One of the great things about bearded dragons (and as an owner, you’ll come to realize there are a lot of great things!) is that they are a relatively easy pet to keep. They aren’t maintenance-free, of course, but they aren’t labor-intensive either.
When you take a step back, there are only a handful of things that you absolutely must get right to raise a happy and healthy bearded dragon. Get these 12 beardie “must-haves” right, and you are 90% of the way to giving your bearded dragon everything it needs!
ALL bearded dragons should have these things:
- The right-sized enclosure.
- A basking spot kept at the correct temperature.
- A UVB light.
- One side of their tank kept cooler than the other.
- Available water.
- Greens available daily.
- Gut-loaded feeder insects.
- A place to hide.
- Interaction with their owner.
- Yearly vet visits.
- The right supplements.
- A clean enclosure.
1. A 2′ x 2′ x 4′ Enclosure
The vivarium you buy and furnish will be your bearded dragon’s home. The primary idea behind providing them a great environment to live in is to get as close to their natural habitat as possible.
Being that bearded dragons are native to the arid areas of central Australia. They have all the land they could possibly want to roam and hunt and play and be free. We obviously can’t duplicate this in our homes, but we can at least give them ample room to live.
How much is ample room? Check out our full guide to vivarium size here for all the details you’ll need to provide this critical must-have for your bearded dragon.
Keep in mind that you’ll want room enough for your beardie to move around freely. You want enough space to have a hot and cool side. You’ll need room for one or two (preferably two!) places for them to hide. You’ll also need room for them to climb.
As a semi-arboreal species, bearded dragons love to climb. This gives them both exercise and a way to move closer to or further from their basking light. Their enclosure should have enough height to allow this! (source)
There are two properly sized enclosures we love. They both get great feedback from our readers, and if we were to buy an enclosure today, it would be one of these two:
2. A 95℉ – 105℉ Basking Spot
In keeping with trying to simulate their native land of Australia, proper temperatures are another critical element. Their native lands are hot during the day but get cool at night. Simulating this temperature variance is important for several reasons.
Bearded dragons are ectotherms. This means they cannot regulate their own body temperatures like humans or other warm-blooded animals. They rely on external temperatures to do this for them. (source)
This means that when they need heat, they have to find a source of it. When they need cool, they must find a spot that’s cool. This isn’t just a preference thing. It’s necessary for several key bodily functions.
One of the most important is digestion.
Without external heat, bearded dragons cannot digest their food. This can lead to impaction, malnutrition, and other serious issues.
For this reason, it’s very important that we provide a basking spot for our bearded dragons that’s hot enough to aid proper digestion. How hot should it be? It depends on the age of your beardie. We cover everything you need to know here in our article on providing the healthiest basking temps for your bearded dragon!
3. A UVB Light
One thing that the Australian terrain has that your house most assuredly does not is lots of bright sunlight. Simulating the UV content of the sun’s rays is another must-have for a healthy bearded dragon. (source)
First, a warning—do NOT put your vivarium in direct sunlight!!! This is a common mistake many bearded dragon owners make, and it is very dangerous for your beardie. The glass walls of your beardie’s home do not allow the open ventilation available in the wild.
Instead, the glass walls of your bearded dragon’s home act more like the four walls of an oven. They keep heat in and don’t let any out. A well-meaning bearded dragon owner can quickly kill their beardie by leaving their enclosure in the sun!
So, how do we give our little reptilian friends the gift of indoor sunlight without baking them alive? With a UVB light source.
UVB and UVA radiation are the parts of the sun’s rays that your bearded dragon needs. Specifically, UVB allows your beardie to convert vitamin D to usable calcium. By useable, we mean that it can be shuttled to their bones, where it helps keep them strong and healthy.
Without the proper amount of UVB light, bearded dragons can develop metabolic bone disease (MBD). MBD is an unfortunately common disease that presents itself in older beardies who have spent their lives unable to get enough calcium in their bones. (source)
Want to know everything a responsible beardie owner should about MBD? Check out our full article here!
You can get the proper amount of UVB with a dedicated UVB bulb or by using a combination basking/UVB bulb (mercury vapor). Lighting, on the whole, is a tricky thing to get right at first. We’ve spelled everything out as simply as possible in our complete guide to bearded dragon lighting here (article coming soon!)
