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How To Set Up a Bearded Dragon Enclosure on the Cheap

You can spend a lot of money on things to decorate your beardie enclosure. However, you should concentrate on the essentials first, as they do add up in terms of spending.

You’ll need something for the bottom, heat lamps, something to provide a hiding place, a branch or something similar to climb on, and a plant mister or sturdy water dish with low sides that won’t tip.

The beardie will do more soaking than drinking, but the dish does provide humidity. You can provide your own branches and rocks, and build a hiding place, but the rest of the items must be purchased. Remember that you’ll need some kind of temporary place to keep your beardie while you clean his enclosure. You’ll also need a way to monitor temperature and humidity inside the enclosure.

The 3 Main Types of Bearded Dragon Enclosures

Bearded Dragon Terrarium – Many use the terms terrarium and tank interchangeably. There are some noticeable differences, however. Fish tanks are popular homes for reptiles, as they allow a good view from all sides. Some think that what is contained inside is the only difference; however, a terrarium is usually constructed differently from a tank.

Terrariums may be constructed of materials other than glass. Some are made mostly of wood with a mesh top or front and some kind of door, while some are made from molded plastic. Since a person reaching into the enclosure from the front rather than reaching in from the top is less threatening to the lizard, having a front door is preferable.

It will keep your pet from feeling anxious when you reach in to clean his home or handle him. Many terrariums have both a front door opening and a mesh top. The front door will make cleaning and other things much easier, and so will the lower height a terrarium designed for reptiles usually features.

As far as price, starter kits for baby beardies start at around $100. This will need to be upgraded in size to a 30–50-gallon long tank as the beardie grows to adulthood. The reason for a smaller tank for a baby is that he may have trouble catching live food if the tank has too much room.

Check out this Bearded Dragon Manual, How to avoid the “most common mistakes” and tons of tips covering Habitat, Diet, Health Care and Health Issues…

Some kits come complete with heat lamps, a hiding place, and a sturdy water dish that doesn’t tip. Some even have a thermometer attached to the tank to allow you to make sure the beardie’s habitat is not too warm or cold. Adult terrariums can run up to close to $400.

If you are just starting out in the reptile-keeping world, you should probably make this purchase at a pet store. A big box or discount store may sell you something not suitable as a reptile tank. With a pet store, you’ll be more likely to get just what your pet needs along with some good advice and won’t be as likely to come home with items that aren’t really necessary.

Bearded Dragon Tank – Again, many people use fish tanks for a bearded dragon enclosure and for other reptiles. This is probably because fish tanks are readily available at big box and discount stores, while a reptile tank is usually found at pet stores. A reptile tank usually has thinner glass than a fish tank and may have a drain or ventilation holes.

The glass is thicker on a fish tank because it is meant to hold water. A reptile tank doesn’t need to do this and can thus use thinner glass. This makes the enclosure easier to move if needed, but the glass still does a good job of keeping in heat and maintaining temperature and humidity. In addition, a beardie seeing his reflection in the glass may upset him, especially if he is an adult male. There are backgrounds available to prevent this or you can just use black paper.

You will need to consider size, especially if you start out with a baby beardie. Tanks only have access from the top, but since beardie tanks are not usually as tall as fish tanks, this won’t be so awkward.

Reptile tanks often feature a door or some kind of lid in the front of the tank to make access easier for cleaning and reaching your pet. In addition, reptile tanks are usually not as tall as fish tanks. This is handy if your access door is on the top, making it easier to feed the lizard and keep the enclosure clean. Their prices run about the same as terrariums.

Bearded Dragon Cage – Cages are usually built to be tall and are mostly or entirely enclosed with mesh. These cages are not really suitable or necessary for bearded dragons, as they are designed for reptiles that need climbing room. Your beardie does like to climb but may benefit more from floor space rather than height.

In addition, even smaller cages are harder to keep at the proper temperature and humidity. They are also hard to disinfect. In addition, there are usually not a lot of options in regard to the size. Cages usually cost less than terrariums or tanks, but the additional steps you may have to take to maintain temperature and humidity will cost more. If you need more information on choosing the right size enclosure read my article Bearded Dragon Enclosure Size [What Size Do You Need?]

Build Your Own Enclosure

You can make a fine bearded dragon enclosure from a cheap bookshelf unit. You’ll also need a staple gun and staples, caulk, hinges, hook and eye closures a jigsaw, and window screen material. If you can find it, the screen material should be galvanized after construction rather than before, which seals the junctions between the strands and keeps lizard toenails from getting stuck.

You’ll also need lizard sand and heat lamps. You’ll also need some branches, but you can get these from your yard. Driftwood is especially nice. You’ll be building a multi-floor condo, so something long is needed. Just be sure to boil whatever you bring in from the wild to get rid of any bacteria or parasites and smooth off rough spots.

