Bearded Dragon Essentials
Planning on getting a Bearded Dragon or already have one but want to make sure they don’t suffer from health issues? Read on to find out about what I recommend purchasing for the best Vivarium set up. Although I specifically own a Rankins Dragon (Pogona Henrylawsoni, a Dwarf Bearded Dragon), their setups are identical to Bearded Dragons (Pogona Vitticeps).
The only exception is that Rankins Dragons require a smaller vivarium of 36″ (3ft) long minimum, but of course, if you have the budget and the room, I would recommend sizing up. For Bearded Dragons, however, you will need a minimum of 48″ (4ft) long, which again I would recommend sizing up if you can. Bear in mind; this article will specifically be about the specific physical setup needed to keep your bearded Dragon healthy, with a separate post made explicitly for décor and another for care essentials.
1. Choosing the right Vivarium
Before you decide even to start shopping for other things, one of the most important things is the Vivarium itself. I use a wooden Vivarium, like a lot of other owners, although some people have purchased Glass Vivariums. However, I highly recommend wood vivariums for two mains reasons: one being that it allows for more significant heat conservation, reducing the amount of energy needed to keep it warm, and secondly, it practically eliminates the need for a hide, as they will have little nooks and crannies to hide behind, without sacrificing UV light.
The problem with Glass Vivariums is that they can feel as if they have nowhere to hide to reduce stress when needed, as they can be seen from all angles. ‘So why not just purchase a hide?’ you ask. The biggest issue with owning a hide is that your Bearded Dragon will resort to hiding under it for hours upon hours, which can also mean that they will not receive sufficient UV-B radiation, which is essential to reducing the risk of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) in Bearded Dragons.
So which specific wood Vivarium do I recommend then? So far, I have tested four different Vivarium brands, but overall there is one specific Vivarium that I cherish the most, which is by Vivexotic, due to its excellent air circulation, heat conservation and easy cable management, allowing you to place your light’s wires, thermometer probes and basking light probe easily.
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Two things you should bear in mind with the actual shop page: strangely they do not have the cable management showing in the pictures, even though it does exist, and secondly, some comments, as well as myself when I first built the Vivarium, have complained that the glass doors do not fit.
They do fit, but you need to check that the actual plastic tracks for the sliding doors are placed correctly, as the taller track is supposed to be at the top, and the shorter track has to be placed on the bottom. Overall, however, if you’ve ever built anything from Ikea, it’s practically the same process. It’s just like building a flatpack cupboard.
If you want an alternative to the Vivexotic Repti-Home, either due to price or lack of stock, I can only recommend one other Vivarium, which is the Repti-Life vivarium. Although it’s not as good in terms of wire-management, as well as having considerably smaller sliding doors, it is still a decent alternative, especially for the price, and will work just fine for your Bearded Dragon.
2. UV Light Setup
UV light is essential to Bearded Dragon growth, and reducing the risk of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) in combination with providing correct supplements and care. For Bearded Dragons specifically, I can only recommend one particular setup: the Arcadia T5 UVB Kit 12% (Desert). You attach it to the roof of the Vivarium, plug it in and then it’s good to go. Ensure that it is on for a minimum of 10-12 hours a day and that it is completely turned off during the night, to give your Beardie a natural sleep cycle.
3. Substrates… Oh boy.
If you’ve spent even 30 seconds Googling substrates for Bearded Dragons (the stuff that you use to cover the floor of the enclosure with), you’ll know it’s a highly debated subject. However, one thing that majority of the Herping community can agree on is that sand, and any other loose substrate is NOT suitable for Bearded Dragons, as it can lead to impaction, which consequently leads to death.
That means those sand alternatives, like walnut shells and calcium-sand, are a no-no. No matter what it is, a loose substrate builds up and blocks their digestive tract. I use carpet made from coconut fibres, as it has no small loose parts, and it can be washed dozens of times before being replaced. The only downside is that until you wash it at least once, it will have quite a strong smell to it.
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The only other substrate I would like over this is actual tile flooring, but it does require a bit more DIY work to get it set up correctly.
4. The Basking Light Setup
I am going to try to make this section as simple as possible, despite its length, as when I was out trying to create my setup, it took a lot of buying, returning and re-doing to make it work. I will be assuming that you will want a basking light, as it will imitate the warm glow of the sun, whereas a ceramic heater will not, which I feel is more suitable for our desert-dwelling little friends. Both work just as well, but keep in mind that what I will be recommending will ONLY work for a basking light, not vice-versa.
Firstly, you will need a Ceramic Light Holder with a bracket. The best that I can recommend is the one by Arcadia, as it’s the one I have been using without a single fault.
Secondly, you will need the right light, which HAS to be replaced every six months without fail, as with all heat-producing lamps, as it loses efficiency with time. The one I use is by Arcadia again, as it’s the most commonplace one, and reasonably priced, whilst remaining one of the best.
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Thirdly, you will most definitely need a thermometer that can measure the temperature of the basking end and colder end, as well as hydrometer, to measure humidity. Without this, you won’t know if you’re Dragon is overheating or freezing. I highly recommend the Digital Combined Dual Guage by Komodo, as it provides you with two probes attached to one display, allowing you to check not only the temperature on both ends but also the humidity, which has to be kept between 30% to 40% to ensure that your Beardie doesn’t suffer from respiratory failure.
Now, finally, and if not the most importantly, you will need a 600W DIMMING thermostat (not a pulse thermostat) for your basking light. If your light starts to flicker when turned on, it means that you’re using a pulse thermostat, which is what you do not want. Without a dimming thermostat, you will literally cook your Dragon to death. I cannot stress this enough. Although this won’t be able to tell you what temperature it currently is at (which is why you need a thermometer), you can control what temperature you want a specific part of the Vivarium to be, which in turn with a bit of fiddling, let’s you set the basking temperature.
I thread the probe into the bottom middle vent (which with the Vivarium I recommended has wire slots), allowing me to put the central temperature to 28 degrees Celcius, which is enough to make the basking spot stay between 36-40 degrees Celcius, based on the temperature of my room. Of course, adjust this daily based on the warmth of the room.
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And that’s it. These are the essential parts of the bearded dragon setup, which you need to keep it alive at the bare minimum. However, you also have to make sure to invest in other things to feed, maintain and enrich your Bearded Dragon, which I will discuss in the next two articles.
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