You can order our favorite UVB fixture and bulb here on Amazon! It’s what we use for our bearded dragon. Make sure you are getting the right length for your fixture/enclosure (the one linked is for our recommended 48″ wide enclosure).
4. A Cool Side of Their Tank at 75℉
Once we get the basking spot and UVB lighting all set up for our bearded dragon, this sometimes causes another problem. While they like the heat, they also need a place to be cool. (source)
In Australia, their natural habitat can drop into the 50s℉ and sometimes lower at night. During the day, wild bearded dragons will often burrow into the dirt to find cooler spots to rest out of the heat. They also do this at night to find more stable temperatures to sleep in.
While we never want our enclosures to dip below 65 ℉, we do want to give our beardies some respite from the 100° plus temps of their basking spot.
This is done in two ways. The first is that their lights should be on timers. Twelve hours on and twelve hours off is a good recommendation. The second is that their basking spot should be all the way on one side of the vivarium. This leaves the other side at a cooler temperature throughout the day.
Even when the lights are on, your beardie will sometimes prefer to hang out on the cooler side of their tank. Keeping this side in the 70s is ideal for providing them the lower temps they sometimes desire and need for thermoregulation.
The fact that a bearded dragon needs hydration is not a subject of debate. How they get it, on the other hand, seems to be the subject of some controversy.
There are 4 primary ways a bearded dragon can get the water they need. The options are drinking from a bowl, misting, baths, and from their food.
It’s common to hear many bearded dragon owners say things like, “my beardie won’t drink from a bowl”. While this is true for some beardies, we don’t feel like this is a good reason not to leave them a bowl of water.
These owners may be very surprised at what their beardie does when they are not around!
For this reason, we choose to provide all 4 forms of hydration to our bearded dragon. This is also what we recommend for you!
*A note to those of you that live in a humid climate. Ideally, you want your enclosure to be dry. In humid climates, sometimes misting and water bowls can raise the humidity level too high, thus inviting respiratory infections. See our article on enclosure humidity here!
Leave a bowl of water out for them. Make sure it’s clean and replenished regularly. Some people recommend you treat the drinking water you give your reptiles with a special additive. We use bottled water instead. Either way works great, but we put together a great resource for you so you can decide for yourself!
Even if you never see them drink from their bowl, it’s a great idea, just in case! Many beardies will simply splash through their water bowl, but even this is helpful for them.
Give your beardie regular baths! This is important for many reasons. Many beardies will take the opportunity to drink while in their bath.
Not sure why, how often, or even how to bathe your bearded dragon? You guessed it, we just so happen to have put together step-by-step instructions with pictures to walk you through this very important part of caring for your bearded dragon.
On non-bath days, mist your bearded dragon. We prefer to use a reptile mister as it gives better coverage and sprays at a pressure that’s not startling to our little bearded dragon, Bacardi. These are different than a standard spray bottle and well worth the few bucks to buy one!
A fun fact about bearded dragons is that their head is shaped in such a way that it funnels moisture from their heads down to their mouths. Regular misting gives them an opportunity to drink this way.
Lastly, bearded dragons are very efficient at making use of the water present in their food. A well-fed bearded dragon who gets regular servings of greens will be able to get a good amount of its needed hydration from its veggies.
Notice we said “a good amount” and not “all”!!! There are a number of beardie owners out there who are under the impression that greens alone are enough to keep their bearded dragon hydrated.
This is NOT the case. Don’t fall victim to this common internet myth. It’s very important to provide them with another source of hydration. As I mentioned, we like to provide all 4, just in case. We have a very healthy and well-hydrated beardie who is thankful we do! (source)
6. Greens Every Day
To see all the foods you can and can’t feed a bearded dragon, make sure and check out our complete bearded dragon food list with 237 different foods listed. We’ll show you what’s safe, what’s not, and what the healthiest food choices are for your beardie!!!
What to feed a bearded dragon can be a very long topic indeed. For that long version (and we recommend every bearded dragon owner be intimately familiar with the proper diet for their dragon) see our complete guide and downloadable .pdf here.
