A few days ago I received an email from a client who needed help with setting up his new bearded dragon cage. His name is Eddy (short for Eduard) and he adopted a little baby bearded dragon 2 months ago.
Eduard somehow had the feeling that his little bearded dragon named Spencer wasn´t active enough. As you might know, baby bearded dragon are pretty active. They run and jump around in their tank a lot and when it comes to hunting they are unstoppable.
Spencer was not active at all. All he did was laying around and sometimes he changed his position under the basking spot but not more than that. But see yourself, Eduard allowed me to publish his inquiry on my website. (I offer a service for bearded dragon owners. I help people to set up their bearded dragon tank as this can be pretty confusing for beginners. Click here to learn more.)
I want to create a new cage for my bearded dragon Spencer. I think it is too small for him. I bought the tank because it was on sale at a pet shop, but I think this tank is not for bearded dragons. Besides that Spencer is not active at all and I am getting worried that he might be sick. Could you help me with that as well?
At this point Eddy did not know that the inactive behavior of Spencer was caused by the wrong tank setup. I asked him a couple of questions about Spencer and his current tank setup via email. Unfortunately his tank setup was not appropriate for bearded dragons at all.
Here Is His Tank Setup
Eddy bought his bearded dragon and the tank setup at a local pet shop. He did a little bit of research on the internet first but decided that it would be a better idea to get advice from an expert at a pet shop because doing the research was very confusing and exhausting (which is definitely understandable). Of course he bought everything that was recommended to him.
Here is the setup that was recommended to him:
He bought a 15" x 15" x 31" all-glass terrarium with a built in screencover. Further he bought a 60W heat bulb and a Calcium + Vitamin D3 powder. He used newspaper as substrate.
The Problem With His Tank Setup
Obviously Eddy was ill-advised. At the pet shop Eddy was surprised about the cost of a tank setup. The seller noticed that and recommended the parts above to Eddy because they were low priced. He told Eddy that he could upgrade the tank setup later but for now this would do the job.
Well, this is a very poor setup for a bearded dragon. It did the job, but it could have easily killed little Spencer. The tank was a very high tank, which is usually used for Chameleons for example. It should have been wide instead of high.
The lighting was simply not enough. Because of the height and the low wattage of the bulb Spencer never had an appropriate basking spot that was hot enough. Further he needed an UVB bulb urgently.
The New Tank
I recommended a lot of different tanks to Eddy. He decided to get a 48"x18"x18" tank for Spencer. Further he installed an appropriate UVB tubelight and a 100W heat bulb. Besides that he also installed another normal tubelight just to make the tank brighter. I recommended it to him since it can never be bright enough for bearded dragons.
I also recommended to get a good substrate. I know that most people are afraid that their bearded dragon might eat sand and get impacted. That is absolutely understandable, but I recommended a clay substrate that gets hard to Eddy. Eddy only used a thin layer of red sand above that clay. What this substrate brought out Spencer is amazing, but I´ll come to that in a few seconds.
Eddy threw the Vitamin D3 powder away and got a normal Calcium powder as the UVB bulb was enough to produce Vitamin D3.
What This New Tank Did To Spencer
In the old tank Spencer was totally inactive. All he did was laying under the basking spot to get on temperature. Unfortunately the temperature in the old tank was not high enough and Spencer could not reach the optimal temperature. Besides that Spencer needed a UVB bulb.
Bearded dragons need an UVB bulb, otherwise their bones get soft and they eventually die (Metabolic Bone Disease). Further the lack of the UVB bulb also leads to an inactive behavior like Spencer´s.
In fact Spencer was close to having Metabolic Bone Disease. A month longer in the old tank and the little bearded dragon most probably would have shown the first symptomes of this horrible disease, which would be shaking and not being able to hunt crickets.
Now Spencer is all well. He is very active in his new tank and hunts his crickets like crazy. Eddy told me that he feels like he would have a different bearded dragon. Spencer jumps from one log to another which are placed in his cage. Besides that the new substrate leads to a very interesting behavior.
Bearded dragons are diggers. It is a very good exercise and it is good for their claws as well. They digg little caves and tunnels and that´s why I always recommend get rid of the repti carpet and newspaper and go with a clay instead.
So this is exactly what Spencer does at the moment. He diggs holes and caves and tunnels. He almost dug over his complete terrarium, haha.
Note: I try to get a couple of pictures from Eddy of Spencer digging in his terrarium, so you can see how awesome this is.
What You Can Learn From This
In one of my articles I told you that the lighting is the most important thing in a terrarium. The lighting helped Spencer to get active and it also keeps him healthy. However as you see you can also see very cool natural behavior of your reptile if you change some other things that might not appear too important like substrate.
In my opinion it is very important to build a very natural habitat for our reptiles. It looks awesome at it is so much better for our reptiles. Take little Spencer as example. All the exercise he gets from that digging is awesome. Way better than most other bearded dragons that only lay in their tank and do nothing the whole day because overfed and living in a tank which isn´t big enough.
Wish you a lot of fun with your reptiles and if you need help with setting up a tank for your bearded dragon, you can get my help here.
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