Bearded dragons are popular pets; however, few commercially produced cages meet their needs. To cope with this challenge, many keepers design and construct custom enclosures. As long as the cage is large enough, made from safe materials, and provides an appropriate climate, your bearded dragon will thrive in a homemade enclosure.
Materials for Manufacturing
The most common materials used to make bearded dragon cages include wood, plastic and glass. All three have pros and cons -- wood is cheap, yet heavy; plastic is waterproof, but expensive; and glass allows great visibility, yet is very fragile. Because few retailers stock glass or plastic in the necessary quantities and both require the use of special tools, most keepers elect to use wood. You must seal wood with a non-toxic polyurethane or epoxy to prevent the wood from rotting. Cover the holes cut for ventilation or lamps with aluminum screen or hardware cloth; if your lizard can access either material, it should be soft or plastic-coated so he does not injure himself.
Bearded dragons require large cages; often, the only way to provide an enclosure of the appropriate size is by constructing one yourself. As a rule, adult bearded dragons should have a minimum of 8 square feet of space, but your lizard will use as much space as you provide him. You will be establishing a thermal gradient in the cage so that your pet can access a range of temperatures, so the cage should be longer than it is wide. A good bearded dragon cage would measure 4 feet long, 2 feet deep and 1 to 2 feet tall.
Bearded dragons require a basking spot, as well as cooler temperatures to which they may retreat if they are too hot. By placing the basking spot at one end of the cage, you will create a thermal gradient, thereby allowing your lizard to determine his own preferred temperature. There are two primary ways to heat your bearded dragon’s basking spot: heat lamps or radiant heat panels. If you wish to use heat lamps, you must cut large holes in the cage ceiling, but you can use heat panels with a solid cage top by attaching the panel directly to the ceiling. In either case, the basking spot should have surface temperatures of 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, bearded dragons require high-quality, full spectrum light. Place the full spectrum lights over the entire cage surface, but be sure that your bearded can climb to within 12 inches of the light to allow proper UVB absorption.
Ventilation, Access and Security
Hailing from the arid habitats of central Australia, it is important that your bearded dragon’s cage has enough ventilation to prevent stagnant conditions and excessively high humidity. However, the more ventilation the cage has, the harder it is to maintain the proper temperatures. Additionally, it is important to ensure that your bearded dragon cannot escape, and that unauthorized pets and children do not open the cage. Include hasps or similar devices to ensure that your bearded dragon’s cage is secure. Front-opening cages are easier to maintain than top-opening cages, as you do not have to remove heating and lighting devices before opening the cage.
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