The short version is that your bearded dragon needs both protein and veggies. Protein (which we’ll cover as the next “must-have”) will come from feeder insects. Veggies will come from just that—veggies.
Exactly which veggies will vary between bearded dragons. Where one beardie will love endive, another will despise it. It took us a bit of trial and error before we figured out what our beardie really likes. Carrots, mustard greens, escarole, endive, green lettuce, and bell peppers are her favorites.
Your beardie’s age will determine what percentage of their diet is greens, but no matter their age, they do need regular greens.
These can be sourced from your local grocery store and should not be expensive at all. We buy them with our weekly groceries, and it ends up costing about $2 per week. Not bad at all!
Just remember to wash them thoroughly before giving them to your beardie. Residual pesticides and bacteria are not good for your beardie at all!
7. Gut-Loaded Feeder Insects
In the wild, bearded dragons are omnivores who eat a mix of vegetation and insects. In captivity, it’s up to us to give them a varied diet that consists of both of these things.
As a note, your bearded dragon CANNOT be a vegan or vegetarian. They must be fed a quality source of protein via feeder insects. Trying to feed them only veggies and relegating their protein source to vegetable protein is a fast and sure way to make your beardie very sick.
We prefer Dubia roaches as our feeder insect of choice (see why we made this choice here). You can also use crickets or various types of worms (we wrote an article on the best types of worms to use that you can see here). It’s best to keep worms to the level of an occasional treat. Outside of that, a regular diet of crickets or roaches will be called for.
Those feeder insects should be “gut-loaded”. This means you should feed the insects a diet of things that are good for your bearded dragon. Basically, feed them healthy greens.
Another great option is “roach chow”. This is a prepared food that roaches love and is a perfect way to gut-load them with nutrients that are healthy for your beardie.
We prefer roach chow as it does not go bad when left out for the roaches. This makes caring for the roaches that much easier!
More explanation could be given, but we think it’s pretty obvious that the right kinds of food are a “must-have” for your beardie!
8. A Place to Hide to Feel Safe
Despite what crickets, Dubia roaches, or some worms might say, bearded dragons are not predators. On the whole, they are more often prey than predators.
You can even see evidence of this in the biology of a bearded dragon. Predators typically have both eyes facing forward. This is for hunting. A prey animal typically has one eye on each side of its head. This is so that it can keep a better lookout for predators.
One glance at your bearded dragon will tell you that it is a prey animal. Other indicators aren’t so obvious, but they are there. Often, what is seen as a docile nature is simply your beardie instinctively laying very still and hoping a predator goes away!
Since your bearded dragon is inherently a prey animal, it needs a place to hide.
This isn’t a want to or a nice to have—they really do need a place to hide. They may not use it often, but it’s important that it’s there when they want it.
Some beardies will use it as a place to sleep. Others will use it when stressed. Others may seemingly never use it at all, but in the end, it’s important to have at least one.
We gave our beardie two. On the recommendation of a local breeder, we have one on the warm side and one on the cool side of her vivarium. This way, she has options. We have seen her use both hides a good amount. We are never sure why she picks the one she does, but she seems to enjoy having both of them!
At least one hide is essential in any bearded dragon enclosure. Make sure you provide one for your beardie so they can feel safe and protected when they want to! Check out this cool half-log. It’s one of Bacardi’s favorite places to chill.
9. Human Contact
While they do like to hide when stressed or if they feel threatened (and also when they brumate – see our brumation article here for complete details), they also generally really like human interaction. It’s for this reason that we include this on the “must-have” list.
Sure, you could stick your bearded dragon in a well-furnished vivarium and never interact with them. They won’t die from it. But they won’t be as happy as they could be either.
They also won’t be able to cope with interaction when it’s necessary. There are several times when human interaction is required. A dragon who is not regularly handled will have a much harder time with this than one who has regular people time under their belt!
At a minimum, you should have your beardie checked once a year by a vet (see our guide to veterinary care here!). You should also be cutting their nails regularly (see our step-by-step guide here)—a task made infinitely easier with regular handling). Baths two to three times a week are another time you’ll have to directly handle them.
All these are made easier if you spend just a few minutes every day with your beardie. Pick them up, hold them, pet their head, talk to them. Put them on your shoulder while you watch some TV. Let them crawl around your lap or explore a little.
