Bearded dragons are pretty easy pets to take care of. There are only a few things you need to keep an eye on as beardies are mostly self-sufficient. One of the key things to watch is the humidity level in their enclosure.
Just like humans, humidity can play a role in both the comfort and health of a bearded dragon. Our beardies rely on us to keep it at a safe and comfortable level.
The relative humidity level in a bearded dragon’s enclosure should be kept between 30-40%. Levels outside that range can cause health problems so close monitoring with two humidity gauges is key. To correct low or high humidity levels, you can either make adjustments to your tank set up or add a humidifier or dehumidifier to your home.
Why humidity levels are important for bearded dragons
A bearded dragon’s natural habitat is dry and arid. When kept in captivity, it’s important to keep those levels consistent with what they experience in the wild. Their biology has evolved to work properly within a certain range. Anything outside that can cause problems.
Consequences of low humidity
Low humidity levels, or overly dry air, can cause several problematic conditions. Here’s a quick list of things that can happen if your bearded dragon lives in a climate that is too dry:
- Femoral pore blockage
- Inability to shed properly
- Kidney issues
- Urinary tract infections
- Fertile females may not be able to lay their eggs
All of these things can be serious and could result in veterinary care. Femoral pore issues can lead to painful infections. The inability to shed can lead to circulation issues and the loss of appendages. Dehydration and kidney issues can lead to death.
In other words, it’s important that the air in their home isn’t too dry.
Consequences of high humidity
Just like dry air, moist air can cause its share of problems too. Here’s a rundown:
- Bacterial overgrowth and infection
- Fungal infections
- Respiratory infections
- Mold growth
- Skin conditions
As with the health issues that crop up in low humidity, these high humidity issues are just as important to prevent. Almost all of these require medication, injections, or even more serious veterinary care to resolve.
So just like low humidity, high humidity should be avoided as well!
How to measure the humidity in your bearded dragon’s vivarium
We wanted to cover this because a lot of the information out there is either significant overkill or not nearly complete. You’ll see people recommending crazy expensive “hygrometers” (a fancy way to say “humidity gauge”). You’ll also see people recommend going by feel or taking only intermittent readings, which is ridiculous.
You definitely do want to accurately measure the humidity levels in your beardie’s tank on an ongoing basis. This means that you’ll need some type of gauge permanently installed in their home.
Measurement of humidity levels inside your bearded dragon’s enclosure should be accomplished using two analog or digital humidity gauges. The gauges should be placed about halfway up the wall of the tank. One should be placed on the hot side and the other on the cool side of the enclosure.
Analog or digital?
There are two types of gauges, digital and analog. Digital is a little more accurate as it uses a probe you can place exactly where you want the measurement taken. The drawbacks are the wire and probe itself (which are a pain to place) and the cost (which is higher than analog gauges).
Analog gauges are easier to place and cost less. This ease of use comes with the price of being slightly less accurate. But there is only a very minor difference.
With that in mind, we recommend and use analog gauges. This is not to say you shouldn’t use digital. If you want to spend a few extra bucks and have an easy way to place the sensor, go for it! If you go digital, we like this one by ZooMed that you can buy over on Amazon. It’s reliable and not super expensive.
If you go for the analog version, we use these combination thermo-hygrometers by ZooMed (tells us temp and humidity). We got them pretty cheaply on Amazon and they’ve worked great for us! It’s important to remember that there is no need to be exact. 30-40% is a decent-sized range and an analog gauge will serve just fine for that!
You need two!
Our next tip is that you’ll need two of these gauges. Too many people recommend only using one and that just won’t work. If your beardie’s home is of an appropriate size, you’ll have a hot side and a cool side.
Each of those sides will have varying temps and humidity levels. Just because one side is within range does not mean that the other side is. We strongly recommend getting a humidity reading on both sides.
We also want redundancy. Let’s be honest, these are not scientific, Ph.D. level, research-grade hygrometers. They are a few bucks on Amazon. They will break! If you have two, it will be obvious when that happens. If you only have one, it will not be.
As we said, these are inexpensive. Get two, it’s the best way to go.
Humidity gauge placement
So now you have two gauges. And you know you want one on each side of the enclosure. But where, exactly, should they go?
Let’s start with where they shouldn’t go. Not next to the water dish and not right next to the basking lamp. We are looking for a reading on the enclosure as a whole and both of these spots will give you false readings.
