Bearded Dragon Starter Kit: Total Lifesaver or Complete Waste of $$$?!

So, you’ve recently welcomed home your new bearded dragon and are looking to make things easy on yourself and your new pet by purchasing a bearded dragon starter kit from your local pet shop.

Affordable, convenient, and easy to set up, these starter kits are just the thing you need to smoothly transition your pet into a new home… right?

WRONG!

The bearded dragon starter kit, while an attractive and logical concept, is one of the worst mistakes any new owner can buy into! These kits are loathed by reptile enthusiasts for a reason and you’ll soon discover in this article why.

With pet store workers pushing these kits like their paycheck depends on it, you NEED to understand the difference between what’s “recommended” and what’s SAFE! Unfortunately, these two ideologies don’t often match up in pet stores. 

The cold, hard truth of the matter is… these bearded dragon starter kits are less a “starter kit” and more a “death trap” for your bearded dragon!

So, what exactly are bearded dragon starter kits such a bad investment and what should you purchase instead? Well, to find out the answers to these crucial questions, just keep reading!

Why You Should NEVER Purchase a Bearded Dragon Starter Kit… 

As a former first time bearded dragon owner myself, let me be the first one to say that I totally get the appeal behind these kits. Promising to provide your beardie with everything they “need” to be happy and healthy in one box for an affordable price, well, what’s not to love?

In fact, I can vividly remember marching straight to the reptile aisle of my local pet store as I mentally patted myself on the back for being such a responsible and proactive owner. If only I knew then what I do now!

Unfortunately, when you actually understand the needs of a bearded dragon, you soon discover there’s more wrong than right with these kits. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to break down every reason why these bearded dragon kits S-U-C-K below…

They Feature a Small Tank Size

Small tank size bearded dragon
A bearded dragon’s tank should be at least twice as long as they are (from snout to the tip of their tail) and allow them to effortlessly turn around.

Unless you’re okay with having to discard your tank and size up in a matter of months, having a small tank will only annoy you.

Most starter kits featuring tanks that are just 20 or 40 gallons. This means you’ll inevitably just have to ditch this tank and get a new one in the near future.

If your bearded dragon is 2 months old or younger, then a 40 gallon breeder is actually a great starter option.

With a 40 gallon breeder, you’re good-to-go as this is the recommended absolute minimum smallest tank size for an adult. The dimensions for a 40 gallon should be around 36in x 18in x 16in (L x W x H).

However, I don’t recommend keeping your bearded dragon in a 40 gallon tank it’s entire life. But, it’s a good investment upfront if they have a lot of growing to do still since you won’t need to switch it out for something bigger for quite some time.

A 20 gallon tank will really only work for bearded dragons younger than 4 months, as this is around when they reach 10 inches long. A good rule of thumb for tanks is to give your bearded dragon a tank that is at least twice as long as they are.

I also recommend you keep in mind the width and height of the tank as well. Your bearded dragon needs to be able to comfortably turn around in the tank and climb up on a basking spot without being too close to their heat lamp. Doing your homework on tank size will undoubtedly help your bearded dragon enjoy a higher quality of life.

Their UVB Bulbs Are Too Weak

Regardless of whether you’ve owned a reptile or not before, you’re probably well aware of the science behind UVB rays.

However, in case you need a quick refresher…

  • There are 2 predominant types of Ultra-Violet rays, UVB and UVA
  • UVB rays are shorter than UVA rays
  • UVA rays are more commonly associated with sunburns and cancer
  • UVB rays are more typically associated with premature aging
  • A healthy bearded dragon will be exposed to both UVB and UVA rays

While your bearded dragon needs BOTH UVA and UVB to be healthy… they must receive their source of UVB from a special bulb.

On the flip side… Virtually any old household bulb will supply them with enough UVA while they’re basking.

Bearded dragons need UVB to help synthesize Vitamin D3, which is essential for their bones, digestion, and so much more. Through calcium supplements, bearded dragons are able to absorb D3 with proper UVB exposure, thus keeping them healthy.

Without enough calcium and UVB, they will surely become sickly and can even develop such terrible diseases as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).

The UVB bulbs that come in the bearded dragon starter kits are notoriously weak, putting out an inefficient amount of UVB. Additionally, these UVB bulbs are also often the compact fluorescent style which is actually damaging on your bearded dragon’s fragile eyes!

They Often Use Colored Basking Bulbs

Bearded Dragon Tank with red bulb
Although colored basking bulbs might look “cool”, they actually present negative health consequences for your bearded dragon…

While it might look “cool” to you to have a bulb that emits a color like blue or red lighting up your bearded dragon’s tank, this will actually hurt your bearded dragon in the long run.

You see, bearded dragons need a bright white light source. Anything even slightly colored is NOT a good choice.

Include a Night Light

Although being able to see your bearded dragon in their tank at night would be cool, providing a night light can actually seriously disrupt their sleeping schedule and cause them A LOT of stress!

Much like many of us, bearded dragons like it pitch black at night when they sleep and therefore do not require a night light. As such, this is a completely pointless item for reptile companies to include in these starter kits.

Dangerous Substrates

Substrate is the term used to describe in essence the “flooring” in a bearded dragon tank. Sand, reptile carpet, tile… all of these things would constitute as substrate in you bearded dragon’s enclosure.

The problem is, some substrates are just better than others! Many commonly sold substrates actually pose real health risks for bearded dragons.

