Establishing the right bearded dragon habitat setup is one of the most important things an owner can do (by far).
They will be spending the vast majority of their lives in their enclosure, so you need to make sure it has everything they need. Failing to do this will result in a less fulfilling life for your beardie and even potential health problems.
Unfortunately, many new owners don’t know where to begin when it comes to putting together the proper cage setup.
But this guide takes care of all that. In it, we walk you through the entire habitat setup process so you’re ready to go when you get your beardie!
Table of Contents
1. Choose The Right Type Of Enclosure
Your bearded dragon’s cage is obviously very important since it will spend most of the day in there. But you can’t just get any random cage. Choosing the right type of enclosure will ensure both the health and comfort of your pet!
Because the bearded dragon is a land dweller and enjoys exploring, you should provide your pet with a tank size that offers ample floor space. A fully-grown beardie can grow to a length of 2 feet, including its tail, so the cage should allow for easy and comfortable movement.
A tank size of 50 or 60 gallons is ideal for an adult bearded dragon, but if you keep more than one animal you’ll need an even larger one!
The most popular type of bearded dragon enclosure is glass. Although glass doesn’t provide as much insulation as acrylic or wood, it allows you to clearly see your pet and monitor the cleanliness of the cage.
A front-opening enclosure will let you more easily reach your pet. Constructed of glass or acrylic plus screen, this type of cage provides greater insulation than does a traditional glass terrarium.
If you want the ultimate in aeration and insulation, as well as aesthetics, you can opt for a do-it-yourself or a custom-built enclosure constructed of glass, wood, and screen. However, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of a basic tank setup before you attempt this.
Expert Tip: If you decide to build their habitat from scratch, you should avoid constructing it entirely from screen. This can prove to be dangerous for a bearded dragon, as the wire can result in an injured nose or toe.
Also, screen won’t protect your pet from cats or dogs. In addition, because a screen enclosure provides little insulation, it’s not a wise choice if you live in a cold climate where it’s difficult to maintain sufficient heat.
2. Set Up The Lights And Heating Elements
Proper lighting and heating are a crucial part of a bearded dragon’s habitat setup. A cold-blooded animal native to the desert, the bearded dragon requires adequate heat to maintain good health.
In the wild, these reptiles do this by finding a safe place to bask in the intense desert sun.
You can replicate this natural experience with a perch placed under a basking bulb that supplies the appropriate radiant heat. Setting up multiple perches (if you have enough space) will allow your beardie to choose the best intensity with which he’s most comfortable.
Expert Tip: If your pet prefers the highest perch for basking, you might need to make adjustments to the position of the light.
It’s important to take tank size into account when choosing the correct heating and lighting bulbs. Also, make sure the bulbs are housed in fixtures designed especially for each type.
Lastly, remember that glass placed between the bulbs and the animal will decrease the effectiveness of these lighting and heating bulbs.
3. Pick A Good Substrate
The substrate is a very important part of a bearded dragon’s habitat. Picking the wrong type for their setup can make them uncomfortable and even lead to health issues!
In their natural habitat, bearded dragons experience a variety of substrates, including sand, dirt, rock, and wood. However, a sand substrate can easily lead to impaction (a type of digestive blockage) in captivity. The chance of this happening is especially high in younger lizards but can happen to any beardie.
A better choice is a dedicated reptile cage carpet or even newspaper. Obviously the least expensive option is newspaper, but it does need to be changed every day.
Expert Tip: If you insist on using sand to create a more natural-looking enclosure, wait until your bearded dragon has reached its full size (signifying that it’s an adult). This will reduce the chance of them having an issue consuming it.
4. Get Water And Food Bowls
Young bearded dragons are known to enjoy chasing crickets or other insects, but adults will generally come to accept a wider variety of foods. Adding a food bowl to their habitat will make it easier for you to feed them a balanced diet (fruits, vegetables, and dry foods are all very bowl-friendly).
Be sure the food bowl is heavy enough to not tip over when your beardie puts weight on it. If you have a younger bearded dragon it’s important to make sure the bowl is shallow enough for them to look into and reach the food inside.
Expert Tip: You’ll also want a bowl that you can easily clean after each serving.
As for the water bowl, you’ll want it to be shallow as well to make sure they’re your beardie can’t accidentally drown when getting inside it. However, going too shallow will quickly become a pain since you’ll need to refill it constantly.
A water dish that’s a few inches deep will work for most bearded dragon habitat setups.
Lastly, be sure to keep both food and water bowls away from basking lamps to prevent food spoilage and excessive warming of the water. When it comes to their setup, the placement of each item matters just as much as what you include!
5. Add Decorations
Your choice of decor for your bearded dragon’s cage is not only about the appearance and aesthetics for your own enjoyment, but it should also provide your beardie with enrichment, comfort, and various ways to exercise.