We recommend placing them about halfway up the back wall of your beardie’s vivarium. If you place them there, you’ll get a really good idea of the levels in the tank as a whole.
One last note is that humidity varies. It varies by time of day. It varies with the temperatures in your home. It varies by time of year. Don’t get too obsessed if you see the levels fluctuate.
The important thing is to keep a daily eye on your gauges. Just glance at them and make sure things are within range. If they aren’t, we’ve got you covered with the rest of this article. But if they’ve moved from 33%-38%, don’t fret. That’s within range and a 5% fluctuation can be very normal!
Basics of humidity control
Before we get into how to raise or lower the humidity in your beardie’s home, we should quickly review some basics. Having these basics in place will set you up for success in achieving appropriate humidity levels without having to try too hard.
First, your home’s humidity level will be pretty close to the humidity level in your bearded dragon’s enclosure. So raising or lowering the humidity in your home should have a direct impact on your beardie.
Speaking of your beardie’s enclosure, it should be properly ventilated. That means at minimum a screen top. Nothing solid! This should be the case no matter what.
You also want a vent towards the bottom of the vivarium. This allows air to freely flow through the enclosure. This ensures proper temps, good airflow for your beardie, and also helps regulate humidity.
This is a big reason we only recommend buying enclosures with this design. Sure, you can reuse an old aquarium (but not really), but that will make it much harder to get your temps and humidity right. For a complete guide on picking the perfect home for your beardie, check out our article here.
Even with a properly vented enclosure, we want to make sure it’s placed in an appropriate location. Rule number one is NEVER in direct sunlight. You will turn your beardie’s home into an oven. This is very, very dangerous for them!
We would also recommend not placing it in a damp basement or a room that is known to get overly hot or humid. Again, the environment the enclosure is in will pretty much be the environment inside the enclosure too.
We won’t cover everything here, but there are a few key things when it comes to humidity that you’ll want to pay attention to.
First is your lighting setup. You want a hot side and a cool side. You want to make sure you have the proper basking temps. And you want an enclosure large enough to support all of that.
We recommend having a water dish. But we also recommend that it is not too large and that it be located on the cool side of the tank to minimize evaporation.
You can read our full guide to substrate choice here, but in relation to humidity, it’s important to stay away from all substrate choices that have or retain moisture. Things like shredded bark or coconut fiber are great examples of substrate choices that encourage high humidity levels. Avoid them!
Lastly, be careful of misting. If you mist your dragon regularly, try not to get water all over the enclosure. This will surely add excess humidity to their home.
Changing in-tank humidity levels for bearded dragons
You’ve now got the basics covered and you have two gauges installed in your beardie’s house. You look at the readings and you are outside of the recommended 30-40% range. What do you do?
First, good job catching this! It’s important to know if there is an issue and to find that issue early. As GI Joe used to say, “Knowing is half the battle!”
Raising low humidity in a bearded dragon tank
Raising low humidity levels in a bearded dragon’s tank is a simple matter of making small adjustments to the tank setup or your home’s air conditioning. In extreme cases, adding moisture to the tank manually with a water bowl or mister can help.
Here’s a quick list of the points we’ll discuss:
- Add a humidifier to your home or room
- Raise your home’s temperature
- Use your AC less
- Add a water dish
- Add a larger water dish
- Move the water dish towards the hot side of the tank
- Regularly mist your beardie (but not their whole tank)
- Add live plants
Raise humidity levels in your home
If it’s too dry in your beardie’s tank, odds are it’s too dry in your house too. We live in Chicago and this is the case every winter. In these instances, placing a humidifier in the room the tank is in can help you and your dragon.
A whole-home humidifier can also be added to your HVAC system relatively inexpensively. Either solution will work to bring up the humidity levels in your home. We use this portable model and it works great fo us!
Another whole home solution is to raise the temperature in your home. Hotter air tends to hold more water and thus creates more humidity. This might not be ideal for you if you don’t like the heat, but it will help with humidity levels.
You can also simply turn off the AC and open your windows. AC removes moisture from the air. If the temps outside are nice, you may be able to raise your humidity levels a little and still enjoy a comfortable temperature!
Raise humidity levels in the tank
Start with a water dish. Add one if you don’t have one already. If you do, consider a larger dish. And if all else fails, move the dish to the hot side of the tank where the water will evaporate and humidify the air.
Another in-tank solution is the daily misting of your beardie. It’s not a substitute for regular bathing (which is also critical when humidity levels are too low), but it will help some. We like using this reptile mister we got on Amazon. We use it to mist our beardie and her salads too!