Bearded dragon starter kits typically provide loose particle substrates, such as sand, which are by far the more dangerous kind, especially for babies! The problem is that loose particle based substrates are easy to ingest which can lead to impaction.

Provide Inaccurate Temperature/Humidity Gages 

With such precise temperature and humidity requirements, you’re going to need to invest in a reliable thermometer and hygrometer for your bearded dragon’s tank. The problem with the starter kits, however, is that they typically offer you the cheapest options!

The stick-on dials that come with bearded dragon starter kits are notorious for being off by as much as a whopping 20 degrees! As such, they should NEVER be relied on for accurate temperature and humidity readings.

If you rely on using gages like these, you’re simply risking your bearded dragons health. Point blank and period.

Actual Must-Haves for Your Bearded Dragon Starter Kit

Now that you understand why bearded dragon kits get things so wrong, let’s discuss what you actually need for a bearded dragon starter kit! If you follow the suggestions below, you’ll be set up with the best possible habitat to for your bearded dragon to not only live in… but THRIVE in.

A Large Tank

As discussed above, I recommend purchasing a 40 gallon breeder tank for your baby or juvenile bearded dragon. A 40 gallon breeder tank will give them enough room to grow up without making them feel closed in or making it difficult for them to move about.

Now, if you’ve adopted a full grown bearded dragon (one who is around or older than 18 months) I actually recommend you purchase a 60-90 gallon tank as these are WAY better in the long run.

Sure, 40 gallons are technically fine for an adult, but they’re still pretty small for an animal to live its entire life in.

A Bright White Incandescent or Halogen Bulb 

basking bulb for bearded dragon starter kit
Make no mistake about it… the best kind of basking bulb for your bearded dragon is a bright white incandescent bulb, similar to ones you’d use around the house!

Forget about fancy schmancy colorful bulbs and get your bearded dragon an old fashioned bright white incandescent or halogen bulb! You can naturally purchase these at any hardware store or even most big box stores like Walmart or Target.

This has to be one of the cheapest and most accessible components of any healthy bearded dragon setup. But, should you need a little guidance… check out this lighting guide for help with ALL things lighting in your bearded dragon’s tank!

A Trusted UVB Bulb or Mercury Vapor Bulb

Perhaps one of the MOST important components to any adequate bearded dragon tank is getting the right UVB bulb. Without this component, your dragon runs the high risk of becoming very sickly and encountering developmental delays if they are a baby or juvenile.

There tends to be A LOT of confusion amongst first time owners about which bulbs are best. In fact, because of this many new owners often opt for inferior options that negatively affect their bearded dragons. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you get the RIGHT UVB bulb, unlike most confused beginners.

A Reliable Thermometer & Hygrometer 

The last thing you want is to have your bearded dragon’s tank be too hot, too cold, or too humid! And with those cheap stick-on dials that come in bearded dragon starter kits being notoriously sketchy, you’ll want to do yourself (and beardie) a favor and just make a small investment into a thermometer and hygrometer that WORK.

Luckily, you don’t have to spend too much money to get gages that perform as they should. This is especially true if you’re willing to wait 45 minutes for a probe style thermometer’s reading.

I’ve chosen to invest a little bit more in an actual thermometer gun because I want my readings right away AND accurate. I find this allows me to be a little more proactive if my bearded dragon’s tank is too hot or too cold.

However, please don’t think you need this fancy of a thermometer if you’re on a budget! In fact, there are plenty of trusted and reliable thermometers out there that  will keep your beardie’s tank at an ideal temp.

Non-Particle Based Substrate

Word to the wise… don’t EVER under any circumstances put your bearded dragon in a tank with sand, mullet, crushed walnut shells, or any other loose particle substrate.

I don’t care what any pet store employee or reptile “expert” tells you… it is NOT a good idea. Instead, find a substrate that is a solid and can’t be ingested. Luckily, you’ll have your pick of many different options, many of which are pretty affordable as well.

Another pro for a solid substrate is that they’re generally pretty easy to clean and help keep your bearded dragon’s tank more hygienic since they’re not spreading waste around as easily or allowing it to seep the way particle based substrates do.

Safe Plants & Décor

Bearded Dragon with Plants in Tank
Adding safe and non-toxic plants to your bearded dragon’s tank can GREATLY improve their quality of life and give them new textures to explore, smell, or even taste.

Although not entirely necessary, I do recommend you look into adding plants to your beardie’s tank. If left totally bare with just the essentials, your bearded dragon’s tank will provide them with very little stimulation. This can effect their quality of life over time.

Now, you don’t have to go totally overboard, especially not in the beginning! Instead, try to slowly add some plants (whether real or fake) to give your pet the impression they’re in a natural habitat. Doing this will also provide them with new textures to experience.

However, you’ll want to make sure you add only non-toxic and safe plants as many plants can actually be harmful to your bearded dragon. Don’t just go grabbing any old plant from outside!

Wrapping Up Bearded Dragon Stater Kit

I hope by now you have come to realize why bearded dragon starter kits are so dangerous for your bearded dragon.

You see, 99% of the time you will be better off putting together your own setup. This will allow you to create a healthy, safe, and enjoyable environment for your bearded dragon.

And fortunately for those of us on a budget, this doesn’t necessarily mean spending a small fortune either. There are plenty of affordable options available for creating an awesome habitat for your pet to thrive in!

Happy shopping!

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