Attach the back, then attach one of the bookcase shelves across the front, sealing the seams with caulk. This encloses the bottom to keep in the sand. Use the jigsaw to cut holes in another shelf to match the wide end of the heat lamps, then cover the holes with screen and attach it inside your case low enough so that the heat lamps can hang above it with a little space above the holes. You can drill holes in the top of the case for the lamp cords. Another shelf will need part of it cut out to allow the branches to go through while providing a middle floor.

Cut two doors on one side, one near the bottom and one near the top. Attach them with hinges and the hook and eye sets. This will allow easy access for cleaning and feeding. Attach the screen to the front, using plenty of staples to keep both the beardie and his live food from escaping.

Nail your branches to the floor and to the wall in a place or two for sturdiness. Just make sure you have your finished enclosure moved to its intended place before you add the sand, as it will be heavy. This enclosure will allow your beardie to move closer to the heat lamps or farther away as he needs.

Here’s a good video on setting up your bearded dragon enclosure on a budget:

Where Should I Put in My Bearded Dragons Enclosure?

The best place is a quiet room that doesn’t get much traffic. You want to keep him away from small children and curious pets. Your beardie won’t appreciate a cat sitting on top of his enclosure watching him. It should be set on a sturdy, solid stand or piece of furniture at a height that makes it easy for you to access the cage. The floor is not a good place, as it will make cleaning awkward, and the floor may be drafty. You may also want to consider which type of bearded dragon your getting before committing to an particular type of enclosure. Check out my article on the Different Types of Bearded Dragons to be certain you have the right enclosure.

What Should Be on the Bottom of a Bearded Dragon Tank?

Reptile carpet is probably the best for the tank. It’s easy to remove for cleaning, but it does require quite a bit of time to get thoroughly clean. You’ll probably need two carpets so you can put a clean one in the enclosure while cleaning and air-drying the other.

Paper towels are great if weighed down with a few rocks. They are easily disposed of when soiled. Ceramic tiles are another choice. They are easily cleaned and will not be affected by heat or moisture. You will need to cut them to fit your enclosure to start with.

Sand is the most popular substrate, especially since these lizards come from a desert environment. However, there are several problems with it. It needs to be spot cleaned daily, much like kitty litter. The beardie can easily swallow sand stuck to a moist leaf or live insect, which can cause intestinal impaction. Sand with sharp edges can cause other harm when swallowed. For these reasons, wood chips or bark are also not great, and these can also absorb moisture and eventually grow mold. For more information on bedding materials read my article What is The Best Bedding for Bearded Dragons?

How Often Do You Clean a Bearded Dragon Tank?

The enclosure should be spot cleaned every day, with a deep clean at least every three months. Reptile carpet should be removed and thoroughly cleaned every week, with a clean one to put in the tank while the first one is being cleaned and dried.

The deep cleaning includes completely changing the substrate and washing or wiping down everything in the tank thoroughly. You can use a terrarium cleaner or soap and water. You also will need a product to kill parasites, either a ready-made product or a 50-50 mixture of ammonia and water. Be sure to rinse everything thoroughly after cleaning.

Do Bearded Dragons Need Heat at Night?

This depends on the temperature of your house at night. Beardies do need a cooler nighttime temperature, but it should still be around 70-75 degrees F. If your heat lamp uses a white bulb, it won’t be good for nighttime use, as they need darkness for sleep.

Do Bearded Dragons Need Light at Night?

Your daytime heat and light, including your UVB light, should be on for about 12 hours, then off for 12 hours. Beardies need a dark period to sleep. Some people find a timer useful for running the lights. You may still need some kind of heat at night, depending on how cool you keep your home at night. A heat lamp with a black or red bulb, a heat mat or a ceramic heat emitter will do nicely for this.

How Often Should I Change My Bearded Dragon’s Sand?

If you use sand, you should change it at least every three months. While even reptile sand can cause problems, it’s usually made with rounded edges so that your pet won’t be harmed by accidentally swallowing sharp-edged sand. Scoop out any waste daily. Any leftover vegetation used for food and dead insects not eaten for a day or two should also be removed, if possible, to keep any mold from forming.

Do I Need a Water Dish?

If you use a dish, it should be sturdy shallow sides that will not tip when he walks over it, and he will. It’s mainly for evaporation, as most beardies won’t drink out of it, but you need to monitor the humidity. Use a plant mister to mist your dragon a few times a day. You will see him lap water dripping from his nose. This is the way they get moisture in the wild.

You can train a dragon to drink from the water dish by putting a bit of strawberry or papaya juice in his water, as this will attract him. Make sure to keep it clean, as he will drag bits of food and loose floor substrate into it, and he will leave waste in the bowl. The frequent cleaning required of a water dish is another reason to rely on a mister instead. Filtered bottled water or distilled water is best or use a dechlorinating product.

Conclusion

Getting your bearded dragon enclosure set up may seem a bit daunting to a beginner, but once everything is in place, you’ll get used to the routine and be able to just enjoy your pet. Be sure to take time to make friends with him.