a heat gradient is established, with one area of the tank warmer than the other end. In this way, the Bearded Dragon can move around its environment, warming or cooling itself as necessary. Purchase two good quality thermometers that cannot be damaged; place one at the cooler end of the cage and one at the warmer end near the heat source. The cooler end of the cage should be approximately 75o-85 o F (24 o -29o C), while the warmer end should be 90 o -100 o F (32 o - 38 o C). An inexpensive way to do this is to supply a focal heat source using a 100-watt incandescent bulb with a reflector hood; you can purchase other types of heat lamps or ceramic heating elements at a specialty pet store. Use these heat sources as directed. Your heat source should always be placed OUTSIDE and above one end of the cage such that there is no possibility of direct contact with your Bearded Dragon, thus avoiding the potential for the animal to burn itself on the bulb. At night, when sleeping, extra heat and light are not necessary as long as the temperature remains at 60o - 80 o F (15 o -26 o C). You must provide your Bearded Dragon with a "nighttime". In the wild, the nighttime temperatures usually fall gradually.
A heating pad may be placed under one end of the cage for warmth. Speak with your veterinarian to learn the correct way to use them if you choose this form of heating, to avoid burning your pet.
"Hot Rocks" or "Sizzle Rocks" are dangerous, ineffective, and should be avoided!
What about UV light?
A wild reptile may spend many hours a day basking in the sun, absorbing ultraviolet (UV) light; this wavelength of light is necessary for the body to manufacture the vitamin D3 it needs for proper calcium absorption from the intestines. Vitamin D3 is manufactured in the skin. Failure to provide UV light can predispose your pet to nutritional metabolic bone disease, an overly common condition of pet reptiles that is fatal if not recognized and treated. The UV light used should emit light in the UV-B range (290-320 nanometers). UV-A light (320 - 400nm), although important in terms of behavior, does not aid in the manufacture of vitamin D3. Most bulbs sold for use with reptiles provide both UV-A and UV-B. Examples of commercially available UV-B emitting lights are the RetisunTM, Iguana LightTM, Power SunTM (by Zoo Med) and Repti GloTM lamp by Exo Terra. The UV output of these lights decreases with age so they should be replaced every six months or as directed by the manufacturer. For UV light to work, it must reach the pet in an unfiltered form, which means that you must make sure there is no glass or plastic between the pet and the light. The light must be within 6-12 inches from the animal in order for the pet to receive any benefit. Although these bulbs are expensive, they are worth the extra cost, and often mean the difference between a healthy reptile and a sick or dying reptile. Regular exposure to natural DIRECT sunlight outside (unfiltered through glass) is encouraged and recommended whenever possible. If you take your Bearded Dragon outdoors, make sure you provide it with a shaded area to escape the sun if it chooses. Always supervise your pet while it is basking outdoors, to prevent escape or attack from other animals roaming in the neighborhood.
"The UV output of these lights decreases with age so they should be replaced every six months."
Consult a veterinarian familiar with reptiles if you have any other questions or concerns regarding proper lighting or housing of your Bearded Dragon.
ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY after feeding, cleaning and handling a Bearded Dragon.