Offer a variety of materials, shapes, and textures to keep things interesting. It can also be a good idea to occasionally change the decorations to keep your pet from becoming bored.
Expert Tip: If you decide to make changes to the decoration setup, make sure to do it gradually. Significant changes in a short period of time will lead to stress since they won’t recognize their home anymore!
Whatever decorations you add to their habitat, make sure they’re easy to clean. Keeping their cage clean is a very important part of the care process so you’ll want it to be as easy as possible.
Also, avoid including anything that’s enticing and unsafe for your beardie to eat. An example of this would be live plants.
Because wild bearded dragons need a safe place to hide from predators, one of the most important additions you can place in your pet’s setup is a hide box. This will be their go-to spot where they can rest if they want to feel extra safe and secure.
A clay pot or a plastic bowl with a hole cut out for a door make suitable hide boxes. There are several types of hide boxes available for purchase too, but you can also make your own if you want to save a few dollars (and have the willingness to do so).
Just make sure the box is large enough that your beardie can completely fit inside. They won’t feel very safe with their tail sticking out!
If your tank is large enough, you might want to include more than one hide box instead. This will give them some variety and the feeling of a more expansive territory.
Keep these boxes in a cooler area away from the basking bulb in case your pet becomes a little toasty while basking and needs to cool down. Also, place the boxes away from the water dish to prevent humidity buildup.
A Basking Perch
A basking perch is an essential item for any bearded dragon habitat setup. If your tank size is large enough, providing multiple perches will let them choose the perfect heat intensity as well.
This is an item that needs to be stable in order to prevent accidental falls. Excellent options for perches include grapevines, natural driftwood, and rocks.
If you want the look of a natural environment complete with plants, it’s best to opt for plastic. But if you insist on getting live foliage for their habitat, make sure that it’s safe if ingested.
Aloe vera, jade plant, echeveria, red rooster ornamental grass, sky plant, turtle vine, and herbs such as oregano, parsley, and rosemary are a few nontoxic plants that are both safe and attractive additions to the terrarium. However, our recommendation is to stick with fake plants.
Lounging in a hammock on a warm summer day sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Well, bearded dragons enjoy the experience just as much as we do!
With a suction cup, you can easily stick a hammock on the terrarium glass (ideally in a corner for more privacy). Make sure the hammock fabric won’t catch on their nails, and make sure to place it low enough so your pet can climb in easily. Of course, get a well-made hammock to ensure it won’t fall apart while they’re in it!
There are some other surprising toys you can add to their habitat setup as well.
As natural hunters, bearded dragons not only enjoy chasing insects and will even chase other objects such as plastic balls! However, avoid giving your pet a ball that’s so small it can swallow it. You don’t want playtime to result in a severe ingestion issue.
Adding a bridge to their habitat will provide even more climbing fun and a challenging path from one place to another. Just avoid placing the bridge too high to prevent your little pal from potentially taking a dangerous fall.
Expert Tip: Make sure the doorway in whatever room you keep the enclosure in is not facing the front of the cage. This can sometimes spook a bearded dragon and become a source of constant stress over time (which can also affect their health).
6. Consider Going With A Theme
Your bearded dragon’s tank is a place where it will live a healthy, happy life. But as the pet parent, you should be able to enjoy the experience of creating a home that’s attractive to you as well!
This is where themes come into play. You see, an interesting and natural theme will keep both you and your beardie entertained and happy.
And what could be a more appropriate theme than a desert, their native habitat?
You have a wide variety of materials from which to choose for this theme, ranging from wood to shrubbery to clay mounds. Always keep in mind to only use reptile-safe materials.
Expert Tip: You can also try going with a jungle theme instead. Dark green reptile carpet makes an ideal floor covering. Try mimicking jungle foliage with artificial leaf vines while providing rock ledges for climbing.
7. Make Adjustments And Changes When Needed
When you bring home a baby bearded dragon, you expect it to grow and spend many years with you. That means if you choose to start with a smaller habitat, you’ll need to upgrade to a larger one as it grows to adulthood.
But even when your bearded dragon is all grown up, the work doesn’t stop there. There’s no guarantee that they will like everything about their habitat. You might find that certain things get boring to them after a while, or a setup you thought was suitable when you were less experienced really isn’t ideal.
At the end of the day, the most important trait of a good owner is consistency and effort. Keep an eye on the habitat setup and make improvements whenever you can. This could be with lighting placement, decorations, bowl size, you name it!
Always strive to improve, and your beardie will be forever grateful.
The right bearded dragon habitat setup can make a world of difference in your pet’s quality of life. And honestly, it’s not that complicated once you know what to do!
We tried to keep this guide as actionable as possible without overcomplicating things. However, we know there might be some small details you have questions about.
If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to send over a message and ask! We always like connecting with our readers and providing whatever help we can.