A final in-tank solution is to add live plants. We haven’t used this solution and haven’t researched what plants are safe and which are not, so we don’t have a specific recommendation for you here.
If you do decide to add plants, please do your research. Beardies are known to eat anything living that is in their home. Make sure they aren’t eating something that can harm them!
Lowering high humidity
Lowering high humidity levels in a bearded dragon’s tank is a simple matter of slowly removing sources of moisture. These can be their water dish, general humidity levels in your home, or even removing live plants from the room or the tank itself.
Here’s a quick list of the points we’ll cover in this section:
- Add a dehumidifier to your home or room
- Turn up your AC (lower the temps)
- Increase tank ventilation
- Stop using a fish tank and instead use a properly vented enclosure
- Use a smaller water dish
- Move the water dish to the cool side of the tank
- Remove the water dish altogether
- Stop in-tank misting
- Remove any in-tank live foliage
- Remove any moisture conducive substrate
- Add an in tank humidifier
Lowering humidity levels in your home
As with resolving low humidity, the first step is to address the humidity levels in your home. The quickest way to do that is to add a dehumidifier. As with a humidifier, you can do this centrally on your HVAC system or you can do it with a stand-alone unit you place in the same room as your bearded dragon.
We use a Frigidaire 50 pint dehumidifier in the summer and it runs almost constantly. We set it at 35% and it does a really nice job of maintaining that humidity level. As a note, they do create a little heat and they are very loud. These aren’t deal-breakers for us, but you should know this before buying.
I’ve worked in a store that sells dehumidifiers for almost 20 years and I can’t recommend the Frigidaire line highly enough. Solid, reliable, and dependable year after year. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but they simply work. I can’t say that for any other brand and I think we’ve carried them all. You can see the model we recommend and where we bought ours here. You’ll usually pay less here than you will over on Amazon.
Stay away from the cheapies! You totally get what you pay for! Those super low priced units don’t pull near enough water from the air to make a difference. They are a total waste of money.
Another tip is to turn up your home’s AC and lower the temps. Cold air, by nature, can hold less water. Also, your AC “conditions” the air by removing moisture. Running your AC and closing your windows, especially in those hot summer months, can significantly lower the humidity levels in your home.
Lowering humidity levels in the tank
If the humidity is as under control as you can get it in your home, but the levels are still too high in your beardie’s tank, you may want to take some extra steps.
Start by increasing ventilation. Make sure the entire top of the enclosure is covered in mesh/screen and open to the air. Block as little of it as you can. Also, make sure there is an airflow vent somewhere towards the bottom of the tank.
As we mentioned before, that may mean you can’t use that old fish tank you were planning on. Those aren’t suited for good ventilation.
Next, make sure your water dish is small (the size of a jar lid is all you need) and all the way on the cool side of the tank. If this doesn’t help, remove it altogether. If you do this, make sure to adhere to a frequent bath schedule. Baths will be your beardie’s only chance to drink, so they are very important in this situation.
In keeping with removing water and moisture from the tank, stop all misting. Regular baths (see our complete guide here) will be needed anyway. Make sure your beardie is nice and dry before you put them back in their home.
Remove any live foliage from the tank. Also, make sure you don’t have any moisture-retaining substrate like bark or coconut. Any type of vegetation with moisture will be bad in this situation.
Finally, if all else fails, you can dehumidify the tank in one of two ways. The first is to fill a small sock with rice and place it in the tank. Rice will absorb humidity and moisture. Don’t, however, leave this where your beardie can get to it. Eating dried rice can easily cause an impaction.
For that reason, we like the option of a desiccant dehumidifier instead. You know those small silica pouches you find in vitamins and in some things you buy? Well, those absorb moisture really well.
A desiccant dehumidifier is a small container that allows you to place these in the tank with your beardie. But a strong word of caution! Do not leave this where your beardie can get to it!!! The contents of this item are hazardous if eaten.
We suggest sticking them up high on a glass wall where your beardie can’t climb to it. Make sure it’s secure and won’t fall off. As for which one to get, we really like this little gem you can get here on Amazon!
Don’t be overly stressed out!
So that may have seemed like a lot, but really it’s not. If you follow the general guidelines, you’ll probably never have a humidity issue in the first place. Even if you do, they are almost always easily managed.
So don’t stress out! Getting the temps and humidity right in your beardie’s home will be second nature in no time!