This type of consistent handling will not only make them more amenable to human contact when it’s necessary, but it’s also one of the most rewarding parts of being a beardie owner. We love the time we get to spend with Bacardi relaxing on a shoulder, crawling up an arm, or scampering through our hands.
It’s not just good for you; it’s good for them. Make sure you are getting daily quality time in with your bearded dragon friend!
10. Yearly Vet Visits
We covered the whys, how often, and expenses of bearded dragon veterinary care here. But in the end, yearly vet visits are a “must-have” without exception.
You will hear many beardie owners dismiss this idea, but don’t listen to them. Proper veterinary care is an important part of being a responsible pet owner, and bearded dragons are no exception.
Beardies are resilient animals. This means that they will not show outward signs of a problem until that problem has progressed to a serious state. They aren’t like dogs or cats, where we know something is wrong almost immediately.
Your beardie can have a hidden health issue you never see until it’s too late. The beardie owners out there who recommend against regular care have simply never experienced one of these issues.
If you are in the Chicagoland area, we use and love Chicago Exotics in Skokie. They are absolutely amazing (and the source of a lot of the information you’ll read here on BeardieBungalow!
Don’t wait until there is a problem. See a qualified herp vet yearly!
In line with proper health care is regular supplementation. Bearded dragons need 3 basic supplements. (source)
The first is calcium. This is given in powder form and can be sprinkled or “dusted” on both their greens and their feeder insects. Combined with their UVB light, regular calcium intake keeps their bones strong and healthy. If given alone, calcium can be given to your beardie daily.
Next is vitamin D3. Often given in conjunction with calcium, D3 is what helps make dietary calcium useable in the production of bones. Most of the D3 your beardie needs should come from proper UVB lighting. That said, 3 times per week supplementation with their food is recommended by most vets and breeders.
Last is a multivitamin. Containing a cocktail of necessary vitamins like choline, vitamin E, and many more, a good multivitamin formulated specifically for reptiles should be given once a week. This will help to fill any unseen holes in your beardie’s diet.
Make sure to avoid any reptile multi that has large amounts of vitamin A. In fact, your vitamin should not have ANY vitamin A listed in the ingredients at all. Too much A can make your beardie very sick. We know this from experience!
This simple supplementation schedule will help to keep your beardie healthy over the course of their life. It’s not something to skip or skimp on and is definitely a “must-have”.
12. A Clean Enclosure
It’s weird that some people wouldn’t think to keep their pet’s home clean, but that’s the case for a surprising amount of pet owners.
We’ve run into more than one person who not only doesn’t clean out their beardie’s poop daily but makes it more of a weekly chore instead. Their poor bearded dragon is stuck in a hot, enclosed in space with a week’s worth of poop!
Part of keeping a happy and healthy bearded dragon is cleaning up after it regularly. Poop should be picked up as soon as possible. Uneaten greens should be cleared out daily. Their tank should be emptied, scrubbed, and disinfected every 4-6 months.
We are choosing to keep a wild animal in a very small space. In their natural habitat, they don’t need to worry about things like accumulating feces. They do in their vivarium, and it is up to us to make their home clean and habitable.
This isn’t just giving them a home they actually like living in—it’s also a health issue. Bearded dragons are susceptible to bacteria, parasites, and disease. One of the best ways to prevent all three is to keep their vivarium clean. (source)
Of all the things on this list, a clean home is the one we see neglected most often. Whether it’s ignorance or laziness, it doesn’t matter. We are taking on the very real responsibility of caring for another living thing. It’s up to us to make sure they have a clean home!
But wait, there’s more!
It’s our belief that the above list is simply table stakes. It’s the bare minimum needed from any bearded dragon owner. If you do those things and nothing more, you’ll have a healthy beardie with an adequate home.
We love our little Bacardi and have decided that we want to give her much more than “adequate”. That’s why we put together another list for you. It’s a short list of 11 more things that bearded dragon owners can do to provide a great life for their beardie. You can check that list out here!
In the end, we hope you’ll give your beardie all the love and care that they need and deserve. They’ll pay you back with years of fun and fascination.